A  F  R  I  C  A         1 9 9 9  /  2 0 0 0


   This travelogue is for a trip taken December 20, 1999 - March 3, 2000
through 11 countries in the Southern African region: South Africa, Namibia,
Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and
Mauritius.  Though it is long, I have tried to write it so that it not only
serves as a remembrance of my own trip, but will be enjoyable and
informative to the reader as well.  The opinions expressed within are my
own, and as with anything, the information is subject to change with the
passage of time.

   Rates quoted are in the local currency of the country being discussed,
though often, the US$ equivalent is also noted.  The approximate exchange
rates in effect during my trip were as follows (for one US$):

South African Rand (R)      6.1 at the start of the trip, 6.4 at the end
Namibian Dollar (N$)        6.1
Botswanan Pula (P):         4.5
Swazi Emalangeni (E):       6.1
Lesotho Maloti (M):         6.1
Kenya Shilling (ksh):      75.0
Tanzanian Shilling (Tsh): 740.0 in Arusha, 800 in Zanzibar
Malawi Kwatcha (MK):       46.0
Zambian Kwatcha (ZK):    2680.0
Zimbabwe Dollar (Z$):      37.0
Mauritius Rupee (Rs):      75.0

   Though countries are referenced and discussed throughout the text, the
general country-by-country breakdown of the travelogue is as follows:

South Africa:  Dec. 20-27, Jan. 12-14, Jan. 15-18, Jan. 20-24,
               Feb. 23-25, Feb. 29 - Mar. 2
Namibia:       Dec. 27 - Jan. 8
Botswana:      Jan. 8  - Jan. 11
Swaziland:     Jan. 14 - Jan. 15
Lesotho:       Jan. 18 - Jan. 19
Kenya:         Jan. 24 - Jan. 26
Tanzania:      Jan. 26 - Feb. 6
Malawi:        Feb. 6  - Feb. 14
Zambia:        Feb. 14 - Feb. 16, Feb. 22
Zimbabwe:      Feb. 16 - Feb. 23
Mauritius:     Feb. 25 - Feb. 29
(plus Ile de Sal/Cape Verde on Mar. 3)

Email: lgreenf@nausicaa.net


   For a quite long time, I've always wanted to visit the islands of Tristan
da Cunha and St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean.  I'm not sure why
exactly, except perhaps that I've always been fascinated by small, isolated
out-of-the-way places, whether they be lonely desert towns or tiny islands
in the middle of the South Atlantic.
   Upon returning from Australia and New Zealand in 1997, I decided that my
next trip would be a visit to these two islands -- with Africa in the plans
as well, since the only public transport to St. Helena and Tristan da Cunha
is by the Royal Mail Ship "RMS St. Helena", which departs from the UK, but
stops to pick up passengers in Cape Town, South Africa.
   For the next three years, I went about making plans and saving my pennies
for the trip.  The original idea was to join the RMS in late December for
its millennium sailings to St. Helena and Tristan da Cunha, then join an
overland safari for a month of camping in Africa, and finally a month or so
of renting a car and driving around Africa on my own.
   Well, even the best of plans can become undone.  On November 11th, 1999
(just six weeks before I was to leave), I saw a posting on the internet's
St. Helena mailing list mentioning that the RMS St. Helena had broken down
off the coast of France.
   I couldn't believe it.
   The current RMS ship had been in service for 10 years without a problem,
but was now sitting off the coast of France with a broken crankshaft that
could not be repaired.  A new crankshaft would have to be manufactured, but
that meant a delay of at least two to three months.
   Curnow Shipping, the company charged by the UK Government with operating
the RMS St. Helena, franctically did their best to find and hire an
alternate vessel to ferry islanders and supplies back to St. Helena in time
for Christmas, but the once-yearly sailing to Tristan da Cunha had to be
cancelled, and the replacement ship would not even be calling at Cape Town
until its return back to the UK.  Therefore, I decided to do the only thing
I could do: postpone the Islands portion of my trip until next year, and
spend 1999/2000 seeing Africa.  Curnow re-booked me for 2000/2001, and I now
had 11 weeks to look around Africa.
   The only other setback for the trip was my inability to see Mozambique
(due to the worst flooding there in 50 years at the time I was to visit). 
However, I used the extra days to spend more time in South Africa and
Mauritius, and in the end, most everything else went according to plan.  It
was quite a trip.


Dec. 20/21: Los Angeles / Cape Town (South Africa)
   The day started early, with me having to wake up at 4:00am to catch a
taxi to LAX.  It was just too early to ask anyone to drive me, and taking an
airport shuttle would have meant waking up an hour earlier.
   At 5:30am, I found myself at the American Airlines check-in counter.
American had been South African Airways' U.S. partner in 1999 (with Delta
replacing them in January 2000), so the flight routing was LAX to Miami on
American, then Miami to Cape Town on SAA.
   With it being so close to Christmas (and a peak travel period), I must
give my kudos to American -- they did a great job.  First, the agent at the
check-in counter not only gave me an exit-row seat for the American portion,
but when I asked if it'd be possible to have an upper-deck seat on the SAA
flight (as on some SAA aircraft, the upper-deck is set aside for economy),
she gave me the most coveted seat of all: 14A, the exit-row window seat on
the upper-deck, affording me plenty of leg room, and the ability to get up
and walk around anytime I pleased.  On the American portion from LAX to
Miami, American waived the usual $5 headset charge, and handed out free
headsets for everyone to watch a special holiday showing of "National
Lampoon's Christmas Vacation."  Plus, we were served not one, but two hot
   The SAA flight from Miami to Cape Town wasn't bad either, and that
upper-deck, exit-row seat really came in handy as the hours passed into
double-digits.  Before long, it was early afternoon on Dec. 21st, and I was
going through South African immigration at Cape Town airport.
   For my first night in Cape Town, I had advance-booked myself into a B&B I
found on the internet: Radium Hall, and Gilian (the owner) met me at the
airport to take me back to the B&B in her Opel Astra.  Radium Hall is
located in the Tamboerskloof area of central Cape Town -- a wealthy
neighborhood with narrow streets, rich homes, electrified fences, and plenty
of B&Bs.  It's a good place to stay, but at R250/US$41, seemed a bit
expensive (especially with no air-con).  Later, I found a better place, but
Radium still isn't a bad choice, and to be fair, R250 is pretty typical of
B&B prices in the city.
   On the trip back from the airport, Gilian stopped at an ATM so I could
withdraw some money in rand (with the rate being about US$1=R6.1).  Most
South African banks are connected to the major international ATM networks
(including MasterCard/CIRRUS and Visa/PLUS), and by using an ATM, you're
always given the best interbank rate of exchange.  Most ATMs have one-way
glass to stand behind in order to prevent people from glancing at your PIN
number, and all have signs warning customers about ATM crime.  Next to the
ATM that afternoon, kids were sitting on the street, begging.
   I arrived at Radium Hall around 3:00pm, and the first thing I did after
setting my bags down (and calling a friend) was go out for a walk.  Cape
Town is a city surronded by mountains (looking like a bowl), and the B&B is
located up on one of the hillsides.  Not having any particular destination
in mind, I just started walking down towards the business district.
   One thing immediately apparent about this area (and most of white South
Africa) is that almost with exception, every house you come across has a
sign indicating it's protected by a security agency.  It doesn't matter
where you go in the country -- if it's a white home, there will either be a
security agency sign or a "beware of dog" sign on the property (and often,
both).  Whether this is a hang-over from apartheid days, or a necessary
response to the very real crime problem, I don't know (I suspect it's a bit
of both), but it's something that stays in your mind, and makes you wonder
why crime is such a problem in the country.  Certainly the biggest factor
contributing to the nation's crime rate has to be South Africa's long
history of apartheid, and the present-day economic reality that it will take
at least a generation before true integration and economic parity begins to
take place on a large scale (on paper, a black South African can now live
anywhere he/she wants, including inside the cities themselves, rather than
being forced to live in one of the neighboring townshps -- but in reality,
if your home is a shanty in Khayelitsha made from corrugated iron and you
never had a real education, where do you get the $300,000 to buy that house
in Cape Town from, to join your white countrymen?)  Yet from the white South
African point of view, people certainly have a right to be safe and free
from harm in their own home, and for better or worse, "security" is one of
the fastest-growing job sectors in the country.  Crime is a serious issue in
South Africa, and I can only hope that as time passes, it gets better.  As a
first-time visitor to the country, it's easy to forget that today's South
Africa is just a baby -- not even a decade old in its present form -- and
when I sit back and think about how peacefully the country has transistioned
itself from a police state to a democracy, I'm truly amazed.  I honestly
doubt that something like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission could ever
exist in the USA (or just about any other country), as people generally
choose revenge over forgiveness, opting to settle old scores rather than
look towards the future.  South Africa's peaceful transition is something
the entire country -- black and white -- can be proud of, and it gives me
faith that the country can get through even its toughest problems in the
days ahead.
   Walking down into the city, I tried to get a phone card at a 7-11, but
the store didn't sell them (I don't know if the South African 7-11s are part
of the international chain or not, but their logo is completely different). 
Next, I stopped at a sporting goods shop to buy myself a baseball cap -- a
beige-grey "Seac Sub" baseball cap that would last for the entire trip. 
   Wanting to get an idea of the city's layout, I spent the next few hours
exploring the Botanical Gardens, Parliament House, Greenmarket Square, and
the general downtown area.  Inside the bus station, I managed to pick up a
telephone card at one of the many small shops, and a few blocks away,
stopped in at Avis to check up on my rental car reservation.  I also had my
first look at some South African department stores: Woolworths in South
Africa is much fancier than the old American Woolworths stores (usually with
a supermarket as well), and Edgars is a department store much like Sears. 
It was in Edgars that I saw the first of many examples of strange (for an
American) English phrases I'd see on my trip: a sign on the clearance rack
saying not "Clearance Items" but rather "End Of Ranges."  Outside these
stores (and on many of the city's sidewalks), street vendors set up their
wares on blankets, and offer everything from candy to electronics for sale.
   In South Africa, there seems to be no law (as there is in the U.S.)
requiring products to be labelled with their country of origin, so virtually
every item sold in the country is without indication of where it was made
(unless it's specifically used as a selling point).  It doesn't matter if
it's a sweater, a TV set, or a car -- the information is nowhere to be
found.  However, Korean companies seem to have an extremely large share of
the South African market for both cars and electronics.  Japanese, American,
and European companies are present, but I was amazed at how prolific the
Korean nameplates were: from Daewoo and Hyundai cars to SsangYong SUVs --
and it seems that every microwave, VCR, and TV set in the country is either
LG (Lucky/Goldstar), Daewoo, or Samsung.  While I was in South Africa, the
local arm of Hyundai automobiles (owned by a shady local businessman)
declared bankruptcy, as his dealings and business practices were being
investigated (affected also was the Hyundai assembly plant in Botswana,
where the vehicles are put together).  The AA (Automobile Association) set
up telephone support lines to help the thousands of Hyundai owners across
the country who now have no official place to get their cars serviced or
repaired, and as I was leaving to go back home in early March, there was a
search on for another person or company to take over and hopefully re-start
Hyundai's African operations.
   After walking around downtown, I decided to return back to the B&B via
Buitengracht Street, which passes through the Bo-Kaap Muslim area.  It was a
beautiful afternoon, and my walk gave me a good feel for the city.
   I returned to Radium Hall around 6:15pm, and met up with Francois V., a
local Cape Town resident who is a frequent poster on the internet newsgroup
for the Radio Shack Color Computer (an old 1980s computer that many people
still use even today -- in fact, I've written this entire travelogue on
it!)  In his 4x4, we drove to the aerial car station at the base of Table
Mountain (I was hoping to be able to take it up at sunset, but clouds had
come in, and it started to drizzle).  From there, we then drove along the
coastline for about 90 minutes (in alternating drizzle and sun), with
Francois showing me the smaller coastal communities of the Cape
Penninsula... areas such as Camp's Bay, Hout Bay, and Cape Point.
   At about 8:00pm, we wound up in the Observatory area of Cape Town, at a
restaurant called the "African Cafe."  There, for R80/US$13.11, you get
served tastes of traditional African meals from various countries.  There
are about 15 selections in all, and you can eat as much of any as you want
(though neither of us were all that hungry).  Still, it was an interesting
place to have dinner for a first night on the continent.
   After dinner, we drove to the top of Signal Hill, where you get a good
view of the city down below with all its lights.  You can also see Table
Mountain (the famous "flat-top" mountain of Cape Town) lit up at night with
spotlights.  I returned back to Radium Hall at 11:00pm and went to sleep. 
It was the end of a long day...

Dec. 22: Cape Town
   The first thing I noticed upon waking up for my first full day on the
continent was the way everything once again (as in Australia) seemed to be
the opposite as in North America: for light switches, down is "ON" and up is
"OFF"... for locks, turning the key to the RIGHT will lock, the LEFT will
unlock... (plus of course, water drains and flushes counter-clockwise rather
than clockwise).
   After breakfast at Radium Hall, Gilian dropped me off at the Table
Mountain cable car.  Built in Switzerland, this aerial car is one of the
better ones around: as you go up and down the mountain, it revolves in a
circle, allowing you to see everything without having to move around inside
the car.  At R60/US$10, it's pricy (especially for South Africa), but is
still well worth it.  On top of Table Mountain are plenty of good views and
hiking trails, and it's quite possible to walk up or down the mountain
(including on one trail that leads to Kirstenbosch Gardens), though everyone
says not to do so unless you come well-prepared, as the weather here can
change suddenly.
   When finished with Table Mountain, I wanted to go down to the Victoria &
Alfred Waterfront, but the V&A is on the other side of the city, and taxis
in South Africa aren't cheap...
   Transportation in South Africa can be a bit difficult if you don't have
your own vehicle, as bus service in the cities can be sporatic.  Those who
can afford their own cars will use them, or occasionally take a normal taxi.
Those who can't afford their own vehicles though, rely on the services of
the "kombi" minibus taxis (taxis that ferry 12-15 people at a time from
place to place in old Toyota or Nissan minibuses).  Even today, the kombi is
the way 2/3rds of South Africans still get to-and-from work -- a left-over
remnant of the apartheid era, when the huge black majority of the population
was forced to live in townships outside of the city in which they worked. 
Unfortunately, though the apartheid laws have now been abolished, the
situation still remains much the same for most black South Africans, who
cannot afford to move into the previously-white cities with the salaries
they are currently making.  Until black South Africans move up the economic
scale, the need for the kombi taxi will continue to exist, and will play an
important role in the country's transportation system.  As is typical of the
other African countries where a form of the kombi taxi exists, these
minibuses will almost always be fully-loaded, and the passengers generally
must wait until the taxi is filled before the driver will leave.
   Unfortunately, the kombi taxi industry (a huge business today) grew
informally, with little-to-no regulation, and the state of many of these
vehicles is quite bad.  From time to time, there are also violent "taxi
wars", as snipers gun down competitor's taxis (and the passengers inside
them) in a bid for turf.  Such wars have flared up in Cape Town and
Johannesburg over the past few years, but the government is now determined
to make the industry safe and regulated -- including a new requirement that
soon, all kombis must be big enough to carry at least 18 passengers.  From
the local Cape Town paper:
     The South African Government will not be blown off course in its
     determination to turn the country's death-trap taxi industry into
     a safe, efficient and dependable service, President Thabo Mbeki
     said on Friday.  "It's a mistake to think that the government can
     be intimidated into taking wrong decisins," he told parliament in
     his state of the nation speech. "Ageing minibuses which were designed
     as family vehicles cannot be allowed to roam our roads condemning
     paying passengers to risk their lives by travelling in mobile
     coffins," he said.  Hundreds of taxi drivers, protesting last week
     at government plans to force them to switch to new 18- and 35-seat
     vehicles, brought the centre of Johannesburg to a standstill and
     forced the city authorities to call out the army... Police said last
     year there were 140,000 minibus taxis on the roads of South Africa,
     often driven by people without licenses or perceptible driving skills
     in an industry that has mushroomed since it was deregulated 25 years
     ago.  Rival taxi owners and associations are frequently involved in
     shoot-outs in which passengers and bystanders are often victims.  Taxi
     associations on the crime-ridden Cape Flats in Cape Town have also
     become vigilantes, meting out random beatings to suspected robbers
     and rapists.  In the first six months of last year, there were 373
     violent incidents reported involving taxis compared with 333 in the
     same period of 1998.  The government plans to bring in a National
     Land Transport Bill this year to finally bring some order to the
     taxi chaos.
   While in Cape Town though, if you don't have your own transport and can't
afford to take "normal" taxis, there is a unique alternative: Rikki's.
Rikki's is a great little shared-taxi service that operates using six old
rickity converted pickup trucks.  The back is covered on top, but the gate
is held shut by only a latch.  They're friendly, easy-going, and quite
inexpensive: R7 within central Cape Town, R8 for the aerial car or V&A, R10
to Green Point, R12 to Sea Point, or R15 to Camps Bay (and with ticket
books, the rate goes down even further).  To give you a comparison, the ride
from Table Mountain to the V&A would have been R50/US$8.20 with a normal
taxi; with Rikki's, it was R8/US$1.31.  Rikki's operates Mon-Fri, 7am-7pm,
Saturday 8am-2pm, and is closed on Sundays.  Wherever you are in Cape Town,
just call them at 423-4888, and they'll pick you up and take you where you
want to go -- often with one or two other people in the bakkie as well
("bakkie" is South African slang for "pickup truck").  Another great thing
about riding Rikki's is listening to the banter between the driver and the
base -- they're always cracking jokes, talking politics, or commenting on
the latest gossip, all while ferrying you to your destination.  They're also
a cheap alternative to-and-from the airport as well: the normal airport
shuttle operated by Intercape is now R90/US$15, but Rikki's will take you
for R70.  While riding to the airport in March, I asked the Rikki's driver
if the new minibus taxi laws would affect them, but the driver replied that
they wouldn't, as theirs is a different type of service.
   Rikki's came to pick me up at the base of the aerial car and take me down
to the V&A Waterfront, where the boats to Robben Island leave from.  Robben
Island (like San Fransisco's Alcatraz), is a now-abandoned prison island,
where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were housed during the
apartheid era.  It has since been turned into a museum, and you can take a
ferry out to the island for a half-day guided tour, led by a former inmate. 
On the ferry over, I met an old white South African who was on the board of
the Robben Island Museum (he was on his way to a planning meeting for the
upcoming Millennium New Years Eve bash with Mandela) who told me that most
of the prisoners who conduct these tours weren't really political
prisoners -- they were on Robben Island for non-political crimes.  I took
this with a grain of salt however, as old ways of thinking die hard, and
there was a habit of classifying political prisoners as being incarcerated
for something other than political reasons.
   The first half of the tour consists of walking on foot through the
various cel blocks, seeing the cels where famous political prisoners were
kept (including Mandela), and the general compound.  In many of the cels are
plaques with pictures of the inmates, along with personal stories of what it
was like to be imprisoned on Robben Island.  Spend the time to read each
one -- they're all quite interesting.  The second part of the tour is a bus
drive around the island, showing you the general layout of the place, and
some of its other buildings.  During the bus tour, there's a spot where
you're allowed to get out to take pictures of Cape Town in the distance 
(it's a terrific view) -- and there are plenty of penguins waddling around
in the area.  The only disappointing thing about the tour is that you're
technically forced to come back on a specific return ferry (dependant upon
which ferry you came over on) -- meaning you have a limited, set amount of
time on the island.  Still, the tour makes for an interesting half-day, and
gives you a good look at South Africa's recent history.
   Back at the V&A, I called Rikki's to take me to the Namibia Tourism
office downtown to get some information and maps, and afterwards, I walked
back to Radium Hall via Buitengracht Street again.  In the evening, I went
to a Thai restaurant where, by coincidence, Gilian happened to be as well.
The food wasn't as spicy or satisfying as California Thai food, but was OK

Dec. 23: Cape Town / Stellenbosch / Ceres
   I didn't sleep much during the night.  The windows had no screens on
them, so to keep the mosquitos out, I closed them before going to bed,
though this made the room hot and stuffy.  The overhead ceiling fan wasn't
much help, and was quite noisy as well.  By morning though, the weather had
turned cooler and a bit cloudy.
   After breakfast, I left a bag with Gilian containing some clothes and
other items I wouldn't need until the following month.  Then, she dropped me
off at Avis...
   Before leaving the U.S., I made a reservation with Avis to rent a compact
car for 30 days.  If you are planning on renting a car in South Africa, the
best thing to do is to make the reservation from the United States (even if
you are already in the region, it pays to call back to the U.S., or have a
friend in the States make the reservation for you).  If the reservation is
made through Avis in the States, you get unlimited kilometers -- something
you cannot get if your reservation is made through Avis in South Africa --
and if you plan to do any serious driving in the area, you'll want those
unlimited kilometers, believe me.  In the course of one month, I wound up
driving 13,400kms (8,328 miles).
   Driving in South Africa is the same as in the UK, with the steering wheel
on the right, and the car driven on the left.  This isn't a problem for me
(I've driven enough this way), but I must admit that every time I switch, it
seems to take me a few hours to remember that the levers for the windshield
wiper and turn-indicator are reversed.
   In South Africa, just about every vehicle on the road has an immobilizer
(a car alarm system in which you must insert a special key into the
dashboard before you insert your normal ignition key, or the engine won't
start).  Avis wound up giving me the same car I drive at home (only with
everything reversed) -- an automatic white Honda Civic (called the "Ballade"
in South Africa), though nobody bothered to tell me about the immobilizer --
and I wound up sitting there for five minutes trying to figure out why it
wouldn't start before I went back into the office to ask.
   In general, driving in Southern Africa is fine, but requires more
concentration than driving elsewhere.  The worst problem you'll face will be
the roads themselves: in South Africa, Namibia and Botswana, the roads are
kept up quite well, but with the exception of a few toll highways, even the
major freeways are only one lane in each direction.  At any given time,
you're likely to have a line of trucks chugging along at 80kph, a line of
cars wanting to pass you at 160kph, and pedestrians darting across the
road -- with the same situation happening in the on-coming direction as
well.  Helping matters though, is that other than speed (which is a major
problem in South Africa), drivers here are generally much more courteous and
less aggressive than their counterparts in California.  If you're driving
and a car comes up behind you, it's common practice for you to move to the
shoulder in order to let the other car pass, rather than making him have to
cross the line.  If you do this, custom is he will turn on his back blinkers
twice ("thank-you") at which you will then flash your lights at him twice in
return ("you're-welcome").  This is very different from the U.S., where
flashing your lights means to move aside, and flashing your blinkers means
to back off.  The only problem with moving over to the shoulder, of course,
is that you must be careful of all the pedestrians and cattle you'll find
wandering there.  The roads contain no "Bot's Dots" (bumps separating the
lanes), so you have no physical warning (in terms of driving over bumps) if
you start to stray over the lines -- though as an extra reminder to drivers,
when a designated passing area is about to end, the broken lines in the road
will have arrows indicating to get back into your own lane before the line
turns solid.
   Speed is the one area that South African drivers need to watch though:
there is a vigorous anti-speeding campaign because of the high number of
deaths attributed to it each year, and you'll often see signs along the
Occasionally, there will be a board showing the percentage of people NOT
speeding the previous month, along with an all-time percentage record of
law-abiding drivers.  In some areas, there are signs indicating automatic
cameras (used to detect and trap speeders), and every once in a while,
you'll see a patrol car waiting to catch one (though interestingly, the
police often don't give pursuit: instead, they'll wave a speeder down, and
he'll just be expected to stop).  The general highway speed limit is 120kph
outside of cities, and 80kph in town, though this can vary depending upon
the area and type of road.  Airbags are not required by law in South Africa,
and the automobile companies have yet to voluntarily include them in their
cars: none of the three cars I wound up driving (two Honda Ballades and a
Toyota Camry) had an airbag -- not even for the driver.
   One nice feature about African roads are all the rest stops you'll pass
every few minutes -- little pullouts (usually with a picnic table and trash
can, and often, a tree) where you can rest, have a drink, eat a picnic
lunch, or just give yourself a break from driving.  There will always be a
sign 1km beforehand indicating an upcoming rest area, and you'll find them
along the roadsides of most Southern African countries.
   One particularly clever signage idea on South African roads is the way
the highway signs show direction by their shape: if an upcoming rest area
will be on the left side of the road, the sign indicating it will be cut to
point to the left as well.
   Parking in South Africa is different than anywhere else in the world: in
most cities, you can always find a free parking spot (a far cry from the
U.S.), but you must always have a few rand on you to pay someone to "watch"
your car for you.  As has become the practice, there will most likely be
"car guards" who will come up to you wherever you decide to park, often
beckoning you into an available space.  They will look after your car to
make sure nothing happens to it, and you're expected to pay them a few rand
for this service (either before or afterwards).  Most people do -- though
many will pay only upon coming back and seeing that their car is all right. 
One occasionally hears horror stories (such as someone who decided not to
pay coming back to find his car vandalized), and it can be a hassle at times
if you only need to run into a shop for a minute, but in the end, most
people seem to agree that it's an inexpensive way to help people earn a
living and ensure your car is safe.  Sometimes the guards will be street
kids, but often they'll be men or women wearing semi-official uniforms.  The
only time I saw someone NOT pay a guard was in Johannesburg -- when I went
with a black taxi driver to see a play at night, and he didn't give the
attendant anything.
   Petrol (gasoline) prices in South Africa are high, though not as bad as
in other countries.  In each town, the price always seems to be the same at
every petrol station (whether it be a Shell, BP, Engen, CalTex or Total
station), with the only variance in price occuring between different towns. 
This has led some companies to use alternate means to attract customers, and
just as I arrived in South Africa, there was a big contraversy, as Shell was
ordered by the court to stop a sweepstakes promotion it had been running. 
The court claimed the money to run it would have to come from its customers,
though Shell claimed it wouldn't (their prices were still the same as their
competitors) -- but they were forced to stop the promotion anyway.  In
general, petrol comes in 93 or 95 grade, and the price is pretty consistant:
in December, it was about R2.85/litre ($1.77/U.S. Gallon) for 93 grade, and
in March, it had gone up to R2.99/litre ($1.86/U.S. Gallon).  Note that
because of the uniformity of price, virtually no stations bother to display
their prices on signs out front -- meaning you must actually drive up to the
pump to find out how much the petrol is.  Because of traditional cheap
labor, all stations are full-serve, and if the attendent cleans your
windshield and gives good service, it's customary to tip him a rand or two. 
Most stations have small snack shops attached to them, but your petrol must
be paid for in cash -- no credit cards or checks are accepted for gasoline.
   One major problem throughout Africa is the serious amount of air
pollution caused by trucks on the road -- the exhaust coming from these
trucks seems to be blacker and dirtier than trucks elsewhere in the world,
and their exhaust pipes don't face upwards towards the sky (as on U.S.
trucks), but rather, are located down near the axle, where you might be
standing or sitting next to in a car.  Whether you're passing a truck on the
road or standing on a street corner as a bus passes, you'll be innundated
with heavy, black exhaust fumes all throughout Africa.
   The first thing I did upon driving out of Cape Town was head for South
Africa's wine country, and the small town of Stellenbosch.  It's a nice
little town with tree-lined streets and small boutiques, though it has a bit
of a yuppie/tourist atmosphere.  Walking around, I looked everywhere for
some multi-vitamins to buy...
   If you need vitamins, bring them from home, as the local brands aren't
much good (for instance, they all contain only 60mgs of Vitamin C in each
tablet, and it was only weeks later -- in Swakopmund, Namibia -- that I was
able to find imported multi-vitamins that were of decent strength). 
Sunscreen is also important to use under the African sun, but typically
you'll find only lower SPF numbers in the stores (8 or 15).  A few places
had SPF30 (very expensive), but anything higher you'll have to bring from
home.  An interesting footnote to this is that all throughout Africa
(especially in poorer countries such as Malawi and Zambia), typical dress
for men would be worn, ragged long-sleeve shirts and slacks rather than
T-shirts and shorts (even in the hot weather) -- as sunscreen is just too
expensive for locals to buy in these places.
   After spending a bit of time in Stellenbosch, I continued along the R310,
turning off just before Boschendal to visit the winery there.  In a
beautiful outdoor setting, wine-tasting is offered for a small fee (a few
rand to sample five wines), but because they were out of many of their red
wines (including merlot), the lady there let me sample two of what they had
left for no charge.
   I continued on to Francishoek to look around, though there's not too much
there (it's just situated in a nice valley).  I then turned back to start
heading north, driving through Paarl and Wellington.  Though I didn't stop
in either city, Wellington seemed like a lively town, and had I not wanted
to get through the mountain passes before late afternoon, I would have
stopped.  Between the two cities, there's a large black township called
Mbekweni, and as you're about to enter, you pass a sign that says "Urban
Area."  Welcome to South Africa...
   The mountain passes all have good roads, but often there's no guard rail
to prevent a wandering car from going over the side.  Surprisingly, at the
top of one of them (the Bainskloof Pass), there were actually a few isolated
homes scattered around the area.  Driving these passes aren't difficult, but
they do take a while, especially if you want to get out and look around, as
I frequently did.
   Late in the afternoon, I arrived into Ceres, a town famous for its
beautiful valley setting, its fruit trees, and the brand of fruit juice
produced locally and sold Africa-wide.  However, scenery aside, the town has
the worst feel of any town in South Africa.  Beggars and hawkers are
everywhere (so much so that "NO HAWKING" signs have to be posted all over
the place), and everything about the place has a bad vibe.  For dinner that
evening, I ordered a pizza from a pub/restaurant with a sign out front
saying "Pizza R16."  Though the pizza was excellent, when the bill came, the
amount due was suddenly R20 (with the sign downstairs now magically changed
to R20) -- and earlier, at a nearby store, the cashier gave me change in
cents coins rather than rand coins, seeing that I was a foreigner, and
deciding to short-change me.  I knew what she had done, but decided not to
say anything.
   People in Ceres (both black and white) have a cold shoulder about them
(more so than in other parts of South Africa), and are surly like you
wouldn't believe.  I can't explain why, but the town just has a very bad
feeling to it.  The only nice thing about the place other than its
picturesque setting was the B&B I found a room at -- Hindenburg B&B, run by
a nice lady and her husband, both busy cooking and setting up for Chirstmas
Eve dinner the following day.
   I relaxed in the evening, taking some walks around town, and catching The
Simpsons on M-NET (a pay TV service) in the room.  As with all NTSC
(American televison standard) programs that have to be converted to PAL (the
other major world television standard, and the one used in South Africa),
the pitch gets raised a full half-step in the conversion process, giving the
actors higher-sounding voices, and upping the Fox fanfare from starting on
an F to an F#.  Drinking a diet soda while watching, I noticed that in South
Africa, the diet sodas don't just have aspartame, but a mix: "sodium
cyclamate and acesulfame K and aspartame."  Hmmm.  At least there are some
good sodas though: Schwepps makes a diet soda (Lemon Lite) with 6% real
fruit juice.

Dec. 24: Calvinia
   In the morning, I left Ceres to drive to Citrusdal and Clanwilliam -- two
nice towns on the way up north.  It was Christmas Eve Day, and in
Clanwilliam, a black teenager dressed as Santa (complete with foam white
beard) was driving a donkey-pulled cart, throwing out candy to the kids as
he passed.  I asked if I could take his picture, and he smiled, saying
   Turning off the N7, the road (384) between Clanwilliam and Calvinia is
quite nice, though for most of the way, I hardly passed any cars coming from
the opposite direction (perhaps because it was Christmas Eve).  The radio
though (SABC), kept me company for a good part of the drive.
   While driving today, I decided to pick up some hitchhikers -- the first
of a few times I would do so on my trip.  In South Africa, the majority of
the population can't afford a car, so hitching is common.  It's especially
difficult for people in rural areas to be able to get somewhere if someone
doesn't stop to pick them up.  In a way, speeding down the highway in my
rented Honda, I felt it was almost my responsibility to stop every once in a
while to give people a needed lift.  That being said however, picking up
hitchhikers can be dangerous anywhere in the world, and South Africa is
certainly no exception.  The times I did stop, I felt it would be reasonably
safe to do so, though in the end, one can never be absolutely certain. 
Still, on one level, it's a way to meet the people of South Africa that you
might never be able to meet otherwise as a tourist.  Even after spending a
few months in the country, as a white tourist, it's very easy to see only
the "white" side of South Africa: all accomodations (B&Bs, hotels, hostels,
etc.) are invariably run by whites, your fellow travellers will be white,
the restaurants you eat at and the cities you explore will be predominately
inhabited by whites... and until time passes and South Africa becomes truly
integrated in day-to-day living, you almost have to go out of your way to
see the country as it really is.  Today, I picked up three hitchhikers
separately, all black.  The first was a middle-aged fork-lift operator on a
nearby farm who was going home to spend Christmas with his family, and had
been walking the distance in the heat.  Later on, I picked up another man,
then a woman.  It was one of the few ways to have good conversations with,
and meet people other than white South Africans, though I certainly did not
just stop and pick up everyone I saw.
   Arriving into Calvinia where I'd spend the night, the police stopped me
at the Shell petrol station for a routine check (as violence tends to occur
on Christmas Eve).  Taking the Indian officer's picture, I continued on into
town, noticing that the army was out patrolling the streets.  Later, I asked
two officers (one black, one white) if there was trouble, but the reply was
that they were in town only to ensure the peace (which they did
   I checked into the Hantam Hotel, an interesting place run by a friendly
ex-Brit and his wife.  They've been in South Africa for 15 years, and at
first, owned a hotel in another city before moving to Calvinia 4-5 years ago
to run the Hantam.  The hotel itself is old and a bit run-down, but adequate
enough to spend the night in (though it's always an interesting sight to see
giant water-bugs not only in the shower, but come down into the toilet bowl
as you flush).
   The hotel has an attached restaurant (the "Tropicana") where I ordered
calamari rings, thinking fish would be the healthy thing to eat.  Wrong. 
They were served fried -- as so many other foods in South Africa are.  I'm
not sure if it's a British-influenced diet or not, but there is virtually no
emphasis on "low fat" or "healthy" in the country.  Instead, emphasis is on
grease, frying, and fattiness (those "toasted" sandwiches will almost
certainly be grilled rather than dry-toasted).  Pies are popular (curry pie,
mince meat pie, etc.), as is fast food -- and though McDonald's isn't yet on
every corner, local competitors such as Hungry Lion are prolific.  This diet
shows in the local population, as many people (not just whites, but blacks
as well!) are overweight -- and ads for miracle diet solutions abound.  This
was a stark contrast to some of the poorer African countries such as Malawi
or Zambia, where you'd almost never see anyone overweight.  Other than diet
sodas though, trying to get low-calorie prepared foods in South Africa is an
impossible task.  Another South African food quirk (especially in a country
rich with fruit trees), is that it's impossible to find 100% pure orange
juice here: it's easy to find sweetened orange juice, or a pure orange juice
BLEND (usually with grape or pear added), but only once, at a supermarket in
the town of George, did I actually find a bottle of 100% pure orange juice,
prepared by the supermarket itself.
   I spent the afternoon walking around the nice, quiet desert town of
Calvinia.  At one end is a giant postbox (the largest in South Africa) where
you can mail a postcard from, though I enjoyed the residential areas more. 
It was Christmas Eve, and while most whites were at home with their
families, a steady stream of blacks were walking down the path out of town,
towards an area outside the city where most blacks still live.  After
spending some time around the tree-lined residential streets (with their
nice white homes and schools), I turned around at the grain silo to go back
into town.  There, only one small white-owned market remained open for
Christmas Eve, and things soon became pretty quiet.
   Following a tip from the Hantam Hotel owner, shortly before sunset, I
drove a few kms out of town, and just parked off the side of the road to
take in the view.  Sitting on the hood of the car, I took in the surrounding
scenery and gorgeous sunset before returning back to town.
   There were only a few other guests at the hotel that night, and I was the
only one to eat in its restaurant (which had already been set up for
tomorrow's Christmas Day lunch) -- but Calvinia was a nice little desert
town, and the perfect place to spend a quiet evening in -- I can understand
why the owners of the Hantam Hotel moved here.

Dec. 25: Augrabies Falls / Upington
   Last night at the hotel, I thought I had lost my watch, and asked the
owners to come by and wake me up at 7:30am, though in the end, I was up by
7:00am anyway (as I was leaving Calvinia, I noticed I had left my watch in
the car's glove box).  It was a beautiful morning, and at 7:30am, I was out
walking the quiet, deserted streets of Calvinia once more.  You wouldn't
guess it from its current name, but the town was actually founded by Jews
who settled in the area years ago -- though there is no longer a sizeable
Jewish population in the area.  The town's synagogue (built in 1920), was
donated to the town in 1968, and is now the Calvinia Museum.
   Tonight, I would spend the night in Upington, so I had a long drive ahead
of me.  From Calvinia, I'd pass through Brandsvlei, Kenhardt, Keimos,
Kakamas, Augrabies Falls, and back to Keimos before reaching Upington.  On
the drive between Keimos and Augrabies Falls, I picked up a hitchhiker who
spoke good English, and on the way back, one who was extremely friendly, but
couldn't speak English very well (he asked to be dropped off at the police
station so he could pick up a document, so I obliged).
   Today entailed lots of desert driving (the type I like), and by the
middle of the day, I had reached Augrabies Falls.  The area is popular with
South African holiday makers who can stay in small bungalows close to the
falls, and consists of a nice Orange River waterfall and a small game park.
I checked out the waterfall first, and though it was nice, I found the many
multi-colored lizards on the nearby rocks more interesting.  I ordered lunch
at the park cafeteria (so-so), and afterwards, started to drive through the
game park.  However, due to recent rains, the dirt road was pretty muddy in
places, and knowing I'd be in better game parks in the weeks to come (not to
mention the fact that most animals wouldn't be out in the hot mid-day sun),
I decided to turn around and head for Upington.
   While driving, I found myself listening to the radio almost all the time,
usually alternating between African, Afrikaans, and English-language
broadcasts for variety.  SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation) radio
is broadcast throughout the country on different frequencies (depending upon
which city you're in), so many of the car radios in the region have
something called RDS -- a feature that identifies the station by name, and
will automatically find that station's strongest frequency for the area
you're in.  As you drive into another area and the signal fades, the radio
will try searching for a newer, stronger frequency for the station, and will
automatically switch to it once found.  Besides the nationwide SABC and
African stations such as Umhlobo, many large cities also have their own
independent local stations (in Durban, for example, there's a station
focusing on Indian-related topics due to the city's large Indian
population -- and Cape Town must have at least a half-dozen independent
stations of their own).  The English SABC broadcast typically has news at
the top of each hour, followed by music (with a classical hour at 2:00pm,
and golden pop tunes from 3:00-5:00pm), though there are also talk shows and
news analysis.  As with most of Africa, the vast majority of stations are on
the FM band (including SABC), but there are also a small handful of AM/MW
stations, including "Cape Talk" (Cape Town 567AM), and a large talk/news
station in Johannesburg at 702AM.  Note that in South Africa, the AM/MW
"step-rate" (how far apart station frequencies are separated) is 9khz, as
opposed to 10khz found in the United States (giving you frequencies such as
558AM, 567AM, and 576AM instead of 550AM, 560AM, and 570AM).  Though I don't
know where their transmitter is located, the Voice of America (VOA) can also
be picked up throughout Southern Africa on 909AM, as well as on their usual
shortwave frequencies.
   Today's big story on the radio was the report of another bomb attack in
Cape Town: there had been a few bombings in the city recently, but no one
had claimed responsibility for them.  This latest attack was perpetrated
against the police, with them being anonymously called to a scene where a
bomb was waiting.  Two women officers were injured, and one had to have her
leg amputated.  A few weeks earlier, a bomb was detonated at a gay bar, and
more recently, there was one at the V&A Planet Hollywood.  Who was doing
this?  Was it political?  Or a protection or extortion scheme?  The fact
that no one had claimed responsibility for the bombings was making people
antsy, and their anxiety showed in the voices of those who called in to talk
about the subject.  In the coming weeks, Vodacom and MTN (the two cel phone
operators in South Africa), would announce that they would no longer sell
pre-paid cel cards to customers without proper ID, as it was determined that
a cel phone had been used to detonate the most recent bomb.
   I arrived into Upington in the mid-afternoon, and being Christmas, the
town center was pretty much deserted.  The first thing I did was check into
the Protea Oasis Lodge (Protea is a chain of mid-range hotels found
throughout South Africa, and in Upington, there are two Protea Lodges in the
center of town right next to each other.  The higher-rated one was booked
for the night, but there was still room at the Protea Oasis Lodge -- which,
even though it has one less star in the book, is actually the nicer of the
two to stay at.  If you stay here, you're allowed to go next door and use
the pool at the other Protea).  The rate was R160/US$26.23, and after
setting my bags down (and turning on the air-con), I went out for a walk.
   Upington is a nice town, and even though everything was closed (and the
town pretty much deserted), I still enjoyed exploring the area.  About the
only businesses open were video-rental shops, so I decided to have a peek
inside one of them.  VHS is still the norm in South Africa, but a few DVD
discs have started appearing on shelves here as well.
   Walking back to the Protea Lodge, then continuing onwards, I soon came to
the Orange River -- and the area here is quite nice.  Down in a residential
area by the water, I stopped to ask a white lady watering her lawn if it
was safe to swim in the river (as many kids on the other side were now
doing).  She answered "oh yes", saying that her own kids had done so all the
time while growing up.  Walking the bridge to the other side, I noticed lots
of families relaxing on the grassy banks or enjoying the water as they took
the day off.  One black kid even had a home-made fishing pole, and was
catching fish out of the river, though I don't know how safe such
locally-caught fish are to eat.  To get people to-and-from the area, there's
a boat (used mostly by blacks) that carries passengers down the river, and
when it's ready to leave, it sounds its horn to the tune of "La Cucaracha."
   In the early evening, I returned to the hotel, and went to use the pool
at the neighboring Protea.  Later on, I caught some of "Anastasia" and
"Independence Day" on TV in the room...
   In South Africa, there are three channels of SABC, but those that can
afford it subscribe to pay TV services such as M-NET or DSTV (a new digital
satellite service).  Even though people must pay a TV license fee each year
to support SABC (and many stores such as "GAME" will refuse to sell you a
new TV unless you show them proof that you've paid your TV license), SABC
still has commercials -- though nothing like the amount found on American
television.  M-NET is a pay service that offers movies and other foreign
programs, and can be purchased by itself (along with SuperSport), or as part
of a complete digital satellite package from DSTV, including dozens of other
channels.  The footprint of the DSTV satellite covers most of Southern
Africa, and its signal can be picked up even in the remotest areas of the
region, including Malawi, Zambia, and even apparently, St. Helena Island. 
DSTV winds up up costing about US$30-$35 a month, though the rate differs
with the country you live in.  One funny quirk is that even though M-NET is
a pay channel, they still censor movies for bad language, and have a very
annoying way of doing it: instead of just cutting out the offending
language, or using an "alternate" version (as you'd see on U.S. TV or aboard
an airplane), they'll broadcast the original, but turn the sound off for a
few seconds whenever a bad word is about to be spoken -- meaning there's a
sudden and total loss of volume everytime a bad word is uttered.  It really
is quite annoying...                                                                                                   

Dec. 26: Pofadder / Pella / Springbok
   December 26th, once known as "Boxing Day", is now known as "Family Day"
in South Africa.
   On the radio this morning was news of yet another bomb scare in Cape
Town: last night, 500 people attending a concert had to wait while
authorities looked into an anonymous phone call that reported a bomb at a
Christmas concert.  Luckily, no bomb was found, but other reported news of
the day was worse: throughout the night, there had been a spate of Christmas
shootings and stabbings in the eastern part the country and Johannesburg.  I
suppose that's why the army was out in places like Calvinia -- to keep the
   This morning, I drove through more desert, and loved every minute of it. 
Between Kakamos and Pofadder, there's absolutely nothing (the area looks
much like California's Mojave desert), and just as with the Australian
outback, you drive on a flat highway that seems to stretch on forever into
the horizon.
   In Pofadder, I stopped to walk around: it really is a very small, quiet
desert town, and even though hardly anyone was yet out and about, I enjoyed
exploring its dusty streets and small, simple houses (some of which had ham
radio antennas).
   I then continued onto the town of Pella -- a black-only town off a gravel
road and a bit out-of-the-way -- but it was worth the side-trip, even though
I didn't really stop: the small town is nestled among some beautiful desert
scenery, and among traditional houses and shacks are kids shouting and
playing ball anywhere they can.  On the way back, I passed three junior-high
aged girls walking along the dirt road to the main highway.  I stopped to
give them a lift, but after dropping them off at the highway, realized I was
in no particular hurry to get anywhere -- so I circled back, picked them up
again, and took them to where they wanted to go: the nearby town of
Aggeneys.  One spoke English pretty well, and they were quite surprised not
only to be picked up by a white, but to hear that I was from America.  When
I dropped them off in Aggeneys, they all got out and yelled in glee to their
friends (from what I could gather, to make sure that their friends saw them
being dropped off by a white guy).
   I then continued driving south towards the town of Springbok, where I
stopped for lunch and petrol.  In the spring, this area becomes one of South
Africa's busiest tourist destinations, when the entire region blooms with
wildflowers -- however, in the scorching heat of summer, there's not a
single flower to be found.
   I stopped in at the Springbok Lodge and Restaurant for lunch.  Its owner
and his son have quite a business going -- they run a cluster of yellow
bungalows, as well as a busy restaurant with typical South African
   In just about all of South Africa, it seems no one has heard of the
phrase "service with a smile."  South Africa is still very young at
developing a service-oriented economy and culture, and service (good or bad)
is never done with a smile.  Later on in the trip, I read a newspaper
interview with a black South African tourism official who said something to
the effect that you can't expect people who have never been on the receiving
end of the service industry to understand how important it is to treat the
customer right (in other words, a worker at a fancy hotel who has never had
the means or opportunity to stay at such a hotel himself would not
understand how important friendly service is).  The official suggested a
program in which hotel chains might donate a few rooms to those unable to
afford the normal room rate, so that South African society as a whole can
change from one in which service is rough and ambivalent to one up to
international standards.  Most telling about this need are all the
advertisements you come across throughout the country -- proclaiming that
for every eight tourists that visit South Africa, one permanent job is
created -- and urging people to welcome tourists with open arms.  Here's one
humorous example: in South Africa, the oft-used phrase "The Big Five"
usually refers to the five major animals you might see on a safari (lion,
leopard, elephant, buffalo, and rhino) -- but there are two great posters
plastered all over the Johannesburg airport that relate to the service and
tourism industry (I even took a picture of them).  One says: "Have You Seen
the Big Five Lately?", and shows pictures of an American tourist, a Japanese
tourist, a British tourist, a French tourist, and an Italian tourist... and
the second shows the faces on the U.S. Dollar, the Japanese Yen, the British
Pound, the Italian Lyra, and the French Franc, with the caption "The Nicer
You Are, The Longer They'll Stay."
   From Springbok, I called ahead to the small town of Kamiskroon to book a
room for the night, but as I drove further south, I began to have doubts
about staying there.  I was now going out of my way on purpose (heading
south, even though I'd need to go north tomorrow), because I had heard that
Kamiskroon was a pleasant little town.  However, it just seemed to get
hotter and hotter the further south I went, and the more I thought about it,
the more it seemed to make sense to just stay in Springbok for the night. 
Still, I decided to finish the drive, and arrived into Kamiskroon to
sweltering heat.  I stopped at the little shop/hotel I was to stay at, and
explained the situation to the owner -- who was quite nice, and understood
completely (though I also picked up some drinks and snacks to give him some
business).  Before leaving town, I stopped at the town's one petrol station
to use the phone, and here, met up with a caravan of rich, spoiled Chinese
tourists driving BMWs who were anything but friendly.  After making my
calls, I hopped into the car, and drove back to Springbok in the heat.
   By the time I reached Springbok again, it had cooled down a bit, and I
booked myself a little yellow bungalow at the Springbok Lodge and Restaurant
(R90, with air-con and TV).  The city is home to South Africa's first copper
mine, and like Calvinia, was settled by Jews (with the old Jewish synagogue
also being the current town museum).  Outside the restaurant/lodge office, I
used the card phone to arrange some accomodations for myself in Namibia for
the next few days...
   While calling ahead for reservations, the question always asked is "what
is your contact number?", and even if you say you're visiting from the
United States, most places will still assume you have a working South
African cel phone.  Each time I'd say I didn't have one, the response would
almost always be "Hmmm..." -- but in the end, I never was rejected due to
not having a contact phone.
   Public phones are found everywhere in South Africa, and are generally
quite good.  Telkom is the monopoly telephone provider in the country, and
there's hardly ever a problem placing calls (the blue phones accept coins,
the green phones accept cards).  South African telephone cards are of
credit-card thickness, with a small chip embedded in them rather than the
thin, flimsy telephone cards you'll find in Japan or Australia -- and an LCD
display on the phone will show how many credits you have left on the card,
with the amount ticking down as you talk.  Except in Cape Town (where for
some reason, the phones seem to be smarter), most card phones in South
Africa cannot automatically detect when a call is answered on the other end.
This means that when the party you're calling answers, you need to press the
"TALK" button -- which will start the credits ticking down, and enable your
mouthpiece to work so the person you're calling can hear you.  However, a
benefit of this hassle is that if you don't actually NEED someone on the
other end to hear you, you can make your calls for free.  For instance, if
you want to call home to check your answering machine, just don't push the
TALK button, and you won't be charged for the call (however, after about a
minute or so, the LCD display will finally warn you that if you don't press
TALK soon, it will begin to automatically assume you're connected, and start
charging you anyway).
   One other annoying problem with public phones in most Southern African
countries is that the "#" and "*" keys don't generate tones -- they're
basically just dead keys -- but if your answering machine (or bank-by-phone)
requires them, you're out of luck, and must find a private phone somewhere
to use them properly.
   Directory Assistance is "1025" in South Africa, and when you call it,
you're told the approximate wait time.  However, if you're told the wait
will be (for example) 3 minutes and 14 seconds, calling right back will
often give you a totally different wait time (perhaps 45 seconds -- or 4
minutes!)  Whenever I'd receive a recording saying that the wait would be
more than 3 minutes, I'd usually just call back -- and more often than not,
would be given a shorter wait time (more than once, I also tried timing the
wait to see how accurate it was -- and it wasn't very accurate).  However,
to soothe you while you wait, you're put on hold to an instrumental version
of John Denver's "Annie's Song" (C, C, B, A, C.. B.. A, A, A, B, C, G, E..)
each time you call.  Most public phones in South Africa and Namibia also
allow incoming calls (the payphone's number is usually displayed on the LCD
screen, especially once you start placing a call) -- though incoming calls
have a 10-minute limit on them, and you can see the remaining time tick down
on the LCD screen as you talk.
   After making my calls, I walked around town a bit, hiking up to the top
of the local hill.  The dirt path was filled with footprints, and once I
reached the top, I saw why: on the other side of the hill was the settlement
where all the blacks in the area live -- and each day, they'll walk up and
down the hill to get to their jobs in "white" Springbok (when I later asked
in the restaurant about the name of the black settlement, I was told that
years ago it was actually the original site of the town of Springbok).
   After walking back down the hill, I lied down on a stretch of grass and
relaxed, looking up at the clouds in the sky as a nice summer breeze began
to pick up... quite a nice way to spend the late afternoon.  For dinner that
evening, I went back to the Springbok Restaurant and ordered a small pizza
(it was Sunday -- the day to take my weekly malaria tablet, so I had to have
lots of liquids and a good meal), and afterwards, went back to my little
yellow, windowless bungalow, catching Flubber and The Untouchables on M-NET
as I sorted my pack.

Dec. 27: Port Nolloth / Keetmanshoop (Namibia)
   Today, I decided to drive north and cross into Namibia -- but before
doing so, wanted to look at Port Nolloth on the western coast of South
Africa.  The drive to Port Nolloth is a lonely one on a long, desolate road
with no real stops along the way, but I wanted to see what South Africa's
northwest coast was like.
   In the morning, I wound up giving a lift to a few different people. 
First, I picked up a security guard in Steinkopf that spoke English quite
well, enjoying a good conversation with him.  Later, at the start of the
road to Port Nolloth, I picked up three men separately (though they were all
waiting in the same general area).  Unless one is going specifically to Port
Nolloth, there's not much of a reason to take this road, (as Port Nolloth is
its only destination), so traffic can be very light, and thus, it can be
difficult to get a lift.
   It was still early morning by the time I arrived into Port Nolloth, and
its famous morning mist was still around.  The town is basically a small
coastal fishing village, though not a very busy one.  There are some holiday
bungalows by the ocean, but fishing (along with the area's small port) play
a more important role than tourism here.  There really isn't too much to
see, but I spent some time walking along the beach before looking around
town.  After buying a couple of doughnuts from the local market, I soon
hopped back in the car, and headed for the N7.
   Driving towards the Namibian border, the sun came out, and the weather
began to get hot.  At the border, I had my first taste of what would be the
usual procedure for African border crossings: first, you park your car and
walk into the immigration office for the country you're leaving (in this
case, South Africa) to have your passport stamped and receive an exit
paper.  Then, you get into your car, show the exit paper, and drive about
1km or so to the other country's border (in this case, Namibia), park your
car once more, get out, and visit that country's immigration office (where
you once again have your passport stamped).  Generally, the borders in
Southern Africa were easy and effortless (if a bit slow), but it should be
pointed out that many are open only during daylight hours.
   At the Vioolsdrif border crossing between South Africa and Namibia, I
stopped on the South African side for a bit to get a drink and make a phone
call at the small, shady rest camp (I wanted to call South African Airways
to find out if it was possible to change the dates of a plane ticket booked
at the "African Explorer" rate -- it was, as long as seats were available).
The border at Vioolsdrif is open 24hrs, and though busy, the formalities
thankfully didn't take too long, especially with the mid-day heat.  Upon
crossing into Namibia, I stopped at the BP station to fill up with petrol.
   Driving in Namibia is almost the same as driving in South Africa.  Though
Namibia (once known as South West Africa) was German-occupied, the roads and
signs are almost carbon-copies of South Africa, which later occupied the
country.  In Namibia, the grade and quality of a road can be determined by
its classification: a "B" road will be a primary road or major highway... a
"C" road will be a secondary road (either gravel or tar)... and a "D" road
will almost certainly be gravel -- and possibly a bit difficult if
travelling in a normal car (additionally, a "P" road is a private road, and
an "F" road is a farm road).  Namibian license plates all have the same
color scheme (yellow, with black numbers), but use the following system to
show what part of the country the car is from: "N 12345 WB" would indicate
the car is from Namibia ("N"), its number is 12345, and is from Walvis Bay
("WB" -- just a "W" at the end would indicate "Windhoek", and an "S" would
indicate Swakopmund).
   The area by the border is arid, dry, and desolate, but as you drive
further north, things turn greener (though of course this depends upon where
and when it has rained).  Throughout my trip, I was very lucky to have
avoided most of the rain and bad weather, but for most of Southern Africa,
summer is the rainy season -- and this year, it hit pretty hard in KwaZulu
Natal and Mozambique, causing damage and death.
   Just north of the Namibian border is Fish River Canyon (and the Ai-Ais
Hot Spring Resort), but as the area is closed during the summer months due
to the intense heat, I continued driving north until I reached Keetmanshoop,
where I would spend the night.  Here, I decided to stay at the pleasant
Canyon Hotel, with its air-con, TV, and pool (all useful amenities in a hot
desert town).  The rate was N$205/US$33.60 (the Namibian dollar is pegged to
the South African rand, with the same US$1=N$6.1 exchange rate), and in
Namibia (unlike South Africa), most accomodations include breakfast with the
price of the room.
   Keetmanshoop is an interesting city in that it has more petrol stations
than any other city of its size in Namibia.  As just a small town, it has 11
petrol stations (I went inside one to ask), and there's virtually no
competition between them.  Amazingly, you'll see two different stations of
the same brand right next to each other, and a third one just a block away,
making Keetmanshoop the town where everyone fills up their vehicles.  Inside
the station where I asked the number of petrol stations in town, two guys
were hanging around, talking to a big guy behind the counter.  One (who
initially thought I was Canadian), was on leave from military service in
Kosovo, and the other was just visiting.  We started chatting for a bit
about Namibia, South Africa, and the type of town Keetmanshoop is, and a few
days later in Swakopmund over New Years, one of the guys (then with his
family) recognized me walking in a supermarket shopping mall.  Small world.
   As much of a "hick" town as Keetmanshoop might sound like though, it has
one thing going for it: a terrific public swimming pool.  It was hot that
day, and walking through the deserted town (deserted because it was still
the holiday season), I saw two young kids looking as if they had just come
from a pool.  Remembering having seen one on a city map, I asked the kids
where it was, and they pointed the way.  The pool is large, well kept-up,
has two diving boards, and a cheap-enough price: N$1.50/US25c for kids, and
N$2.50/US41c for adults.  It was nice to see everyone (black and white, kids
and adults) enjoying the pool together, and I wanted to jump right in, but
didn't have on my swim trunks.  I asked the lady at the ticket window what
time the pool closed, and she said 7:00pm -- so I walked back to the hotel
on the other side of town (a 25-minute walk), changed, and returned to the
pool by 5:45pm -- only to be told that it would be closing in 15 minutes (as
the pool actually closed at 6:00pm, not 7:00pm).  Still, after walking all
afternoon in the heat (including three round-trips from one end of the city
to the other), I wanted a swim -- and that 15 minutes in the pool was more
than worth the N$2.50!
   At 6:00pm, I walked back to the hotel to use the pool there, and though
it was no comparison to the community pool, was still enjoyable
nonetheless.  At the hotel, I also met some German tourists (now living in
Johannesburg, though vacationing in Namibia), and we chatted for a bit by
the pool.
   In the evening, I walked around town under a beautiful orange-grey sky,
noticing how different things were here in Namibia than in South Africa. 
Here, blacks and whites were much more integrated in daily life than in
South Africa, with black families living alongside white ones, blacks
driving nicer cars (even an occasional -- though rare -- Benz or BMW), and
even owning some of the neighborhood businesses as well.  A large portion of
Namibia's population may indeed be in poverty, but there was also a definite
black middle class in the country -- something you hardly see at all (at
least so far) in South Africa.
   Later that evening, the wind picked up quite a bit, and from inside the
hotel room, the trees swaying in the wind sounded almost like rain.

Dec. 28: Luderitz
   Today, I drove from Keetmanshoop to Luderitz, where I would spend the
night, and along the way, stopped for a bit in the tiny town of Aus to buy
an ice-cream cup and a sticker of the Namibian flag.  I also stopped in the
town of Bethanie -- a nice, small town with an old church, though I didn't
spend much time in the area.
   There is very little but desert before arriving into Luderitz, with much
of the area consisting of protected diamond mines.  A few kms. before the
city limits, you pass the ghost town of Kolmanskop (a popular tourist
destination), but I opted not to stop, as you can't see much if you just
"show up" (you must book a guided tour in town, but the following morning, I
decided to go on a seal cruise instead).
   Luderitz is a town where you can see Namibia's German past alive and well
even today.  Everyone here speaks and understands German, and the town has a
definite European flavor to it.  As in Europe, the shops all close for a few
hours during lunch (when everyone empties out onto the streets to talk and
eat with friends), and businesses are all closed by 5:00pm or 6:00pm.  Many
blacks live in the poorer areas higher up on the hills, though many also
live in the town itself.
   I checked myself into the Hotel Zum Sperrgebiet for N$305 including
breakfast (just look for the light pink building up on the hill), a nice,
new hotel with almost all its guests being German (note that the Lonely
Planet mentions it has a pool -- it doesn't).  I then walked into town,
first reserving a spot for myself on the following morning's boat trip,
before buying a telephone card at the post office and looking through some
of the town's stores...
   Namibia has many of the large South African chain stores (including PEP
and Ackerman's), as well as South African supermarket chains such as Sentra,
Spar, KwikSpar and ShopRite.  PEP is an interesting store -- they're like an
old "five and dime," selling clothes, shoes, umbrellas, and other everyday
items for a good price.  Most items probably come from China, but the chain
is huge -- there are 940 PEP stores in South Africa, and 300 more in the
rest of Africa (PEP is part of Pepkor, a huge company which also owns the
ShopRite chain of supermarkets).  It seems no matter how small a town is,
there's bound to be at least one PEP store there -- if not more.  As strange
as it sounds, I've been in small towns where the "downtown" is just one
street, three blocks long -- with a PEP at one end of the street, and (only
a 2-minute walk away), another PEP at the other end.  The store's first
location was in Upington (South Africa), but the familiar blue PEP logo is
now found throughout Africa, with Pepkor expanding vigorously in the region
(in 1998, the first PEP store in Ghana was opened).
   In Luderitz, I stopped at a "PEP Namibia" store and picked up a polo
shirt for myself -- the first of many that I would buy at various PEP stores
throughout the region.  The shirts -- even though identical -- carried
different labels, ranging from "Lancetti Italian Design" to "Classic", and I
would wander in many a PEP store to look for them.  Their country of origin
wasn't labelled (probably China), but they were comfortable pocket polo
shirts made of lightweight 65%-35% fabric, with short sleeves that were
actually SHORT -- exactly how I like my shirts (and perfect for travel, as
they weigh almost nothing).  The price?  N$31.70/US$5.20, which later
dropped to N$29.95/US$4.90 as time went by.  In the end, I wound up buying
seven of these shirts: five to bring home with me, and two more striped grey
shirts of identical design that would become my trademark shirt for the
trip -- the first being worn constantly while I was on my own, and the
second being worn almost everyday during the overland portion.
   In most stores (both shops and supermarkets), you're supposed to check
your parcels in when you enter (to deter against shoplifting, you give your
bag to the guard, who then gives you a number and keeps your parcel). 
However, I didn't want my camera out of my hands (as the stores will take no
responsibility for anything lost or damaged), so on each occasion, I
basically played dumb tourist and ignored the parcel checks.  Only once (in
Mauritius, at the very end of my trip), was I ever asked to check my bag
in.  Interestingly, everyone does it voluntarily -- they're almost never
asked to do so.
   After PEP, I stopped in at the local Avis office in Luderitz to have my
Honda checked for enough oil and fluids (as I was doing a lot of hot, dusty
driving, and I didn't want the car breaking down in the middle of the
desert).  It took about 30 minutes, but everything turned out fine.
   When finished at Avis, I drove out to Diaz Point, a short drive from town
with a lighthouse and a good view of the ocean.  On the radio was a live
broadcast from Dolphin Park (a family vacation spot near Swakopmund), with
kids competiting for prizes from KFC by answering questions such as "what
can run all day without getting tired" (answer: your nose, etc.)  Along the
drive to Diaz Point are signs warning you not to leave the marked road
(because of the surronding diamond mines).
   In the late afternoon, I drove back into town and just walked around,
looking at some of the old European-style buildings of the city, (including
the local church, where plenty of German tourists were looking around as
well).  Later, I had dinner at Badger's Bistro (one of the few places open
after 6:00pm, except for the hotel restaurants), and ordered peri-peri
(spicy sauce) calamari, and a hawaiian chicken burger for dinner.  Both were
surpriningly good.

Dec. 29: Luderitz / Sesriem
   I started the day by going out on a boat trip around the Luderitz
coastline.  From 8:00am-10:15am, the boat went out in the cool, foggy
weather to show us seals, jackass penguins, and heavyside dolphins (named
after Capt. Heavyside, who first documented them).  While on the boat, I
chatted with a young couple from Copenhagen who were about to spend six
months studying in South Africa, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed
the little excursion.
   Back in town after the cruise, I stopped at the post office to buy more
phone cards before beginning the long drive to Sesriem/Sossusvlei (where the
famous red sand dunes are).  I left Luderitz at 11:15am, and without
stopping, didn't arrive into Sesriem until 5:45pm -- a long, tiring, dusty
drive on dirt roads of varying degrees of bumpiness.  The first portion of
the drive from Luderitz is actually quite nice (passing through some
beautiful desert scenery), but as you get closer to Sesriem and turn off
onto the dirt roads, the driving becomes more tedious.  Especially annoying
was the fact that even though Sossusvlei is one of the main tourist
attractions of Namibia (with just about every driver in the area heading for
it), NONE of the road signs mention either Sossusvlei or Sesriem (instead,
they indicate only obscure, small towns past them).  On these dirt roads in
the middle of nowhere, miles can go by before you see another car, and at
one intersection, the signage was so poor, I had no idea which way to go. 
Luckily, a minute or two after choosing a direction, a car passed me coming
from the other direction, and I was able to flag it down and verify with its
driver that I was indeed going the right way.  The condition of the dirt
roads to Sesriem from the south are worse than you might think from looking
on a map: they're not impassable for a 2x2 car, but are much bumpier and
pothole-filled than other gravel roads with a "C" designation -- requiring
you to drive slower than you'd like, especially in the heat.  Driving these
roads is much like driving on ice: if your speed begins to even approach a
certain velocity, the car will start to slide -- and it can become quite
easy to lose control.  The road coming down from the north (via Solitaire)
is in better condition, though if you take it slow (annoying as it may be),
the road from the south is passable as well.
   I finally arrived at Sesriem, the small little "oasis" in the desert that
contains both the government-run campsite and the luxury Movenpick Lodge
(previously known as the Karos Lodge).  I filled up with petrol at the lone
BP station (where at first, one of the pumps stopped working, so the
attendant had to finish filling the car with the second pump), and at that
station, found the greatest payphone on my whole trip -- an orange card
telephone that put calls through, but didn't deduct any credits from your
card for them!  Over the next 24 hours, I'd use that phone numerous times to
make free calls all over the world -- but locals had also discovered it was
giving free calls, so there'd often be a queue for it.  One strange quirk
with this phone though, was that it would not place any calls through to the
"949" area code in the U.S.  Even though other phones in Namibia had no
problem doing so, this phone just would not recognize that there was a "949"
area code in the U.S., and refused to complete such calls (similar problems
cropped up from time to time in other places as well, including one phone
elsewhere in Namibia that refused to recognize the "818" area code in the
U.S.)  In the end, I wound up using the phone to call family and friends in
the U.S. and Japan, as well as to call the Swakopmund area the following day
in an attempt to find an available room.  One note about calling overseas
from Namibia: the overseas access number is "00", not "09" as it is in South
   After filling up with petrol, I went to the Movenpick Lodge to check in.
This was the one night I decided to spend some money and stay in Sesriem (as
opposed to staying in a town such as Solitaire).  The reason?  I wanted to
see the Sossusvlei dunes at sunrise, and was told the only way this would be
possible would be to spend the night in Sesriem, where your only choice of
accomodation is the campground or the luxury lodge.  Though the actual dunes
are a good 60+kms from Sesriem, I was told by the Movenpick Lodge that if I
stayed with them, I'd be able to make it to the dunes by sunrise.  WRONG. 
The truth: only those staying at the CAMPGROUND will make it to the dunes by
sunrise.  Even though the campground and the lodge are just a stone's throw
away from each other, the campground is actually inside the gate of the
national park, while the lodge is located outside the gate.  The park gates
aren't opened until sunrise, so the only chance you have of getting to the
dunes BEFORE sunrise is if you stay at the campground.  The problem is that
the Movenpick Lodge (which charges almost US$150 a night) lies to people
inquiring about this, claiming that if you stay with them, you can make it
to the dunes by sunrise.  When I booked myself a room, I asked the lady
repeatidly if I'd be able to be at the dunes for sunrise, and she assured me
"oh yes, of course."  Only upon arrival though (once it's too late, unless
you want to turn back and drive over an hour to the next-closest town) do
you find out that it's all a lie.  When I went to inquire at the campground
about this, the employee there sighed and said "you know, you're the THIRD
person today that has come to me with the same story.  I don't know what to
tell you, except that they're not telling the truth.  If you don't stay at
the campground, you cannot enter the park before sunrise, so you will not be
able to be at the dunes until well after sunrise."  At this point, I asked
if there was anything I could do (could I pay for a campsite?  No, the
campground was fully-booked.  Could I just park my car inside the gate, so I
could go early?  No, it's against regulations, and the car will be noted and
towed later -- they're very strict about that).  Having no choice now but to
miss seeing the dunes at sunrise, I went back to the lodge to complain,
though the lady now at the counter insisted that no one was giving false
information, even after I mentioned I was the third person that day who had
been lied to.  To make matters worse, the lodge also lied about the cost of
the room: on the phone, I was told the charge would be N$842/US$138 with all
taxes, but when I checked in, it was suddenly N$875/US$143 -- and I had to
pay that rate.  Then, while eating dinner, the waiters didn't want to serve
me, and I saw one of them go up to the lady boss, point to me, and begin to
ask questions.  I finally asked if anything was wrong, and they said "are
you registered at the hotel here, sir?"  I said "yes, I'm in room xxx", and
showed them my key.  Finally they said "oh...sorry...we thought you were
staying at the campground, and were...uh..." (trying to steal dinner). 
Their excuse?  Everyone else in the hotel was part of a group, and I wasn't
with that group (gee, I didn't realize it was a crime to travel alone).
   The above is typical of the attitude you'll receive from the Movenpick
Lodge -- and it only gets worse: while checking in, I was "reminded" that
I'd have to pay them N$50/US$8.20 for a 4x4 shuttle from the 2x4 car park to
the base of the dunes the next morning unless I wanted to walk the 2kms
myself -- insisting that I'd have to pay them now, and couldn't pay the
drivers themselves in the morning.  I did so, but it was a complete waste of
money: the shuttle service doesn't start running from the 2x4 car park until
7:30am (much too late if one wants to get to the dunes early before the heat
of the day), and while they dropped me off at the dunes, they never came
back to pick me up (they're supposed to check every 30 minutes to see if
people are ready to return).  I waited for 1hr 15mins, but no one ever came.
Luckily, I hitched a ride back to the car park with a nice trio of Swiss
tourists -- and there at the car park were the shuttle drivers, sitting
around, chatting.  The first thing they did was ask for my voucher (so they
could get paid for their services), and when I commented that I had waited
an hour and 15 minutes and finally had to get a ride back with some fellow
tourists, they said "oh no, we were there!"  Yeah, right.  The attitude at
the Movenpick Lodge leaves a VERY bad taste in one's mouth, as does the
"shuttle" service that "runs" (when they feel like it) between the 2x4 car
park and the dunes.  Beware, fellow travellers.
   To be fair, if it wasn't for the shitty treatment and constant lying from
the lodge (not to mention the incredibly high price to stay there), it
actually wouldn't be a bad place (though NOTHING excuses their attitude and
business practices).  The lodge is basically a collection of square-shaped
bungalows that look as if they were dropped from the sky onto the desert
floor.  You get your own private bungalow with zip-up windows built into the
tent-flap walls in case of sandstorm, a nice swimming pool, and dinner
served outside under the stars, cooked fresh right in front of you (with a
choice ranging from ostrich kabobs to antelope steak).  While dinner was
being prepared, I talked with one of the cooks, and found out that the
workers live in the small staff accomodations nearby, with many of them
coming from all over the country.  Since I had been chatting with the cook,
I wound up being first in line for dinner -- so later, as everyone else was
eating, I decided to go for a dip in the pool.  It was a warm night with
stars like you wouldn't believe, and after swimming, I decided to walk out
of the lodge and try to use the free phone at the petrol station again.  I
knew both the BP station and its phone were located behind the park gates
(which would now probably be locked), but even if it was inaccessible, I
still wanted to go out for the walk.  Grabbing my flashlight, I walked the
2-3 minute distance from the lodge to the park gate, but sure enough, the
gate was locked, and the phone inaccessible.  I still enjoyed the evening
stroll though, as with very few artifical lights in the area, the stars
shone magnificently in the clear, warm night.  I walked back to my bungalow,
set my watch for 4:56am, turned on the fan, and went to sleep.

Dec. 30: Sossusvlei / Windhoek
   Waking up at 4:56am, I hopped in the car, and drove to the gate, wanting
to be first in line when it would open at 5:45am.  I sat under the stars
listening to the VOA on the radio, and soon, another car came up behind me:
it was an East German guy who did nothing but complain, especially when no
one showed up at 5:45am to let us in.  At 5:55am, a lady finally came out to
open the gate, and as the sun began to rise, I started the 60+kms drive to
the 2x4 car park.  Unlike the outside road to Sesriem, the road within the
park (from Sesriem to Sossusvlei) is tarred and well-maintained, and a crew
was out later that morning to continue rennovations on the road.  I made it
to the 2x4 car park in about 50 minutes, though the shuttle service wouldn't
officially start running until 7:30am.  At 7:00am, the shuttle driver showed
up, and I immediately asked if he could take me a bit early.  Though he said
he's not supposed to, he did wind up leaving at 7:15am, and I reached the
base of the dunes at 7:30am -- certainly not at sunrise, but still early
   I spent the next few hours walking on the dunes -- an incredible
experience, as the sea of red sand goes on for miles.  Once I reached the
top of the first dune (where most people stop), I decided to continue on to
the top of the next one -- and once there, to the following dune, soon
leaving everyone behind.  Going through my head was the thought that if
anything were to happen to me, or I were to get lost, no one would even know
where I was -- but I wanted to keep going, always being curious about what
was further ahead.
   Meanwhile, my shoes were filling up with sand, and every few minutes, I'd
have to stop and shake the sand out (I kept my shoes on to guard against
scorpions, as well as the heat of the sand).  One interesting thing about
walking on the dunes is that there's no flat "top" to walk on -- the pointed
top means you must set your feet down on either side of the dune.  However,
because of the constant wind shaping them, one side will be much firmer and
supportive than the other, and you soon learn to walk on that side of the
top.  There are also plenty of little animals that manage to live on the
dunes: you'll see one every now and then, and their tracks can be seen all
over the sand.
   After a while of traversing dune after dune, I reached one that was quite
a bit steeper than the others, but decided to climb it as well, for it
looked as if it might be the final dune of the area with perhaps a good view
of the valley on the other side -- but the only way to be certain would be
to reach the top.  In the heat and wind, I began climbing it little by
little, until I finally decided it was just taking too long and getting too
hot (this was an extremely steep dune, and no one else had ventured this
far).  Looking back, I realized I'd have to climb down (and up) all the
dunes I had already covered in order to get back to where I started, so
close to the top, as the grade became even steeper, I decided to turn back
   I started my descent down that steep dune, never finding out if it was
indeed the "final" dune of the area or not, and on the way back, had to once
again climb up and down all the other dunes I had already traversed.  Though
I had with me a safari hat and a 1.5L water bottle, it was beginning to get
quite hot, even with the nice breeze that had started up.
   Finally back at the top of the first dune, I tried something I had been
wanting to do all morning: a run down a giant dune!  I had watched others
try it, and standing there at the top of that last dune, decided it was time
to try it myself.  Taking off my shoes, I looked down, and started running. 
Wow!  The thought going through my mind was of a scene in "Lupin III:
Caglisotro Castle" (a Japanese animated movie where the hero does an
impossible, comical run down the roof of a building, gaining so much speed
and momentum that he almost can't stop himself) -- and sure enough, even
though my feet were going pretty deep into the dune with each step, there is
enough momentum that builds up to where you have the sensation of constantly
being pushed forward.  Finally reaching bottom, I rolled around in the
sand -- a great end to a morning of exercise and sweat.
   The area at the base of the dunes is quite interesting as well, and when
I was done climbing, I spent some time down below, walking on the cracked,
dry earth that looks as if it hasn't seen water in decades.  Afterwards, I
walked back to where the shuttle driver was to come by every 30 minutes
(though as I mentioned earlier, he never came).  As I waited to be picked up
next to a middle-aged Italian couple under some trees, I began to worry as
the minutes ticked by.  Having sat there since 9:05am, by the time 10:20am
rolled around, I had to start thinking about alternatives.  At first, I
tried to get a lift with a large tour group, but they didn't have enough
room for another person.  Then, a nice trio middle-aged Swiss tourists came
by in a rented 4x4, and let me squeeze in with them for the short distance
back to the 2x4 car park -- where my car (and the lazy shuttle drivers) were
   Driving back to Sesriem on the tarred, pink road, I noticed not only the
crews out working on it, but some ostriches off in the distance as well -- I
guess they're able to live and thrive even in these harsh, arid conditions. 
Back at the camp's BP station, I stopped to use the phone again -- this time
not to call overseas, but to find a place for me to stay over the next few
   For New Years, I wanted to head for the coast (to Swakopmund or Walvis
Bay), but unfortunately, that's what the rest of the country normally does
as well -- and compounding matters, this was also Millennium New Years, so
ALL accomodation by the coast was fully booked.  Taking out my Lonely Planet
book and Namibia Visitors Guide, in the heat of the mid-day sun, I called
EVERY possibility in Swakopmund, Walvis Bay, and even Henties Bay (further
north) -- but everything was fully booked for the 31st, with most places
booked for the 30th and 1st as well.  Thinking about what to do, I
remembered a similar situation a few years back in New Zealand, when
everything was booked at the Bay of Islands over New Years, but I decided to
go anyway, and was lucky enough to find a room (though I was able to confirm
the reservation before leaving).  I wondered if I should try my luck this
time, and just head out to the coast anyway -- but being hot and tired from
hiking up and down sand dunes all morning, and knowing the drive would be
long and tiring, I didn't want to take the chance.  With no option available
by the coast, I called Windhoek, and booked myself into a B&B there.  After
buying an ice-cream at the station shop, I started the drive inland towards
the nation's capital, rather than west, towards the coast.
   The condition of the dirt roads heading north out of Sesriem (towards
Solitaire) are in better shape than those to the south, but the drive is
still long, dusty, and hot in the mid-day sun.  In Solitaire, I stopped at
the lone hotel/restaurant/store/petrol station to have a stretch and grab a
bite to eat.  I went inside, intending to order a sandwich made with their
freshly-baked bread, but when I asked for one, the lady at the counter told
me in German-accented English that the bread was still too warm for a
sandwich -- that I'd need to wait a half-hour or so because the bread might
crumble (even though it had already been sliced!)  Saying I didn't mind, I
asked again for a sandwich, but she refused to make me one.  I was hot,
hungry, and tired, so I finally asked her for just the bread (since they
also sold the bread by itself), figuring I could buy the ingredients and
just make the sandwich myself.  Finally she relented, and made me a cheese
sandwich -- it was one of the best sandwiches I had on my trip, and didn't
crumble at all.  To this day, I don't understand what her problem was, but
if you're considering staying at the Solitaire rest camp, just be aware of
this kind of mentality.
   The above was just one example of something I noticed about European
(white) Namibians in this region of the country: I don't know why (German
customs?  State of things in present-day Namibia?  I haven't a clue), but
white Namibians in the Luderitz and Sesriem areas were cold and surly almost
without exception (MUCH more so than in other parts of the country).  The
lady in Solitaire was just one small example, but there were ones that were
far worse (including the lady who runs the Sesriem BP station store -- she's
rude as hell).  I really hate to generalize, but there just seemed to be an
icy frigidness from the white Namibian population in these two places that
wasn't evident in other parts of the country.
   I continued driving towards Windhoek, and the closer I came to the
capital, the cloudier the skies became.  Arriving in the late afternoon, it
began to rain just as I pulled into a CalTex station to ask for directions.
Driving up into the surrounding hills to find Pension Moni (the B&B I had
reserved a room at), the rain started coming down in buckets as I hit the
B&B's driveway.  The owner came out with an umbrella to greet me, but it did
little good (thankfully, the rain didn't last for long).  Pension Moni isn't
bad: its German owner is quite friendly (though he mentioned he was new to
Namibia -- perhaps that's why), and the rooms were clean and comfortable --
but I wound up not sleeping much that night due to an annoying cricket
hidden somewhere outside my room.  No matter how often I went out to try to
find it, it remained well-hidden, and chirped throughout the night.
   With the rain still coming down, I set my bags down in the room, and
watched The Simpsons on TV.  Once the rain stopped though, I thought it
might be nice to go out and see a movie in town.  Not having a paper, the
owner called a local theatre to find out what was playing, though he
mentioned many shops and restaurants in town would be closed, as everyone
generally leaves Windhoek for the coast during holidays (and compounding
this was the fact that due to Y2K computer fears, the Namibian government
had declared the weekend a four-day holiday, lasting through Monday, January
3rd -- with people taking full advantage of their extended vacation).  This
fact had been emphasized all day on NBC radio, with "live from the coast"
broadcasts, which reported on all the people flocking to the coast from the
rest of the country.  Oh well.
   I drove to the cinema (fairly close), and parked the car, giving the car
guard a few N$.  A ticket for "The Sixth Sense" was N$25 -- and in this
region, you select your seat when you buy the ticket, being able to see
which seats are available on a computer screen.  While waiting for the movie
to start, I ordered a small pizza (N$26) -- most of the restaurants in the
shopping arcade were closed for the holiday weekend, but the pizza place was
still open (though the waitress told me they too would be closing soon
themselves, and would remain closed for the next few days).  It seemed
Windhoek would be a ghost town until the 4th, and not wanting to waste time
in a city where everything was closed, I decided I'd wake up early the next
morning to make some more calls, just in case a room at the coast became

Dec. 31: Swakopmund / Walvis Bay
   Not having had much sleep during the night thanks to the noisy cricket, I
woke up early (6:40am) this morning to make some calls to see if any
accomodations had opened up by the coast.  Normally, I would have waited
until I could use a public phone in town, but this morning I was
desperate -- the room had a phone, so I used it.
   The first guesthouse I called was still fully-booked for the night, but
the second one mentioned he had heard the Strand Hotel still had a few rooms
left.  Though I had called the Strand yesterday (and was told they were
full), I immediately called them again, and the lady on the other end
confirmed that they did indeed have a room.  Giving her my credit card
number, I hung up, rushed in the shower, grabbed my bags, and left cloudy,
deserted Windhoek as soon as I could.
   There's nothing to see on the drive between Windhoek and Swakopmund, but
it was good to see Namibian drivers taking care on the roads, and driving
carefully (especially during the holiday period).  For the last few days,
the radio and newspapers were blanketed with public service announcements
imploring people to drive carefully and sober -- and it was working.  I was
impressed with how safe everyone was driving today, and how few instances
there were of people doing wreckless stunts behind the wheel.  Of course,
helping to keep people in line were the many roadblocks set up along the
highway: the first of which was just outside of Windhoek, where the woman
officer waved others by, but stopped me to ask for my passport (perhaps
because I had South African plates on the rental car) -- but once I showed
her my U.S. passport, she let me continue.  The second roadblock was just
outside of Karibib (where I was just waved by), and the third was about 9kms
before arriving into Swakopmund -- where they seemed to just wave everyone
by.  Having the roadblocks reminded motorists to drive carefully, and people
seemed more than willing to put up with them.
   I arrived into Swakopmund at 11:00am; the sky was overcast with coastal
clouds, but the temperature was pleasant.  The first thing I did (even
before checking into the hotel) was to stop in the center of town and have a
look around.  Businesses were still open, but almost all had signs saying
they'd be closed by early afternoon (usually by 13:00).  Many (such as the
PEP store) had a sign indicating they'd be closed from 13:00 on Dec. 31st
until 9:00am on January 4th (with the Namibian government having declared
Monday, January 3rd a holiday) -- so I decided to look around while the
stores were still open.  After the PEP store, I looked in at some of the
small shops along the street, bought an ice-cream cup at a supermarket, and
noticed that every ATM had a long queue of people waiting to withdraw cash
(Y2K fears).  The town certainly was lively this morning, with people out
everywhere enjoying the day, and picking up supplies for their New Years
   After spending some time around town, I drove to the Strand Hotel to
check in.  The hotel is in a good location right by the water, and its price
reflects that: my room was N$390/US$63.93 -- but with all other options
full, I didn't have much of a choice.  On top of this room rate, the hotel
also charges its guests for use of the parking lot, but with a backpack on
my shoulder, the lady behind the counter probably figured I had arrived by
bus, and didn't charge me for parking (and at the rates they were charging,
I wasn't about to volunteer that I was using their lot).  The room was fine
(though nothing special), and for New Years, they placed a nice chocolate
medalion on the desk, saying "Into the New Millennium With The Strand Hotel,
Namibia, 1999-2000", along with a bottle of South African champaign.
   After dropping off my bags, I walked from the hotel back to downtown. 
Many of the stores were just closing or about to close, but a few were still
open: at the Dolphin Pharmacy, I finally found a decent multi-vitamin, and
at the WB Supermarket across the street, I picked up a new torch (as the
bulb in mine had burnt out a few days ago, and I had been unable to find
either a replacement bulb, or a cheap, decent 2-AA size torch -- for some
reason, most places sold only the larger-sized flashlights).  In the WB
Supermarket, I also ordered takeaway toasted sandwiches for lunch, and
looked around the store for a bit.  Being December 31st, the place was
packed -- but even on a normal day, the typical African supermarket can be
pretty busy.  Besides food, these large markets also sell clothing
(including T-shirts, slacks, and school uniforms), as well as everything
from toys to school backpacks.
   By now, the sun had come out, and it was shaping up to be a beautiful
day.  I couldn't help but feel glad to be here by the coast, instead of
being stuck back in cloudy, deserted Windhoek.
   In one of the little shopping malls attached to the supermarket, I found
an internet cafe, and walked inside.  I had to wait about 5 minutes for a
terminal to be free, but it was relatively inexpensive (N$10 for 30
minutes), and had a fast connection.  More importantly, I was able to
"telnet" in to check my email (rather than being web-based, my email is on a
unix shell account, and I can only access it if the internet cafe allows
"telnet" from their system.  Throughout my trip, most allowed this, but a
few did block the function on their machines).
   While walking through the corrider that connects the supermarket to the
internet cafe and neighboring shops, I ran into one of the guys I met at the
petrol station in Keetmanshoop.  He was there stocking up on supplies with
his wife and kid, and recognized me (I had on the same shirt and cap).
   In the afternoon, I ordered toasted sandwiches from a small takeaway
stand (one of the few places still open in the late afternoon -- and boy,
was it busy!) before paying N$5/US82c to climb to the top of the town's
lighthouse, which overlooks the water.  At first, I wasn't going to bother
with the lighthouse, but the view from the top is actually quite good, and
I'm glad I decided to check it out.  Paying my N$5 to the young white girl
collecting the money (her family which runs the lighthouse seemed to be
having a get-together), I began walking up: from the bottom, it's 106 steps
to where you can walk outside near the top, or 116 steps to the very top,
where the light is -- though from there, you can only look through a
window.  At the entrance is a sign indicating that entry is at your own
risk, so no one minds if you just sit down outside at the top and dangle
your legs, enjoying the breeze and beautiful view.  When finished with the
lighthouse, I asked the family there if they had heard anything about the
two parties going on that evening.  One (the Dune 7 Millennium Party) I had
heard about on the radio, with a reporter interviewing the man in charge of
it -- but people around town had also mentioned a second party to be held
nearby.  Everyone I asked seemed to have conflicting information about this
second party though, and the family running the lighthouse was no different:
they had indeed heard about it, but wasn't sure where it was to be held.
   From the lighthouse, I walked over to the fancy Swakopmund Hotel and
Entertainment Centre to look around.  I found the adjoining Mermaid Casino,
and bought an entry ticket for N$5 (unlike Las Vegas, most casinos in this
part of the world require you to buy an entry ticket before you're allowed
inside, though you're allowed to come  back later the same day with your
ticket).  I changed N$20/US$3.28 into 25c slot tokens, and decided to have a
little fun: I tried one slot machine, then a neighboring machine twice. 
Then, on my forth token, I came up with [BAR] [BAR] [CLOWN/WILD] -- and
taking the money, I decided to leave while I was ahead.  It wasn't much of
course (N$13 -- N$8/US$1.31 really, when you figure in the N$5 entrance
fee), but I still had a bit of fun, and left with more than what I came in
with.  At the casino entrance was a large Samsung display with multiple TVs
all tuned to CNN -- and having not seen the news that day, I stopped to
watch for a bit.  At 6:00pm local time, I found out President Yeltsin had
just resigned... and CNN then showed pictures of Millennium New Years where
it had already happened (the South Pacific, China, Hong Kong), as well as
pictures of Times Square in New York, where people were still getting ready
for the big event.  I stood and watched for about 20 minutes, also having an
intermittent conversation with the very nice black lady selling the entrance
   Back at the hotel in the late afternoon, I went out onto the nearby rocks
to watch the sunset.  It had been a beautiful day, but the wind had now
started kicking up, and by the water, it was a little cold (especially since
I had on a short sleeve shirt and shorts).  Suddenly a van drove up, and
three people wearing tuxedoes jumped out and started setting up tables right
beside me.  Soon, a group of about 25 people dressed in party hats started
walking down the small pier towards the tables: it was a New Years party,
and they were celebrating right by the water.  At first, I minded my own
business, just sitting there waiting for the sunset, but soon, one of them
came up to me, gave me some champaign and oysters, and invited me to join
them.  The group was mostly South Africans visiting Namibia (along with a
few Namibians from Windhoek), and they wanted to watch the sunset while
drinking champaign and eating oysters (after which, they'd continue the
party indoors).  I chatted with them for a few minutes, and as we took
pictures of each other, a man came up to me, held out his hand, and said
"Laurence!"  I looked at him, dumbfounded.  "How do you know my name?" I
asked -- at which point he said "no, no, Laurence is MY name!"  We had a
good laugh, and soon, as the sun began to set over the water, we all counted
down: 10...9...8...etc., taking pictures as the sun finally disappeared
behind the horizon for the last time in the 1900s.
   That evening, I went back to the hotel room to warm up a bit, eat some of
the groceries I bought at the supermarket, and write some notes in my
journal while passing the time.  The plan for the evening was to first visit
the "younger" party that was supposed to be happening somewhere out by the
beach, and later, head off to the party at Dune 7 for Millennium midnight. 
At around 8:45pm, I decided to leave and try to find this first party. 
Easier said than done though: I was told to turn off past the old locomotive
at the start of the town -- which I did (following other cars), but it soon
became apparent that no one else knew where to go either, for cars were
driving in all directions, turning around, and asking others where to go --
all in complete darkness, with no landmarks, but plenty of paths to choose
from.  I was very careful to try to remember all the turns I was taking so I
could find my way back again later (as it was pitch black, with no lights
save for those of all the other wandering cars), and after about 45 minutes,
I finally decided to just give up and go to Dune 7.  Trying to re-trace my
steps, I went the wrong way only once, and soon realized my mistake.  Just
to be sure though, I stopped a car coming towards me to verify with him that
he had just come from the main road -- he had, but when the driver then
asked me where the party was, I had to tell him I hadn't the slightest idea
   Upon reaching the main road, I looked back at the lights of all the cars
wandering around trying to find the party, and wondered how many would
actually be able to locate it.  Then, I headed off towards Walvis Bay, where
the Dune 7 party was being held (Dune 7 is a large sand dune outside Walvis
Bay, and according to the radio, a large Millennium celebration had been
going on there for the past few days).  The turnoff for the dune is just
before you hit Walvis Bay, and while most of the road is tarred, the final
stretch is on sand, though it's usually passable with a normal 2x2 car.
   Arriving at Dune 7 around 10:50pm, it was pretty quiet... some cars were
parked, and a few people were mulling around, but it seemed pretty dead. 
There were a few stalls with people selling items such as millennium
pancakes, T-shirts, and snacks, but the main center of attraction was a
large tent, inside of which was a dance floor and a band (it was free to
park and walk around the area, with admission being charged only if you
wanted to enter the tent).  Peering inside, I noticed only a few people
inside talking or dancing, but still decided to pay the admission, as at
N$20/US$3.28, it really wasn't that expensive.  After hanging around inside
the tent for a few minutes, I left to walk around outside again.  Asking the
lady selling millennium T-shirts if anything was planned for midnight, she
answered that originally there was to be fireworks, but the company set to
provide them cancelled -- so there now wouldn't be any at all.  She also
mentioned that earlier, it had been quite windy, but by now, the wind had
died down, and it actually was quite a pleasant evening.
   Not having much else to do, I walked over to the base of the dune, where
I noticed someone near the top, shining a flashlight down.  After having
climbed dune after dune at Sossusvlei, I decided I'd try this one for a bit:
it was much steeper than it looked though, and 3/4ths of the way up seemed
to be a good place to stop, relax, and look down at the goings-on below.  By
this time, things were getting busier -- I could see a line of car lights
headed towards the area, and more and more people were beginning to arrive
(especially around 11:40pm-11:45pm).  Lying out under the stars a bit
longer, I finally walked down the dune at about eight minutes before
   In the tent, the live band had stopped playing, but the DJ put on some
CDs.  I walked around outside to watch everyone, and soon, the DJ was
counting down the seconds until midnight.  When 12:00am came, everyone
cheered, and suddenly, there were lots of small fireworks lighting up the
sky -- not from the company that had cancelled, but from people that had
simply brought their own.  These included small aeriel fireworks, bottle
rockets, and ground fountains -- but the best idea someone thought of was to
bring red signal flares -- for against the the sand, these signal flares
gave the entire area a reddish glow.  During all this, I walked partially up
the dune again for a view of the fireworks before walking back down to the
parking lot.  There, a group of teenagers was singing in a local African
language (they were quite good), and when I asked what they were singing,
one answered that it was a Christian song.  Everyone here seemed to be
having a good time, and shortIy after midnight, I went over to the Telecom
Namibia trailer (inside of which was a row of blue card phones), to place
some calls to the U.S., where the New Year hadn't yet happened -- though I
just reached a lot of answering machines (still, I left a "calling from the
future -- whooooo!" message on a few of them).
   At around 12:25am, I decided to leave (though people were still setting
off fireworks) -- but on the way out, my Honda became stuck in the sand! 
The last stretch into and out of the dunes is over sand, but coming in, I
was driving fast enough where I had enough momentum not to get stuck. 
Coming out though, I was driving slower, and without the momentum, the car
got stuck in a sand trap right by the entrance (an area at most the length
of two cars).  Of course the more you step on the gas, the more the wheels
spin into the ground, so I stopped, not being sure what to do, as I watched
the line of cars behind me grow.  Luckily, a guy in a 4x4 came up and said
he'd give me a tow out of the sand.  He tied a rope to the front of the
Honda, and as he pulled, I stepped lightly on the gas.  Soon I was out, and
just had to wait for someone to fetch a knife to cut the rope.  While this
was going on, the guy's son told me they had already helped four other cars
out that night at the same spot.
   Driving back carefully, I reached the hotel shortly after 1:00am.  After
taking a shower, I opened the champaign and had just a sip.  The party
downstairs at the hotel (that had closed the dining room early) was still
going on, but the loudest noise was coming from a building across the way on
the beach, with music loud enough to be heard downtown blasting out from it.
I resigned myself to the fact that it was New Years and I probably wouldn't
get much sleep, but in the end, the music stopped a little after 2:00am, and
I managed to catch a few winks.

Jan. 1: Walvis Bay
   Last night before going to sleep, I set my watch for 6:10am in order to
see the sunrise, even though I knew it would rise on the other side of town,
rather than over the water.  Up early, I made my way down to the rocks where
I had watched the sunset the night before, but sure enough, not only was the
sun rising in the opposite direction, but the nearby trees made viewing of
the sunrise impossible.  I returned to the hotel room, but by now, couldn't
fall back to sleep, so a bit later, went down to have the included
breakfast, opting to eat outside, as it was turning into a beautiful day. 
Some people were out already, enjoying the morning, but I'm sure most were
still in their beds trying to recover from whatever party they had attended
the night before.
   After checking out of the hotel, I drove north along the salt highway up
the Skeleton Coast (because of the black dirt created by the constant
traffic, the road looks more like deteriorated tar than salt, but it
actually is a salt road).  There are salt mines throughout the area, and the
landscape has a bleak, barren look to it.
   The first town I stopped at was Henties Bay, a nice (if boring) town that
is of interest mainly to anglers and sport fishermen (most cars I passed
while driving up had long fishing poles attached to them).  After spending
just a few minutes here, I drove further up the coast to the Cape Seal
Colony (yes, it was open even on New Years) -- an impressive stretch of
coastline where literally thousands of seals come to breed and live.  It's
only a few N$ to enter, and in January, there were lots of young seal pups
squaking continously, sounding somewhat like a goats.
   After watching the seals, I drove back south, backtracking through
Henties Bay and Swakopmund on the way to Walvis Bay.  The road from
Swakopmund to Walvis Bay was the same one I had taken the night before to
get to Dune 7, but this afternoon, strong wind gusts were blowing sand onto
the road.  About halfway between Swakopmund and Walvis Bay, I saw the
turnoff for Dolphin Park -- the NBC (Namibian Broadcasting Corporation) had
originated its radio broadcasts from Dolphin Park over the past few days, so
I decided to stop and see what was there.
   Dolphin Park isn't much, but it's cheap (N$6/US98c for adults, N$2/US33c
for kids), and the lady at the window was nice enough to let me have a quick
look around without charging me.  Basically, it's just a large grassy area
with a swimming pool and a water slide (which all the kids were using) --
but it's a nice place for a picnic or afternoon family outing, and even with
the strong wind, there were plenty of people out enjoying the area.  There
are accomodations here as well, but I have the feeling that most people just
make a day trip to the park.
   Continuing on, I arrived into Walvis Bay a short time later.  The city
has an interesting history that's worth pointing out: after WWII, South
Africa was given the United Nations mandate to administer the country (then
called South West Africa) after the Germans had occupied it.  However,
because of its natural harbor, and its importance in fishing and salt
production, South Africa declared Walvis Bay to be part of its own Cape
Province in 1977 -- refusing to budge, even as the United Nations demanded
it be returned to the mandate.  When Namibia gained independence in 1990,
the new constitution included Walvis Bay as part of its territory (naturally
so, since it's smack in the middle of the Namibian coast!), but South Africa
still laid claim to it.  In 1992, when it was apparent that white rule in
South Africa was ending, they agreed to remove their border posts and
co-administer the area with Namibia -- but it wasn't until February, 1994
(with South Africa facing its first democratic election) that South Africa
gave in, and Namibia was finally able to take Walvis Bay as its own.
   Arriving into downtown Walvis Bay, the sign outside the Protea Lodge
advertised rooms for N$320 -- a bit cheaper than I had been quoted, but they
honored the N$320 rate.  The entire downtown area (as well as the hotel)
seemed deserted, even though when I later asked if I could change rooms (as
the air-con was blowing only room-temperature air), I was told the hotel was
fully-booked.  Since I arrived at the Protea Lodge before the room was
ready, I set my things down, and decided to go for a walk.  Outside, it
seemed as if the entire town was deserted (almost as if I was walking down
an empty studio backlot), and by now, the wind had kicked up even more,
blowing sand and debris in my eyes and mouth (mmmm... crunchy saliva!) 
Being January 1st, most shops were closed, and the only open places I could
find at first were the petrol stations and a bar (luckily, the stations both
served food -- one made fresh takeaways, and the other had curry pies).
   After my initial walk, I returned to the room for a bit to write some
postcards, but soon wanted to go back out again (I don't like sitting around
hotel rooms).  I'm glad I decided to go out again, for once I left the
downtown area, things got better.  Even though the wind remained strong, as
I walked closer to the water, it no longer kicked up much sand or debris
(something I couldn't understand, as there's more sand by the coast than
downtown!)  At the waterfront itself it was low tide, and sprawled out along
the shore were dozens of enormous, orange-brown jellyfish the size of large
pizzas, as well as a few pelicans hanging around the restaurant/bar, open at
the end of the small pier.  Continuing my walk, I soon reached the port
area, and though everything was now closed due to the holiday, I still
enjoyed being out in the strong wind, especially now that the sand was no
longer blowing in my face.
   Walking back through Walvis Bay's residential section, I thought about
how the area could easily pass for Orange County, California, with its
modern (albeit small) comfortable homes, and wide residential streets.  As
for the wind, I was later told by the Protea receptionist that strong winds
are quite common here, and in fact, almost all of the businesses I passed
had a sign on their door or window that read "OPEN -- door closed on account
of weather" (even though today they were obviously closed for New Years).
   Reaching the downtown area again, I noticed a few "Chinese" shops: one
had a sign saying "Chinese Friendship Store" on it, and another was simply
called "Chinese Imports" (with Chinese writing on the sign).  At first, I
didn't think these stores were actually Chinese-owned, but as time went by,
I was proven wrong: there is a small but ever-present ethnic Chinese
population in Africa, and virtually every African country -- from Swaziland
to Tanzania -- has a Chinese community (and at least a few "Chinese Shops"),
filled with cheap imports such as sandals, T-shirts, watches, toys, and
trashy radios (often bearing names like "Sunny" or "Philibs" instead of
"Sony" or "Philips").  The shops would never seem all that busy when I'd go
inside them, but apparently they do well enough to survive and flourish. 
Looking through the window that day though, things weren't all that
inexpensive -- a nice comforter ran N$390/US$63.93 (not exactly cheap by
Namibian standards, especially for a Chinese import).
   I walked over to the petrol stations to buy some takeaway for dinner,
then returned back to the hotel, feeling much better than when I first
arrived... and in the end, it turned out to be quite a nice afternoon.  I
thought about the rest of the fully-booked hotel's guests (who had
apparently decided to stay in their rooms all afternoon), and felt sorry for
them -- for even though the wind had been strong, they all missed out on a
gorgeous day by staying in their hotel rooms.  That night, I finished my
postcards, and gave them to the receptionist to mail for me.

Jan. 2: Omaruru / Otjiwarongo / Outjo
   Before leaving Walvis Bay, I stopped at a petrol station in the morning
to make a few phone calls up to Etosha National Park, where I'd be heading
the following day.  A few days earlier in Luderitz, I had called ahead to
make a reservation for myself for January 4th (in Okaukuejo) and January 5th
(in Namutoni), but I now wanted to move both of these reservations up a day
(to January 3rd and January 4th).  I got ahold of Namutoni first, and was
able to change my January 5th reservation there to January 4th with no
problem, but when I tried to reach Okaukuejo, no one answered.  Getting back
in the car, I drove onto Swakopmund, where I tried calling Okaukuejo once
again.  This time they answered, but said their computers were now down and
suggested I just call Namutoni, as Namutoni could also take care of
Okaukuejo's reservations.  So, I called Namutoni again -- but by this time,
THEIR computers were down as well, and was told to try back again in 30
minutes.  In the town of Usakos, I tried Namutoni once more, and finally was
able to change my Okaukuejo reservation from January 4th to January 3rd. 
   Driving north, I came to the town of Omaruru, and stopped to get out and
walk around.  Though there's nothing "special" about the place, Omaruru is
quite pleasant, and the town has a nice feel to it.  People here are
friendly (not always the case in other parts of the country), and both the
main and side streets are fun to walk through.  Parking the Honda on a small
residential street, I planned to spend just a few minutes, but wound up
staying a good two hours.
   After walking through Omaruru's residential streets, I decided to have a
look at Franke's Tower (erected in 1908 to commemorate a German victory over
the native Heroro forces).  You can obtain a key for the gate from the Hotel
Stebe, but to get to the tower, you must walk across a wide, dry riverbed. 
In my mind, I kept wondering how people get across this riverbed during the
rainy season (there seemed to be no other way across other than to walk --
and though above me was a wire that stretched from one bank to the other,
there was no bridge of any kind attached to it).  The dry riverbed was
filled with footprints, and the locals I passed while walking towards the
tower were all friendly, and smiled.  I really like this town.
   Having stopped off for the key at the Hotel Stebe, I was soon checking
out Franke's Tower.  It's really nothing special, but you can open the door
and walk up the stairs inside to the top, where you have a nice view of the
area.  While I was there, a German couple came by to look around, and joined
me on top.  Walking back to the car, I noticed a sign in the Omaruru Post
Office: "Fast Mail" to certain South African cities (Pretoria, Cape Town,
Kimberly, etc.) took six business days!
   After a few hours, I left Omaruru and stopped in the town of Otjiwarongo
for lunch.  Otjiwarongo is a large town, and a nice place to look around. 
When I returned here later in my trip, it was a bustling, major city, but
today, most places were closed, and the streets quiet.  I did find one store
with a lunch counter open though, so I ordered some toasted sandwiches and
picked up a much-needed newspaper.
   Because of the heat, I had been wearing shorts everyday, but driving in
the car, I'd constantly have sun beating down on my legs.  It was too hot to
wear long pants, but I didn't want my legs getting burnt either, so I found
a solution: take a newspaper, and place it over my legs -- it wasn't as
stuffy as wearing long pants, but still protected my legs from the sun.  In
the store where I had lunch, I wanted to pick up a paper, but all they had
were Afrikaans papers.  Still, since I wasn't exactly buying one to read, I
decided to pick one up.  When I tried to pay for it though, the cashier
wouldn't take my money, telling me that the special Millennium New Years
edition (dated 1-1-00, but which arrived on December 31st), was being given
away for free.  I gladly took it, and put it to good use while driving.
   When I reached Outjo, the town looked even more deserted than
Otjiwarongo.  It seemed that everywhere in Namibia, cities would be empty
and desolate until businesses start up again on Tuesday.
   In Outjo, I checked into the Hotel Onduri, which turned out to be one of
the worst places I stayed at on my trip (and a major rip-off).  I was the
only one in the whole hotel, and when I arrived, a black porter met me and
checked me in (though later, I met the owner -- a white, German-speaking
Namibian).  I was originally quoted a rate of N$255 over the phone, but upon
arriving, the porter showed me a room in the attached wing (rather than the
main hotel building) and told me the rate would be N$190.  Good enough, but
after he left, I noticed there was no electricity for the wall sockets or
the air-con -- only the overhead light worked.  For N$190, I wanted
electricity (the hotel's brochure makes this seem like a nice, posh hotel --
it certainly isn't).  The porter tried to fix the problem, but was
unsuccessful -- so he then moved me into a neighboring room, with no better
luck.  Finally, he just smiled and said "well, I guess no electricity..." 
Then I asked him "well, what about a room in the main hotel building," and
he said "OK, but it will cost you N$265..."  I certainly didn't want to pay
N$265 for a place like this, but from what I saw of Outjo coming into town,
it looked pretty desolate, and I wasn't sure if I could do better -- so I
relented, and had the porter show me a room in the actual hotel building. 
Sure enough, that room had working electricity and a lackluster a/c unit,
but it sure wasn't anything special (there wasn't even a TV in the room, and
though the hotel also advertises a pool in its brochure, don't bother
looking for it -- it's non-existant).
   I set my bags down, and went out for a walk around Outjo.  Across the
street from the hotel, people were just sitting on the curb, passing time.
The town center (small as it is) is somewhat seedy (especially with all the
businesses being closed), but things begin to look better as you walk away
from it in any direction.  Choosing one path, I found a small market that
was open, and walked inside.  The two white Namibians behind the counter
were engrossed in a cricket game on TV, and while eating an ice-cream cup
(it was a hot day), I asked them to explain the basic object of the game. 
They tried their best, but most of it went over my head.  Before leaving
though, I bought a 32-page, A4-size N$2/US33c "Premier Exercise Book" school
notepad to start jotting down some notes for this journal (up until now, I
had just jotted down notes on misc. pieces of paper, or into a small
Panasonic IC recorder I had brought with me).
   Continuing to walk down the residential streets, the houses in this part
of town seemed more modest than those higher up in he hills.  Unlike in
South Africa, people in Namibia seem to live apart based on income rather
than race, and in Outjo, the poorer areas (for both blacks and whites) were
definitely down below, in the lower parts of town.  I soon found myself at a
black-run store, and decided to have a look inside.  It was much smaller,
darker, and had a lot less to choose from than the nearby white-owned store,
but I decided to buy a few snacks and a drink from them anyway (though the
guy behind the counter had to constantly ask the lady behind him how much
everything was).
   While looking around, I noticed signs for B&Bs from N$80, and began to
feel incredibly ripped off by the Hotel Onduri.  I suppose the lesson here
is that unless you're travelling during a peak travel period, there are
usually enough places in any given South African or Namibian town to stay
at -- you don't always have to have to worry about advance reservations, and
if you don't like the place you've booked, there will usually be a better
option nearby.
   Late in the afternoon, I passed the hotel, walking uphill in the other
direction.  Wandering around, I happened across the "Aloe Guesthouse", and
decided to check it out only because I noticed the word "Internet" on their
sign -- but I'm glad I did.  The internet service was down (the computer had
a virus, and the owners wanted to wait until their son returned from Cape
Town to fix it before connecting to the net again), but it was a nice place
to have a bite, hang out, and talk to the husband-and-wife proprieters. 
However, I still wanted to walk around some more before it became too dark,
so I left, saying I'd be back.  I wandered around the area above the town
center, and it was definitely the nicer part of town: the houses here were
much fancier (and obviously more expensive) than those down below.  Most of
the families I saw in these homes were white, but I did notice a few black
families as well.
   I walked back to the hotel to fetch the Panasonic IC recorder I had been
using to dictate notes into for the first few days of my trip, figuring that
with nothing going on in town (and no TV in the hotel room), tonight would
be the perfect time to start transcribing some of the notes on my recorder
down onto paper.  Grabbing the recorder, I walked back up the hill, and soon
found myself back at the Aloe Guesthouse.  I asked the lady there if she'd
mind me hanging around for a while -- to which she answered "no problem" --
so I decided to sit down in the main guest room and start transcribing some
notes.  Originally, I had just planned to do some transcribing, but I soon
found myself having dinner instead: the place serves excellent home-made
food (I had a wonderful peri-peri burger and an excellent toasted sandwich),
and I soon found myself relaxing and watching TV with the owners.  The movie
"Kingpin" was just finishing, and the local NBC (Namibian Broadcasting
Corporation) news was about to start.
   Like SABC, NBC is the official state-run television station, but there
are still advertisements on it.  Everything about NBC seems almost quaintly
semi-professional: the TV news is always read by the same newscaster (a dull
white guy who always makes a few mistakes each broadcast), the weatherman
always gives out his information way too fast, and the newscasts are never
"seamless."  Before the 8:00pm newscast, a clock is shown on the screen...
on some nights, the newscast will start right at 8:00pm... but on other
nights, the clock will tick for 12 seconds (or 30... or 45) before the clock
disappears and the newscast begins.  NBC radio is also somewhat quaint: in
the summer, much of the daytime radio broadcasts were spent talking to kids
calling into the radio station, and NBC radio had one unintentionally-funny,
pompous self-promitional jingle (I wish I had written it down -- I certainly
heard it enough times, but I was always driving at the time.  Still, it was
something along the lines of: "Everything you need in the new millennium can
be found right here on NBC!" -- read of course, by an announcer with a deep,
serious voice).
   After the NBC news was over, we switched the TV to SABC (on DSTV), and I
hung out with the Aloe Guesthouse owners until 9:00pm.  I really wish I had
known about the place beforehand, as I definitely would have stayed there
over the Hotel Onduri: Aloe's prices were in line with the other B&Bs in
town (around N$80), and the place has a great atmosphere, with friendly
   At 9:00pm, I walked down the hill to the hotel, meeting the white
German-Namibian owner.  He had been waiting for me at the bar, saying he was
worried that I hadn't returned (though in reality, he was more interested to
know if I wanted to order dinner or not).  I told him I already ate... when
he asked where, I answered the Aloe Guesthouse.  I went up to the room and
fell asleep.

Jan. 3: Etosha - Okaukuejo
   Waking up early, I left the Hotel Onduri ASAP, arriving into Etosha
National Park by around 10:15am.  At the entry gate to the park, the ranger
asked for a donation for the local soccer team -- I don't know if they're
officially allowed to do that or not -- but I gave a N$5 donation anyway.
   From the entry gate, it's about 11km to Okaukuejo camp itself, but very
close to the gate is a watering hole that happened to have a lot of animals
around it that day.  It was here that I saw my first wildebeast, gemsbok,
and springbok.
   The accomodations in Okaukuejo aren't bad, especially for a national
park: for N$280/US$45.90, you're given a private bungalow with air-con, a
refrigerator, and double entry doors with screens (to keep the mosquitos
out).  In my bungalow, both the main room light and bathroom light were
burnt out (I wound up having to use my torch at night to take a shower), but
everything else worked fine, and the accomodations were surprisingly
   After setting my bags down, I hopped into the car and started driving
around the park.  There's a slow speed limit here, and it's not only for the
safety of the animals, but so you can have a chance to spot them as well. 
You're not allowed to leave (alight) from your car, or have your radio on
(most annoying, as it would have been nice to be able to listen to something
while driving around for hours -- but as it turns out, there's virtually no
radio reception around the park during daylight hours anyway).
   I saw lots of animals this morning, from about 11:00am-1:00pm: plenty of
gemsbok, springbok, zebra, wildebeast, ostrich, and giraffe.  At mid-day, I
went back to my room and made myself lunch with some rolls and cold-cuts I
bought from the park store (thank goodness for the refrigerator, because
meals at the park restaurant are not a la carte, but rather set-price: you
pay N$35 for "breakfast", N$45 for "lunch", and N$60 for "dinner".  In the
end, I never had any prepared meals in the park, opting instead to just make
my own cold-cuts sandwiches most of the time).
   In the afternoon, I went out looking for animals again, but this time,
there weren't many to be seen, as most had probably opted to leave the open
savannah to relax somewhere under a tree during the mid-day heat.  Because
of the time of year (summer is the rainy season here), none of the animals I
saw were at their usual hangout spots designated on the park map.  In fact,
the waterholes were deserted (probably due to the recent rains, which had
provided the park with plenty of water -- and little need for animals to
leave their homes and congregate near a waterhole).  Each of the three camps
in Etosha have lighted waterholes inside the camp compounds, and that
evening, I sat down with everyone else in front of the lighted Okaukuejo
waterhole from 7:45pm-9:15pm to see if any animals might come by.  None did
(even checking back at 10:00pm), and the next day, when I asked the few
people who had stayed up all night if any animals had come, the answer was
still "no."  The rains had also given the park wild, green grass so tall, it
became extremely hard to spot animals lying behind it, even if they were
just a few feet away.
   Before sunset, I walked to the top of the Okaukuejo Tower located in the
middle of camp for a good view of the area.  The park itself is fenced off,
and the next day, the ranger at Halali told me that while the elephants will
sometimes trample over the fence, other animals will usually stay within the
confines of the park.  Up on top of the tower, I met some visitors who had
been lucky enough to see some lions by the side of the road that afternoon,
but I hadn't been so lucky.  There was a nice sunset, and after sitting by
the useless lit waterhole for a few hours, I went to sleep early.

Jan. 4: Etosha - Halali
   I woke up early today in order to leave camp right at sunrise, as the
gates into and out of the various camps are only open betwen sunrise and
sunset.  The day before, I filled up with petrol at the Okaukuejo Total
station, where the attendant asked me if he should check the oil and
fluids -- the only time on my trip I was ever asked (perhaps it was a sign,
as I was to have major problems with the Honda today).
   Etosha has three camps: Okaukuejo in the south (where I stayed the first
night), Halali in the center, and Namutoni in the north (where I was to stay
tonight).  The camps are fenced-off and self-contained, with living quarters
for staff, and (at least in Okaukuejo), even an elementary school.  The
morning started out well enough, as I left Okaukuejo at sunrise and spent
some time looking for animals.  About two hours into the drive, I spotted an
impala on a small dirt road I had turned off onto.  I took a picture, but
decided to cut the engine, as I wanted to watch him a bit longer.  After a
minute or two, I started the engine again, but within five seconds, it
sputtered and stopped.  Uh-oh.  I was on a secondary road that was off the
main game-viewing ones, and getting out of your car was strictly forbidden. 
I tried to start the engine a few times, but there wasn't even a hint of the
engine trying to start -- I'd turn the key, but the car would remain
completely silent.  I soon figured out the problem: it was the car's
immobilizer (an alarm system where you must first insert a special key into
the dash or the engine won't start).  Normally, if you haven't inserted the
immobilizer key, a small red light on the dash will blink slowly, and once
the immobilizer key has been inserted and recognized, the light will flash
quicker -- but looking down at it now, I noticed the light was completely
dead -- it wasn't even blinking slowly, it was d-e-a-d.
   I sat waiting in the car for an extremely long 10 minutes before someone
finally came by: a British family with a dad who said he'd tell people I was
here -- as he quickly drove off to keep looking for animals.  About two
minutes later though, he returned, saying "you know, there were some workers
I passed before running into you... I'll drive back and let them know you're
here."  He did so, returning back about 15 minutes later to tell me he had
informed the workers about my situation.  Then, he went on to say "hmm, if
you were British, I'd tell you that you were in a bit of a spot," after
which he asked if I was an American or Canadian, because "I don't want to
insult a Canadian."  With that, he drove off to look for animals again.
   As time passed, no one came by to help.  Twenty minutes later (which
seemed like an eternity), a German family in a VW Microbus drove by, and I
waved them down, trying to explain the problem.  The teenage kid got out and
looked under the hood, but I said the problem probably lied with the
immobilizer rather than the engine, and workers had supposedly been told I
was out here.  The mother though, mentioned she had seen the British family
stop to talk to the workers, but the workers just continued working -- and
she didn't think anyone was going to come.  She suggested going with them to
the closest ranger station, so after leaving a note on the dashboard, I went
with them to Halali.
   In Halali, I couldn't tell if the workers had been informed about me or
not, but I met the warden (Shayne) and a lady working with him (whom I
referred to as his assistant -- to which he said "better not let her hear
you say that -- she's my wife!")  The first thing he wanted to do was drive
out and try to move the car, but as soon as I mentioned it was a rental, he
stopped, saying he couldn't touch it without Avis' permission -- otherwise
he could be sued.  So, he called the closest Avis office (in Tsumeb), who
sure enough, told him not to touch the car.
   I would need a replacement car, but the Tsumeb Avis had no automatics,
and the closest location with one was Windhoek.  Avis said they would come
up and tow the car away themselves, bringing a replacement automatic with
them, but they never called back as they promised until Shayne repeatidly
called them.  During all of this, I went to the main check-in desk, where a
staff member called up Namutoni, cancelled my reservation there, and gave me
a room in Halali instead (at N$270 as opposed to Namutoni's N$280, though I
wasn't refunded the N$10 difference).  I checked into my room, and noticed
it was quite similar to the one in Okaukuejo.
   While waiting for Avis to call back, Shayne and I drove out to where the
car had stalled to have a look at it.  Shayne tried his best to see if it
was perhaps just a blown fuse, and spent a good twenty minutes trying to
find a solution, but in the end, nothing worked.  Taking everything out of
the car and rolling up its windows (at least that still worked), I noted
that I had already driven almost 5,200kms on it.
   Upon returning back to the office, Avis in Windhoek still hadn't called
back, so from a card phone, I decided to call long distance to the Avis
office where I had rented the car: Cape Town, South Africa.  They called me
back on the card phone, and I explained the problem (along with how we were
still waiting for the Windhoek office to get back to us).  The Cape Town
agent said to wait by the phone, and she'd call me back within 15 minutes. 
15 minutes later, the phone rang, and it was the Windhoek branch, saying
they'd be sending up a replacement Toyota Camry for me.  Asking if they had
anything smaller such as another Honda Ballade, I was told this was the only
automatic available, as it was basically the "replacement" car for
breakdowns.  It was 11:15am, and Lizelle (the agent in Windhoek) said they'd
be leaving soon, and that the car would arrive by the evening.  I wasn't so
sure though, as it's a six hour drive from Windhoek to Etosha, and both the
Halali and Okaukuejo gates close at 7:30pm.  When I talked to Shayne, he
wasn't optimistic either, and noted that even if Avis were to get here in
time, they certainly wouldn't be able to leave the park before 7:30pm
(meaning Avis would have to spend the night in the park).  He also mentioned
that the towing outfit Avis planned to use wasn't among the most reliable,
so he called Lizelle back to remind her of the time problem -- but she still
insisted that they'd be there by the afternoon, and would figure something
   In the meantime, without a car to see the animals, I had nothing to do
but wait... and wait... and wait.  With no other choice, I hung around camp
all day, eating a self-prepared baloney sandwich, and going for a dip in the
pool a few times (luckily, Halali has a great pool).  While going for a
swim, I met a large group from Chicago being shown around Africa by a South
African skydiver (who now runs a skydiving outfit near Chicago) -- and it
was one of the few times I met Americans on the entire trip.
   After swimming, I wrote a few notes into my journal... earlier that day,
the Halali reception clerk gave me his cheap BIC pen to use, and amazingly,
that pen wound up lasting me the entire trip without running out of ink, as
just about this entire journal (except for the section on Mauritius) was
written using that cheap, orange BIC pen that never seemed to quit.
   It was quite a boring day, being forced to do nothing, but between swims
in the afternoon, I took a short walk in the heat and humidity of mid-day. 
Upon returning, I noticed a note on my door saying "Avis called... car will
be delivered sometime tomorrow morning.  Shayne."  Figuring this would
happen, I called Avis in Windhoek to find out when exactly the next morning
the car would be delivered (would half a day tomorrow be wasted as well?) 
It was 4:00pm.  Lizelle had already left for the day, but another employee
said "as far as I know, they left at noon, and should be there sometime this
afternoon" -- but as 7:30pm came and the gates closed, Avis was nowhere to
be seen.  With both the Windhoek and downtown Cape Town offices now closed,
I tried calling Avis at the Cape Town airport, but twice the agents didn't
call the phone back as they said they would.  Finally, I just gave up,
hoping the car would arrive early enough the next day where I'd have at
least a little time to go game-viewing before the animals retreated for the
shade in the mid-day heat.
   As bad as it was having to sit around camp all day, at least it was
interesting to meet and be able to talk with Shayne and his fellow employees
about everything from life in Namibia to the animals and their habits.  In
passing, Shayne mentioned that as English is the official language of
Namibia, all business must be conducted in it -- even if two people in
conversation speak another language better.  He mentioned it can get a bit
annoying, as there's often someone he's dealing with who can't speak English
well, but even if they both speak Afrikaans or German better, they're not
allowed to conduct business in anything other than English.
   I ate the rest of the baloney for dinner, and went to Halali's waterhole
at night to see if it was any better than Okaukuejo's.  It wasn't (the only
animals out that night were swarms of flying insects by the floodlights). 
   The sky had storm clouds in it -- nice at sunset, but onminous for the
evening, as every few seconds, the clouds would flash with lightning.  I
returned back to my room at 10:00pm, and at 10:45pm, there was a sudden
burst of heavy rain that began falling.  From out of nowhere, camp was being
pelted by hard rain, complete with thunder and lightning for added effect. 
A moment later, the electricity went off.  It then went back on dimly, but
soon went off again.  After a few minutes of it going off and on, everything
finally went dark, as the lightning (quite close now) lit up the room,
accompanied by even heavier rain.  I had to brush my teeth by torch
(again!), and the room was now quite stuffy, as I had waited to turn the
air-con unit on until going to sleep.  Sitting there in the dark with the
rain pelting against the roof, I thought "well, at least I closed the
Honda's windows..."

Jan. 5: Etosha / Tsumeb / Grootfontein
   With the power off, and all the rain during the night, I didn't get much
sleep.  The air-con finally came on again at 7:30am, but by then it was too
   I called Avis first thing, and was told that the car would arrive
sometime this morning.  Sure enough, at about 9:30am, it came -- on the back
of a truck (onto which they'd load the Honda, and take it back).  The
replacement car was a white 1996-ish Toyota Camry that was too big, ate too
much petrol, and had a steering wheel that vibrated too much.  Within 15
minutes, I was driving around Etosha in the Camry, but almost immediately, I
wished I had the Honda back, for not only were the windows manual roll-down
(something I don't particularly mind -- though it's inconvenient when
driving around a game park), but the passenger-side one took every bit of
muscle I had to roll down.
   I started my drive from the middle Halali section of Etosha, and headed
up towards the northern Namutoni end.  Most of the animals I observed in
Etosha were usually alone in groups of their own species, but this morning,
I noticed that out on the pan, a large collection of different species
(zebra, springbok, gemsbok, giraffe, and wildebeast) were all hanging out
   After a few hours of game-viewing, I arrived at Namutoni (where I was to
have spent the previous night), a place which resembles a fort with tall
white walls surrounding it.  I stopped in to get a drink, but didn't spend
much time before deciding to leave.  Though I saw no lions or leopards in
Etosha, I wound up seeing plenty of lesser animals which were quite nice in
their own right, and the park gave me a good introduction to African
wildlife (note that the best game viewing in the park takes place during the
dry winter months of June and July).
   Leaving Etosha, I continued driving until I reached the town of Tsumeb, a
pleasant mining town that has been in dire straits since the local mine
closed two years ago.  Just about every business in town was dependent on
the mine, and things were not looking good.  What happened was this: about
two years ago, workers at the mine wanted better pay.  The company offered a
small pay increase to its workers, but the union wanted more, so they
struck, and shut the mine down for 15 days.  At the end of the 15 days, with
no one in the mine, it had become flooded -- making the mine now too
expensive to fix and re-open.  Two years later, the liquidators had control,
but the union was still trying to scrape enough money together to buy it
from them.  At the time I was in Tsumeb, things were looking pretty bleak,
but a few months later in March, I read a newspaper article saying that the
mine would re-open, and start operations up again by April.
   Arriving into town, I stopped first at Tsumeb's "Travel North" agency, as
their sign mentioned internet services.  However, their power had just gone
out, so I left the car to go for a walk, planning to return later.
   Tsumeb is a nice town with beautiful homes, jacaranda-lined residential
streets, and a pleasant little downtown area.  Walking around downtown, I
stopped in at Steinies Bakery, and met the eccentric lady who owns it with
her husband: they bought the bakery just a few months before the mine
closed, and are hurting now that so many people are unemployed.  I ordered a
great toasted-egg sandwich, and continued walking.
   I came across the Tsumeb Museum and stopped in for a look (N$5).  It's a
wonderful and comprehensive museum filled with information about Tsumeb's
past, and has great displays of all the various minerals that can be found
in the area.  The history of the mine is a long one: it had been operational
for about 100 years, and had produced just about every mineral you could
think of, from copper to zinc to tungsten (including some strange ores I had
never heard of before).  The retired couple that runs the museum told me the
building was to be a gift from the mining company, but when the mine closed
and the company went bankrupt, the liquidators said "no way" -- so the
couple had to buy the building with money from their own pocket.
   Across the street from the museum is a nice park ("United Nations Park")
with an old steam locomotive in the center, and I soon found myself walking
into one of the nearby Chinese stores to have a look at some of the junk
inside.  There, I saw a cheap N$89/US$14.59 "Kaiwa" shortwave radio that
could probably pick up all of two stations -- though at the Chinese store in
Otjiwarongo, the same radio was N$99.
   I then walked back to Steinies Bakery and ordered another toasted-egg
sandwich (prepared by a black worker of course, not the owner).  The owner
insisted I sit down and talk while I waited, as one of her regular customers
(a middle-aged Portugese man), had come by, and she wanted me to join them
as they chatted about the current state of affairs of both Tsumeb and
Namibia.  Some examples of the conversation: when I asked about the Chinese
stores, the lady said she couldn't understand how any of them managed to
stay in business, as everytime she goes in one, there's never any
customers.  She also said both the Chinese and Malaysian governments had
helped fund a lot of schools and hospitals in Namibia, and now, the Namibian
government lets them stay, and lets more come in all the time (her words). 
When I then asked how the hospitals were in Namibia, she said the public
ones weren't good at all (giving a horror story about someone who had been
mis-diagnosed), and said if she were to get seriously ill, she'd go to a
private hospital in Windhoek (though she mentioned there was a new Swiss
doctor in town that was supposed to be good).  She also said that many
people just rely on the chemist's (pharmacist's) advice on what to do when
they get sick, stressing how wrong that was, because chemists are in
business to sell things (again giving a horror story about a chemist
mis-diagnosing someone who was ill).  On another topic, she said that after
independence, it was common to see a lot of mixed-race couples walking down
the street in the open, as at the time, it was the "in" thing to do, but now
it's worn off, and you almost never see inter-racial couples.
   The lady's Portugese friend was another interesting character -- he's
been in Africa since the early 1950s, and has been trying to decide whether
to go back to Europe or not (he visits every few years).  Currently
unemployed, he draws a pension from the Portugese government, but wasn't
optimistic about a future in Tsumeb (though now that the mine will re-open,
hopefully things in town will improve...)
   Around 5:30pm, I started heading back to Travel North, where I had parked
the car.  I looked in and saw that their power was back on, but someone was
now using the computer terminal -- and the offices would be closing soon. 
Oh well.  Giving up on checking my email, I hopped in the car and left
Tsumeb, though it would have been a nice town to stay the night in.
   A short while later, I arrived into Grootfontein, and the one thing
immediately appearant about the place (other than that it's a slightly seedy
agricultural town), is that it's the only city in Namibia where it's almost
impossible to find a working public phone!
   I had made a reservation at a B&B mentioned in the Lonely Planet called
"The Best Guesthouse", but when I arrived into town, all the street names
had changed from what they were listed as in the Lonely Planet.  Using some
deductive reasoning, I drove up to a house, and THOUGHT it to be the correct
place -- but there was no sign or anything indicating it was a B&B, so I
turned around and tried to find a phone in the town center.  Easier said
than done.  I passed one with a long queue for it, so continued driving, but
each one I tried (whether it be on a street corner, or at the Shell petrol
station) was broken.  Not having much of a choice, I drove back to the one
working phone with the long queue, bought a snack to munch on at the corner
store while waiting, and after about 10-15 minutes, finally was able to call
and get directions.  As I drove up to the gate in the gloomy, overcast
weather, I laughed at myself, seeing that it was indeed the place I had
originally found.  Oh well.  The B&B is run by a nice older lady who has her
hand in a bit of everything: she used to run a video store (she has since
sold it), but now keeps busy running the guesthouse, a flower shop, a
funeral business (parked on her lawn is an old 1970s Mercury wagon for
funerals, imported from the U.S., with the steering wheel on the left), and
also does food catering on the side for a local hospital.  For only
N$80/US$13.11, you get a nice room (in a separate structure down by the
pool) and breakfast.  The TV in the B&B lounge wasn't working properly (no
sound), so the owner said "feel free to come up and watch with me in the
house."  I did so, and watched the local NBC news before talking with her
about Namibia and its involvement in the regional wars of Angola and the
DRC.  On the news that evening was the first report I saw on the killing of
French tourists up in the Caprivi region of the country...
   There's an ongoing war between Angola and an Angolan rebel group called
UNITA.  There are always border skirmishes, but recently, Namibia gave the
Angolan military permission to cross over into Namibia in order to flush out
the UNITA rebels suspected of hiding inside Namibia.  Because of this, the
Caprivi Strip in northern Namibia was now considered unsafe to visit. 
Originally, I had planned to visit this area, but after calling the U.S.
Embassy in Windhoek from South Africa, decided against going, as the embassy
was warning Americans to steer clear of the region.  Apparently, a French
family decided to ignore the warnings, and their van was shot up.  The two
parents survived with injuries, but their three kids were killed -- and
because of the parents' condition, they weren't even informed of their
children's deaths until a few days later (as can be expected, the local
Namibian driver -- who received only a superficial flesh wound -- received
the most attention and airtime in all the news stories).  Though official
Namibian news reports over the last few weeks had tried to downplay the
seriousness of the conflict, the news had still been full of reports about
trouble in the region (including reports detailing how local businesses were
being affected by the lack of tourists, how rebels were robbing local
businesses, and even how smoothly the New Years celebrations had been in
Rundu, with all the trouble going on in the area).  It was never clear who
actually shot the French tourists: the government said it was UNITA rebel
troups, but some eyewitnesses said the shooters were wearing uniforms
similar to Angolan army uniforms (backed by the Namibian government).
   That evening, I had almost no sleep, but it wasn't the fault of the
guesthouse -- every animal in town that night just conspiried to keep me
awake: crickets chirpped, dogs barked, and birds tweeted all night long
until sunrise.

Jan. 6: Waterberg / Windhoek
   A nice breakfast with the owner and her daughter made up for a night of
little sleep.  Over breakfast, the two confirmed what the Tsumeb bakery lady
told me about Namibia's liberal immigration policy towards China and
Malaysia (due to aid received from the two countries), as well as a bit
about the area: Grootfontein is basically a cattle town with a few farms
(mostly maize and wine), but all in all, there's not much to the place.
   On another matter, when I mentioned I was headed back down to Windhoek,
they both convinced me to visit Waterberg Plateau on the way -- and I'm glad
I did.  Waterberg is a national park known for its red, flat-top cliffs, and
is just about an hour's detour (each direction) off the road to Windhoek. 
Besides good hiking in the area, there are also 12:00pm and 4:00pm game
drives, and from the guesthouse, we tried to call to see if it's possible to
go on an afternoon game drive as just a day-visitor (it is).  However, each
time we tried, we received a fast-busy signal, so I decided to just set off
and try again later.
   After an hour or so of driving, I stopped at an Engen petrol station to
use their phone (and not being in Grootfonetein anymore, it worked fine).  I
was still getting a fast-busy signal for Waterberg however, so I decided to
call the central national park booking office in Windhoek to make sure I had
the correct number -- and sure enough, the office in Waterberg had changed
phone numbers.  By this time, the day's 4:00pm game drive was already
fully-booked, but the lady at Waterberg suggested coming anyway in case of
cancellations (and at the very least, I could still walk around the park as
a day visitor, even if I couldn't do a game drive).
   On the way to Waterberg, I stopped in Otjiwarongo again, as between Otavi
and Otjiwarongo, there's absolutely nothing but scrub brush.  Now that the
holidays were over, all the businesses in town were open, and Otjiwarongo
was a busy, bustling place.  I parked the car and spent an hour walking
around, looking in a few Chinese shops (nothing special) and the local PEP
store (where I heard a strange -- if appropriate -- song over the muzak
system: the old "Walla-Walla-Bing-Bang/Witch Doctor" song).  I bought a
sandwich at the same store I had visited the last time, and hopped back in
the car.
   As I began to approach Waterberg, I could see the red flat-top cliffs in
the background, and the area really is quite beautiful.  Most of the road to
Waterberg is tarred, but the last 17kms is on a dirt road: going into the
park, the road was a bit muddy, but as long as it didn't start to rain, it
was passable.
   I arrived at the park gates at around 12:15pm, and went in to pay the
entrance fee and put my name down for the afternoon game drive in case there
were any cancellations.  By this time, there was already a German couple
ahead of me, so chances didn't look good, but I set out to do a little
hiking anyway.
   The best short hike in the area is the "Mountain View" hike, which takes
about 45 minutes to get to the top.  There are two routes up: the steep one,
and the gentle one.  The trails are both marked with small arrows pointing
the way, though while coming down, I couldn't find where the path splits
into two -- so I wound up taking the steep path down (which actually is
better, as it's much less slippery, especially on the way down).  At the top
is a great view of the national park, and as I looked off into the distance,
I noticed a black cloud with a sheet of rain coming towards me.  Uh-oh, I
thought... I should get down before that comes here -- and I managed to
climb down just in time, as the rain started as soon as I reached the car.
   Sitting in the car for shelter from the rain, I was quite hot after the
hike, so as soon as the rain turned into a light drizzle, I made my way to
the park's fantastic two-circle swimming pool and jumped in.  The drizzle
soon stopped, and others began returning to the pool as well.  A British dad
and son jumped in (with the mom staying by the poolside), and I chatted with
them a bit, but at the sound of thunder, I decided to get out: the last
thing I needed was to get stuck in mud on the dirt road out of there. 
Drying off, I figured the afternoon game drive would be cancelled due to the
rain, and wound up leaving at 3:30pm.  It was good timing, for just as I
finished with the dirt road and hit the tarred highway, the rain started
coming down in buckets for most of the drive into Windhoek.
   Arriving into the capital, the rain finally let up a bit, and a beautiful
rainbow appeared off in the distance.  For the night, I had booked myself at
the Thuringer Hof Hotel in the center of downtown, but wasn't sure if I'd
spend one night in the city or two (it turned out to be one).  The hotel
wasn't fancy, but was more than adequate, as they're run by Namibian Resorts
International -- the same people who run the Strand Hotel in Swakopmund.
It's an older hotel, renovated in 1998 (which basically only means new
bathroom tile and paint), but it had a nice old Sony TV, air-con, and high
ceilings -- though one of the two twin beds had outlived its usefulness.  At
N$350 including breakfast, it was a bit pricy, but its location right in the
middle of downtown was good.  After doing some laundry in the sink while
watching The Simpsons on TV, I went out for a walk.
   Most shops were closed by now, but I did find an open Sentra supermarket
where I picked up a few mini breakfast cereals and a soda.  For dinner, I
had an N95c/US15c soft-serve cone at Hungry Lion (a local fast-food burger
chain), and discovered Nando's, a chain of fast-food restaurants serving
healthy Portugese-style spicy chicken (apparently, they're in places as
diverse as Africa, Canada, and Israel, but they have yet to come to the
U.S.)  The food is healthy (not fried), and you have your choice of four
levels of hot sauce, from mild to extra spicy peri-peri -- though the place
isn't cheap, especially for African pockets.  I ordered spicy rice and two
chicken sandwiches with extra-spicy peri-peri to take back with me to the
hotel room.

Jan. 7: Windhoek / Gobabis
   I began the day by having breakfast at the hotel, then went for a walk at
7:45am.  I needed to buy a telephone card at the main post office, but they
wouldn't open until 8:00am, so I waited outside for a few minutes.  Directly
across the street from the post office was an internet cafe, so I went in to
ask if I could "telnet" with their system.  The guy at the desk said he
didn't think it was possible, though I don't know if he knew what I was
talking about or not.  When I asked if I could try it just for a minute to
see if it would work, he said no -- that I'd have to buy a time-card first
(at N$10/30mins) in order to turn the computer on.  Not wanting to waste the
money if telnet wouldn't work, I went back to the post office (which also
offered internet access from two terminals) -- but their connection wasn't
working.  The Kalahari Sands (the fanciest hotel in Windhoek, and the place
I was originally going to spend New Years Eve at if I hadn't been able to
get to the coast) has a business center with email, but they wanted an
incredible N$3/US50c a MINUTE for access.  Later that morning, I went back
to the post office (their computers were now working), but after waiting for
a terminal to become free, found that telnet wouldn't work from their
system.  Finally, just for the heck of it, I went back across the street to
the original internet cafe and paid N$10 for a 30-minute card.  Telnet did
indeed work, and I was able to check my email -- but the connection was
painfully slow, so after paying for another 30 minutes, I just gave up on
   Other than email, I basically spent most of the day just walking around
Independence Ave. and central Windhoek.  In the morning, I called the local
Windhoek Avis office where my Honda was supposedly being repaired to see if
it'd been fixed yet, but was told to call again in the late afternoon.  When
I did call back, I was told that a special part needed to be ordered for it,
so I'd have to keep using the Camry.
   Walking down Independence Ave., I went into a pharmacy to buy some
sunscreen (Nivea 30SPF -- one bottle was priced N$45 instead of the correct
N$54) before stopping in at the Namibian AA (Automobile Association) office
to pick up some maps and supplies.  In South Africa and Namibia, if you show
an automobile association card from your home country, you're entitled to as
many free maps as you need -- and I stocked up, taking with me maps of
Namibia, Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho, and Swaziland.  I also purchased
the 1999 Southern Africa Accomodations book (the 2000 edition hadn't yet
arrived), which lists tons of B&Bs and hotels throughout the region, and is
something everyone travelling in the region should pick up -- as well as a
small 2-AA size torch with both an on-off switch as well as an "instant-on"
   Needing to withdraw some money, I stepped into the large indoor shopping
arcade attached to the Kalahari Sands Hotel.  There, I first used an ATM to
withdraw some N$ cash from my savings account back home before going into
Standard Bank to change it into Botswana pula (as I'd be visiting Botswana
soon).  I never thought it would be such a hassle though: first, the surly
attendent needed to see my passport (meaning I had to go into the restroom
to dig it out of the special inner-pocket my pants had), then she demanded
to know where I received the N$ from, demanding a receipt for it.  I told
her it was withdrawn from an ATM, not from a bank, so she said "then you
must live in South Africa", insisting that if my ATM card worked in Namibia
and I wasn't Namibian, then it must be a South African card -- and thus, I
must have a South African address.  I informed her that my U.S. ATM card
works just fine here, and showed it to her, pointing out the CIRRUS symbol
on the back.  She grabbed it to take to the back room to examine and
photocopy before finally giving it back, after which she lethargically began
to do her job.
   In the same shopping arcade, I was able to find a camera store selling
lens-cap holders (mine had come off), and being right there next to the
Kalahari Sands Hotel, I decided to have a look inside.  First, I asked at
the front desk if they could change some larger bills into smaller ones
(they did), then I walked into the elevator and pressed the highest button. 
As the doors opened on the top floor, I saw an open conference room.  All
was quiet, so I walked inside.  An employee was looking down at the view
himself, so I asked if I could take a few pictures out the window.  He said
"sure, no problem," and left.  It was cloudy outside, but the room still
affords a great view of the city, and anyone visiting Windhoek should go up
to the top floor of the Kalahari Sands Hotel for a look -- with a wonderful

view available not only from the conference room, but from the window
directly behind the urnials in the men's room as well!
   The hotel has a large casino (N$10 to enter), but I decided to try it
later, so as not to waste any time right now.
   Walking out of the Kalahari Sands, I headed for the station and the Post
Street Mall area.  There out of the blue was a young African woman walking
down the street -- completely topless, with her (covered) friend, acting as
if it was nothing unusual.  Everyone (including locals) turned their heads
and smiled, but I couldn't get my camera out in time.  The shops around Post
Street Mall range from expensive tourist stores to inexpensive Chinese
shops, but there's really nothing too special about the area (though outside
the mall, lots of hawkers set up their curios to sell to tourists, if that's
what you're looking for).
   For lunch, I wound up getting a doughnut from ShopRite, and a couple more
of those N95c soft-serve cones from Hungry Lion (when I ordered my second
one, a young African couple eating them as also laughed, saying "yeah,
they're good, aren't they?" -- and actually, they are.  They taste more like
milk rather than plastic as some soft-serve does -- and you sure couldn't
beat the price!
   In the downtown area, people are everywhere, and newspaper hawkers like
to shove papers at you in an attempt to sell them (it doesn't even matter if
you're already carrying one).
   Taking a few minutes in the middle of the day, I called ahead to arrange
accomodations for the evening in the town of Gobabis.  The Namibia tourist
booklet didn't show too many choices for the small town, so I called up the
Gobabis Hotel and booked myself a room (note that the tourist booklet says
the hotel has air-con, but it actually doesn't).  The price was N$120 (or
N$170 for a "luxury" room with attached bathroom), but in the end, I wound
up staying at a B&B instead.
   After calling, I walked uphill towards the Parliament building, and
though I couldn't go inside, there's another nice view of the city from the
area, as well as a beautiful old church nearby.
   Finally, I was almost ready to leave Windhoek, but I wanted to check out
the casino inside the Kalahari Sands first.  I walked back, paid my N$10
entrance fee, and played the slots a few times -- but I don't think I even
received one coin back from them, and what little N$ I had left was quickly
eaten up.  Oh well, I only spent a couple of dollars, and in the end, it
could be considered my "fee" for using their conference room as an
observation deck.  I walked back to the Thuringer Hof Hotel (where my car
was parked in a secure, enclosed lot), and headed off for Gobabis.
   I arrived into Gobabis at dinnertime, and the place seemed something of a
hick town.  It's located just about 100kms from the Namibia/Botswana border,
and the few people around were just sitting out, watching the world go by. 
As I drove past the Gobabis Hotel, it didn't look too appealing, so I
decided to follow a few of the B&B signs posted up around town.  One led to
a place that looked particularly nice, so I drove up and asked the young
woman running it if she had a room.  She did, so I booked myself into the
"Gobabis B&B" for the night: N$175 (including breakfast) for a comfortable,
quiet, air-con room -- about the same price that the noisy, run-down Gobabis
Hotel was asking.  I did feel bad about already having made a reservation at
the hotel though, so I told the owner that while I'd like to stay at the
B&B, I had already booked myself into the hotel.  She smiled and said "don't
worry, I'll give them a call."  With that, she called them up and cancelled
my reservation, mentioning in passing that yes, the hotel can get quite
noisy at night with its attached disco.
   After dropping my bags in the room (which was excellent, though it
smelled of bug bomb), I went out for a bit, spending a good 90 minutes
walking down the small, dusty residential streets of the town.  I'm not sure
why, but I particularly enjoyed the evening... there was a beautiful
orange-purple sky, and it was nice just walking around, looking at everyone
hang out (I even observed the proverbial chicken crossing the road).  With
Gobabis not being Cape Town, the homes didn't display security signs, but
without fail, almost all (both black and white owned) had "beware of dog"
signs out front, and plenty of dogs around to prove it.
   I ordered some good takeaway at the local store, brought it back to the
room, and had dinner while watching TV.  Earlier while checking in, I
noticed a computer in the living room, and as a shot in the dark, asked the
lady if she had an internet connection.  She did, and after dinner, she let
me come in and use her computer, charging me only for the phone call.  I was
on for 57 minutes, and the cost of the local call came to about N$20 (making
the total bill N$195 for the room, breakfast, and email) -- but I left her
N$200, as she was extremely nice, and didn't even want to charge me as much
for the call as it should have been.  The Gobabis B&B is comfortable and
friendly, and it's a place I highly recommend for anyone needing a bed for
the night in Gobabis.

Jan. 8: Ghanzi (Botswana)
   After eating breakfast at the B&B, I checked out the local PEP store
(open at 8:00am) and bought another polo shirt for myself before heading for
the Botswana border.
   Originally, I was going to head north to the Okavango region, but when I
called some budget tour operators there from Etosha a few days ago, they all
said the weather had been pretty bad, the delta wasn't at its best, and if
possible, to come in a month or two.  In the end, I decided not to bother
seeing the delta this time of year, and instead, just spent a few days going
through southern Botswana on the way back to South Africa.
   One note about driving in Botswana: the Lonely Planet says that if you
don't have African car insurance, you must get some at the Botswana border. 
However this is either no longer the case, or nobody cared enough to ask me
about it, for there was no problem crossing into the country, and no inquiry
about such insurance.  If you're driving though, you must pay P5/US$1.11 for
a road levy (keep the receipt).
   The two words that describe Botswana are diamonds and cattle.  Cattle is
everywhere in the country, along with plenty of laws that favor ranchers. 
There are black cowboys on horses, and signs along the road warning of
cattle crossings.  Diamonds are the other main driving force of Botswana's
economy: they represent 40% of the country's GNP, 50% of the government's
revenue, and 70% of its exports.  Because of diamonds, Botswana's currency
(the pula) is stronger than the rand, with an exchange rate of 4.5 to the
U.S. dollar.
   The Trans-Kalahari Highway was dedicated in 1998, and there's a plaque
near the border with the names of both the Namibian and Botswanan leaders on
it.  Before reaching the border, I saw many baboons on the Namibian side,
but once I had crossed over, Botswana's cattle fences took care of any
unwanted animals (some time ago, there was an outbreak of cattle lung
disease, so Botswana enacted an extensive series of cattle fences to try to
prevent further outbreaks -- but the fences have also stopped the
instinctual migration of many animals, and remains a contraversial project).
   Needing to get some small change, I stopped on the Botswana side to buy a
drink, and sure enough, the dollar doesn't go as far against the pula as it
does against the rand.  The word "pula" is taken from the local word for
"rain" -- another valuable commodity in this desert country -- however there
had been plenty of rain in the region lately, and the Kalahari (which I had
always pictured as being dusty and brown) was now lush and green, with grass
growing higher than six feet in some places.
   A few days earlier in Etosha, I called the Botswana tourist-information
line to ask if any accomodations were available along the Trans-Kalahari
Highway between Ghanzi and Jwaneng.  When I called back a few minutes later,
the man there could tell me only that he thought there was a small hotel in
one city, but couldn't verify if it was still running or not.  Since I
wanted to visit the out-of-the-way towns of Hukuntsi and Tshane (too much to
do in a single day if leaving from Ghanzi and driving to Jwaneng), I decided
to spend a night in Ghanzi.  As boring and as much of a hick town as Ghanzi
is, I'm glad I stopped though -- for I had a chance here to meet and talk
with some interesting locals.
   I arrived into Ghanzi shortly after noontime, with the whole afternoon in
front of me.  I stopped by a sign that said "Kalahari Arms Hotel" (where I
was to stay that evening), but didn't notice the arrows pointing away, so I
walked into the local pool hall by mistake.  There, locals were hanging out
shooting pool, while a man played guitar using the wrong hands.  After
watching a game or two, I left to find the hotel, where you have your choice
of either a room in a building or one of the many large rondavels scattered
on the lawn for P220/US$48.88 (with air-con and TV).  The white lady owner
was surly and rude, but there wasn't much choice of accomodation in town.  I
set my stuff down into rondavel #25 at about 1:00pm (while trying to avoid
the constant spray of water from the lawy sprinklers), and decided to go for
a walk.
   The PEP store in town had just closed as I approached it (being a
Saturday, it closed at 1:00pm), and though it started to drizzle, it quickly
cleared.  It was hot, humid, and the middle of the day, but I had nothing
else to do but go exploring.
   First, I ran into a young black couple hitching, and talked to them for a
bit.  They were visiting from the UK, and had just come back from Chobe
National Park, where they said they hadn't had too much luck spotting
animals due to the time of year.
   I kept walking, and soon found myself wandering around the poorer part of
town, passing the many shacks and run-down homes of the area.  It was a
Saturday afternoon, and everyone was just hanging around, watching the world
go by.  As a lone white guy wandering around the area, I guess I was an
oddity, and soon, a local came up to try to talk to me -- but he spoke only
so-so English.  A young electrician, we talked for a bit before an older
gentleman (who spoke much better English) joined us.  With everyone in the
area watching, the three of us stood there and chatted for a while.  With
curiosity, they asked what I was doing in this part of town, so I answered
truthfully: that there's nothing much to do around Ghanzi on a Saturday
afternoon, and I'd much rather take a walk than sit in a hotel room.  They
smiled, and we chatted a bit more before I bid them farewell and started
walking again.
   A few seconds later, a man with no teeth and a torn T-shirt came up to me
to ask for money, so the older gentleman I had just finished talking with
came up and shoed him away, telling me not to listen to him -- that he was a
thief.  The older man continued walking with me for a bit, and introduced
himself as Adolf, saying he'll show me around the area until I want to go
back to the hotel.
   First, Adolf had to drop a bag off with someone, but on the way, we
stopped at a modest home, where he introduced me to the lady and her
three-year-old son that live there (they were relatives).  We chatted a bit,
and then it was onto another house, where he introduced me the people living
there as well.  While walking, a crippled man of about the same age as Adolf
joined us (he too was a relation), mentioning that he had lost his leg to
polio as a child.  Soon, we arrived at the house where Adolf needed to drop
off the bag, and there, two young guys were sitting around relaxing, smoking
some local herb cigarettes.  One of them spoke very good English, and the
five of us had a nice, relaxing chat.  The one that spoke English well
worked at the local tyre-repair shop in town, and said most of the shop's
business comes from the Manu - Ghanzi road (which is gravel most of the
way).  The other was a truck driver who delivers cattle, feed, milk, meat,
or anything else that needs to be transported.  They both offered me a
smoke, but I declined.  We talked about everything from cars to radio
stations to Michael Jackson, and the trucker told me the surly owner of the
Kalahari Arms Hotel used to be a doctor, but has since stopped practicing in
order to run a bunch of businesses in town (mentioning she was one of the
first to start some local businesses up in Ghanzi).  They all said that even
though she doesn't officially practice anymore, many people will still see
her informally if they have a medical question or problem, and she'll tell
them what kind of medicine to take.
   After some time, Adlof, his friend, and myself left to visit another
household (yet another relation).  The husband spoke English well, but the
wife was recovering from a stroke and couldn't talk (she just nodded her
head).  The husband was an interesting person to talk with though, as he
went on about how man is never satisfied with what he has -- how man will
always complain that the sun is too hot and the rain too wet, as he pressed
for the need to have faith in God.  Soon, some clouds began to roll in, and
a bolt of lightning struck extremely close, quite visible even though it was
still partialy sunny.  Thunder followed almost immediately along with more
lightning, and it was all close enough where I could easily make out the
bolts (it looked as if someone was taking giant flash pictures).  Deciding
to leave before the rain started, the three of us said goodbye, and headed
back to town.
   After a few minutes, the storm passed, and in the center of town, Adolf
stopped in front of the local bottle store to introduce me to another
relation who worked there (middle-aged Sebina, who joked around that only
she could get my kisses -- no one else).  We chatted for a bit, then
continued onto another bottle shop near the hotel, where I bought Adolf and
his friend a drink (they shared a vodka in Sprite; I just had a Coke). 
While chatting, two pretty young local girls (probably 17 or 18) came up and
sat down next to us.  They both worked as hairdressers in town, and we
talked about different things, from school (one of their science teachers a
few years ago was American) to life in slow Ghanzi, to what life was like in
America.  When I asked what Botswana's population was, neither knew (it's
1.5 million, as I later found out), but both couldn't believe it when I told
them tha America's population was 275 million).  I was surprised at how
confident both girls were, though it's a trait I noticed throughout Africa:
in this part of the world, women do a lot of the work, and have a lot of
responsibilities.  Culturally, they're neither shy nor demure, but outspoken
and confident.
   Adolf and his friend talked about the changes the tarred (paved) road has
brought to the little town of Ghanzi: before the opening of the tarred
Trans-Kalahari Highway, the road into town was gravel, and Ghanzi was a
quiet little town.  But the opening of the highway has made it easier for
thugs, robbers, and squatters to come.  Adolf said he was robbed once on a
Friday (payday in Africa) by thugs -- seven in front and seven behind -- and
had no choice but to give up his money.  The tarred road makes it easy for
criminals to both come into town and escape, and both men complained that
the highway has brought crime into what was once a quiet, peaceful town
(there's an airport just outside of town, but it's tiny, and served only by
the occasional small aircraft).
   The girls left for a bit, but I continued talking with Adolf and his
friend longer, before finally saying I wanted to get a little rest.  We
split up, and I walked back to the rondavel.  Then, perhaps ten minutes
later, there was a knock at the door: it was Sebina, the lady from the
bottle shop.  She came right in as I opened the door (how did she find out
what rondavel I was in?  From the security guard?), saying she and her
daughter want to talk to me.  The daughter (16), was nice, down-to-earth,
and could express herself in English very well with a great personality, but
was obviously embarassed at the way her mother was acting.
   They both came in and sat on my bed, as the mom (somewhat drunk) began
talking about the USA, Jerusalem and Bethlahem people, and how she prays for
them them all every day.  Then, she started talking about moon cycles, and
how the moon is her best friend -- how she talks to the moon everyday, and
it listens.  The daughter, meanwhile, was embarassed, saying "sorry... she
gets this way..." and I nodded that I understood.  Then the mother lied down
on the bed, leaned against my legs, and talked to me about God, warning me
against being hypnotized by others, and mumbling something about spiders in
the food (all the while, the daughter is smiling apologetically at me,
embarassed).  The mom superstitiously insisted upon keeping the door open,
even as it started to drizzle on-and-off, and rain started to come in.
   After a while, the mom left for a few minutes to go out and have another
drink, and I talked with the daughter for a bit -- who apologized again. 
Unlike her mother, she was extremely nice, friendly, down-to-earth, and very
modern.  At 16, she goes to school in Windhoek (staying with relatives
there), though she mentioned it'd be hard to get the tuition for this coming
year.  School would begin on January 18th, and she was just home visiting
her mom before going back.  She wants to be an actress, and also study
business management (she certainly had the looks, poise, and smarts), and
also writes poetry and likes to sing, but her mom is poor, and drinks way
too much (as many of the people in Ghanzi seem to do).  Her mom's current
husband is from the UK, though the daughter still uses her original name,
not the name of her step-father.  When I asked about schooling in Namibia,
she told me that some classes are taught in Afrikaans, but most are taught
in English.
   Soon, Sebina came back even more drunk than before, and it was hard to
understand her slurred speech.  After a while, the daughter (I wish I could
remember her name) looked at her mom's watch, and suggested it was time to
go, trying to get her to leave -- but Sebina grabbed me, hugged me, squeezed
me, and wouldn't let go.  The daughter (embarassed) tried to pull her mother
away.  Then, the mom started speaking to me in tongues, while the daughter
kept saying "Mom, come on, it's time to go!"  Finally, they said goodbye and
left -- with mom again warning me about the moon, and people trying to
hypnotize me.
   After they left, I sat down for a bit, but noticed it was getting late. 
I went over to the hotel's a la carte restaurant to get dinner, and was
pleasantly surprised at how good both the food and service was (the Lonely
Planet didn't give the food a great review, but I was 100% satisfied).  I
ordered a toasted egg sandwich and a toasted ham, cheese & tomato sandwich
as well (as I had skipped lunch), and they actually were served toasted, not
grilled -- with nice, thick bread.  Glancing around the room, the other
full-course dinners looked pretty good too, and the waitresses were friendly
and smiling -- about the only time in all of Africa that I saw a smile from
a waitress!  I sat back and enjoyed reading my newspaper while eating real
toasted sandwiches.
   After dinner, I walked back to the rondavel (noticing the sky lighting up
with defused lightning every few seconds), turned on the air-con and TV
("Golden Girls" was on), and wrote up a few notes in the journal.  In spite
of everything, today had been one of the most interesting and enjoyable days
on the trip.
   A few misc. notes: in South Africa, the VAT (tax) is included in the
price.  This isn't the case in Botswana though, where, like the U.S., tax is
added afterwards (for instance, my P12 dinner had an extra P2.65 tax added
to it).  However, often was the case when a cashier would seem to just
arrive at a random figure for the amount of the tax: for instance, at a
petrol station, I'd buy a pack of gum or candy for a few pula, and the
cashier would say "P2.50... hmmm... ok, uh... P2.85..." (with the tax).

Jan. 9: Hukuntsi Village Cluster / Gaborone
   Shortly after going to bed last night, it started to rain, and it came
down in buckets all night long.  I had to use my self-supporting mosquito
net for the first time on the trip because of all the small insects that
were flying onto me at night (probably in the room thanks to Sebina keeping
the door open), and with it, I was extremely hot.  Though the rain finally
stopped as I was leaving in the morning, the ground around the rondavels was
completely soaked.
   I was up at 6:00am to get an early start, and leaving at around 6:20am, I
noticed the gas gauge in the Camry indicated 3/4ths full.  The Shell station
in town was out of petrol and told me to try the BP station, but the BP
wouldn't open until 7:00am, and I didn't want to waste any time waiting --
so hoping there wouldn't be a problem, I left Ghanzi, driving south along
the Trans-Kalahari Highway.  The next town with petrol was to be Kang, but
in case they were out of petrol there as well, and I'd have to go all the
way to Hukuntsi, I tried to keep my speed a constant 110kph-120kph. 
Luckily, much of the drive was a gradual descent downhill, and there was no
problem filling up in Kang.  Soon, the sun started to come out, and there
was tall, green grass and yellow wildflowers everywhere thanks to the recent
rain.  Once in Kang, I filled up at a BP station (with the gas-hungry Camry,
it cost a whopping P80/US$17.77 plus tax for just a 1/2 tankful), before
turning off to go to the village cluster of Hukuntsi, Tshane, Lokgwabe,
Lehututu, and Tshatswa.  Along the way, I picked up two hitchhikers (young
guys, one of whom had a portable boombox), and since there didn't seem to be
any radio stations in the area, I told him it'd be OK to play a tape if he
wanted.  Mentioning I was a musician myself, (he replied "Oh, you music
man!"), he played his tape of an African male chorus singing.  I dropped one
of them off in Tshane, then took the other to Lehututu, a small village with
nothing much other than a lot of thatched-roof huts.
   I drove next to Lokgwabe, and here, most of the homes were actually
houses rather than huts.  I saw a green card telephone, and tried to use it,
but it was out of order (the phones in Botswana are pretty similar to those
found in South Africa or Namibia, with only small cosmetic differences).  At
least this one made an automatic report though (on some phones in Botswana,
South Africa, and Namibia, if the phone detects that it's not working right,
you'll see a message on the LCD display saying "Out of Order.  Please wait. 
Automatic Report in Progress" once you hang up the receiver).
   I continued driving onto Hukuntsi, the largest of the small villages in
the cluster.  A note about these villages: they're all out in the middle of
nowhere, 105kms from Kang -- though the road out to them is now tarred
(albeit narrow).  Still, the village cluster's remoteness doesn't mean there
can't be a PEP store around -- and there certainly is one in Hukuntsi.  I
picked up a few things to eat at the Shell petrol station in town, and found
another broken phone where not even the LCD display worked.
   Next, I drove to Tshane, but here too, the one card phone I found was
also out of order.
   After a while, I headed back for Kang -- there's nothing of any note to
see in these villages, but I actually did enjoy driving around them. 
They're quiet, slow, and peaceful -- and everywhere I'd go, people would
look at me, wondering why I was there, but people in Botswana are generally
very friendly.  On the way back, I picked up three hitchhikers -- an older
man who spoke English OK, and two younger college students going to
Lobatse.  We talked a bit about the area and the recent rains before I
dropped them off in Kang, where I needed to find a working phone (the older
man was nice, and stayed with me to help locate one).  No luck though: the
one working (coin) phone that someone had been using instantly went out of
order once he was finished using it.
   I decided to get going, so I picked up a few snacks for the trip at the
petrol station and headed for Jwaneng.  Even though the distance wasn't all
that much, the ride between Kang and Jwaneng is a long one, as the scenery
is boring, there's virtually no radio reception, and between Sekoma and
Jwaneng, the road gets very bumpy and uneven, sending your car shimmying
(there are signs warning of this before the really bad spots, but it's an
off-and-on occurance for that whole stretch).  I've driven on plenty of
pothole-filled roads in varying states of dis-repair, but before this, I
don't think I'd ever driven on a road this bad that was NOT officially in
need of repair.
   In Jwaneng, I finally found a working card phone (probably because it's a
diamond town with Debswana -- DeBeers of Botswana -- having a large diamond
mine in the area).  I saw a card phone by the entrance to a factory, so
parked and went to use it.  Even though I was outside the gate, my presence
triggered a noisy alarm, but I just ignored it (the guard in the booth
glanced over, saw I was just using the phone, and ignored it also).
   Just for the heck of it, I phoned up the five-star Grand Palm Hotel in
Gaborone to see how much a room would be.  The Lonely Planet had quoted
US$78, but when I called, they were having a January special for P305/US$67,
so I decided to spoil myself, and book myself in.  While the Grand Palm is
the fanciest hotel in Botswana (and is certainly more than OK), it felt more
like a nice four-star hotel rather than a five-star: the bed in the first
room I was given sagged like crazy, so I changed to another room, but there,
the window lock was missing (though I didn't worry too much, as it was on
the 4th floor).  Later on, when calling down to have someone come and put
new light bulbs in both the entry-way ceiling light and the desk lamp (both
of which were burnt out), it took a few calls over a half-hour to have
someone come.  Finally, the concierge didn't even have a xerox map of the
city or anything similar to give me when I asked.  Still, it was a nice
hotel with a great pool, satellite TV, and even a health club.  Note though,
that the ATM in the lobby will only allow a cash withdrawl from your VISA
card, not you savings or checking accounts, even if your bank is on the
PLUS/VISA network.  Also of note is the fact that the Grand Palm was
originally built as a Sheraton -- and because of that, it was just about the
only place I stayed at in Africa where the locks worked the "American" way
(with the turning direction reversed from the typical African lock).
   Driving into Gaborone, I passed the town of Kanye, but didn't bother to
stop (though it seemed like a nice town nestled on a hillside -- I even
noticed a sign advertising a live jazz club).
   When I arrived into Gaborone, I couldn't find the hotel from the
directions I was given, but at a petrol station, a fellow motorist said he
was going that direction, and showed me the way.  Immediately after checking
into the hotel, I went down to use the treadmill in the health club (as I
had been pretty sedentary these past few weeks), and when I was finished at
7:30pm, went outside to use the pool.  When I had earlier asked one of the
staff what time the pool closes, I was told 10:00pm, but they must have
thought I was asking about the pool bar, because as I soon found out, the
swimming pool itself closes at 6:00pm.  Not knowing this though, I went in
for about 10 minutes before someone came over to ask me to stop, informing
me that the pool was closed.  Well, it was shorter than I expected, but at
least I had cooled off.  Around the pool, there's a nice grassy area with
peacocks wandering around as well as an outside bar, and people of all types
and nationalities (European, African, Chinese, Indian -- though at least
upper-middle-class) were relaxing by the pool.
   Going back up to my room, I relaxed for a bit and caught the last half of
"Godzilla" on M-NET while sorting through my pack.  The cheapest place to
eat near the hotel is a very poor takeaway located next to a nearby petrol
station (which has no takeaway of its own).  The place was spartan, and had
only one or two of the selections mentioned on its board.  After eating
takeaway back in the room, I went downstairs to look at the entertainment
portion of the hotel -- a casino and cinema.  Entrance to the casino is free
for hotel guests, so I wandered around inside for a bit.  I decided to
change P20/US$4.44 into coins, and after playing for quite a while, decided
to cash the remaining P10 back in (for P10/US$2.20, I enjoyed a good 30
minutes of entertainment -- certainly cheaper than if I had played a video
game).  I had already seen the movies playing at the attached cinema, so
after a while, I just went back up to my room and went to sleep.

Jan. 10: Mochudi / Serowe / Gaborone
   I woke up early to the sound of peacocks squaking down below (the seal on
the window was broken, so it couldn't shut completely).  Originally, I had
planned to go downtown today, but instead, decided to drive north, towards
the town of Serowe.
   The first place I stopped at was Mochudi -- an old town with an
interesting museum at the top of a hill.  From the top, there's a good view
of the area, which enables you to see many of the different types of homes
found in Botswana -- from huts to square stone shelters to western-style
   After spending about 90 minutes around Mochudi, I continued driving
north.  Had I known the drive would be so long and boring, I'd have just
stayed in Gaborone: it's 640km round trip (without stopping in Mochudi), and
the scenery on Kilometer 200 is the same as the scenery on Kilometer 100
(which is the same as the scenery on Kilometer 56).  Other than scrub brush,
cattle-grazing areas, and a few small towns, there's really NOTHING along
this drive, and though Serowe itself is quite large, there's nothing special
about it either.  After driving through the town for a bit, and stopping to
take just a few pictures, I started the long drive back (stopping for just a
few minutes in Palapye).  There was an interesting road sign I spotted along
the highway though: "Tropic of Capricon" [sic].
   Heading back, the petrol was getting low... the warning light was on, and
there were no stations anywhere around.  I was honestly worried that the car
would run out of fuel (it literally was running on empty for the last
stretch), but somehow it made it (barely) to the first petrol station in
miles: a Shell station about 30kms outside of Gaborone.  I filled up, and
for the Camry's large tank, it cost P108/US$24.
   Once back at the hotel, I used the treadmill in the gym again, followed
by a half-hour swim in the pool (though past the official closing time, the
pool was so crowded, it was kept open longer).  Other than snacks purchased
at some petrol stations, I hadn't had any breakfast or lunch, and after that
long drive, I certainly didn't feel like having the horrible takeaway from
the only nearby option for dinner, so I decided to go into town.  I asked
for directions at the hotel, and decided to drive to the African Mall, where
I was told there were some restaurants, including a Nando's.  Even though it
was dark and I had never been in the area before -- and Gaborone is famous
for confusing one-way streets, I managed to find the African Mall without a
problem (as well as my way home afterwards -- something I was quite proud
of, as I had no real map to look at).  At the African Mall, I ordered some
Nando's chicken sandwiches to go, and had a soft serve cone next door while
I waited.
   Back in the hotel room, I caught up with CNN for a bit, then decided to
go into the casino again to get rid of all my Botswanan coins (one souvenir
I always try to bring back with me from a trip abroad are samples of a
country's paper money -- but coins are too heavy to tote around, and they
cannot be exchanged into other currencies at forex counters.  So, since I
was leaving Botswana tomorrow, I wanted to get rid of all the pula coins I
had collected over the last few days).  I cashed P16 into tokens, won a bit,
and received a P20 note back (which I could change into rand tomorrow), and
went back to the room.  One annoying quirk with the hotel is that there are
no vending machines for ice -- you must call down and have ice delivered by
a bellman.
   Today on the radio while driving, the French parents (who were injured,
and whose children were killed in the Caprivi region of Namibia recently)
said some of the men shooting at them wore brown camoflague uniforms -- the
same as what the Namibian defense special forces wear, not the UNITA rebels
that the Namibian government claimed was responsible.  The official response
from the Namibian government to this (and recent criticism that it has been
dragging its feet into investigating the matter) was to deny any
involvement, and to criticize both the Namibian and world press (especially
the South African press) for criticizing them.  As in South Africa, the
African-language Botswanan radio stations interject English numbers for the
time of day and telephone numbers.
   A Botswana newspaper I picked up (The Reporter) had an interesting slogan
that can be taken a few ways: "The News You Need To Know."  Hmmm... I'm sure
it was meant as a positive statement, but I couldn't help but think that
this slogan would have been fitting on a 1970s-era Soviet newspaper as

Jan. 11: Gaborone / Rustenburg / Pilanesberg / Sun City
   I woke up and checked out of the Grand Palm early in order to look around
downtown Gaborone.  The city is much like Los Angeles, in that it's spread
out without any real center.  Parking at the Bureau of Foreign Affairs, I
set out to explore the area.  The nearby Parliament House could pass for a
modern, fancy California church, but you can't enter without a prior written
appointment.  It was still too early for most shops to be open, but I walked
towards the area known as The Mall, and along the way, a street vendor was
selling huge egg-on-a-roll sandwiches for only P2/US44c, so I bought one
from her.  There isn't much to The Mall other than some typical stores you
might find anywhere, but it's also where Debswana and the British and U.S.
consulates are located (as well as being close to the government buildings),
so it's quite a popular place.  All in all though, Gaborone is a pretty
dull, boring city for a visitor, and The Mall is no different.  Walking back
to the car, I was pleasantly surprised when a few people passing by greeted
me with a "Good morning" near the government buildings (I, of course,
   One observation I noticed about Botswana was that here, the prevailing
attitude seems not to be that of the "customer being king", but rather
almost the opposite -- that the customer should be grateful for being able
to do business with the owner (at least that's the feeling one gets whenever
doing a business transaction here).  Service is curt, and often, it's almost
as if you feel a store is doing you a favor by accepting your business.
   After getting back to the car, I began driving towards the South African
border (located just a bit out of town).  There had been fine weather so
far, but as soon as I hit the border, clouds and drizzle arrived.  At South
African immigration, their computers were down, so they merely slapped
another visa onto my passport instead of using the one I had received upon
arrival into Cape Town (which was still valid).  Later in my trip, I was
given yet a third visa -- there didn't seem to be any clear policy on
whether to use a current-but-still-valid visa, or slap a new one in the
passport for re-entry.
   Back in South Africa, the rain was falling in buckets for a good
half-hour.  One thing the rain is good for though: when driving in Africa,
your windscreen will be littered with the remains of squashed bugs, and
using the washer and wiper will usually only smear them across the glass. 
The best thing to clear your view will either be a petrol station attendant
(it's normal for them to clean the windscreen) or a good, hard, pelting
   After twenty minutes or so, the rain let up, and the sun began to come
out.  Back in South Africa now, I needed to buy a South African telephone
card, so I stopped at a small petrol station on the side of the road and
went inside.  In the little attached store, I asked if they sold telephone
cards, but the only ones being sold were pre-paid cel cards.  However, the
owner kindly gave me change to use the phone outside, though using it wasn't
exactly easy: it was one of the few remaining non-automatic phones left in
the country, where you must first call the operator and tell her what number
you'd like to reach.  She'll tell you to press the black button, and then
you're to insert however many coins she tells you to (for my call, it was
R4).  She'll try to place the call, and will come back on the line once she
has the party on the other end for you.  At first, I didn't understand the
routine and lost a few coins by inserting them too early, but as someone who
likes telephones, it was interesting to use nonetheless.  The phone was in a
rural area, but it was still the only time during my entire trip that I
encountered such a phone.
   I used the old-fashioned phone to call a B&B in Rustenburg that I wanted
to stay at that evening (Bergsig Lodge), and booked myself a room.  Bergsig
was one of the best B&Bs I stayed at on my trip: friendly, comfortable and
inexpensive (R155, including breakfast).  There are actually two B&Bs (one
managed by the father, and the other by the son and his girlfriend), and
upon arriving into town, I called from a petrol station, and the father (in
an old Mercedes) came to meet me and show me the way up to where his son's
B&B is.  The lodge is a nice building in a quiet, residential part of town,
and the son was extremely friendly, giving me ideas on things to see in the
area, local maps, and offering his services, saying if I had any problems at
any point while in South Africa -- even far away -- I should feel free to
call him for help.
   On my way to Rustenburg though, I was actually stopped for speeding, and
it was quite an interesting experience: I hadn't seen the 80kph sign
(indicating I was entering a small town), and was still going the normal
120kph speed.  Suddenly, I saw an overweight, white cop standing next to his
car at the bottom of the hill -- it was a speed trap.  He waved at me as I
passed, but didn't hop in his car to pursue me -- he merely waved.  Not sure
what he wanted, I stopped and backed up to where he was (he didn't even move
from his spot).  Coming over, he informed me that this stretch of road was a
farming area, and posted at 80kph.  Hearing my accent, he asked where I was
from, and when I said the U.S., he said he'd just give me a warning and not
a ticket (I don't know if he was being nice, or just didn't want to bother
with the paperwork).  At any rate, he was courteous and pleasant, so I
thanked him, and managed not to receive a ticket.
   With all the driving I was doing on my trip (13,400kms/8,328miles), I
really did try to be careful.  Speeding is a common occurance in the
country, and on the open road, I'd try to set my speed between 120kph-140kph
(with most cars still passing me) -- but in towns, I was careful to keep to
the speed limit, especially with the way cattle and pedestrians would wander
onto the road, seemingly oblivious that it was a highway.  Today, I had not
seen the 80kph sign, and had unintentionally been speeding.  Thankfully, the
cop didn't ticket me, but it still blows me away how he just stood there
next to his car, waving me down and expecting me to stop instead of pursuing
me himself.  Are most South Africans honest enough to stop for a cop
standing outside his vehicle?  Or if I hadn't stopped, would he have
eventually pursued me?
   After checking into the B&B, I drove out to Pilanesberg National Park, a
small, compact, yet very nice wildlife reserve.  I spent the entire
afternoon from 2:15pm to 6:45pm driving around the park, seeing elephants up
close, a black rhino, a lion (way off in the distance), and many other
animals.  The tall grass from the rains made it harder to spot low-lying
creatures, but it was still an enjoyable afternoon, with beautiful scenery
in the area too (including some spectacular lookouts and viewpoints).
   Nearby Pilanesberg is the (in)famous Sun City casino and hotel complex, a
huge, flashy center for South Africa's well-to-do -- and its location
between a game park and some black townships makes one pause.  It was
already quite late (after 7:00pm), and many of Sun City's attractions
(including most of the shows, rides, and presentations) only operate during
the day, but curious to see what Sun City looked like (with no intention of
making a special trip back the next day), I decided to take a quick look.
   The entrance cost regardless of when you enter is R40/US$6.56 (and at
night, with most things closed, you're basically only buying entrance into
the casino), but I paid it anyway, and went inside.  In the casino, the
cheapest slots are 50c ones (using real coins, not tokens), so I cashed
R50/US$US$8.20 into coins, and after staying about even for a while, saw my
old favorite, a "Red, White & Blue" slot machine.  A few spins on that, and
I soon hit 7-7-7, with 80 coins (R40) coming out -- my entrance fee into the
complex!  I decided to leave now that my entrance fee had been paid, and on
the way out, dropped one extra coin into a slot and won two more coins.  For
your R40, you're given two free chips to use at the tables, but I decided to
just keep them as souvenirs.
   The drive home in the dark was interesting, and the only time I drove at
night in South Africa.  It's still a good 85kms from Sun City back to
Rustenburg, and unless you're driving through a white town, none of the
roads or highways in the country are lit.  The first part of the drive was
on an un-lit highway, and car after car passed me (expensive models, usually
with Gauteng plates), speeding on through the night to get back home after a
day at Sun City.  One's first instinct is to drive much slower in the dark,
but it soon became clear that the safest thing to do was to stay behind
ANOTHER car -- at least that way, there was more light on the road, and less
chance of me running into something such as a car coming from the other
direction on the narrow highway.  The problem was that no one was going
anywhere near the speed limit, and every car that passed me was soon way off
in the horizon. Finally, there was one car that, while still speeding,
wasn't zooming home, so I managed to stay behind him for most of the way
(not an easy task, as he was still going a lot faster than I wanted to go,
and I had to work to keep up with him).  As strange as this sounds, I
actually did feel much safer going faster and keeping a (safe) distance
behind another car, than driving slower but alone in the pitch black
darkness -- especially since after a while, the number of cars passing me
(and their lights), trickled down to nothing -- it was either keep up with
this one car, or drive alone in the dark.
   After a while, it was time to turn off the highway and take a normal road
back to Rustenburg -- a road which goes through a lot of black townships.  I
never felt unsafe because of the people, but driving these roads at night
can still be an experience: locals would just hang out on the road and not
care if a car was coming -- and as a holdover from apartheid days, none of
the black towns had street lights (this "luxury" was only afforded to white
communities).  Driving back, I immediately knew when I was back in
Rustenburg proper -- it was the point where the first street light appeared.
Back in town, I stopped at a very good convenience store for some
made-to-order takeaway and drinks before heading back to the B&B.
   While driving in Pilanesberg today, I heard the news on the radio that
Chapman's Peak Drive in Cape Town had been closed due to a rockslide that
killed one motorist (Chapman's Peak is a scenic drive that I was going to do
at the start of my trip, but decided to wait and do it at the end.  Now, the
road would be closed until at least May while they try to make it safer, and
I'd have to give up seeing it).

Jan. 12: Pretoria / Letsitele
   I woke up, had an early breakfast, and left the B&B by 6:50am.  I didn't
spend much time in Rustenburg itself, but it's a pleasant mid-size city, and
well worth a stop.
   I drove along the N4 (a major road) for a bit, but near the Hartbeespoort
Dam, the major road suddenly turned into a small, winding one.  At first, I
thought I had taken a wrong turn, but sure enough, the road still is the N4.
Hartbeespoort is a nice area, and from what I hear, it gets busy on summer
weekends with water-sports.
   While most roads in South Africa are free, there are a few highways that
are toll-roads, and these are about the only roads in the country with more
than one lane in each direction (usually two lanes each way).  The toll
roads usually parallel normal ones, and you always have a choice of which to
take (if you don't want to take an upcoming toll road, an alternate route --
denoted by an "A" -- is always available and clearly signed).  The advantage
of the toll roads is that they bypass towns, enabling you to keep a constant
120kph instead of having to slow down to 80kph every time you enter a small
city -- but they're not cheap, and you can wind up paying quite a bit of
money to use them.  Strangely, some toll roads seem cheaper than others: for
the toll sections of the N4 I took this morning, I paid only R1.90 for a
15km stretch, then R1.50 for the next 10kms, but other toll roads I took
later were much more expensive (often being R25-R30 for each long stretch
between booths).
   One quirk about South Africa's roads is that the distance-to-go signs are
not very accurate.  Along the same stretch of road, you'll pass a sign
saying "95kms" to the city you're trying to reach -- then 2-3kms later,
you'll see another sign saying "98kms" for the same city.  Or, you'll see a
sign saying "48kms" and after driving 10kms, the next one will say "43kms."
This happens quite frequently, as I noticed such a mistake every other day
or so.
   I arrived into Pretoria at around 8:45am, and wound up staying for about
four hours to look around.  It's a nice city with many different, unique
districts (such as busy Church Square, or cafe-filled Sunnyside).  One nice
change about Pretoria is that on most intersections, BOTH streets are
clearly signed (one problem with driving in South Africa is that when you
come to an intersection, there will usually be a sign for the street you're
crossing, but rarely one indicating the street you're currently on.  If
you're lost, or not sure what street you're on, you can go for miles before
you see any hint of its name.  Pretoria though, was very well signed).
   Though street parking for 60 minutes or less was free in many areas, I
parked the car in an actual parking structure (the prices were quite
reasonable: R1.50 for 0-3 hours, R2.50 for 3-5 hours, and you don't have to
pay someone R2 to watch the car).  I started walking, and arrived first at
Church Square, an area that reminded me quite a bit of downtown Los Angeles
with its old historic buildings and small park in the center.  I walked into
a store and noticed a UFO-catcher (claw machines that you put coins into and
try to grab stuffed animals out of), and the music it was playing to attract
customers was (of all things), "Odoru Pompokorin", the theme song to an
extremely popular Japanese cartoon from the mid-1990s: "Chibi Maruko-chan"
(I later saw another one of these "Odoru Pomokorin"-playing UFO-catchers at
the Cape Town 7-11 store on the walk up to Bridle's B&B).
   Walking into a small market for a soda, I asked the Chinese clerk where
he was from.  He said Hong Kong, and when I asked how he found himself
living in South Africa, he said "well, the weather's better here."  Later at
a bakery, a young 20ish Chinese girl had on a Hong Kong T-shirt, and I asked
if she was from there.  She said yes, but that her family lives here in
Pretoria now.
   One thing I noticed about South Africans (at least those in Pretoria) was
that they were quite good about waiting for a signal to show "walk" before
crossing the street -- there was very little jaywalking (though it was a
beautiful day, and it may not be the same in bad weather).
   In Pretoria (as in most South African cities), there are a large number
of pawn shops.  I walked into a branch of one of the larger chains (Cash
Converters) to have a look.  As with pawn shops in the U.S., most items were
only slightly cheaper than what you could find them for new if you really
knew where to look, but (perhaps because it was part of a chain), it was
clean, bright, and felt more like a department store than a pawn shop.  I
wonder if they ask anyone trying to sell an item for ID...
   The buses in Pretoria are double-decker like those in London, though I
just opted to explore the city by foot.  I visited another PEP store -- and
by this time, those R31.70 polo shirts I like so much were being discounted
to R29.95, so I picked up another.  I then walked up the hill to where the
government (Union) buildings are (not a short walk from city centre, but a
nice one nonetheless), and from the top is a wonderful view of the city.  I
asked if it'd be possible to look inside, but the parking lot guard said no
(though another guard did let a small group -- which I quickly joined --
walk just up the outside steps to have a closer look at the building). 
After that, I walked back down towards the city centre, and continued
walking down random streets in all directions.  Pretoria really is a
pleasant city, and though it lacks some of the charm of Cape Town, it's a
pretty close second -- and certainly a far cry better than Johannesburg.
   After picking up some takeaway to go, I went back to the parking garage,
where I asked a fellow leaving the same time for directions to the N1.  He
said to follow him, and soon I was on the N1 heading north -- another toll
road.  The first toll from Pretoria to Pietersburg cost R14.50, the second
was R18.70, but I exited for Tzaneen before reaching the third toll booth. 
Note that there are very few exits on the toll roads -- and very few petrol
stops as well (and those prime-location petrol stations are very expensive
for their snacks and takeaways: a tiny sandwich with very thin bread and one
slice of cheese was R6, and a 2L bottle of water was R9).
   I stopped at a One-Stop Engen station to make a phone call to Avis in
Pietersburg just in case that location had any Group D compact automatic
cars I could trade the Camry in for, but all five of the phones were
out-of-order.  Much later at the next station, the phones worked, though the
Pietersburg location had no small automatics.  All was not lost however:
earlier in the day, I had called the Nelspruit Avis office from a petrol
station in the Heartbeespoort dam area, and was told that they would have a
compact automatic on Saturday (when I was to be in Nelspruit) -- so I had
them set one aside for me.
   Just before Pietersburg, I took the turnoff for Tzaneen, the provincial
"big town" of the area (though in reality, it's quite small).  Outside of
Pietersburg, you pass through a huge township which, with its corrugated
metal shacks and shanties, reminded me of Tijuana.  Tzaneen is pleasant
enough, though I pretty much just drove through it on the way to nearby
Letsitele (a tiny little spot on the map, where I was to spend the night).
Driving in this area is quite nice, and includes some nice stretches through
mountains, tea plantations, and acres of banana trees.  In Tzaneen though, I
did stop at the local PEP store, to pick up four more of those polo shirts I
like so much (R29.95 each now).
   Letsitele is quite small, and in fact, the "downtown" consists only of a
small strip mall with a market, a PEP store, and few tiny shops.  Behind
"downtown" are just a few residential streets lined with nice white homes,
and on the other side of the main drag are the footpaths out to the black
homes.  As in many cities, a common sight (especially at the end of the day)
would be a group of blacks walking from the "white" city back to their homes
outside of town.  Again, this is now not legally mandated anymore, but it
will take some time before the average black South African family can afford
a home in a white neighborhood.
   Originally, I tried to call the "Lemon Tea" B&B that was listed in the AA
Accomodation Guide, but I'm not quite sure what happened: the lady that
answered said she'd give the message that I was coming and wanted a room to
the owner.  When I called back later, a man who answered said he was just a
guest, and gave me another number to try.  Upon calling that one, I got the
lady who runs the Villions B&B -- I'm not sure if it's the same lady that
runs both or not, but at any rate, I wound up staying at Villions B&B that
evening for R200, including breakfast.
   Villions is a nice place to stay, with a beautiful, fully-furnished room
with satellite TV, air-con, phone, alarm clock, and a pool on the grounds --
and the family that runs it is extremely friendly.  I knew I'd be leaving
quite early in the morning to head for Kruger National Park, so since I
hadn't yet had dinner, asked if it'd be possible to have my "breakfast" as
dinner that evening (whatever breakfast would normally be).  The lady asked
when I'd like it; I told her I wanted to go out for a walk -- perhaps around
7:30pm, and she said "no problem."
   After setting my pack down, I went to explore what there was of Letsitele
(and it's not much).  With the exception of a small white-owned market, all
the stores in the town's one strip mall were closed, so I just walked around
a bit, getting stared at by the locals hanging out by the phone next to the
store.  The town has a nice country feel to it, and there were a few
hothouses on the back side of the main drag.  I looked around the "white"
residential area (quite small, with only a couple of streets), and walked
past the local elementary school.  Finally, I went back to the market to get
some water and drinks for tomorrow, before heading back to the B&B.
   Outside by the pool, I met the father, his son, and some friends of the
family that were visiting.  They had been to the U.S. before (Boston), and
we talked about some of the quirks of South Africa and the U.S.  Soon it was
getting dark, and the wife served me my "dinner" in my room (which included
freshly-squeezed orange juice -- an incredibly rare find in South Africa! 
When I mentioned how impossible it had been for me to find unsweetened, 100%
pure orange-only juice in South Africa, the lady mentioned she has tons of
fresh oranges that she keeps in a cold storage room just so she can make
orange juice for her guests.  She asked if I wanted seconds, and I gladly
accepted).  After dinner, I laid back, relaxed to the TV a bit, and went to
sleep.  The only problem with the room was that there was a bad circuit
breaker, and the power (and air-con) went off during the night.  The father
showed me the switch in case it went off again, and during the night, I had
to get up more than a few times to switch the circuit breaker back on to
restore the power and air-con.  Still, all-in-all, it was one of the best
B&Bs I stayed at on my trip.
   Two stories in the news: a gunman opened fire on a crowded Pretoria city
bus -- the police suspect it was racially motivated, and the last I heard,
there were still no suspects in custody, as different eyewitnesses gave
different descriptions of the suspect.
   The other story was of yet another bomb going off in Cape Town -- this
time, outside the courthouse.  PAGAD was suspected, as there was a PAGAD
member on trial at the time (PAGAD is People Against Gangsterism And Drugs,
a group whose initial aim was to help fight crime in the Cape townships,
though many people have accused it of turning vigilante and creating more
crime than it has stopped.  It's still quite controversial today).

Jan. 13: Kruger National Park / Nelspruit
   I woke up at 5:00am, and left the B&B early, heading for the Phlawi gate
of Kruger National Park.  I arrived at 6:10am, shortly after the gate
opened.  The weather was cloudy and overcast -- perhaps not the best for
pictures, but certainly good weather for sitting in a car, looking for
wildlife.  It had been quite hot while driving in the sun at Etosha, but
here it was now windy, and even started to drizzle a bit.
   Kruger has a series of well-paved roads that traverse the park, and even
in the bad weather, there were more cars at Kruger than in Pilanesburg or
Etosha.  I spent the next nine hours from 6:00am to 3:00pm looking for
animals, but other than fellow tourists, didn't see too much, and driving
without resluts can get quite tiring after a few hours.
   The one "find" of the day was a trio of lionesses: a passing car stopped
to tell me that there were some lionesses a few kms down the road.  I drove
on ahead, and sure enough, a bit further than I had been told, I ran into
the trio at the side of the road.  Unlike Etosha (and later Serengetti and
Ngorongoro), the wildlife in Kruger seems quite tame and used to cars
driving through their home: the three lionesses were walking down the road,
and while I slowly followed them a fair distance behind, they would turn
around to look at me with an expression that seemed to say "*sigh*, another
tourist... well, you'll just have to wait... we're going to take our own
sweet time..."  I stayed with the lions as they walked onto and off of the
road, finally hiding in the tall grass.  Even more so here than in the other
parks, the grass was so high, there could have been an entire pride of lions
next to me, and I wouldn't have been able to notice them.
   While driving (this time with the radio on quietly, as I saw nothing
posted prohibiting it), the big news stories of the day were the launch of a
new tourism campaign to attact more American tourists (with professional
travel agents complaining, saying that it targeted only those upper-class
tourists who were already interested in visiting, not the segment of the
population that hadn't even thought about seeing Africa), and of an accident
at the African Rainbow Mine, where, after a cave-in caused by seismic
activity, four miners had been killed, and nine more were now trapped
   I stopped for lunch at one of the park's rest areas that serves snacks
and takeaways, and noticed that the garbage cans have self-closing lids,
something the U.S. National Parks should take note of.
   After another hour or so, I left the park through the Paul Kruger gate,
and decided to drive south -- not along Route 40, but along 536, then 538,
and though the large black township outside of Hazyview (it was huge, and I
stopped to take a few pictures).  Most of the homes in the area were shacks
and shanties, but not all, and there were sights such as a local (I assume)
black lady passing me in a new Mercedes, talking on a cel phone.  One thing
that struck me about the townships I saw was that they always seemed to be
located on hill-side land which in the U.S., would be among the most
expensive property.  It's an interesting drive, and I recommend anyone
leaving Kruger Park from the Paul Kruger gate to go this way.
   After a while, I met up with Route 40 again, and took it into Nelspruit,
staying at the local Road Lodge.  There are a few budget hotel chains in
South Africa, and two of the largest are the City Lodge Hotels Group and the
Formulae One chain.  I never did stay at a Formulae One, but stayed at a few
of the Road Lodges (run by the City Lodge Hotels Group).  This group
operates three types of hotels: the City Lodges (medium priced), Town Lodges
(moderate priced), and Road Lodges (the cheapest ones, at around R159/US$26
a night).  The Road Lodges are somewhat similar to the American "Motel 6"
chain in philosophy: all the basics you need (air-con, satellite TV, shower,
and free local calls) but in small, efficient rooms similar to a Japanese
business hotel.  For instance, the bathroom is not in another room separated
by a door, but part of your one small room with a little pull-out door for
privacy.  Still, the rooms were big enough for comfort, and everything was
clean and well-kept.  Non-smoking rooms are available, as are breakfasts the
next morning (R17) in a bright, comfortable dining area complete with TV and
newspapers.  There are fair-priced vending machines on the ground floor for
snacks and sodas, public card phones on each floor, and even a left-luggage
room with safe-deposit boxes to leave your items in temporarily.  The
higher-priced Town and City Lodges are a bit nicer, but truthfully, the Road
Lodges were just fine, and in areas where the different types are located
close to each other (such as the Johannesburg Airport area), a guest at the
Road Lodge can go over and use the pool at the City Lodge.  It's only a
shame that there aren't yet more of the cheaper Road Lodges: they're located
only in Johannesburg (7), Nelspruit, Durban, and one near Cape Town.  On my
trip, I wound up staying at the Nelspruit, Durban, and Johannesburg Airport
Road Lodges, and it was interesting to note the clientele: while visiting
the Johannesburg City Lodge, everyone in the lobby seemed to be white
business travellers, but at the Road Lodges, you have the complete mix:
white, black, coloured, adults, students, and groups as well as people by
themselves, as the Road Lodges allow up to four people in a room for the
same price.
   After checking in, I walked across the street to the nearby strip-mall,
where I used the ATM, then stopped for dinner at a Chinese restaurant flying
the Taiwan flag out front.  Though it was Chinese-owned (with the daughter
working the register), my waitress was young, white, and blonde.
   The meal was OK, but not too filling, so I decided to stop at the
takeaway stand next door ("Hot Stuff" -- they specialize in peri-peri/hot
sauce takeaway).  It was quite interesting talking to the lady who runs it
(as well as her customers): she's a middle-aged Aussie that married a South
African and came to the country from Perth three years earlier.  At first,
she told me, she was worried about living here and being accepted, but has
been pleasantly surprised at how everyone has treated her -- white and black
alike.  She has regular customers with whom she chats and jokes with, and
they seem to love the food and service (which she gives with a smile -- a
rarity here in South Africa).  If you wind up staying at the Nelspruit Road
Lodge, be sure to go across the street for some takeaway from "Hot Stuff"
and say hello to her!
   Misc. note: SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation) operates three
TV channels (SABC 1, 2, and 3), which broadcast with occasional commercials.
Programming is now multi-lingual (English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, etc.) and I've
heard more than one white person complain that they now subscribe to (pay)
M-NET because there's too much African-language programming on SABC.  To me,
though there were indeed African and Afrikaans language shows (sometimes
with English subtitles on the soap operas), the vast majority of programming
still did appear to be in English.  SABC Radio's English language broadcast
can be heard over various frequencies, all in the 104Mhz-107Mhz range -- in
fact, the announcer always says "SABC, 104 to 107 FM" because the exact
frequency is different depending upon what area of the country you're in
(but will always be in the 104Mhz-107Mhz range).

Jan. 14: Mbabane (Swaziland) / Ezulwini Valley
   Eating breakfast at the Road Lodge this morning (R17), I was a few
pennies short, though the lady at the front desk said "don't worry about
it" -- this reminded me of when I was in a store a few days ago, and had
been two cents short of exact change: I showed to the black cashier that I
was two cents short, but she didn't say "don't worry about it", but rather
just sat there refusing to take the money until I took out a large R100
bill.  Again, black or white, there's very little service-with-a-smile in
Africa (let alone the "penny cups" you see often in the U.S., where, if
you're short a penny or two, you can take one).  Some more notes on markets
in the region: you always bag your own groceries, and when getting produce,
there's always an employee in the area who must first weigh your bags of
fruit and slap on a price sticker before you head for the front cash
registers (it took me a while to realize this, and each time, the cashier at
the front would have to get up and walk to the produce area to have the bags
weighed by the employee there, as the front check-out lanes don't have
   After breakfast, I headed right for Avis at the Nelspruit Airport
(located a few kms outside of town) to change my Camry in for a compact car.
When I spoke to Avis a few days earlier, I was told they'd have either a
Toyota Corolla or a Honda Ballade waiting for me, and as it turned ou, the
car was a Honda Ballade (though this time, with manual roll-down windows
instead of power ones).  Arriving early, I had to wait for someone to show
up, but once they did, was I ever happy to trade that Camry back in for a
Ballade: I had driven 4,567kms on the Camry, and spent not only a small
fortune in petrol costs, but had to put up with a vibrating steering wheel
and a car less comfortable for me than the Honda.  The replacement Honda was
almost brand new, with only 1,400kms on it.
   Back in a comfortable, economical Honda, I headed off for the South
Africa/Swaziland border, and arrived at Oshoek/Ngwenya around 9:45am.  As in
Namibia, the unit of currency in Swaziland (the lilangeni -- plural is
emalangeni) is pegged to the South Africn rand with the same US$1=E6.1
exchange rate -- though the rand is accepted everywhere in the country as
well.  At the border, the tourist office was closed (the room was dark, and
no one knew where the lady running it was), so I had to figure out a place
to stay on my own.  Upon entering Swaziland, there was major road
construction along the main highway that receives most of the South
African-Swazi traffic, though signs were posted at the border to indicate
when each day the traffic would have to be stopped for blasting (at least
the E5 road tax you pay has some visible results).
   The weather was cloudy and misty, and at first, I had to follow behind
many slow trucks due to the road construction.  The scenery was beautiful
however, with rolling green hills covered by mist -- though there was no
place to stop for a picture.  Still, road improvements are necessary, and
while driving along a later stretch of the nice, two-lane-in-each-direction
highway up and down the mountain between Mbabane and the Ezulwini Valley, I
noticed a sign saying "Enjoy Your New Highway."
   Arriving into Mbabane (the capital of Swaziland), I parked the car and
wandered around for a bit, first walking into the Kowloon Chinese Shop
(attached to the Kowloon Takeaway -- where I ordered lunch a few hours
later).  The Chinese woman behind the counter was quite nice, and when I
asked where she was from, she answered "Mauritius."  When I mentioned I'd be
visiting Mauritius at the end of my trip, she happily volunteered to write
down some places of interest to see on the island, though she said it'd been
five years since she'd been back.  As I was to soon find out, her pleasant
demeanor wasn't an exception: people in Swaziland (whether on the street or
in a store) seem to be much friendlier and open towards each than South
Africans, and the country is just more relaxed.  For instance, while at the
large Manzini bus station the next day, I decided to stand around and watch
people for a half-hour -- and was pleasantly surprised, as I observed people
smiling and greeting each other fondly.  Instead of having a look of despair
(or at least of a hard life -- a look you see more often than not on South
Africans, black or white), the Swazi people have smiles on their faces, and
seem generally content -- and the contrast between the two countries is
immediately apparent to the visitor: walk into a Swazi shop, and you'll be
greeted with a smile rather than a frown, and people here are much more
outgoing and eager to engage in conversation.
   Everyone in Swaziland speaks English and siSwati, and Swazis are proud of
their cultural heritage, as well as the fact that they're a kingdom (there
is a parliament, but final authority rests with the king, whose picture is
seen everywhere in the country).  In general, most Swazis are poor, but
don't live in poverty conditions as many of their South African counterparts
do.  Occasionally, you do see children asking for money in Mbabane, but
whether they really need it for food or to to buy glue to sniff (as one
columnist in the local newspaper suggested) is anyone's guess (said
columnist suggested donating money to established help-the-poor
organizations in the country instead).  Though the vast majority of the
country's population is Swazi, there are small minorities of white, Indian,
and Chinese (both the lady in the Kowloon China Shop and the owner of a
Chinese restaurant I stopped at later said there were currently about 100
Chinese in the country).
   After looking around Mbabane, I drove down the hill into the Ezulwini
Valley (by the end of the day, I went up and down that same stretch of road
at least a half-dozen times).  I first visited Parliament House... everyone
was on vacation, but one of the staff said he'd be happy to give me a tour
and show me the building, being proud of his country and its institutions. 
There are two houses in Parliament, and though the rooms aren't fancy,
they're practical.  The Senate has 20 members (with 10 appointed by the
King, and 10 elected by the House of Assembly), and the House of Assembly
has 80 members (of which 20 are appointed by the King).  They all serve
5-year terms, though the King (who also appoints the Prime Minister) may
prolong or dissolve Parliament at any time.
   After Parliament, I spent a good hour looking around the Natinal Museum
(located next to Parliament House, E10 admission).  From the outside, it
doesn't look like much, but the museum is definitely worth a visit.  Inside
are excellent displays on the country's history and traditions, and out in
the back are examples of traditional Swazi huts that you can examine up
close.  Also in the museum are a few examples of some old American cars once
driven by King Sobhuza II (who passed away in 1982) -- and an upcoming
project is the restoration of these cars.  Like most Swazis, the museum
docent was also proud of his country and heritage, and it showed in the way
he explained things to me -- eager also to answer any questions I might
   Next, I drove back up to Mbabane, having to think about where I'd be
spending the night.  Originally, I had called the Mgenule Motel, but seeing
it as I drove past, I just didn't feel like staying there -- so I'd need to
find a room somewhere else for myself.  I wound up driving the new, wide
(yet steep) Mbabane-Ezulwini road a few times looking for a phone, but
unbeknownst to me, when I finally found one, the telephone system in the
country had just undergone a major overhaul with the introduction of area
codes for each city -- and none of the calls would go through without them.
Remembering that I had seen the area codes posted on phone booths outside
the Mbabane post office (located on the second floor of a shopping mall -- I
had bought a telephone card at the post office earlier), I headed back for
Mbabane.  Just for the heck of it, I first called one of the three Sun
hotels in the area (a South African luxury hotel chain), but they wanted
from E538-E750 for the night -- so I quickly dropped that notion, and opted
instead for a room a the Mantenga Lodge (E200 with breakfast).  While making
my calls, I noticed the post office had four terminals inside for internet
access, at E10 for 30 minutes.  I tried one, and was surprised at how good
(and fast) the connection was.  Leaving the mall, I noticed that most of the
large South African chain stores (from Mr. Price to Ackermans to PEP) have
locations here.
   Mantenga Lodge is in a nice, rustic setting just off the main valley
road.  When I first called to reserve the room, I was quoted a rate of E240,
but when I checked in, the lady at reception said she'd only charge me E200,
as Friday nights were slow at the lodge (I really appriciated the honesty --
and it was yet another example of Swaziland's friendliness).  When I asked
her what she meant by that, she explained that many of the lodge's clientele
are South African businessmen who return back to South Africa on Friday
afternoons -- Monday through Thursday nights are usually quite full, but
Fridays are quiet.  The spartan, motel-style room was nothing special
(air-con, a ceiling fan, and local TV reception), but was still more than
adequate, and the forest setting and honesty of the staff really added to
its appeal.
   Earlier, I had passed a sign indicating a Chinese restaurant on the way
to the lodge, so I decided to check it out for dinner.  Though it looked
like it might rain, I wanted to walk -- so grabbing my umbrella, I headed
off down the road, towards the "Big Taipei" restaurant.  Originally, I was
just going to order takeaway to bring back to the room, but the owner was
nice, and invited me to sit down.  I asked him how he came to live in
Swaziland, and he told me he had been in Africa for 20 years -- first in
South Africa, but five years ago, he moved his family to Swaziland.  When I
asked how (as a Chinese minority) they were treated, he said "in South
Africa, it was fine before the new government.  Now it's very bad, so we
moved here, where everything's fine."  He didn't elaborate, but went on to
say Swaziland was better -- as he put it, "not a place to make a lot of
money, but more relaxed."  The daughter (with a strong English accent), put
it a different way: "a good place to retire" she said, smiling.  My stir-fry
beef was E16/US$2.62 -- less than half of the Chinese restaurant in
Nelspruit charged (R38/US$6.23) for a similar dish last night.  While
eating, a local white mom and her young daughter (apparently regular
customers) came in for takeaway, and chatted with the owner about local
people and news.  Walking back to the lodge when finished, it started to
rain -- though later on that night, the rain would fall much harder.  That
night was also the first time I had to use blankets on my trip -- as it was
quite cool!

Jan. 15: Mbabane / Manzini / Eschowe (South Africa)
   After a good night's rest at Mantenga Lodge, I woke up, had breakfast,
and went to look at Mantenga Falls (named after an early explorer of the
region).  For one person and one car, the park entry fee is E15, and before
reaching the falls you come across the Swazi Cultural Centre.  There, I met
Albert (one of the Centre's employees) -- fully-dressed in traditional
clothing, who told me he's supposed to accompany people to the falls ("to
make sure it's safe against snakes and the like" -- though the Lonely Planet
mentions people getting mugged there).  So, he hopped in the car, and we
drove the short 1-2km distance to the falls.  The falls themselves are nice
(though nothing spectacular), but Albert, proud of his country, was eager to
answer any question I had, making the little trip quite interesting.  On the
drive back to the Cultural Centre, he also pointed out the new restaurant
and accomodation choices the Centre was in the process of building.  Soon,
there will be two types of accomodations available right in the park: one
(for E15/US$2.46 a night -- you supply the sleeping bag, they supply the
mattress) where you sleep in a traditional made-from-straw Swazi hut (in
fact, even though only some were finished, a pair of young German girls had
spent the night in one, and said they really enjoyed it) -- and the other
(for E120/US$19.67), where you sleep in a sturdy, tent-like structure
complete with outside bathroom, shower, and electricity.  While I was there,
about half of each type had been completed, and Albert told me they'd be all
finished within a few months.  Back at the Cultural Centre, Albert said
there'd be a traditional dancing show at 11:15am, so I told him I'd come
back in a few hours to watch the show.
   After checking out of the lodge (it was still quite early), I headed for
Manzini, the largest city in Swaziland.  Manzini is more commercial and a
bit dirtier than Mbabane, but still being Swaziland, wasn't a bad place to
walk around at all -- I spent about 2.5 hours walking down the city's
streets.  Being Saturday morning, everyone was out and about, and the
sidewalks were filled with people walking, shopping, and saying hello to
friends.  There were soft-serve ice-cream machines in front of a few shops
(quite tasty), and people were just enjoying being out on a Saturday.  Soon,
I found myself at the bus station -- and was it ever busy today, with rows
and rows of stalls (mostly selling fruit), and a sea of people waiting for
buses and friends.  It was here where I decided to just stand back and watch
people for a while, being pleasantly surprised at how lively and upbeat most
Swazis seemed.  After a half-hour, I continued walking, and noticed a
Chinese shop with a sign that said "Chinese Store" in English, but "China
Castle" in Chinese.  Walking in the door, I mumbled "China Castle, huh?" --
and the surprised lady (probably the owner) said "oh, you can read it!" (the
characters are the same as in Japanese).  Suddenly, the one thought that
came to me was that if Mbabne was the "Tokyo" of Swaziland, Manzini was its
"Osaka" -- larger, a bit grittier and more commercial, though certainly not
a bad place at all.
   Returning to the car, I drove back to the Swazi Cultural Centre in time
for the traditional dancing show (the one nice thing about Swaziland is that
it's such a small country, you can quickly get from one major area to
another in a short amount of time).  In my travels, I've seen more than a
few "cultural" shows (from the touristy Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii
to the show the Auckland Museum puts on in New Zealand), but I have to say,
I was quite impressed with the Swazi Cultural Centre.  The dancing was
well-done (with everyone genuinely getting into their performance), and you
could actually feel the enthusiasm with which everyone wanted to explain
their heritage to you (rather than a feeling of being shown something just
for tourists -- as is often the case in places like this).  Behind the stage
is a mock-up of a complete traditional Swazi village that visitors can look
around in, and earlier that morning, Albert took me through it, explaining
everything I wanted to know about Swazi life and traditions (still practiced
by a large percentage of the population).
   The traditional Swazi huts themselves are quite amazing: the thatched
roofs are leak-proof against rain, yet let smoke from fires escape.  There
are different huts for various functions and family members, and their
smooth, circular shape resembles an igloo.  I wish I could remember all the
information that Albert told me, but one thing that stuck in my memory was
that polygamy is an accepted practice in the country, and the number of
wives you take is dependent only upon how many you can support.  The bride's
parents are often never informed of their daughter being married until
afterwards out of fear of objection, but as compensation, the man will
present a dowry to her parents -- usually 17 head of cattle.  Thus, as long
as you are wealthy enough to support multiple wives (and have enough cattle
for each one's dowry), you can have as many as you want (the late King had
over 600 wives, though the current King has much less).  There were many
more customs and traditions Albert explained to me that I cannot now
remember, but it's amazing that Swazi culture has managed to survive and
flourish through the the years, remaining strong despite so many outside
influences.  While driving through the country, I noticed that while many
homes were square, western-style slabs, just as many (if not more) were
traditional Swazi huts.
   Once finished at the Swazi Cultural Centre, I drove east again, passing
through Manzini once more on the way to Seteki.  The drive takes you through
large agricultural areas, with fields of maize (corn), grazing sheep, and
cattle.  About 10kms before Seteki, the road begins to climb up a mountain,
and from above, there's a great view of the entire valley below.  Seteki
isn't on the way to anywhere, and there's really nothing much to the place,
but if you have the time, it's a pleasant enough drive.  At the top, I
passed the Seteki Bible College, and it (along with the Swazi College of
Theology in the Ezulwini Valley) was a reminder that Christianity is indeed
heavily practiced throughout Southern Africa.
   At Seteki, I turned around to drive back, heading south towards the
border.  This drive takes you though the town of Big Bend and through miles
and miles of sugar cane fields (with the obligatory sugar mills and sugar
trucks as well).
   At the Swazi/South African border, the sun began to come out.  I wanted
to call ahead to a B&B, but the only phone on the South African side was
broken (there was also a tiny "phone shop", where you pay someone to use
their phone -- but I decided to just drive on until I found a working card
phone).  Easier said than done though: it was a good 40kms before the next
working phone (at an Engen station), and interestingly, though the petrol
station was open for gas, being a Saturday, its snack shop and takeaway
closed at 2:00pm.  I called a B&B in Eschowe that I randomly picked out of
the AA book, and spoke to the lady who runs it... her family had just
returned from holiday, so the rooms would have to be made up -- and as well,
the parents had plans to go out that evening.  She asked if I wouldn't
prefer another place instead, but though I said it was up to her, I didn't
mind if she didn't.  She said it should be OK (her kids and the help would
remain home), but when I told her where I was calling from, she said "oh,
you have quite a drive still ahead of you!" -- and wasn't sure if I'd make
it by the time she and her husband left.  Still, she said it'd be OK, so I
hopped back in the car and continued driving.
   The drive was indeed long, but went by fast (though road construction
meant some delays, with traffic going through in one-way caravans).  Along
the way were lots of sugar cane fields and people selling pineapples on the
side of the road.  After driving for some time, a toll road starts, and I
opted to save time that day and use it: the toll was R27.50 to get off at
Eschowe, though it would have been more to continue onto Durban.
   A small town nestled up in the hills, Eschowe is in the Zululand area of
KwaZulu-Natal.  I had planned to look around the area and perhaps find out a
bit about Zulu culture, but the weather eventually got in the way of my
plans.  Still, it was an interesting place to stop for the night, though
before reaching town, the rain began to fall -- and at the very moment I
entered Eschowe's city limits, I heard on SABC radio that at 10:00am today
in the little town of Eschowe, a taxi driver had been shot and killed while
standing next to his taxi at the local taxi rank -- while yesterday, another
taxi driver was shot in the same area.  Uh-oh.
   The turnoff for the B&B I stayed at ("The Chase" B&B) is actually 1.5kms
before you reach town, but I wanted to first look around Eschowe to see what
there was to it (and perhaps get a bite to eat).  I stopped for petrol, but
most things had closed already (it was 6:00pm), and the only places open
were a few small takeaways and restaurants.  With the rain coming down hard
now, I made my way back to the B&B in time to meet the husband and wife
before they went out.  I asked if anyplace in town delivered food, or if I
should go back out to get somethig for dinner, but the mom said that while
she and her husband were going out to a party, the kids and the help were
planning on ordering pizzas -- and they could just order an extra one for
me.  Setting my things down in one of the house's large bedrooms, I looked
out the window at the view.  The B&B is located on a large sugar plantation
with nice rooms inside the main, large house, and out the window, all I
could see was rolling hills of sugar cane covered in mist and rain.  Meeting
the husband, he mentioned that his wife (whom I spoke to on the phone) had
told him that I sounded American -- but she wasn't sure, as my accent wasn't
as strong.  Hmmm...
   The evening was a much-needed relaxing one, with me staying in a family's
warm, comfortable house (especially with the constant rain outside).  The
pizza was mediocre (I promptly removed the mushrooms on it which I didn't
order), but after a long day's drive, it was nice to just sit back and
relax.  Earlier in the evening, I had seen a computer in the house, and the
mom said it'd be no problem for me to use it, so later, when the kids were
done with it (and off watching a video of the second "Austin Powers" movie),
I was able to check my email and write a few letters to friends at no
charge.  After a nice hot bath (the first in a long time), I went to sleep.

Jan. 16: Eschowe / Durban
   I woke up at 6:20am, but no one came down for breakfast until 8:40am --
meaning much of the morning was wasted, though with it still raining hard
outside and it being a Sunday, there wouldn't have been much to do anyway. 
I sat back and watched TV until life stirred in the house, but the news
wasn't good: it had rained non-stop all night, and on TV were pictures of
rivers in the area overflowing their banks, and evacuations starting to take
   At 8:45am, I had breakfast with the parents (the kids were still in bed),
with some interesting conversation on a whole host of topics:
    *In South Africa, incoming calls on a cel phone are free to the cel
     phone owner (as opposed to the U.S., where you must pay for incoming
     calls), though in South Africa, the caller pays a higher rate to call
     a cel phone.
    *The state of education in the country is worrying a lot of people: the
     radio had been full of reports of teachers who didn't show up for
     work, and the parents mentioned that teachers don't need to take any
     sort of test to qualify -- they just need to show documentation of
     graduating from a teaching college -- which can easily be forged.
     Attitude among some teachers (according to both the parents and the
     radio reports I heard) has been that of just "give me my money, and I
     don't care if or how I teach" -- but the one instance of me looking in
     on a classroom firsthand (in Soweto) showed me a different story -- of
     what appeared to be quite a dedicated teacher.  As they talked about
     the state of education in the country, I couldn't help but think that
     their household was one of the small percentage of homes in the country
     to have a computer for their kids... without access to computers,
     poorer students will have an even harder time achieving economic parity
     in the future.
    *Complaints about government officials who are now in power merely
     because they are black, instead of qualified.
    *Some of the subtle differences between South Africa and the U.S.:
     everything from the use of commas instead of periods for decimals
     ("1,5" instead of "1.5") -- to the different meaning of flashing your
     lights while driving (the father got a kick out of that one).
   Today, I wanted to take a Zulu cultural tour that one of the locals in
the area runs, but the night before, the mom wasn't sure if it'd be possible
due to the rain.  Saying she'd see the guide at the party and would ask him,
I was told over breakfast this morning that there wouldn't be a tour with it
raining like this.  In fact, the father mentioned how glad he was they had
taken their bakkie (pickup) to the party, as others in normal vehicles
became stuck in the mud on their way home.  It had been non-stop rain all
night long, and the morning wasn't looking any better.
   With the weather the way it was, I decided to just throw in the towel and
head for Durban.  The mom called a relative living in Durban to check the
weather there, and was told that while it had rained overnight, it seemed to
be clearing.  At 11:30am, I left for Durban, deciding once more to take the
toll road (this time, because of the rain).
   I arrived into Durban at 1:00pm, and finally found the Road Lodge (not
easy from the rudimentary map printed on the brochure -- and it's easy to
pass without noticing).  Upon checking in, I asked at reception what there
was to do on a drizzly Sunday afternoon in Durban -- and "not much" was the
answer.  Durban has a huge Indian ("coloured") population, and at first, I
thought it might be interesting to get out of the rain by watching one of
the many Indian movies advertised in the paper.  I asked the Indian lady at
reception if she had seen any of them, but though she recommended one, it
only played once that day, and I wound up seeing "Anna and the King"
instead.  The lady also mentioned that the swap meet ("swop meet") at The
Stables would be open, as well as the Musgrave Centre shopping mall. 
Setting my bags down, I promptly left the hotel to check out the town.
   Durban is a large cosmopolitan city, but its people are among the
friendliest in South Africa.  Though a bit strange, in South Africa, people
seem friendlier in the larger cities than in the smaller ones.  Durban was
certainly no exception, but it wasn't just friendliness... there's an
easy-going attitude about the place, with people of all races and creeds
walking around with smiles on their faces, enjoying the day even in the
   The first thing I did was head for the swap meet at "The Stables" -- old
converted stables that are now home to small shops selling everything from
keychains to crafts on Sundays, with most stalls selling new items rather
than second-hand junk.  The marketplace is relatively small, but it was a
nice way to spend a half hour... and for lunch, I managed to find a booth
selling peri-peri schwarmas.  Outside, the unofficial parking guards were
not only black, but white and Indian as well.
   After the Stables, I just drove around different parts of the city in the
overcast afternoon.  Durban is a port town, and like many such towns, the
higher up in the hills you go (away from the water), the fancier and more
expensive the homes become... there are some mansions high up in the hills
here that almost rival those found in Beverly Hills.
   As it started to rain again, I headed for the Musgrave Centre shopping
mall to kill some time.  Being one of the few places open on a Sunday, it
was crowded, and though many of the shops inside were closed, the cinemas
were open.  Though I had to wait a few hours for it to start, I decided to
see "Anna and the King" -- and as Ster-Kinekor (the major theatre chain in
South Africa) had just lowered its ticket price from R25 to R18, every seat
in the theatre was sold.  After the movie, I was back at the Road Lodge by
8:15pm, getting takeout from the adjoining McDonald's for dinner (it was
Larium night again).  Like other Road Lodges, the Durban Road Lodge was
clean, nice, and very reasonable, at only R165 for the night.

Jan. 17: Durban / Bethlehem
   Waking up at 6:00am, I looked out the window.  It was still raining, but
a bit of blue was beginning to show too, so I decided to go out and explore
a bit more of Durban before check-out time.
   The first thing I did was drive to the North Beach waterfront, where I
parked the car and started walking towards one of the piers.  Along the way,
homeless people were sleeping under the covered picnic tables for shelter,
and as I walked by, one of them greeted me with a "Good morning!" (yet
another example of Durban's friendliness).  Just as I started walking on the
pier, rain began to fall again -- quite hard.  Out on the pier, a sanitation
crew that had been picking up trash ran for cover under a giant beach
umbrella, and I quickly joined them, helping to hold the thing up against
the wind.  As the rain became heavier though, the umbrella lost its
usefulness, so one-by-one, the guys all ran off the pier for the cover of
the picnic tables.  I walked slower (at this point, I was drenched anyway --
though at least I thought ahead enough to wear shorts and one of those PEP
polo shirts, which would dry much faster than long slacks and a long-sleeve
shirt would), and after a minute or two, the rain subsided.  After strolling
down the drenched promodade for a bit, I entered the higher of the two
Holiday Inns on the beachfront.  Inside, I took the elevator to the top
floor (32nd), and walked out onto the rooftop pool deck for a great view of
the city.
   After driving back to the Road Lodge and checking out, I stopped at the
Indian quarter of town for an hour or two to walk around.  Stores were just
beginning to open, and even with the overcast weather, people were out on
its bustling streets.  Grey Street is similar to New York City's Canal
Street in Chinatown (only with an Indian flavor instead of Chinese), with
stores selling just about everything: hardware, spices, food, watches, junky
electronics, clothes, toys, fabrics (mostly colorful Indian fabrics) -- you
name it.  As I had left my umbrella in Capetown for the 2nd half of my trip,
I wound up buying an umbrella for R10/US$1.64 from a vendor on the street,
and as soon as I did so, the rain stopped (though it did start up again
   Finally leaving the city (I would have spent more time in Durban had it
not been for the constant rain), I drove inland to Pietermaritzburg.  Here
too, I would have spent some time exploring, but the drizzly weather
convinced me to only spend a few minutes looking at the town through the car
   Continuing to drive inland, I finally began to see blue skies overhead
and rolling green hills below.  By the time I reached Harrismith, there
wasn't a cloud left in the sky, and the drive onto Bethlehem had some
incredibly beautiful farm country.
   Arriving into Bethlehem in the early afternoon (first looking around the
exclusive suburb of Panorama, with its fancy homes and well-manicured
lawns), I called a B&B in town for a room.  Bethlehem is quite a nice little
city: there's nothing really "special" about it, but it has a nice downtown,
and some beautiful white residential areas.  It's also somewhat higher in
elevation, so the weather is cool and moderate, without the humidity of the
coast.  I'm not sure why, but I really liked Bethlehem.
   I checked into Die Nis B&B, located about a 20-minute walk from the
center of town.  The B&B is quite nice, and as I wouldn't be having
breakfast the next morning, the lady charged me only R150 instead of the
usual R175.  There's an upstairs and downstairs room in a wing attached to
the main house, and the lady who runs it (as well as her daughter) are quite
friendly.  Originally, I was given the lower room, but the other guests
staying that night (a couple) needed the two double beds in the lower room
for their backs, so I was asked if I could move to the upstairs room -- and
I'm glad I did: the upstairs room is cozy, comfortable, and well laid-out,
with the bathtub as part of the actual room.
   Before going out for a walk, the lady mentioned a health club nearby she
belongs to, and if I was interested, she'd ask if I could use their
facilities (in passing, I had mentioned that I hadn't had much exercise
lately).  Saying that I definitely would like to later in the day, I went
out first to explore the town by foot at 3:30pm.
   Walking through the beautiful residential streets, I arrived in the
center of town, and looked around.  In the PEP store, the radio was tuned to
an African-language station, and I noticed something again that had been
bugging me for some time: while listening to local African languages,
numbers (for everything from the time of day to a street addrss) would be
spoken in English.  It didn't matter if it was Zulu, Sotho, or any of the
other local languages -- through the incomprehensible dialogue, a sudden
"one-thirty" or "quarter past twelve" would pop out, and on the radio, phone
numbers would be in English as well.  I asked the black PEP store clerk
"what language is that on the radio?", to which she replied "Sotho."  So, I
asked: "how come, whenever I listen to Sotho -- or any other African
language -- the numbers, or the time of day, are always given in English?" 
Surprised by the question, she smiled and laughed, saying "I don't know!"  I
asked her if Sotho had numbers, and she said "yes, it does..." and proceeded
to teach me "1", "2", and "3" (all I can remember is "mui" for "1", and
"taro" for "3"), though she couldn't explain why English was used so often
instead.  Later however, while at the tourist office in Maseru (Lesotho), I
asked the two clerks there the same question, and found out the answer: in
takes about 25 words in Sotho to say "quarter-past-twelve" -- so people just
opt for the easier English.  This was also the answer given by Mick, the
owner of the Malealea Lodge, when I asked him the same question.
   Contining my walk, I passed a Mercedes showroom that also had a Honda
Ballade/Civic on display, as in South Africa, Mercedes handles the Honda
line.  Stopping to ask if anyone knew where the locally-sold Hondas were
actually made (as with most products in South Africa, the country-of-origin
isn't indicated), a salesman came up to me, and we enjoyed talking for quite
a while.  For the Ballade, he said the engines and major parts are imported
from Japan, but the cars are assembled in South Africa -- and upon hearing
that I drive the same car at home, he was curious as to how the U.S. model
differs from the South African one (mostly cosmetic differences: on the
South African models, the antenna is mounted on the back by the trunk, and
the tail-light design of even the latest 2000 model is the same as the
older, 1996 U.S. design).  The salesman went on to say that the Accord isn't
sold in South Africa because Mercedes is afraid the Accord would be
competition for their own line of cars (I tried explaining to him that in
the U.S., there's no comparison between an Accord and a Benz, but in South
Africa, even the lowly Honda Civic/Ballade is considered something of a
fancy car, rather than the spunky, little budget-car persona it carries in
the States).  He also mentioned that a lot of Germans come to Bethlehem to
test-drive cars because the climate is good for such tests, and as the
conversation went onto other various topics about South Africa and the U.S.,
I wound up talking to him for at least an hour.
   Continuing on through town, I just walked along the streets, and enjoyed
a pleasant afternoon before returning back to the B&B, where the lady had
called ahead to get permission for me to use the health club down the street
(quite small by U.S. standards, but still very busy).  Iniside, there was
only one treadmill, and the lady was almost ashamed to show it to me, saying
"you can try it if you want, but it's not a very good one... we're getting a
brand new, fancy one delivered on Wednesday if you want to come back."  She
was right: it was a tepid little treadmill that kept jerking to different
speeds, with the speed-control knob having little effect -- ten seconds on
it was enough for me.  Still, I couldn't complain, as when the lady found
out I would only be in town for the day, she didn't charge me anything.  The
club did have a nice indoor pool, but when I asked about a towel, I was told
they didn't have any, as unlike in the U.S., you're supposed to bring your
own here.  Still, I went swimming for 45 minutes, and had a good workout.
   From the gym, I drove back into town to get dinner (opting for a small,
paper-thin pizza from "Debonair's" -- a South African chain), and some
drinks from the store across the street.  Back to the B&B, I had a hot bath,
ate dinner, and tried to watch "Amistad" on M-NET while the wind howled
outside, though the strong winds were wreaking havoc with M-NET's reception.
   Earlier in the day while driving, I passed at least five or six speed
traps (though I kept my speeds between 120-130kph), and on the car radio was
news of another UNITA attack in the Caprivi region of Namibia -- with four
being killed and another three injured this time.  Some other stories: In
Durban, 120mm of rain has fallen in just two weeks (January 1-15)... a Girl
in KwaZulu-Natal was killed when her house collapsed due to the heavy
rains... a report says that within the next 10 years, South Africa's
population may decrease 71% due to AIDS... race and racism were also
discussed on the talk shows (as is often the case), with the story that
evidence was found that the National Police Chief did in fact call a
sergeant a "chimpanzee" when she (the sergeant) refused to acknowledge him
as they passed on New Years Eve.  She wants to sue, but the department wants
to have sensitivity training instead.  Finally, Cape Town and the nearby
wine country are battling a series of wind-swept wildfires (which will
eventually burn for days, and scorch much of the area).

Jan. 18: Maseru (Lesotho) / Malealea Lodge
   Waking up early, I left the B&B by 6:30am, opting to wait for breakfast
until I was in Lesotho.  Crossing the border was painless enough (they just
stamped my passport and let me pass -- and upon leaving Lesotho a few days
later, they weren't even going to do that until I asked them to), and I soon
stopped at the first town (Leribe) to have some breakfast and look around.
   Leribe has one small, main street (with two PEP stores -- one at each end
of the street!), and walking into an open takeaway, I ordered a toasted-egg
sandwich from the owner (who sounded French, but probably wasn't) -- though
of course the hired help actually cooked the food.  When I asked about a
toilet, the owner pointed to one in back -- but said there hadn't been any
water for the last few days: "this is Lesotho..." he sighed.  Next to the
takeaway was a small Indian-run pharmacy, and across the street, the LTC
(Lesotho Telecommunications Company) office, where I bought a telephone
card -- though finding a working card phone in Lesotho is no easy task.  At 
least I didn't have to worry about a bank though, as the local currency (the
maloti) is pegged to the rand, and rands are accepted everywhere.
   After breakfast, I continued driving toward Maseru.  Much of Lesotho is
rural, and the speed limit is slow: 80kph (50kph in a village area) -- but
everyone still speeds.  I didn't, however, because I was taking in the
breaktaking scenery -- and Lesotho has plenty of it.  The country is called
the "mountain kingdom" for a reason, and is one of the most beautiful places
to visit in Southern Africa: lush, green, red-earth valleys are surrounded
by stately mountains, and the entire landscape is dotted with traditional
huts, cattle, sheep, and tiny farms (usually growing maize).  Lesotho is a
poor country, but I did notice satellite TV dishes on a few of the homes
(perhaps on about 10% in the towns, and just a scattered one or two in the
rural villages).  A small percentage of homes are western-style, but most
are either round huts or simple, square buildings made of clay or
cinder-block.  Most of the vehicles on the road are old, but one does see
the occasional expensive new model as well (being driven by a black just as
often as by a white).
   Not too long after leaving Leribe, there was a police checkpoint, with a
stop sign and a long line of cars.  Slowly, the line inched forward, and I
continued to stay close to the car in front of me.  When the car in front
was finished and it was my turn though, the policeman immediately asked me
why I didn't stop.  Confused, I said I did stop, but he said "no, you didn't
stop at the sign -- you continued to follow the car in front of you.  You
didn't wait for me to tell you to come... you see the stop sign?  You must
wait there, and come only when I tell you to come.  I must give you a
ticket!  Then, next time you will know to wait, yes?"  Writing the ticket
(and seemingly having never heard of "California" before -- as he couldn't
pronounce it when I showed him my license), he pointed to an another officer
standing by the side of the road, and told me to see him, saying it would
cost me M180/R180/US$30, quoting the amount of the fine in rand rather than
maloti.  I parked the car and walked over to the other officer in charge of
the ticket book.  He asked what I had done, and when I told him, he yelled
over to the first officer in Sotho to ask a question -- then proceeded to
write me up the ticket -- saying it would be M100/US$16.  Whether there is
an actual correct amount to charge for the fine or the figures are just made
up (why did they each quote different amounts?), at least the officer
(unlike one the overland group would encounter later in Tanzania) took out
his ledger, entered the M100 in it, and gave me a written receipt.  Getting
back in the car, no one even bothered to ask questions or check the boot as
they had done with other cars -- with me, once payment was made, they were
finished.  Further up the road was another roadblock (10kms before Maseru),
but here, the officer merely looked at my California drivers license and let
me pass.  All the roadblocks though, didn't stop just about every local on
the road from passing me.
   Maseru is the capital, and when I arrived, it was late morning and hot. 
Parking the car at the edge of the city, I walked around for about five
hours.  Maseru is bustling and noisy, and not helping matters is that its
main street (Kingsway) isn't wide enough for the amount of traffic it gets
(the street is two lanes in each direction, but especially at the edge of
the city where the hawkers set up, the traffic is always in a virtual
standstill).  The outer edge of the city is its most hectic area, with
hawkers on the sidewalk, mini strip-malls, and plenty of stores and shops
down dozens of small side streets.  This is also where the main minibus taxi
station is, and in Lesotho, the drivers constantly honk their horns to get
your attention (and hopefully, your business).  After a while, this can
become quite annoying, and you can hear the honking of the minibus taxis
everywhere in the city -- even while looking down at the city from high up
on the surrounding hills.
   As you walk further towards the center of town, things get just a bit
quieter: this is where the banks, office towers, governemnt buildings,
foreign embassies, and aid offices are.  The downtown Standard Bank branch
here has two ATMs: one for Lesotho ATM cards, and another for South African
ones (the ATM for South African cards also accepts overseas cards linked to
the Cirrus network).  After using the ATM outside, I walked inside the bank
itself to change more rand into maloti.  There, the teller seemed puzzled
why I would want to have maloti, as rands are accepted everywhere but the
maloti is useless outside of Lesotho -- but I wanted some local currency,
and would keep any unused bills as souvenirs.  In general, even though the
maloti has the same exchange rate as the rand, things in Lesotho were just
slightly cheaper: petrol was E2.40/litre instead of R2.85, those PEP polo
shirts I like so much were M26.45 instead of R29.95, and a 4-pak of Eveready
AA batteries was M14.90 rather than R24.90 (though this was an exception --
most of the time, things were only about 10% cheaper).
   Maseru is quite cosmopolitan, and unlike in rural Lesotho, English is
widely spoken here.  People are also quite friendly, and more because of
this than anything to see, it's a pleasant city to spend some time in.
Walking into the official tourist information center, I received the answer
I had sought about the use of English numbers in Sotho, and picked up a map.
From there, I looked around some of the area's side streets (the higher
streets above this part of town are nice to walk along, with trees, homes,
and offices -- and are quite different than the dusty store-fronts by the
city's edge).
   For lunch, I went into place called "Mochachos" (yes, that's the correct
spelling), a "Mexican"-style fast-food chicken restaurant.  The grilled
peri-peri chicken sandwich was actually pretty good, and for desert, I went
into the local Hungry Lion for a cheap soft-serve cone.
   After lunch, I wanted a good view of the city, so I decided to walk to
the Sun Hotel (situated on the top of a hill overlooking the city).  Walking
up and down the hill were a lot of the hotel staff, looking at me a bit
strangely -- wondering why someone going to the Sun Hotel (part of the
luxury South African chain) would be walking on the side of the road instead
of driving up.  At the top, the hotel itself only has six floors, so the
best view of the city is from the outside stairs heading up to the tennis
   Inside the hotel is a casino with no entrance fee, so I decided to change
M10/US$1.64 into coins and play a few 50c slots.  With each spin, it seemed
that I'd get five coins back, and soon I hit a double-BAR jackpot, so I
cashed in M30/US$4.92 from my original M10.  The cashier looked at me as if
to say "leaving so soon?", so I said "better quit while I'm ahead."  Seeing
the M30, she smiled, nodded, and said "yes!"
   After about five hours of walking around Maseru, I walked back to the car
(buying the last bottle of water from a CalTex station) and headed out of
town towards Malealea Lodge.  Along the way, I wanted to stop to buy more
bottled water, but finding some wasn't easy: driving out of town, I stopped
at a few petrol stations, and though each sold sodas and beer, none had
bottled water.  Finally at a Shell station, a young kid (who later showed me
an ID indicating he was a member of the Lesotho Army) overheard me asking,
and told me to try a certain bottle shop down the street (when he heard I
was from the U.S., he wanted to shake my hand).  Sure enough, the bottle
shop he told me about had plenty of (warm) bottled water, so I stocked up.
   The main road out of town was undergoing major road construction in the
Maseru area, but soon I was out of the city, and in the countryside once
more.  The road to Malealea Lodge is tarred for most of the way, with only
the last stretch being gravel (though they were starting to pave at least
part of it while I was there), and you pass through some beautiful mountain
and valley scenery.  While driving, I found the local radio station to be
all in Sotho, but the BBC is also re-broadcast on FM here, so I was able to
catch up on a few news shows such as "24 Hours."
   I arrived at Malealea Lodge by 4:45pm, and met Mick, the owner.  He's
white, but has lived his entire life in Lesotho, (the last 14 years at the
lodge's current location), and of course, speaks fluent Sotho.  He's a
friendly guy, and Malealea ("surrounded by mountains") Lodge is one of the
highlights of any trip to Lesotho: it's located near a rural farming
village, and Mick employs locals to work both at the lodge, and as
pony-trekking guides.  It's an extremely beautiful and relaxing place to
stay, and is also quite reasonable: M90/US$14.75 for a private room with
shower, with cheaper rooms also available -- though since there's nothing
else in the area, if you don't bring your own food, you must buy your meals
at the lodge as well (also reasonably-priced).  Unlike many restcamps I
would see later on my trip (where the gate is usually kept closed unless
someone wants to leave or enter), the gates to Malealea Lodge were always
kept open during the day.  Going for a walk in the afternoon to the top of a
small nearby hill, a little boy followed me, not begging, but just to say
hello and ask me where I was from.
   In the evenings, a group of teenagers and young adults from the village
come by to sing and play music at the lodge for donations.  A sign in the
rooms listed the suggested donation at M10 for the choir and M5 for the
band, but mentions it's not a "tourist trap" -- that you don't have to
donate anything, and the kids come just to have fun, and perhaps earn a bit
of money for their school tuition.  I wound up leaving M20 to the band and
M20 to the choir as well (thanks, Sun Hotel slots!) because both groups were
VERY good!  The choir wasn't just a few kids getting together to sing for
money -- they obviously spend a lot of time rehersing as a group, and it
shows.  They sang local Lesotho songs for 45 minutes, doing an excellent job
(their harmony and pitch was perfect), and I was later told that they are
indeed a regular group from the village, and have travelled in Lesotho to
perform and compete against other youth choirs.
   After the choir, the band came on (with some members of the choir picking
up instruments, and others that hadn't sung joining them).  Most of the
band's "instruments" were made out of old CalTex oil cans (including a
couple of guitars!), and somehow, they were all perfectly tuned to "C". 
Along with the "guitars" were a few drums, a washboard-with-bottlecaps, and
an interesting one-stringed instrument that looked somewhat similar to the
two-stringed Chinese "ar-hu" (though with only one string).  When I
mentioned to Mick that I was a violinist, he said "ah, too bad you don't
have your violin!" -- but then he went and fetched a guitar for me to try. 
Now, I don't play guitar, but having played the violin and toyed with my
sister's guitar years back, I can pluck out a note or two... so I soon
joined in on the jam session, while some of the other campers stood up and
started dancing.  Mick went over to the kid playing the one-stringed
instrument and explained to him in Sotho that I too played a similar
instrument -- at which point I had a go at trying it, being moderately
successful after watching the boy demonstrate it.  Everyone was having fun,
and no one wanted it to end, even as it started getting dark.
   Over dinner that evening, I met Jen, a Peace Corps volunteer from Ohio
who had been in Lesotho for over a year, stationed at the nearby village.
She was (at most) in her early 20s, and it was really interesting to talk
with her and find out all about Lesotho -- while at the same time, fill her
in on a year's worth of news and gossip from back home (she mentioned that
other than the local BBC radio broadcast, she hasn't heard much outside news
for close to a year: she brought a small shortwave radio with her, but upon
arriving in the country, it was stolen).  Her parents (who have never left
the U.S. before) were coming for a visit soon, and she was worried how
they'd fare, coming to Lesotho from Akron for their first time overseas...
   Jen talked about the Peace Corps and Lesotho, saying she didn't think the
Corps should be in Lesotho anymore except perhaps for health education, as
the villagers already knew everything she was supposed to teach them about
agriculture.  She said too much foreign aid isn't good for Lesotho -- that
people get in the habit of not doing anything, and then just start asking
for aid.  She also didn't like some of her superiors here, saying that many
higher-ups that are set in their ways are sent to Lesotho because of nearby
South Africa's good medical facilities (in case of an emergency), whereas
younger, more flexible supervisors are sent to harsher places such as
Madagascar.  Before arriving at the village, she received three months of
training in agriculture (of which she knew nothing about beforehand), and
Sotho.  Originally, she was sent to another village, but the Peace Corps
moved her after an attempted military coup in the country last year (during
which some ethnic Chinese in the country were shot).  So, she's now in the
nearby village, and stays with the chief (who's a woman).  The chief's
daughter is the cook at the lodge, and a good one too -- dinner that night
was chicken, rice, and some cake.  Jen mentioned the Chinese do OK here,
usually by setting up Chinese shops (she herself bought the big items she
needed -- such as a wheelbarrow -- at a Chinese shop, because she said shops
owned by "locals" can't afford to stock such big-ticket items).
   Jen's job in the area is to teach the locals about farming, and also to
teach farming in the area schools as well.  It was disappointing, she said,
that the locals weren't receptive to her ideas, but in a way, she couldn't
blame them: agriculturally, they're doing OK, and have been farming the land
here for years.  She was upset though, that her own pet project involving
chickens had failed: the village lost their local feed supplier, so they
killed and ate their chickens for Christmas dinner rather than keeping them
alive for eggs.  Jen had begged them not to do so, but why should the
village listen to some kid from a far-off land tell them what to do,
especially when she'll be gone in a few years?  So the chickens were killed,
and now, there really wasn't much for Jen to do other than teach in some
schools -- and she commented that when she visits the schools, the teachers
just leave and take a break instead of staying with the class to pay
attention (school would start up again in Lesotho on January 24th).
   When I asked about religion, Jen said that most people in Lesotho like to
think of themselves as religious (mainly Christian), but they hardly ever
practice its teachings in real life -- not just by practicing polygamy, but
in the way guys will have lots of girlfriends and sleep around.
   After talking for 3-4 hours with her, it was finally time to turn in.  I
went back to my little cabin, and started writing some notes in the journal.
Shortly after 10:00pm, the generator is turned off and the power is shut
down... there's a notice about this on the wall of the lounge, but I hadn't
yet read it -- so the lights suddenly going off caught me a bit by surprise.
Luckily, I had my torch close at hand, used it to find the matches and two
candles supplied in each room, and finished my writing by candlelight.  It
was a great way to end a wonderful evening.

Jan. 19: Malealea Lodge / Kimberly (South Africa)
   I woke up at 4:45am to the sound of a rooster, but soon went back to
sleep until 6:45am.  At 7:00am, Mick knocked on my door to ask if I wanted
to leave on the pony trek I had arranged the day before at 8:00am instead of
9:00am, as a Dutch couple also going that morning was interested in leaving
earlier.  Actually preferring to leave earlier myself, I said 8:00am would
be fine, though the couple wasn't even ready until 8:20am.  While taking a
quick shower before breakfast, I remembered what Jen had told me the night
before -- that until the recent rains, there had been a severe drought in
the area, and villagers would walk for two hours to another village just to
fetch water.  I made sure to use only a trickle for my shower.
   After breakfast at the lodge, I went out to the Basotho ponies and
saddled up.  That morning, it would be myself and a Dutch couple going on a
morning pony trek, though you can arrange for longer overnight ones -- even
up to four or five days.  The ponies (horses, really) are amzaing: the
trails are rocky, slippery, and extremely narrow in places, yet they never
falter or lose their footing -- though they can be quite stubborn and lazy
at times, often stopping to eat grass or deciding to slow to a crawl.  It
would be our guide Timothy that would have to prod them on with a yell or a
clicking sound, as only occasionally would my pony listen to ME when I tried
doing the same.
   The ponies have travelled the same path so many times that they now know
it all by heart, meaning you don't even need to guide the pony -- it knows
the way.  They're also quite good at navigating trouble: when coming upon a
particularly tricky spot that might be narrow, slippery, or dangerous, the
pony will stop and examine what to do, then slowly move ahead, successfully
traversing the path.  In the end, I gave my pony a pretty free reign to stop
for water and decide which path to take -- as long as a fair pace was kept
up, and we were going the right direction.
   The ride was supposed to be for 4-5 hours, but it wound up being 6 hours
long.  Along the way, we stopped at an extremely refreshing waterfall, as
well as three San rock-painting sites.  At the waterfall, a local lady led
us down to the bottom (with a group of local kids tagging behind for fun),
and for the rock sites, we were guided down to them by a local 8-year-old
boy that told us a little about the paintings, and accepted a maloti or two
in return.  The journey passes many small villages, and along the way
(almost without exception), everyone would wave to us, even though visitors
ride through the area nearly everyday.  Once, from the top of a ridge, a
group of three kids waved down while singing a song in Sotho to the tune of
"One, little two, little, three little Indians..." (as well as shouting
"hello!" and "goodbye!").  Where they picked that tune up, I haven't a clue,
but people were quite friendly.  Occasionally, upon seeing someone he knew,
Timothy would shout out a greeting, and it was interesting to see what rural
Lesotho life was like, with most locals either in the fields or resting in
the shade.
   After six hours, one's butt can get sore (mine did), but the ride was one
of the highlights of my entire trip, and something every visitor to the area
should try (don't just take the two-hour trip... it's the five-hour trip --
which can turn into six hours -- that visits the waterfall and the rock
   At 3:00pm, it was time for me to leave, but Mick had gone into town to
pick up supplies.  If he wasn't around, I was told to see Jen to pay for
things, but she wasn't around either (she doesn't live at the lodge, but
often stops by).  I asked one of the employees if I could leave the money
with her, but she said no, I'd need to see Mick or Jen.  I needed to get
going though, as it was getting late, and I wanted to stay in Kimberly,
South Africa that night -- so I wound up leaving a note for Mick saying I'd
be sending payment to him in the mail, and left my name and address just in
case.  Driving away from the lodge, I hoped that I might run into Mick so
that I could pay him -- and by a stroke of luck, I did.  His vehicle passed
me, and as he flashed his lights "goodbye", I signaled for him to stop. 
Getting out, I explained about the note, but now that he was here, I could
pay him for everything.  The total was M260/US$42.62, which included a room
with bath (M90), a six-hour pony trek (M100), breakfast (M25), and dinner
(M45).  This was a bargain, as it was one of the nicest places I stayed at
on my entire trip, and it's definitely worth going out of your way for. 
There's no phone at the lodge, but reservations can be made through a friend
in South Africa, and the Lonely Planet book has all the contact details.
   Thanking Mick, I continued my drive through the rest of Lesotho, until I
reached the South African border about 90 minutes later.  There, a big,
yellow "Which Way Adventures" truck was stopped, with its passengers going
through immigration.  "Which Way" was the company I would be using for my
overland trip soon, so I asked one of the campers how it was going -- to
which he answered "ok, I guess."  I mentioned to the driver that I'd be
doing the upcoming Kenya -> Vic Falls trip, and he said "oh yeah, that'll be
with Laroux and Carmen -- tell them Johnny says hi."
   Once in South Africa, I continued driving towards Kimberly, driving into
the sun on a hot afternoon.  It was a long, hot drive, in which I had to
cover a lot of kilometers -- and wanting to arrive before sunset, I tried to
go 130-140kph where I could.  Finally, as 7:00pm rolled around, I entered
the town of Kimberly, tired and hot.  Not having any reservation, I passed
both a Protea Lodge and a Holiday Inn Garden Court next to each other.  I
was trying to decide which one to try first, when I saw the Protea sign
outside trumpet "R225/night" (though what I didn't notice at first was the
line right below it, saying the R225 rate was for Prokard members only --
something which incurs a yearly membership fee).  The Protea had one
non-smoking room left, but when I was told by the receptionist it would be
R290 (the "normal" rate), I protested, honestly not having noticed the
"Prokard" requirement on the sign.  The lady at reception was nice though,
and slipped me in at the R225 rate.
   The first thing I wanted to do was find out about taking a tour of the
DeBeers diamond mine -- the tour, in fact, was the reason I had driven so
far out of the way to come to Kimberly (in a few days, I'd have to return
the car down south in Cape Town, but I had driven NORTH to Kimbery today
just to see the diamond mine).  The information I had on the tour stated
that bookings MUST be made in advance, but the lady at the reception desk
couldn't find the correct number to call for the tours (and the number
listed in the Lonely Planet was incorrect).  She suggested I try calling the
main number tomorrow morning at 8:00am, but I knew that the mine tours
started before 8:00am -- so while walking to the market down the street, I
stopped in at the neighboring Holiday Inn to see if they could help.  On the
counter, I found the brochure for the tours (with the correct phone number),
but the receptionist there couldn't help me anymore than the Protea Lodge
one could.  With the correct phone number though, I tried calling myself,
but no one was around to pick up the phone that time of day.  After getting
a small takeaway from the nearby market, I went back to the hotel room just
to realize I was still hungry (I had skipped lunch) -- so I decided to give
"Mr. Delivery" a try (www.mrdelivery.com -- a food delivery service found in
South Africa's major cities, where one phone number will deliver food from a
number of local restaurants for a surcharge in the R5-R10 range, plus tip).
I ordered a ham & pineapple pizza, and did my laundry in the tub (dirty from
the pony ride) while waiting for it to arrive.
   Thinking back on the day, I realized just how much I liked Lesotho.  Much
of the country is situated in a beautiful mountainous area, and its people
are friendly and warm.  While Maseru is cosmopolitan and English-speaking,
the villages are rural and traditional, and outside of Maseru, there's
really no need for watches or clocks, as nothing goes by a set schedule.
   In the news this afternoon: due to sales figures that weren't as good as
hoped for, Benz will close the Honda assembly plant in East London (South
Africa) that assembles the Hondas -- though they will continue to be sold,
with Mercedes importing them from Japan.  No layoffs were planned, as the
assembly plant will be re-tooled to assemble Mercedes models instead.  Also,
the fires raging in Cape Town and the wine country are getting worse: in
some areas, all the vegatation has burned, and the fires are getting closer
to homes, especially in the Simons Town area.  The report mentioned how hot
it was in Cape Town today (40.7C/105F), but in Kimberly, it was a beautiful
warm, clear night.

Jan. 20: Kimberly / George
   At 7:00am today, I called DeBeers from the Protea Lodge, and was told
it'd be ok to go on the tour that morning.  As it turned out, I was the only
person interested in going that day.  The tour costs R70 and is 3.5 hours
long, including a video presentation and lecture by the guide before going
down.  Today's guide was an older retired fellow who had worked for DeBeers
for over 30 years, and now did occasional tours to keep busy and earn a bit
of extra income.
   Before going down into the mine, you're outfitted with a belt, onto which
an oxygen mask and heavy battery pack/light is clipped, a hard hat, and some
hard shoes.  You're then taken down into most areas of the mine, including
where the dirt is scooped up by a man-operated machine, placed into
undergrond rail cars, and brought to the surface.  The mine runs with either
two or three shifts (depending upon how close to production quotas they
are -- at the time I visited, the mine was running with three shifts due to
the recent holidays), and as many functions are now mechanized, only about
35 people are needed for each shift.  I was constantly shown how important
safety is in the mine -- along with all the features and emergency measures
that can be taken to ensure safety.  Fresh air is continuously pumped in
from the surface, and the temperature below is quite comfortable.  The mine
feels quite open with no sense of claustrophobia, and with its
concrete-lined walls, gives off the feel of a more permanent structure,
rather than a temporary one.  The mine itself is 835 meters below the
surface, and 100 meters above sea level.
   Down below, the workers have no set schedule to follow: for safety's
sake, it's left up to the worker when to take breaks and go back to work,
though the shift is usually an 8-hour day.  There are monthly goals to meet
for the amount of dirt processed, and as long as a worker is productive, the
management gives him a wide berth (it's not necessary to always meet the
monthly quota, but if a worker does, he receives a 20% bonus on top of his
base pay).  The mine is racially mixed (with even a rare female employee),
and has a relaxed atmosphere even with all the noise in certain areas. 
Training is available, as is advancement to higher positions.  Because
miners come from different backgrounds (speaking English, Xhosa, Afrikaans,
Sotho -- what have you), mining has its own language, lingo, and jargon used
down below -- something every new trainee must learn.
   The process is quite simple, though an enormous amount of dirt is
processed for just a small amount of diamonds: first, using recycled water,
the Kimberlite ore is blasted from the wall into large chunks.  Then, it's
scooped into a crusher, where it is crushed into smaller chunks before being
placed onto an underground mine train.  Once on the train, it travels to
another area of the mine, where it is dumped onto a conveyer belt for
further crushing and inspection.  Only extraction is done at the mine, and
any actual stones found are sent off elsewhere for cleaning and polishing
and to the Harry Oppenheimer House building for appraisal and catagorizing. 
The tall HOH building in downtown Kimberly where all diamonds produced in
South Africa (and a majority of diamonds from other countries as well) are
appraised and catagorized has specially-designed windows on one side only
(facing south), with vaults underground to store the diamonds.  Employees
there work only between 7:00am-2:00pm when the light is good, then the
building is locked up tight.  Naturally, the security is extremely tight
(the last outside "visitor" allowed inside the place was British Royalty),
and my guide mentioned he has been allowed in the building only twice in his
30 years with the company.  Interestingly, all diamonds (even those meant
for domestic South African consumption) must first leave the country for
cleaning and polishing (usually in Tel Aviv or Antwerp), before returning to
South Africa, or whatever country their final destination may be.
   It's not easy to spot a diamond during the initial stages, but to help
deter someone from looking for diamonds and taking them home, the company
offers a 15% royalty on any diamond found and turned in by an employee or
guest -- though I was told that only once did a visitor on the mine tour
spot a diamond (for which he was indeed given 15% of its value) -- and since
the mine isn't as productive as it used to be, the instances of an employee
spotting a diamond have declined to about once every month or two. 
Typically, once a mine has produced all the diamonds it is economically
viable to produce, it's just left as a large hole in the ground (often
filled with water), though occasionally, when technology improves and costs
go down, a closed mine will re-open (this mine -- the only current diamond
mine left operating in Kimberly, is expected to last another 20-25 years).
   DeBeers has a virtual monopoly on the diamond market, as Australia
produces industrial diamonds (rather than gemstones), and DeBeers has deals
with Russia and the CIS to keep the monopoly going.  At the mine, you're
shown a propaganda film with the DeBeers company philosophy: that this
monopoly setup ensures stability, standards, and jobs for the diamond market
(and of course, profits for the company).
   Interestingly, the name DeBeers did not come from the company's founder
(the company was founded by Cecil John Rhodes, the man who founded founded
Rhodesia), but rather from the name of a farm (the DeBeers Farm) that was
the site of some early diamond fields.  At first, the DeBeers family didn't
want to sell their farm, but as more and more diamonds were being
discovered, they finally relented, selling their property to the diamond
diggers at a large profit (who then extracted large quantities of diamonds
from the area and made a fortune).  Sadly, the descendants of the DeBeers
family have nothing to do with the DeBeers company or its wealth.
   After finishing with the tour, I drove into the city center to look
around a bit.  Kimberly's a nice city to walk around in, but there's really
not too much of interest to see.  Stopping at Nando's for lunch, I then
drove past Harry Oppenheimer House to take a quick picture outside.  Leaving
town wasn't easy though, as directions aren't well-signed, but by 1:45pm, I
was headed south, trying to see how far I could get before the end of the
   I drove long and fast through the desert (usually keeping it right at
140kph through the wide-open country).  The drive from Kimberly to Beaufort
West is long and boring, and scattered clouds were now appearing overhead. 
Arriving into Beaufort West, I wonderd if I should spend the night there or
move on -- but a few minutes spent in the town convinced me to move on:
Beaufort West is a major refueling stop, and unlike Keetmanshoop in Namibia,
is a dump of a town.  It's boring, seedy, and even though there were
numerous petrol stations everywhere, it had the highest petrol prices I'd
seen in the country (R2.91/litre), as it's the only major stop for a while
in any direction.
   As it started to drizzle, I stopped at a petrol station to get takeaway
from Wimpys (an expensive, unsatisfying little sandwich), and phoned ahead
to the town of George, where I was hoping to spend the night.  Because I
wasn't sure if I'd make it or not, I didn't want to call a B&B -- so I
phoned up one of the Protea Lodges in town and made a reservation.  When I
told the lady I was calling from Beaufort West, she told me I'd have a long
drive ahead of me.  I knew I would, but I'm glad I decided to move on --
Beaufort West was a dump, and I actually enjoyed the drive once I left it.
   From Beaufort West, the drive south becomes more interesting and
enjoyable: for the first part, you're on just another wide-open stretch of
desert road, but there are mountains in the distance, and the scenery is
nice.  As you continue on though, you'll soon find yourself in the Swartberg
Pass, driving through some beautiful mountains.  On the other side --
surrounded by double mountains -- is the agricultural town of Oudtshoorn,
famous for ostriches farms.  The drive through this area was absolutely
beautiful (especially nearing sunset), and had I more time, I would have
stopped here for the night to spend a day or two exploring the area. 
Continuing on, I did stop a few times to take pictures of the incredibe full
moon and vivid, red-and-purple sunset -- and from the top of the mountain
(before descending down to the seaside town of George), one has a fantastic
view of the area.
   I arrived into George just shortly it turned dark, and eventually found
the Protea Foresters Lodge I had booked myself into (it's easy to miss). 
For dinner, I went to the pizza place down the street, and while I was
waiting for it to be cooked, wandered in the nearby supermarket.  This
market was the ONLY one in all of South Africa where I found pure, 100%
orange juice (with no sweeteners or other juices added).  The store-brand
bottle was about 20oz and not too expensive, so I bought it and treated
myself to pure orange juice and pizza back in the hotel room.  There, I
kicked back and relaxed -- it had been a long day of driving.

Jan. 21: Knysna / Cape Town
   A cricket kept me up for much of the night, but the Foresters Protea
Lodge was one of the nicer Proteas.  In the morning, I first drove north
(instead of heading south) to the town of Knysna that everyone says to
visit.  There's a steam locomotive that does a run between George and
Knysna, but it takes three hours each direction, so I decided to just go by
car.  It's a nice drive along the coast, though the town of Wilderness along
the way always seems to be engulfed in fog even if all the other towns have
   Knysna is pleasant enough, but for someone from Southern California it
was nothing special, as it's what I have at home.  It actually reminded me
quite a bit of Laguna Beach -- but unfortuately, the town also has a
definite tourist air to it.  Parking is a major hassle even on a weekday,
with only certain areas set aside for it, and parking meters were everywhere
(something you'd never find in other small South African towns).  The meters
on the main street are also a total rip-off: it's R2 for 30 minutes with a
2-hour max., but if you put in an R5 coin (which are accepted), you'll still
only get R2 worth of credit!  I initially put an R5 coin in and saw how it
ripped me off -- so in the end, parking for two hours cost me an incredible
(by South African standards) R11/US$1.80.  Later, parking at "The Heads" was
even worse, with a rand buying you only 12 minutes of parking time.  It
wasn't just the meters though: while waiting for some shops to open, I went
inside the tourist office/internet cafe, and just to get a one-page, paper
tear-off tourist map filled with ads (which would be free in any other
town), cost me R2.
   Besides wanting to look around the town, I had a few errands to take care
of.  First, I called ahead to book myself on a Cape Town township tour the
following day.  Then, I had been searching in vain to find a shop that sells
those plastic "wallet windows" (for putting credits cards into) -- everyone
recommended shops to try, but no one had them (one sports clothing store
sold velcro wallets with windows in them, but the wallets were R70-R80, and
I didn't want to spend that kind of money for just a cheap pair of wallet
windows!)  Finally, when I entered one small shop and saw similar wallets
for sale, I asked the owner if they sold just the wallet windows
themselves.  Saying no, she told me to just go ahead and take one from one
of the wallets -- that everytime she sells one, she sees people just throw
it away in the trash, so not to worry about it.  It was the ONE time that
the town's businesses didn't give me a sour taste, and though in the end I
wound up not using it (it was even more flimsy than the one starting to
tear), I really appriciated the gesture.
   Most of the town's shops are all for tourists (clothing boutiques,
souvenir shops, etc.), so other than walking around the area for a bit, I
didn't need to spend too much time here.  With my two hours on the parking
meter almost up, I went back to the tourist office/internet cafe to check my
email for the remaining 15 minutes (minimum R10 for 30 minutes).
   Finished with downtown Knysna, I decided to take the short drive out to
"The Heads", a spot where two rock ends meet with a scenic view of the city.
The area is in an exclusive residential area with expensive homes (that I
wouldn't want -- especially with all the tour buses that come to the area),
and once you've paid an outrageous parking fee to leave your car, you can
take a walk along the rocky shore to the end -- though I opted to just have
a quick 12 minute look -- what my R1 would buy in parking, as though the
area was nice, it again wasn't all that different from what I have at home.
   Driving back to George, I then continued south along the N2 all the way
to Cape Town.  Because of road construction, passes, slow speeds in city
limits, and other factors, the drive from George took 4-5 hours, even when
going 130kph when I could.  I stopped at Wimpy's for a toasted egg sandwich
(R9 -- twice the typical cost, as it was at a "One-Stop" petrol/food stop
along the N2), and continued driving.  It was hot, and the radio was
reporting a high temperature for Cape Town as well.  Nearer to Cape Town,
the sunny sky turned hazy from all the smoke and ash from the recent brush
fires.  At the top of the final pass before descending down into Cape Town,
there's a terrific view -- though unfortunately, there's no place to turn
out so you can enjoy it.
   The night before in George, I decided to look for a different B&B in Cape
Town, as I had been hearing stories about the city's heat wave, and knew
that Radium Hall didn't have air conditioning.  Using the AA book, I found a
B&B with air-con and non-smoking rooms for only R150 (as opposed to Radium's
R250 with no air-con), and called from the Protea Lodge to book myself in. 
However, I had left some things for the second part of my trip at Radium
Hall, so I'd need to stop there first, and pick them up.  From the One-Stop
Wimpy's, I called ahead to Radium, and told the helper who answered the
phone that I wouldn't be staying the following night (when I was originally
supposed to arrive) -- and that I'd be picking up my things today.  When I
arrived that afternoon, Gilian was there, so I talked to her for a bit: I
didn't tell her I had booked myself into another place, but rather just that
I was moving on.  I offered to pay the entire R250 (since I was cancelling
the day before), but instead, she charged me a cancellation fee of R125,
saying I could use the credit for another night's stay later on in my trip. 
In the end, Radium Hall wasn't a bad place to stay at all -- it's just that
it was extremely hot, I wanted air-con, and more than anything else, I just
wanted to try someplace new and meet new people.
   The new B&B I chose was Bridle's B&B, located in the Oranjezicht area of
the city, literally right at the base of Table Mountain.  The views from the
B&B are incredible, as the entire city and waterfront are spread out before
you.  The house itself is also quite nice, with an outside deck for enjoying
a 360-degree view while eating (with the city in front, and Table Mountain
behind), and three very comfortable rooms inside the house.  All rooms are
non-smoking, have remonte-controlled air-con, M-NET TV, and are immaculately
clean.  The owners (Peter and Naomi), are both retired, and extremely nice
and hospitable (if more than a little conservative and old-fashioned in
their political views).  Naomi used to be a teacher, and her husband Peter
was both a teacher and headmaster at a black school.  Peter now restores old
furnature in the garage as a hobby, and they both constantly tell you that
their home is your home.  The only possible drawback to the B&B for other
people might be that because of its location at the base of Table Mountain
(Bridle Street is literally the highest street up on the mountain), it might
be a bit inconvenient for those wishing to be down by the center of town
often -- but with a taxi service like Rikki's, and the owners' friendliness
(Peter dropped me off once in town), it's not really too much of a problem. 
I, however, liked it specifically BECAUSE of its location -- which gave me
some wonderful walks.  Though it seems quite far from the center of things,
if you're fit, the walk isn't bad at all, and is actually quite nice:
walking briskly and without stopping, it generally takes about 35 minutes to
walk downhill all the way to the V&A waterfront, and about 50 minutes to
walk back up again (longer if you want to walk slower, don't know where
you're going, or want to look around) -- and I can't think of a better way
to see Cape Town.
   After picking my things up from Radium Hall, I stopped at a petrol
station to fill the car up before returning it back at the Avis office on
Strand and Chiappini at 4:50pm.  Between the three cars I used (the original
Honda, the replacemet Camry, and finally another Honda), I wound up driving
13,400kms/8,328 miles over 30 days (29 1/2 days, actually).  Avis in South
Africa is an extremely good outfit to rent from: they're all over the place
if you break down -- much more so than Hertz or any other rental agency, and
the only minor problem encountered while returning the car was quickly
resolved... on the bill was a R17.40 charge for "refueling" the Honda that
broke down.  I questioned this, saying I had filled the car up with petrol
the night before, and hadn't driven it much before it stalled -- so they
took it off the bill.  The total was about US$850 (around US$28 a day) -- a
lot of money perhaps, but not when you consider that it included all taxes,
unlimited kms (13,400kms!), and being able to have total freedom of movement
in five different countries for a whole month.  Taking all this into
consideration, US$28 a day certainly wasn't bad.
   From the Avis office, I called Bridle's B&B, and Peter came down to pick
me up.  I spent the evening going through my things, sorting out those items
which I'd need for the second half of my trip from those I wouldn't (I'd
leave the things I wouldn't need with Peter and Naomi until I returned a
month later).  Afterwards, I ordered pizza from Mr. Delivery, walked out
onto the terrace, enjoyed a stunning view of the city, and wrote some notes
in my journal while waiting for dinner to arrive.  The night was warm and
clear, with the smokey haze now visible only around some of the distant

Jan. 22: Cape Town Townships
   Today was the day I had arranged to take a township tour, but since Paula
(the guide) wouldn't be picking me up until 10:00am, I had a chance to have
a leisurly breakfast and chat with Peter on the front baloncy for a bit.  We
talked a little about everything: as a retired teacher and headmaster, he
gave me his views on South African life and politics (conservative, and
definitely the old white view).  In passing, Peter commented "I don't
understand why the world thought it was so bad that blacks had to carry
passes... when you travel to another country, you have to bring your
passport!" (uh... travelling within your own country is not the same as
travelling to a foreign land!), but it was still interesting to hear his
point of view.  Peter went on about how qualified people are being asked to
leave so that unqualified ones can replace them just because they're black,
but in the end, he seemed resigned that this was the new South Africa, and
things were going to be this way from now on.  When I mentioned PEP stores
in passing, Peter told me PEP had started in Upington, and was later bought
out by the same guy who owns Pick 'N Pay, OK Stores, Clerks, and a lot of
   At 10:30am (a half-hour late), a kombi came by to pick me up for the
township tour (R120).  Inside was Paula (our guide), the driver, three Dutch
medical students studying in Cape Town, a boyfriend of one of them, a couple
from the UK, and myself.
   The first place we stopped at was District 6, where we visited the
District 6 Museum.  District 6 was an area that had people of all races and
creeds living together -- whites, coloureds (Indians), blacks, Muslims, and
Jews (many shops in the district were Jewish-owned).  The area wasn't a
squatter's camp or shantytown, but a full-fledged city -- complete with
hotels, shops, tailors, hairdressers, and everything else you might need. 
The old pictures of Hanover Street on display could have been of any city in
South Africa -- or even New York, for that matter.  The museum docent that
day (a Muslim who had once lived in District 6), told us people here got
along: non-Jews would pray with Jews on their holidays, non-Muslims would
pray with them on their holidays, and non-Christians with them.  It was a
melting pot where people learned to live with each other, but in the 1950s,
the apartheid government decided that for the future expansion of Cape Town,
the area be declared whites-only, and eventually, the bulldozers came to
raze the district.  Today, almost nothing remains except for a few old
buildings and a church (which is now the museum) -- though the bulldozer
operator secretly saved many of the area's street signs in his garage, and
many are now displayed in the museum.  Though the entire district was
levelled, nothing was developed to take its place, and the area is now
mostly fields of weeds.  Finally though, with the new government in power,
the land has been given back to a local District 6 council, and there are
now on-going debates over what to do with it.
   From District 6, we went to Langa, the oldest and smallest township in
Cape Town.  First, we went inside a hostel to get an idea of the living
conditions, though being a Saturday morning, the hostel was pretty empty
(with just one woman watching the televised funeral of a prominent black
politician on a small b/w TV).  The hostels were built to house black men
with jobs in the area, with each originally meant for 16 men.  Now that
families can live together though (instead of being forceably separated, as
they were during the apartheid era), it's not uncommon to see 16 FAMILIES
crammed into the tiny hostels -- equipped with only one toilet, one shower,
and one sink for the entire building.  Things have improved somewhat, but
conditions are still cramped: one room we walked into (belonging to three
men -- one of whom was a security guard at a fancy hotel in town), had
nothing more for each than a tiny bed and the wall and immediate area
surrounding it.  Some of the hostels are owned by companies which built them
for their laborers (such as Coca-Cola), but most are owned by the local city
council.  When I asked Paula about crime, she said crime is actually quite
low in the area -- as there are rules and regulations that everyone must
follow, and everyone here knows each other.
   As a visitor, it's unfathomable to think that just about every non-white
you see during the day in the cities (from the person checking you in at
hotel reception to the clerk at the supermarket to the sales girl at the
local clothing store) doesn't actually live in the city they work in, but
instead, in squalid, cramped conditions like these hostels.  Up until a few
years ago, this was forced upon them by law, and though now everyone is
technically free to live anywhere they want, the reality is that it will
take some time (at least a generation) for most living in the townships to
be able to actually start living where they work.  Until this happens, the
minibus taxi is the lifeline between the townships and the work in town, and
the taxi stands here are always busy.
   In the townships, other than locally-run businesses (usually in shacks),
there are very few options.  Just recently, there has been a trickle of
outside businesses (a major supermarket here, a fast-food joint there), but
they are still extremely rare, and you if you need certain items, you must
leave the townships and go into the city.  Paula did say that PEP tried to
open in the townships, but was chased out because they weren't active enough
in the community (going on to say that most outside businesses in the
townships take part in community projects).
   Looking at the state of housing for most South Africans, I asked Paula if
there is a minimum wage in the country.  The answer is (of course) no,
though it is something that's currently being looked at by the government,
as the average salary for someone such as a petrol station attendant might
be just R400-R600 (US$65-$100) a month.  While driving back at the end of
the day, I asked Paula about "black empowerment" -- called "affirmative
action" in the U.S. -- where, in order to make up for past discrimination,
preference is given to a black person or black-owned company.  Paula
laughed, saying so much of it is a sham: that blacks are now being given
token jobs in companies because of the law, but have no real responsibility
or power.  She said her friend was recently given a nice cushy job at Engen
(the large petrol company), where she had a desk, a great salary, and even a
car -- but absolutely no responsibilities whatsoever -- she'd just sit there
all day with nothing to do, never being asked for her opinion on anything or
given any real job.  Finally, even with the great salary and perks, she quit
out of frustration.
   After Langa, we went to Khayelitsha, one of the largest townships of the
area.  Many of the "houses" are just shanties built from corrugated iron
(there are thousands of them), yet there are also real homes as well.  Some
of the nicest homes in the townships (real houses that actually look quite
nice) belong to civil servants (teachers, government employees, etc.),
though there are decent homes belonging to others as well.
   While looking at the area, Paula said to us "you wouldn't believe the
changes in the last five years... now, more dwellings are serviced with
electricity and water, and the government is trying to build real (though
basic) homes as fast as they can..."  This is certainly true, and as Paula
pointed out the rows and rows of new government-built homes, I was amazed at
how much has been done in such a short amount of time (though there is still
an incredible amount left to do -- one need only take a quick glance at a
township like Khayelitsha to see that the vast majority of dwellings are
still shanties).
   While some homes in the townships are indeed serviced, a large number
must still rely on communal services, where you must walk down to a tap to
fetch water or use the bathroom, and those without electricity use batteries
for the radio and kerosene lamps or candles to read by at night (later on in
Soweto, one lady's non-serviced shanty even had a small b/w TV hooked up to
a car battery).
   With all the building going on, construction is booming in the country,
and Paula said the government now prefers work to be done by blacks -- so

the large white construction companies are starting to form partnerships
with smaller black ones in order to get the tender offers.
   In years past, hospitals in the townships were daytime-only, and if a
medical emergency occured at night, you'd have to go into the city.  Now
though, the township hospitals are finally 24hrs.  Paula mentioned that
during the apartheid era, a black doctor would not be allowed to operate on
or help a white patient -- even if the person needed urgent medical care and
a black doctor was right there.  Though apartheid has gone, old habits
sometimes die hard: she mentioned an incident recently in which there was a
white swimmer in need of a lifeguard, but a white relative of the swimmer
refused to let the black lifeguard help, demanding a white one.
   After Khayelitsha, we moved onto Crossroads, the oldest shantytown in the
area, and everywhere you look, change is taking place.  A few years ago,
none of the streets had names -- just sections and numbers (such as X-356).
Now, they're starting to name the streets (causing mass confusion according
to Paula, as everyone knew where the old "sections" were, but no one knows
the new street names yet).  Areas that were once barren sand dunes now have
new government-built houses on them, and it doesn't look to stop anytime
soon.  Foreign governments have helped a lot too, building schools,
hospitals, and libraries in nice, new buildings -- even a local playground
with swingsets.
   After Crossroads, myself and some of the others asked if it'd be possible
to visit a shabeen, and being extremely flexible, Paula agreed (a shabeen is
similar to a pub, though a bit different: during the apartheid days, alcohol
was illegal in the townships, so shabeens popped up.  They were places where
those living nearby could find a drink and let off steam, but they weren't
just speakeasys... the shabeen was the heart of the community -- the place
to discuss politics and hear the latest news, and though things are a bit
different today, the shabeen is still the place to go for a drink and to
discuss the latest news and gossip).
   Paula (who also does shabeen tours on Friday and Saturday nights), asked
someone walking by if there was a shabeen nearby (as she usually takes her
shabeen groups to a different area).  The shabeen we found appeared to be
brand new and a bit up-market, and nobody else was around, so Paula asked if
we'd rather see a more traditional one in a shanty area.  After driving a
bit more, she stopped someone else to ask about a shabeen, and this time,
the one we found was much more typical (simple, small, and dark) -- and much
more lively.
   Walking into this second shabeen, we first received some bewildered
looks, but soon, people came up to greet us with open arms -- shaking our
hands, and telling us over and over how happy they were to see us there. 
What was so nice was that it was completely unplanned: this just happened to
be a random shabeen someone had given us directions to, and the people there
were so enthusiastic to see us!  One young fellow in his 20s kept saying
"I'm so happy to see you here!  Really!  To see white people and black
people having a drink and having a good time!  I can't tell you how happy
that makes me feel!"  Of course, this is how it should be, but it's not:
when asked in the morning if she's ever had any white South Africans take
her tour, Paula laughed and said "the day when I have white South Africans
on the tour is the day I can stop giving them."  She went on to say that in
the five years she's been giving the township tours, virtually the only time
a white South African has ever come along was when they had a visitor from
overseas who wanted to go -- and then, they would spent the entire time
trying to claim that what the whites had done to the blacks really wasn't
that bad.  It's really a shame too, because the shabeen was a great place to
hang out: there was a pool table with an intense game going on, and being a
Saturday, plenty of people were around, all curious to meet us and say
hello.  I even ordered a drink (this from someone who generally dislikes
alcohol), trying a local 4.5%-alcohol cooler and sharing it with one of the
fellows.  Everyone was talking to each other having a great time, and no one
wanted it to end.
   On the drive back to the city, I talked to Paula a bit more.  She's quite
an interesting person: though born in South Africa, she moved to New York
some time ago.  Her kids were born in the U.S., but they all moved back to
South Africa when Mandela was elected.  She mentioned that her mission this
year was to attend various white churches to see how they'd react (she's
Anglican -- the same denomination as many whites, but said the churches are
still pretty segragated).  She mentioned that where she lives in the
township is a little more up-market, but there's a shabeen right next to her
house, and she hates having it so close.  She also gets constant airplane
noise, and joked that she always knows when it's time for her soap opera to
start because that's the "rush hour" overhead, when all the jets fly over
her house.
   The one really nice thing about this day was that it was one of the few
chances one has to see how most people in the country live their everyday
life, yet it was not a "drive-by poverty tour" -- throughout the day, we
were encouraged to walk around, talk with, and meet the people that make up
the majority of the South African population.  Paula calls herself "One City
Tours", and her phone number is listed in the Lonely Planet book.  Later on
in my trip, I took a tour of Soweto, but it wasn't half as enjoyable as the
day with Paula was.  I cannot stress enough how important it is for a
visitor to take this tour: as a white tourist (at least at this point in the
country's history), it's virtually a given that you will only see one side
of South Africa (with accomodations, restaurants, and attractions all being
in the old "white" towns) unless you go out of your way to see the other
side -- and it's a side everyone should go out of their way to see.
   When the tour was finished, I had Paula drop me off at the Gardens Centre
(a shopping mall about halfway up the hill between downtown and the B&B).  I
needed to stock up on more film, but being a Saturday afternoon, most stores
had already closed.  Still, I was able to get a haircut (R53/US$8.69) at one
of the Centre's two salons, which still had the last appointment of the day
(4:30pm) available.
   From the Gardens Centre, I walked up the hill to Bridle's B&B in a strong
wind that was beginning to pick up.  Hanging over Table Mountain was the
"tablecloth" -- a white cloud that settles over the mountain but never
creeps down past the halfway point.  Back at the B&B, I enjoyed chatting
with Peter and Naomi, hearing a different slant on South African issues
(their view was that District 6 was nothing but a slum with slumlords taking
advantage of the dwellers by charging outrageous rents -- thus a reason to
rationalize the razing of the area).  As just a visitor to the country, I
freely admit that I am unaware of all the many complexities surrounding race
issues in the South Africa, but throughout my trip, when talking with white
South Africans about such issues (even when I was not the one to bring up
the subject), the excuses made to justify past actions were always
pathetically trivial (for instance, Peter implying that it was OK to
demolish an entire community because some landlords might have been
overcharging their tennants).  Still, through all the grumblings about how
things have changed, I'm glad to see South Africa's white population (for
the most part) staying in the country, and helping to chart the country's
course for the next century.  This is not an easy time for most South
Africans, with everything in a constant state of flux -- but slowly, people
are learning how to change their country for the better, and I know the
South Africa of 2050 will be a much different place than the South Africa of

Jan. 23: Cape Town / Johannesburg Airport
   This morning, Peter dropped me off at Kirstenbosch Gardens, Cape Town's
botanical gardens.  The Lonely Planet raves about them as being one of the
most beautiful gardens in the world, though I was much less impressed.  The
weather was good, and it was nice to walk around and explore them, but
truthfully, they're not anything extraordinary (especially when compared to
a place like Melbourne's gardens).  Still, it was a pleasant morning, and
the Gardens seem to be popular with locals.  There's a restaurant on the
premesis, and I relaxed there for a bit when it began to get hot.
   The Gardens are located somewhat out of town, and it can be an expensive
taxi ride to get there and back.  Since it was a Sunday morning (and Rikki's
doesn't run on Sundays), I had to pay R100/US$16.40 for a taxi from the
Gardens to the V&A Waterfront -- though to be fair, it IS quite far between
the two.
   The reason I went back to the V&A today was simple: being a Sunday, it
was the only area in Cape Town that wasn't closed.  The one problem with the
V&A though, is that everything here is extremely overpriced: just about
every visitor to South Africa sees Cape Town, and just about every visitor
to Cape Town visits the V&A -- meaning the shops here sell their items for
whatever price they like: caps that were as cheap as R9.95 downtown were
R80-90, maps that were R39.95 elsewhere in town were R49.95 here, and a good
deal at the V&A is as rare as 100% pure unsweetened orange juice.
   Arriving close to lunch time, I wandered around some of the various areas
for a while until 1:00pm, at which point I went to see the IMAX film "Great
Places", which (after commercials for BMW and beer) included segments on
Namibia and Botswana.  After the film, I spent the entire afternoon
wandering through the shops and various areas around the Waterfront (besides
the large two-story indoor shopping mall, there are also a few smaller
buildings containing arts & crafts stalls).  I had no luck in finding a
replacement lens-cap holder (all four camera shops were sold out), but at
the Fuji store inside the mall, the employee there re-fastened the old one
back onto the camera body securly.  That Fuji store was also the only place
in the entire Waterfront area that offered a good deal: 3 packs of Fuji
Superia 200ASA/36-exposure film for R59.95/US$9.85.  In one of the music
stores, I picked up 3 CDs of the Soweto String Quartet (whom I met on the
plane trip over from the U.S.), and noticed how expensive CDs are in South
Africa: the first music store wanted R114/US$18.70 for each CD, and the
second store (where I wound up buying them), charged R109/US$17.85 -- and I
never saw these CDs selling for less.  To give you an idea of how much items
at the V&A can be marked up though, a large curio shop on the lower level of
the mall was selling the very same Soweto String Quartet CDs for
R210/US$34.43 each -- almost double the price as the CD shop upstairs.
   At 2:30pm, I was finished at the V&A, and decided to walk from there back
to the B&B at the other end of town (in Oranjezicht).  It was hot, and being
a Sunday, everything was closed (the downtown becomes a ghost town on Sunday
afternoons), but it was still a nice walk, and stopping in for a cold drink
at the 7-11 halfway up the hill to the B&B, I noticed another UFO-catcher
playing "Odoru Pompokorin", just like the one I saw in Pretoria.
   After a shower, the airport shuttle (Intercape, R80 -- though it's now
gone up to R90) came to pick me up.  At the airport, I changed the return
date on my international ticket to March 2nd (US$125 fee), and was just able
to catch the 6:00pm flight to Johannesburg (I was scheduled on the 7:00pm,
but if you have an African Explorer ticket and there's space available on an
earlier flight, they'll let you go on the earlier one).  The flights between
Cape Town and Johannesburg fly regularly all day long, but are almost always
full (especially on weekdays: on the flight back into Cape Town from
Johannesburg in March, the earlier flight was sold out, and on the flight I
was booked for, every seat in the cabin was full -- mostly with middle-aged
white businessmen travelling between the two cities).  As on most South
African flights, the meals were small but quite good: curry chicken with
rice, cheddar cheese, and chocolate mousse in orange sauce. 
   At the Johannesburg airport, I checked into the nearby Road Lodge for
R159/US$26.07.  Located next to the Formulae One hotel (also another budget
chain), it's probably the best deal for those needing a bed near the airport
(though ask for the original Road Lodge, as the company just bought another
hotel nearby and converted it into Johannesburg Airport Road Lodge II -- and
everyone says it's not as good as the original).  It's only 4kms from the
airport, and a daily shuttle service is available from 5:00am - midnight for
R13.50/US$2.21.  Though there's no pool, you're free to use the one at the
nearby City Lodge (the shuttle will give you a free lift there and back),
and the rooms are clean and comfortable.  I was given Room 202 (the
second-floor non-smoking room at the end of the hallway), but instead of
ordering pizza delivery up to the room, I decided to walk to the nearby
coffee shop next to the Formulae One, where I met and talked with its
owner.  Though not on the menu, order the peri-peri burger -- it's quite
   In today's news was a report that for the six weeks from December 1st
through mid-January, the death toll on South Africa's roads had topped

Jan. 24: Nairobi (Kenya)
   I was at the airport early this morning for my flight to Nairobi.  The
Airbus 320 aircraft used was one of the few planes in SAA's fleet that still
carried the old logos and colors on it from apartheid days -- with "SAL" on
the plane, and "South African Airways" in Afrikaans.
   Arriving into Kenya, there is no government tourist information booth at
the airport (something sorely needed) -- instead, there are plenty of
private "tourist information" offices filled with people wanting to book
hotel rooms for you so they can earn commissions, as well as plenty of touts
walking around the lobby trying to get your business.  I was going to stay
at the Boulevard Hotel, but at 4400ksh/US$58.66 it was a bit pricy, so I let
a lady at one of these offices show me some other options, even knowing
full-well that she had an interest in convincing me to stay at one of the
hotels she had worked out a deal with.  She showed me one called the Hotel
Meridian (NOT part of the worldwide Meridien chain) which, at ksh2785/US$37,
seemed a bit more reasonable.  The hotel's brochure listed lots of nice
features, but it reality, the Meridian isn't much of a place.
   The one thing I didn't know upon arrival into Nairobi is that in this
city, hotel prices are very negotiable -- especially if you're already in
town and are either looking for a room for the next day, or are calling
early enough in the day where it'll be clear that if it's too expensive,
you'll have plenty of time to look around for another place.  Not knowing
this though, and figuring I'd try the place just for one evening, I had the
lady book me a taxi (at a "set rate" of ksh1050/US$14) and a room at the
Hotel Meridian.  The hotel itself is located downtown, but just on the edge
of a busy, safe area, and a questionable one.  While the hotel isn't a dump,
it's also by no means as nice as the brochures make it out to be -- the
rooms are old and worn and get a lot of street noise.  I had to change rooms
twice, but even in the third room, the window seal was broken, bringing in
all the noise from the street below.  At least my final room was a bit
interesting in its design: the 5th-floor room had both a downstairs (where
the TV and chairs were) and an upstairs (where the bed and bathroom were)
within the small, cramped space.
   Upon walking in, I decided the room would be fine for one night, but
seeing as I would soon be sleeping in a tent for a month, I wanted to spoil
myself the following night.  From the phone in my room, I called the Nairobi
Hilton and asked how much a room would be.  The first quote given was
US$190, but when I said, "oh, ok, thank you," the operator immediately said
"Oh, wait... no... $153."  I then said "Ah well..." to which the operator
asked "what kind of budget do you have?"  Out of the blue, I answered
"$130" -- to which she immediately said "Ok, I'll give it to you for $130." 
Helping matters was that when asking for the room, I sounded as if I knew
the routine, and wasn't someone who had just arrived into town for the first
time... I said this to the operator: "hello, I'm staying elsewhere in town
tonight, but was wondering how much a single would be for tomorrow night,
for a non-resident" (many high-end hotels have a two-tiered rate structure,
with a higher rate for tourists and a lower rate for residents with ID).  I
don't know if I would have been granted an even lower rate if I had asked
for perhaps $120 instead of $130, but I did find out later that $130 is the
published room rate for Kenyan residents, so the lady merely slipped me in
at the "resident" rate.  Still, the lesson here is to bargain for your hotel
price in this city, and be ready to walk away if you think you can do
better, as unlike most large cities, hotel prices in Nairobi are very
   I had used the ATM at the airport to withdraw money in Kenyan shillings
(with the current rate being approximately US$1=ksh75), so was now ready to
wander around the city.  Nairobi is a large city with everything that comes
with it (crime, noise, traffic), but I honestly liked it, and don't
understand why most people dismiss the place so easily.  It's a bustling
metropolis, and it can be a lot of fun to just wander around the downtown
area and look in some of the shops.  Here in the "big city", everyone speaks
English and people like to look proper, with suits and nice clothing.  It's
a lot like New York City, in which people are always busy with their own
thing, but there's also an underlying friendliness behind the big-city
curtness.  Nairobi also has a large Indian population, with many local shops
being Indian-run... and a wide range of people walk the city's streets.
   One of the first things I tried to do in Nairobi was buy a telephone
card, but in the end, I had no luck.  Not one place I tried had any in stock
(including the post offices), and when complaining to someone later about
this (the owner of an internet shop), I was told that the telephone cards
usually come in at the beginning of each month -- and by the end of the
month, everyone is sold out of them.  Though I couldn't locate a telephone
card, instant-win scratch-off lotto cards were being sold at small stalls
throughout the city, and I bought one just for fun.  Scratching it off a few
minutes later, I found that I actually won enough for another card -- but
you're supposed to scratch your card off in the presence of the seller (and
if you win, give it to him/her immediately for compensation).  Luckily, when
I went back to the lady whom I bought it from, she remembered me and let me
trade it in for a new ticket (I could have asked for cash, but didn't want
to push my luck with her).  Out of four tickets I tried that afternoon from
different stalls, three of them turned out to be winners -- though they only
paid back the cost of the ticket itself.  Still, it was interesting to try
nonetheless.  When done with the lotto tickets, I continued wandering
through the city's streets, taking in the sights.  A sign on one of the
large supermarket chains (Nakumatt) said: "Less Shilling, More Filling", and
I wound up getting a small peri-peri-chicken pizza at "Pizza Inn"...
   There's a chain of fast-food outlets all ending with "Inn" that can be
found throughout Southern Africa, usually next to each other.  They're part
of Zimbabwe-based "Innscor Africa", and include Pizza Inn, Baker's Inn
(doughnuts), Chicken Inn, and Creamy Inn (soft-serve ice-cream).  The pizzas
actually aren't bad, and you have a choice of thick or thin crust (most
pizzas in Africa are thin-crust).  The soft-serve is also a notch above that
found in other places, though it's certainly not cheap.
   One thing about Nairobi is that none of the traffic lights in the center
of town work: they're all completely dead.  A few days later, I asked the
taxi driver taking me to the campsite about the signals, and he said those
in the city centre haven't worked in years, though outside of the centre,
you'll find some that work (note that throughout Southern Africa, the term
"robot" is used for traffic signal).
   Con men are everywhere in Nairobi, and one of them tried to get me as
well: while walking down a main street, a middle-aged man missing a few
teeth came up to me and said "Hi, remember me?  I gave you your keys in the
hotel.  Ah, you probably don't recognize me without my uniform on now...
yes, I'm off work, and was just going back to the hotel.  I'm walking back
because my car is stuck... would you mind helping me?"  As the pitch
continues, you find out the reason the car is stuck is because it's out of
petrol, and he just needs a little money to buy some.  Only one problem for
him though: I knew he was never in my hotel.  There's not much to do but say
"no, sorry!" and walk away -- but do be cautious of con-men -- as anyone
will tell you, Nairobi is full of them.
   In the early evening, I went into the internet access/ISP business
located in the lobby of the Meridian Hotel to check email, and wound up
chatting afterwards for quite a while with both the local fellow who runs
it, as well as a travelling businessman from India (besides the three of us,
there was also an older local white guy speaking Swahili to the owner,
trying to figure out how to do something on the computer).  The owner, who
just recently started the company (www.cybernatics.com), said the telephone
lines in Kenya aren't good, and at most, can handle a 28.8 connection speed,
though he uses a satellite for his connection.
   When I was done in the internet room, I decided to have a small dinner at
the hotel restaurant, where I had very good chicken tikka, rice, and a soda
for ksh605/US$8.07 before going up to my room to watch the news and read the
day's paper.  Some of the stories: Moi ("the dictator", as the taxi-driver
who took me into town from the airport called him) has been blamed by the
opposition party for the terror and killings in another region of Kenya...
five police officers were accused of torturing a maize trader, arresting him
for "illegally transporting maize" and demanding ks12,000/US$160 to release
him... there was also an expose on murder-for-hire, with a female undercover
newspaper reporter being able to arrange a murder for ksh350,000/US$4,666.
   Another big story in the news was the International Monetary Fund and the
World Bank being in town: up until a few years ago, Kenya used to receive a
lot of money in loans and aid from the IMF, but the money finally stopped
after years of constant, wide-spread corruption.  While I was in Nairobi,
the IMF was back in town, and speculation that loans might start up again
was everywhere from TV news programs to newspaper headlines.  Such
expectation had also sent the Kenyan shilling higher (to US$1=ksh75).
   One humorous example of the way Kenyans tend to make everything proper
(especially in business documents) was the following instructions, which I
found in the official Kenyan Yellow Pages: "WHAT IS THE YELLOW PAGES?  The
Yellow Pages is part of the Official Kenya Telephone Directories.  It
contains businesses exercising an economic activity.  It is organised in
alphabetical order by classifications (Class Titles) according to the
economic activity, and alphabetically within the Class Title.  HOW DO YOU
USE THE YELLOW PAGES?  Use the index at the beginning of the Yellow Pages to
get the page number of the product or service you are looking for.  Therein
you will find a wide choice of suppliers, then call and select the best
deal."  I can't remember the last time I saw instructions on how to use the
Yellow Pages explained so well...

Jan. 25: Nairobi
   This morning, I checked out of the Meridian Hotel and walked over to the
Hilton to check in.  However, still being quite early (7:45am), the room
wasn't ready, so I left my bag with a porter and went out walking again. 
The weather forecast had predicted rain for the morning and afternoon, but
there was nothing but blue skies and warm temperatures all day long.
   After an egg-on-bread roll (at "Burgerland", a nice and extremely cheap
takeaway on Moi Avenue), I went to the market area, which opens around
8:00am.  There's not much there for tourists other than a few curio stalls,
but for the locals, there are different areas for flowers, meats, and hats.
   With it still being early, I found myself near the government buildings,
and was suddenly curious about how the court system in the country worked. 
I asked a courthouse employee if it'd be OK to sit in on some proceedings,
and he answered "yes, no problem" -- though I had to wait until 9:00am for
court to start.
   At 8:45am, I walked inside a random courtroom (old, with wooden benches
for the public) and sat down.  As more people started walking in waiting for
their respective cases to begin, everyone looked at me (I seemed to be the
only white person in the room).  At 9:00am the clerk entered, but the judge
didn't arrive until twenty minutes later.  As it turned out, the first order
of business in this particular courtroom would be to set the dates for
upcoming trials, so plaintiffs, defendants, and their lawyers from multiple
cases quickly filled the room.  I observed that a good number of lawyers
were Indian, though there were black lawyers as well (I was still the only
white person in the room), and while waiting, noticed two women judges
talking in the hallway.  At about 9:20am, the bailiff made a loud noise,
everyone stood up, the middle-aged black judge entered, and everyone sat
down (I almost expected the judge to be wearing a white, British-style wig,
but he had on only the usual black robe).  The doors (at least for today)
were left open, so it was sometimes hard to hear with all the noise from the
hallway, but I watched the goings-on for about thirty minutes before
deciding to continue walking around the city.
   Nearby the courthouse, I passed the Kenyatta mausoleum (for the first
president of Kenya -- though you're not allowed to enter), then the
Parliament building, where I asked a guard if it was possible to go inside. 
He said that I would have to have a pass from a Member of Parliament, but
they were all on recess now.  As it turns out, there was some trouble that
morning, as outside Parliament and in full view of the press and police,
thugs from Kanu (the ruling party) attacked a group of opposition leaders
protesting against possible resumption of IMF assistance -- but the police
not only didn't stop the thugs -- they arrested the protesters when it was
over.  The story received heavy media attention that evening, and thinking
back, I remember a lot of people hanging around outside the fence to
Parliament that morning...
   After walking around the government area, I came back to the Hilton, but
the room still wasn't ready, so I decided to pay a visit to the National
Archives across the street.  The Archives (housed in a stately building with
pillars) contain a museum, and are well worth a visit.  Most of the items
inside belonged to one man -- a former Vice President of the country that
donated them to the Archives.  There was an exhibit of various traditional
musical instruments used for celebrations, and (in another example of Kenyan
proper English), the placard next to the instruments read: "FOR DISCHARGING
   Inside the Archives, I had an interesting chat with one of its employees
about everything from Kenyan history to politics, including the current
discussion over a proposed constitutional revision: Kenya has an old British
constitution, but the country is now working on a constitution of its own --
and though it will take some time (the employee thought perhaps two years),
the constitutional question is in the news everyday.  The man also told me
that when the British finally left, they sold the land they had taken by
force to whomever would pay for it, creating problems now among people that
paid the British for the land and those that had lived on it for generations
before the British came.  Some other things he mentioned: people from
different tribes never traditionally mixed much -- and while marriage of
people from two different tribes does happen, it's rare (especially in the
countryside).  The guy also showed a bit of his own prejudice as he went on
to tell me about one of the tribes in Kenya (the Kikuyu) that he said were
all thieves -- and how if it wasn't for them, the streets of Nairobi would
be free of crime (going on to claim that all the beggars and street kids in
town were Kikuyu).  Interestingly, he never mentioned what tribe he himself
came from...
   After the Archives, I headed towards Nairobi University and the Norfolk
Hotel -- one of the original hotels of Nairobi, and one steeped in history.
Wanting to have lunch on its famous Lord Delamere Terrace, I sat down to
watch people on the street go about their business, ordering Indian chicken
curry (ksh730/US$9.75) and fresh strawberries & ice cream (ksh250/US$3.33). 
The service was a bit slow, but you're given a nice basket of bread to eat
while you wait, and truthfully, more than wanting to eat, I just wanted to
soak up the atmosphere and watch the day go by.  The food was good, and it
was interesting to watch not only the people on the street, but those in the
restaurant as well (wealthy tourists and businessmen talking on cel
phones).  Though it's expensive, the Lord Delamere Terrace is a great place
to relax and watch the happenings in the area.  After my meal, I looked
around the hotel itself, and it's indeed a nice place: if the Hilton is
concrete-and-glass modernism, the Norfolk is old-world colonial luxury, and
would make a nice (if expensive) place to base yourself while in the city. 
At the reception desk, I asked for a brochure and price list, but when I
mentioned I was staying at the Hilton, the lady said "give us a call next
time you're in town -- we can negotiate the price" (as with the Hilton,
don't EVER accept the published fare at any Nairobi hotel -- especially an
up-market one!)
   Across the street from the Norfolk Hotel is the Nairobi Cultural Centre,
which includes an old concert hall and classrooms that offer courses in the
fine arts.  Being a musician myself, I decided to have a look.  Inside one
of the buildings were the teachers' studios, a couple of practice rooms
(from which the sound of pianists practicing scales was eminating), a notice
board listing some of the offered courses (including instruction on eight or
nine instruments such as piano, violin, and guitar), and a sign indicating a
ballet studio as well.  Across the compound was an old concert hall, and I
asked a lady in the lobby if it'd be possible to see the inside of the
auditorium.  She obliged, and soon came back with a key to let me in.  It's
relatively small (seating 400-500) and somewhat dilapidated (with paint
cracking, and stuffing missing from some of the seats), but it had a decent
medium-sized stage and pit area, and a plaque in the lobby indicated that
the Japanese government had donated new A/V equipment for the hall in 1995.
   A small office in the Cultural Centre compound offered an internet email
service, but telnet wasn't allowed from their one computer.  Earlier in the
day, another attempt at using telnet had failed (the "Chase Internet Cafe"
downtown doesn't allow telnet either), but after leaving the Norfolk hotel
area (passing Nairobi University), I found a place on the 2F above a photo
shop that did allow telnet (though the connection speed was pitifully slow).
In general, the quality of the internet connection in Kenya is quite poor
(probably due -- as the owner at the first internet place suggested -- to
Kenya's poor telephone system).
   Near the photo shop was the Muslim area of town, with its lively streets
and storefronts.  I walked inside a local mosque (quite nice on the outside,
but plain inside), and at an Indian-run store, I stopped for a soda, much
cheaper here than downtown.  In Africa, soda is sold both in cans and
returnable 300ml bottles (it's cheaper in the bottle), but you'll have to
mention that you'll either be drinking the soda right there, or will bring
the bottle back, as there's a returnable deposit on it, and if the shop
owner assumes you're a tourist that doesn't know about having to return the
bottle, he might charge you the deposit on it as well (fair enough, as if
you walk off with the bottle, he'll be out the deposit money).  Kenya is one
of the few countries in Africa without diet sodas, though soda water is
available, often with the Krest brand (bottled by Coca-Cola).
   In the late afternoon, I went back to the Hilton to check into my room,
and after dropping my bags on the bed, went out once again to wander down
some alternate streets for about an hour.  Finally, I returned to the
Hilton, where I went down to the health club, used the treadmill while
watching DSTV, and went for a swim on the roof-top swimming pool (with 30
minutes left before it was to close at 6:00pm).  For dinner, I went to Pizza
Inn again for another surprisingly good peri-peri chicken pizza, and took it
back up to the room with me.  Generally, the Hilton rooms are quite nice
(the 9th floor is all non-smoking), though as all the doors seem to slam
shut, it can get quite noisy when everyone is opening and closing their
doors.  Still, it was definitely luxury for one night: air-con, full
satellite TV, a bath and shower, a nice view of the city down below, and an
electronic safe in the room in which to keep your valuables.  However,
throughout most of the day (and the following morning), the computers at
reception were down, irritating more than a few guests needing to check out
in a hurry.
   A few misc. observations: the Honda Civic is called the Civic here rather
than the Ballade (as it is known as in South Africa), and in many stores,
plenty of items seem to be imported from the Middle East (everything from
Schwepps sodas from Egypt -- complete with pull-off tab -- to dental floss
with Arabic on the package).  Nakumatt (a large supermarket) had no dental
floss, but I did find one in an Indian-run pharmacy marked ksh290/US$3.86 --
though the lady volunteered to give it to me for a "special price" of
ksh270/US$3.60.  When I commented how expensive it was, she said "well, it's
hard to find dental floss in Kenya."
   In the end, there's really not too much in Nairobi for the tourist, but
it's still not a bad place to spend a day or two.

Jan. 26: Arusha (Tanzania)
   After waking up, I checked out of the Hilton, though their computers were
still down.  I needed to get to the Upper Hill Campsite to meet up with the
Which Way group, and since I had to be there by 8:30am and didn't know where
it was, I decided to take a taxi.  When I asked how expensive a taxi there
should be, I was told perhaps ksh500-ksh600, but as the taxi rank in front
of the Hilton is reserved for just one taxi company, I asked one of the
porters to go outside and arrange a set price for me with a driver -- and in
the end, he managed to get me a price of ksh350/US$4.66.  I put my stuff
into the taxi and was off, being driven through Nairobi's morning rush-hour
traffic (with no working signals in the city centre).  At first, I started
to worry that I might not even make it to the campsite in time, but in the
end, I arrived right at 8:30am.
   For this next month, I had arranged an overland trip with "Which Way
Adventures", a South Africa-based overland tour company.  Originally, I had
thought about doing this route (Kenya-Tanzania-Malawi-Zambia-Zimbabwe) on my
own, but figured it'd be interesting to split the trip so that half would be
by myself, and half would be with a group.  I found the Which Way trip on
the internet, and picked them because their dates and routes were what I
needed -- and from what I saw, they seemed to be a good outfit to try.  I
was only partially right though: Which Way delivered the bare minimum of
what was promised, but little more (especially once I had a chance to see
how good some of the other competing overland companies were).  Making
matters worse though, was that an overland trip is only as good as its
guides, and unfortunately, our "guides" turned out to be less than stellar.
   On each Which Way tour, there are two guides, but the term "guide" is
mis-applied, for they are not guides at all, but merely drivers.  Knowing
very little about the countries we were in, the drivers neither offered
information about the places we were travelling through, nor had the
appropriate information when asked -- and they had been doing this job for
quite some time.  They were a couple, and for one of them, this was to be
her last Which Way trip -- so they decided to turn it into their own little
vacation, and couldn't care less if they did their job or not.  They wanted
nothing to do with us (always eating and staying off by themselves), and
even went so far as to remove the intercom-phone from the vehicle so we had
no way of contacting them during the drive!  They were also surly and
unpleasant at times, and as the days wore on, morale on the tour dropped
considerably, especially when we'd run into other budget overland tours with
adequate food, guides that would actually hang out and talk with the
campers, and where the participants raved about how much fun they were
   Arriving at the Upper Hill Campsite, our group assembled and boarded the
Which Way vehicle: a converted truck with windows and padded seats, pulled
by a separate truck cab.  The vehicle itself actually wasn't bad, though its
two-part design (unlike, say, the one-part vehicles used by other companies
such as Dragoman) meant a lot of bumps on Africa's potholes.  Also, there
were problems with the truck: the roof leaked everytime it rained or
moisture formed (perhaps a design flaw, as at Great Zimbabwe, we ran into
another Which Way truck with a leak in the same place), and about half-way
into the tour, the cab developed mechanical problems, forcing us to
push-start the truck every morning.  There was a small safe to put passports
and money into, and a cassette player into which one could pop in a tape --
when the truck's power was working correctly.
   Our group consisted of eight campers and two guides: Audrey and Ted from
Australia (NSW and Queensland), both in their mid-60s and retired (though
they didn't know each other before the tour)... Greg, a real-estate broker
from Northern California (USA), one of the most obnoxious people you could
ever meet (both to fellow campers as well as locals everywhere we'd go) --
someone that made me ashamed to be a fellow American next to him, and by the
end of the tour, had other campers thinking he might even be on drugs...
Dorte ("DJ"), very nice, in her early 40s from Germany, who works in a
meat-processing plant and speaks excellent English thanks to an American
co-worker... Christian (my tent-mate), late 20s from Germany (Bavaria), a
worker for Deutsche Telecom... newlyweds Katja and Soren (both from the old
East Germany) in their mid-20s, and myself.  It was a pretty good group, as
other than Greg, everyone was cool and fun to travel with.  Christian, Katja
and Soren couldn't speak English quite so fluently (and the three had also
been on a previous Which Way tour to Namibia together), so initially they
tended to stay to themselves, but as time wore on, with the exception of
Greg, we all became a lot closer.  Our two "guides" were a team: Laroux (the
driver) and Carmen (the cook -- it would be her last Which Way tour) were
both in their late 30s, from the Cape Town area, and not too friendly.
   After a short pre-trip briefing (and taking a "before" group picture
which I suggested -- to later be compared with a final "after" picture), we
left on our trip.  That morning, Carmen told us the intercom-phone between
the truck and cab was broken, so if we needed to stop (such as to go to the
bathroom), to just wave frantically out the window.  If the phone was
actually broken or not is anyone's guess, but Carmen ripping it out from its
holster after the first day so we couldn't even try it (and their attitude
towards us) led us all to believe otherwise (if it really was broken, why
the need to rip it out?)  The one problem with overland trips such as this
is that there is a heck of a lot of driving involved -- it's bad enough to
have a nine or ten hour drive in front of you, but even worse if you have no
communication with the driver (who also wants nothing to do with you). 
Campers on other tours we met up with along the way had easy contact with
their drivers, and if (for instance), there was an interesting marketplace
along the side of the road, it wouldn't be a problem to stop for a few
minutes.  The disconnected phone (and attitude) on this tour however, meant
none of this could happen -- and from day one, we spent hours upon hours of
seeing Africa whiz by from our window.
   A typical day on the tour would be a 7:00am departure (with breakfast at
6:15am), a bathroom break in the bush (usually at around 9:30am), lunch by
the side of the road at 12:30pm, and then a long afternoon drive, usually
until 4:30pm or 5:00pm.  Arriving at a campsite, tents would be put up,
dinner prepared, and there'd be very little time for anything else until
   For meals, we were divided into cooking teams of two people to assist
Carmen with the preparation of meals (I was teamed with DJ), and since there
were only eight of us on the tour, it was everyone's turn again after only a
couple of days.  Along with the attitude of the guides, the food on the trip
was the other big complaint.  At the start of the tour, Carmen did mention
that things such as fresh meat would be hard to come by initially going
south, but that still didn't excuse the other inadequacies -- for instance,
after the initial box of corn flakes ran out a few days into the tour,
breakfast every morning for the entire rest of the trip consisted of eating
what was basically dry oatmeal.  More than once when stopped at a store, DJ
would ask Carmen if she could pick up some corn flakes (as they were always
readily available), but Carmen's response was "we don't need any -- we have
stuff in the truck."  The only "stuff" in the truck though was the dry oats,
which we had to eat day after day.  I realize this was a budget overland
camping trip, but one needed only to look at the other budget operators to
see the difference: while we'd have the same dry oats every morning for
breakfast, they'd be enjoying eggs or pancakes (both readily available).  Of
course, it was no surprise that neither Carmen nor Laroux would eat
breakfast with us -- they were too busy buying their own private snacks,
food, and booze each time we stopped at a market (no doubt using our food
kitty).  Carmen would simply ignore any request to buy things such as eggs
or corn flakes -- at the end of the tour, Greg had to buy some eggs himself
so we could have something other than dry oats -- and only when we started
complaining did we have pancakes once (and only once).  It became so bad
that Audrey started putting pancake syrup on dry bread to at least have
something else other than the oats for breakfast -- a disgusting idea I
first thought, though when compared to dry oats, it actually wasn't so bad. 
Lunch was usually either tuna salad, a cold-cuts sandwich, or left-overs
from the previous night's dinner (without proper refrigeration).  For the
sandwiches, we were to use only two thin slices of baloney, because there
was only so much meat (again, where was our food budget going?), so after a
few days, we'd take out the one jar of peanut butter, and make ourselves dry
peanut-butter sandwiches as well (even the Germans, who typically didn't eat
or like peanut butter had no choice).  Dinner was somewhat better, usually
being spaghetti or something easy to cook (with meats only later on in the
trip), and we were ordered to dish out specific amounts of food to each
other, even if there was more than enough to feed an army.  Again, I realize
Which Way is a budget camping outfit, but looking at the food served at
other similar camping groups, it was painfully obvious how lacking Which Way
was.  Greg had taken a trip the previous year with Nomad Tours, and couldn't
believe the difference in the two, and towards the end of the tour, we
actually began to hang out with some Dragoman tour guides, as ours made it
clear that they wanted nothing to do with us.
   The drive that day would take us from Nairobi to Arusha (Tanzania), and
was full of potholes and bumps along the way.  At the border, we exchanged
Kenyan shillings and U.S. dollars for Tanzanian shillings, but Carmen could
only guess at how much the exchange rate should be.  The problem is, at most
borders in the region there aren't any banks, and money exchange is done
informally through the truck window, with hawkers stuffing money in your
face, telling you to change with them.  The rate at the border is always
worse than at a bank (much more so if you accept their first offer and don't
bargain -- you'll be completely ripped off if you don't know what it SHOULD
be), but having little choice, we all changed at least some money, and those
that negotiated (I did), received better rates than those that didn't -- I
managed to get a rate of US$1=Tsh740 rather than the 720 everyone else
received (though in Arusha's banks, the rate was 790, and in Zanzibar's
banks, 800).
   We stayed the night at Masai Campsite, a few minutes from the center of
Arusha.  The road from downtown to the camp is dusty and congested, but the
campsite itself is quite nice -- though it's run by Europeans.  I don't know
if it was by plan or if there are just very few black-owned campsites, but
with only one exception (in Zambia), every single campsite we stayed at was
either owned by a European transplant or a white local.  Off on one side of
the shady camp were a few cargo shipping containers (the kind you see on
trans-oceanic shipping lines such as Maersk) that had been converted into
living quarters for some locals.  After pitching the tent, the afternoon and
evening was spent hanging out in the bar talking with Ted and drinking Krest
soda water (Tsh400/US50c), while Carmen and Laroux sat in front of the bar's
satellite TV to watch cricket.  Just about everyone on the trip seemed to go
to bed early (often by 8:30pm) except Ted and myself -- who would try to
stay up until at least 9:30pm or 10:00pm before turning in.  Often, I'd then
listen (with earbuds) to my little AM/FM radio in the tent before going to
sleep.  The tents supplied by Which Way were pretty good, but the roll mat
(which I rented from Which Way along with a sleeping bag so I wouldn't have
to carry them around with me for the first part of my trip) was paper-thin. 
Christian (my tent-mate) was sick, having caught the nasty flu that had been
making its way across Europe and the U.S., and due to the close confines of
the tent, I soon had the bug as well.

Jan. 27: Arusha / Serengetti National Park
   This morning after breakfast (made by DJ and myself, as today was our
cooking day), we all went into Arusha for about 90 minutes to stock up on
supplies and change some more money.  Arusha is a dusty town that owes its
success to nearby Mt. Kilamanjero and the tourists who use the town as a
base.  Perhaps because of the constant influx of tourists, the area was one
of the few places in Africa where I occasionally saw young kids making rude
gestures to tourists (including us) -- and as it's basically the only town
in the area to pick up supplies, things can also be quite a rip-off.
   At Standard & Chartered Bank, they wanted to charge an incredible US$60
fee to change travellers checks into US$ (they first quoted US$60, then made
it US$35, but after some bargaining, Greg and I managed to convince them to
let us "share" the transaction fee between the two of us to make it $17.50
each).  Later, deciding I'd need more shillings, I went into a private
foreign exchange bureau with a sign on the window indicating they did cash
advances from credit cards (as the ATMs in town don't accept foreign
cards).  However, I was told only the branch on the other side of town did
credit card advances, so I started walking... but after a while, decided I
wouldn't have the time (with the long lines everywhere), and turned around. 
Then, as it was almost time to leave, I found out the bank across the street
from Standard & Chartered was "only" charging US$10 to cash travellers
checks (though they would only change them into Tanzanian shillings, not
U.S. dollars) -- so I ran back to the truck to fetch my passport from the
safe, and cashed a few more checks.
   Earlier, I stopped at a local store to buy some supplies, including
batteries, a few giant 5-litre-size jugs of water (unlike the countries
further south, tap water in this region of Africa isn't safe to drink), and
for the scratchy throat which had just started to surface, a bag of sucker
candies with the inadvertantly funny name of "Toto Pipi" on each wrapper
(for those of you who don't know, one of the larest toilet manufacturers in
the world is a Japanese company called "Toto" -- and naming a candy "Toto
Pipi" isn't saying too much about how they taste!)  The locally-made candies
were actually quite good though, and really helped me survive my scratchy
throat over the next few days.  Being sick now was amazingly irritating --
it had been at least two years since the last time I was sick, and the
timing was lousy.  Still, with everyone being in such close quarters (and
with my tentmate sick), I suppose it was inevitable.
   Besides picking up groceries, I wanted to find myself a better roll mat
than the one Which Way had supplied, though none of the stores seemed to
sell them.  Finally, one person suggested trying the store located inside
the Naaz Hotel.  I did so, and when I entered, asked the lady by the cash
register if they sold roll mats or comforters.  She took down something
white wrapped in plastic, but refused to let me open it, though the man
working with her then came up and said "yes, it's what you need... when you
open the package, you'll see... it folds open, and you lay down on it" --
but he too wouldn't let me open the package before buying it.  It wasn't
cheap (Tsh6800/US$9.20 at the Tsh740:1 rate I was given at the border), but
I decided to take a chance nonetheless.  Later on at the campsite, I opened
it up -- and found it to be nothing more than a pillow!  At first I was
pissed, but I then realized I needed a pillow just as much as a roll mat, as
one wasn't supplied, and I had just stuffed some clothes into the sleeping
bag cover the previous night).  Though I never did find another roll mat, at
least I had a nice, plush pillow to use for the rest of the trip, and in a
way, it was probably better to have that than another roll mat. 
Interestingly, though the man at the store wasn't honest enough to tell me
the truth about what I was buying, he WAS honest enough to return my cap
back to me (I had left it in the store without even realizing it, and when I
returned later to inquire if they sold mosquito nets for Christian, the man
gave it back to me).
   After our Arusha stop we went back to the campsite for lunch, and at
2:30pm, were picked up by Roy Safaris (a safari company hired by Which Way
to take us into Serengetti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater -- as both
areas require a 4x4 vehicle).  We would spend the next four days and three
nights with Roy Safaris, while Carmen and Laroux would stay at Masai Camp,
watching cricket on the satellite TV.  The eight of us were put into two
different 4x4 Land Rovers (with myself, Ted, Audrey and Greg in one, and DJ,
Christian, Katje and Soren in the other), and we headed off.
   The first place we stopped at was a fancy curio shop (built around some
beautiful artificial surroundings) -- when asked if we wanted to stop, we
all answered no, but we stopped anyway (obviously, there's an agreement
between the shop owner the tour company).  The shop (Indian-run, as is Roy
Safaris), had a lot of nice curios, but no one bought anything.
   Later, there was the option of visiting a local snake park, and while the
four Germans in the other vehicle paid it a visit, the rest of us stopped at
the side of the road by a local bus that had broken down (the roads in this
area are quite bad).  The passengers were mulling around waiting for the bus
to be fixed, and a few of them came up to chat with us.  As we stood there
talking, a dust-devil (small, tiny little tornadoes that we had seen all
afternoon) suddenly appeared next to us, kicking up dirt and debris before
moving on.
   The gear supplied by Roy Safaris included tents that were quite small --
much smaller than those supplied by Which Way.  With two people, they were
extremely cramped inside, but making up for the small tents was the
wonderful food -- and these three nights (and days) would be the only time
on the entire tour that we had good, delicious food (all prepared for us)
including eggs for breakfast and delicious soup at dinner.  Besides the
excellent cook, there was a driver and a guide for each vehicle, and they
knew (and imparted) a great deal of information -- everything from the
history of the area to the exact scientific names of the various animals
we'd see.  It was also fun listening to them communicate with each other
while driving: while out looking for game, they would all be chatting in
kiSwahili over the radio, letting others know where animals had been
spotted. The driver kept calling his counterpart "Kabila", and when I
commented that he had the same name as the DRC (Democratic Republic of the
Congo) leader, our driver laughed and said "yeah, we all have nicknames of
African leaders.  We call him Kabila, because he looks like Kabila!"
   We stopped that afternoon at a campground called "Jambo Camp."  It was
nice, and in the evening, some locals put on a show for donations: the
performance began with traditional dancing (done extremely well), then
turned into everything from juggling and mimed-skits to fire-eating.  Even
though it wasn't all "traditional", they were all quite good, and even Ted
started dancing with them.
   Misc. note: one of the large petrol station chains you see in Tanzania is
called "Agip" -- a name that sounds suspiciously like a rip-off...

Jan. 28: Serengetti National Park / Ngorongoro Crater
   I woke up tired this morning after having been up most of the night, even
with a sleeping pill.  I was definitely sick, and Christian had also been
coughing all night long.
   We left to drive to Ngorongoro crater, stopping along the way for the
cook to pick up some fruits at a local marketplace.  While waiting, hawkers
would approach the bus, trying to sell everything from eggs to curios
through the windows (something that would become quite common throughout the
trip).  We then entered the Ngorongoro crater area, where we stopped briefly
at the Visitors Centre before stopping at the Simba Campsite so the cook
could pick up supplies from another Roy Safari group (we would sleep at
Simba Campsite the following night).  After that, we stopped briefly at the
Masai Cultural Village -- one of the few artificial tourist traps of the
   The Masai are tall, thin nomadic people originally from the Sudan, but
are now found in Kenya and Tanzania.  This Masai cultural "village" though,
is nothing but a sham: the Masai dislike contact with outsiders, (though you
will often see them by the side of the road waving at passing vehicles --
not to say hello, but to ask for things such as water), but in Ngorongoro,
there's a group of Masai that have turned themselves into a tourist
attraction, and for the hefty fee of Tsh5000/US$6.75, you can enter the
"village", talk to the "chief", and take pictures of people dancing. 
There's an artificial air about the entire setup though: the chief speaks
good English, and it was obvious he was made "chief" only because of his
ability to communicate with tourists (when I asked how long he had been
chief, he answered just a year -- then asked me if I'd trade my Casio watch
for one of the trinkets he had for sale).  As the Masai are usually nomads,
their homes are made from wood, twigs and cow dung (since longevity isn't
important), but this "village" has been around at the same location for a
while now.  From our group, only DJ and myself opted to pay the fee and
enter (and only those paying the entrance fee could snap pictures -- though
Ted and Audrey made good use of their cameras from outside the camp), and we
were both done within five minutes.  Later, DJ asked one of the drivers
where the money goes, and was told that part of it has to go to the park
administration (which allows them to be in the park), with the rest going to
the "village" (they must be the richest Masai in the world!)  It wouldn't
have been so bad if there was even a small effort made to teach visitors
about the Masai culture, but the place exists merely to sell curios and
extract Tsh5,000 from tourists for allowing them to take pictures.
   Real Masai are nomads, tending cattle and sheep, and you CAN find some
"authentic" Masai within the park (usually wanting nothing to do with
outsiders except to ask for water).  Besides the tourist "village", the park
administration allows real Masai to let their cattle graze in the park and
crater as long as they don't settle there, and while stopped for lunch under
a tree, some real Masai children tending a small herd of cattle approached
us.  One (looking about 11 or 12) carried a spear, but the rest just had
walking sticks.  Offering to be in pictures for money, Ted instead offered
them some oranges while others in the group snuck pictures (I didn't).  When
it was time to leave, the kids asked the driver for some water, so Ted
bartered with them: instead of money, we'd give them some water for some
pictures.  They agreed, and we made the trade.  The kids went back to
tending their herd (along with their tan dogs -- the Masai always seem to
have tan dogs with them that all look alike), and one of the drivers told us
that the Masai consider any cattle they find to be theirs -- that if they
come across some wandering freely, they'll just take them and consider them
as their property.  True or not I don't know, but observing some real Masai,
they live quite a slow but harsh life: they're extremely thin, and as such,
always have walking sticks.  As a tradition, the girls bore huge holes in
their earlobes with large corks, and water is in constant need.  As with
Swazi culture, a Masai man can have multiple wives.
   After lunch, we continued driving (passing the turnoff for the famous
site where Leakey found Lucy), and went on an afternoon game drive in the
Serengetti.  The area here is flat, with only a few trees on the horizon but
plenty of golden-brown grass and savannah for animals to hide in.  That
afternoon, we saw ostrich, gazelle, zebra, wildebeast, and a lioness eating
a wildebeast she had just killed -- pulling the meat up with her teeth, and
having a snack for afternoon tea.  We also spotted a leopard lying lazily in
a tree as well as plenty of bird life (including some storks).  It was a
nice, warm afternoon, and here in the Serengetti, I had seen more of the
animals I had wanted to see (lion, leopard) than at either Etosha, Kruger,
or Pilanesburg.
   That evening, we stayed at Nguchiro Campsite in Serengetti Park, enjoying
a nice sunset.  The forecast was for rain, but luckily, none came.

Jan. 29: Serengetti National Park / Ngorongoro Crater
   I woke up definitely sick, but with the help of a sleeping pill, had the
first real sleep since the start of the tour.  Breakfast was early (at
6:00am), and shortly afterwards, we left for a morning game drive.
   Not too long into the drive, we spotted three lionesses and a number of
cubs walking to a rock to look for breakfast.  We stayed and watched as the
lionesses tried first to get a zebra (though it became spooked and managed
to escape), then went after a group of wildebeasts -- with one lioness
trying to herd wildebeasts towards another waiting lioness... after a while,
we decided to drive on, but those that stayed told us they were successful
in getting a wildebeast.  This morning's active hunt and yesterday's lioness
eating her kill provided a fascinating look at lions, but besides them, we
also saw plenty of other wildlife including three cheetahs, some elephants
up close, lots of hippo, monkeys, and plenty of antelope.  The game drive
was from 6:30am to noon, and we could either sit inside the 4x4, or stick
our heads out the open top.
   After a great lunch of veggie pizza, we headed back for Ngorongoro
Crater, and saw two cheetahs very close, relaxing in the shade.  Then,
because I had asked a few times about stopping at the Leakey site (even
though it wasn't on the itinerary), we took some time to have a look at it. 
From a viewpoint on a hill, you can see the valley down below where many of
Leakey's discoveries took place, and at the viewpoint is a museum containing
replicas of the early-man finds (skulls, bones, tools, and a plaster replica
of the famous footprints), as well as a detailed history of the expeditions.
   That evening, we camped at Simba Campsite -- a campsite that is NOT
fenced off: we were told that if we needed to go to the bathroom at night,
take your torch (flashlight) -- and it'd be OK to wake one of the guides if
you didn't feel safe going alone (as the animals tend to roam at night). 
The government-run campsite is a bit run down with some services not working
(sometimes there was water in the sink, sometimes there wasn't -- and the
shower had no water at all except for a mere trickle), but you couldn't beat
its location on the rim of the crater, affording some terrific views of
Ngorongoro below.  Because of it being located where it is though, it also
gets quite cold at night -- and with no bar or lounge to escape the cold in,
everyone turned in early, going to bed right after dinner.  Fortunately,
dinner included some wonderfully hearty soup that really hit the spot as
well as an unexpected treat -- popcorn!  That night, we all heard the sound
of animals out and about (before turning in, a pig even ran across the
campsite) making it quite an interesting place to camp.  In fact, water
problems aside, this was one of my favorite campsites solely on the basis of
its location and view.
   Because everyone turned in at 8:45pm, I stayed up for a bit in the tent,
listening to my radio.  I was able to pick up KBC (Kenya Broadcasting), and
caught some news and music in English.  One thing about Kenya's radio and TV
broadcasts: even if they're in English, kiSwahili (commonly referred to as
Swahili) inevitably creeps in as well, with no translation.  For instance,
on Kenya's nightly TV news, even if the broadcast is in English, if the
person being interviewed speaks Swahili, there will be no translation either
before, during, or after the interview -- so if you don't understand
Swahili, you'll have absolutely no idea what is being said.  On their radio
service, broadcasts are in English, but Swahili words and phrases find their
way in as well.  As with much of Africa's radio stations, there are shows
where listeners can have the on-air hosts read messages for friends and
family, and between playing music, lots of personal messages (at least half
of them in Swahili) were given out over the air.  Still, Kenyan radio was
fun to listen to, and as virtually the only English service you can pick up
in the region (the VOA on AM/MW is hard to pick up this far north, and
Tanzania's radio stations broadcast mostly in Swahili), I listened to it
quite regularly, as at night the signal reaches as far south as Malawi. 
Tonight, there was news that the road from Nairobi to Thika was no longer
safe, with reports of bandits holding up minibus taxis... and the announcer
mentioned that many people need this road to get to and from work in
Nairobi.  The minibus taxi (called a "kombi" in South Africa) is known as a
"matatu" in Kenya (and a "dalla-dalla" in Tanzania), and in Kenya, you can
see bumper stickers for sale that read "Beware: ex-matatu driver!"
   Language note: "Simba" (as well as being a popular brand of potato chip
in Africa) means "lion" in kiSwahili (Swahili), and because I wound up being
in Kenya and Tanzania for about two weeks, I managed to pick up a bit of the
language on my own.  Not having my Lonely Planet book with me, I didn't even
have a source to look up useful expressions in -- but it's amazing what you
can pick up in this world just by keeping your eyes open and paying
attention.  The trick to learning a language is observation, and the more
you observe the world around you, the more things become clear.  For
instance, I would see a chemist (pharmacy) with a sign saying "duka la dawa"
(or "duka la madawa") on the store... then, a butchery would have a sign
saying "duka la nyama" on it... and after a while, you begin to realize that
"duka" is store, and "la" in this case is like the Japanese "no" (connecting
the two words together) -- in other words, if "vitabu" is "book", then "duka
la vitabu" would be "bookstore."  By no means did I learn more than just a
few words, but from what I picked up, the language seems to be practical and
make sense (though I have to confess that Swahili was the only regional
language I even made an attempt at learning).  There are common greetings
(such as "jambo" for hello), though such greetings (and their replies)
differ slightly depending upon what area you're in.  For instance, in
mainland Tanzania, you'll hear: "Jambo" "Jambo, habari?" "Nzuri sana"
("Hello" "Hello, how are you?" "I'm fine" -- "habari" is literally "news",
but also means "what's new", or "how are you?"), but in Zanzibar, the
greeting amongst locals is: "Mambo" ("how are you?") to which the answer is
"safi" (literally "clean", but used as a reply to indicate "fine").  Some
other words: "safari" is journey, "asante" is "thank you", "ndio" is "yes",
"lapana" is "no", "naomba" is "please" ("naomba soda" means "soda, please"),
and "kwahera" is "goodbye."

Jan. 30: Ngorongoro Crater / Arusha
   As we started our drive down into Ngorongoro Crater this morning, red
warning lights flashed on the dashboard of our 4x4, and we had to stop for
45 minutes at the entrance gate while our driver tried to figure out what
the problem was.  Without really fixing anything, our driver put some fluids
in the vehicle and started it up again.
   As with the Serengetti, the floor of Ngorongoro Crater consists mostly of
savannah with very few trees -- and the trees that are present tend to be in
just one or two areas (thus the lack of giraffes down in the crater).  Off
in the distance, we watched the Masai tend to their cattle (they're allowed
to bring cattle into the crater to drink, as there's both a fresh-water and
salt-water lake on the crater floor), as well as elephants, hyenas, zebras,
plenty of wildebeasts, two black rhino, and hundreds of pink flamingos in
one of the lakes.  Our guide told us that zebra have good memories and good
eyesight, so the wildebeasts (who have only a good sense of smell) tend to
follow them.
   After the morning game drive and lunch, we started on the long drive back
to Arusha, and upon arriving back into town, stopped at a pharmacy for a few
minutes so I could pick up some cold medicine (I actually found Drixoral for
sale, and bought a few tablets for my congestion).  During the long drive
back, we asked our guides how much they make (they were all excellent --
especially compared to our Which Way guides), and found out that cooks with
Roy Safaris make Tsh600 a day (under US$1), and the drivers make only about
Tsh25,000 a month (a little over US$30).  Other than the extremely cramped
tents, Roy Safaris did a excellent job, and back at Jambo campsite, we all
decided to tip our guides well (they certainly deserved it), before bidding
them farewell.
   The evening was spent just relaxing amongst ourselves while Carmen and
Laroux watched more cricket on the bar's satellite TV.  In the bar, I heard
the same song I had been hearing almost every day for the past few weeks:
"We're Going To Ibiza" by the Vengaboys.  Asking the bartender if I could
look at the tape (as I had never heard of the group before), he showed it to
me (it was an obvious bootleg).  When I asked the bartender if they were
African, he replied "no, they're American, aren't they?" -- but upon
returning home to the U.S., no one I asked had ever heard of them
(apparently, they're popular in Europe).  At any rate, that song was playing
all over Africa from campsite to campsite, from boomboxes on the street to
even the Windhoek cinema while waiting for the movie to start.
   Misc. note: the name "Ngorongoro" ("ngoro-ngoro") comes from the Masai
word for the sound a bell makes when it rings (such as a cowbell). 
Interestingly, there's a word for this in Japanese that is quite similar:

Jan. 31: Dar es Salaam
   We had a long drive ahead of us today (all the way to Dar es Salaam), so
we left at 6:50am, and with just a short 20-minute lunch break, didn't
arrive until 5:00pm.  Once outside of Arusha, local kids would wave at us as
we passed, carrying large yellow jugs with them to-and-from school (probably
for water).  As with most of Africa, they were dressed in school uniforms.
   Mainland Tanzania is quite rural, and along the drive, plenty of maize
(corn) and sisal (a plant used to make rope and paper) could be seen growing
from the bright red soil -- though as you get further south-east, the
climate becomes more tropical and banana trees become more prolific.
   In the middle of the day we were stopped by the local police for speeding
(though every few minutes, large "local" tour buses would whiz right past
us -- going at least 110kph-120kph).  Laroux went out and argued with the
officer (who had a brand new Hyundai Accent and radar gun), claiming he was
going the allowed 80kph speed -- so the officer claimed the speed in this
area was 50kph.  When Laroux protested, saying there was no sign indicating
this, the officer claimed there indeed was a sign further back somewhere. 
Knowing it was just a shakedown to extract money from foreigners, Laroux
just threw some Tansanian shillings down onto the hood of the police car for
the bribe before getting back into the truck and driving off.  Unlike in
Lesotho (where everything was by-the-book and written in a ledger), the
police here weren't exactly above-board -- but when the police have machine
guns, it's better to just stop and pay the bribe.
   Closer to Dar es Salaam, the countryside became greener, and the homes
become more western and prosperous.  Passing through Dar es Salaam without
stopping (we actually never had a chance to see the city -- another reason I
prefer travelling alone rather than with a tour), we headed straight for
Silver Sands Campsite, located in the Kanduchi Beach area about 10kms
outside the city.  It's quite a nice place with both a hotel and campsite,
though once again, according to Carmen, it's run by European transplants (in
this case, some Brits).  Its location right at the water is excellent
(albeit windy), and as I waded in the warm water, Christian took out the
kite he brought with him from Germany to give it a spin.
   That evening, I was going to do some laundry in the sink, but I didn't
have a clothes line, and as I was looking around for a place to hang my
clothes, a man inside the room said he'd do all my laundry for Tsh800 (about
US$1) -- so I decided to let him do it.  As it turns out, drying would not
be a problem with the strong wind outside, but getting change to give the
man certainly was (I went up to the outside second-floor bar to ask for
change for a Tsh10,000 note, and had to wait for someone to run to the hotel
to get some).  After dinner that night, we did what would become standard
practice if the leftover food was perishable: we'd hand it over to the
campground staff (security guard, etc.) rather than throw it out.
   In the evening, I went up to the bar again to chat with everyone,
ordering a mix of grapefruit juice and soda water.  After that, I walked
down to the TV room, where I caught up on some CNN while writing a few notes
down in my journal.  After a while, the power went out, so I headed back to
the tent and went to sleep.  Even with all the wind, it was extremely hot
inside the tents (as we had to close the flaps due to the blowing sand), and
I didn't get much sleep between the heat, the wind, and my cold.

Feb. 1: Dar es Salaam / Stone Town (Zanzibar)
   After waking up early (and catching an old Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney
movie in the TV room), we left at 8:30am for the port area of Dar es Salaam
to catch a ferry to Zanzibar.  Along the way, we passed through the city and
all its embassys and consulates, though I didn't notice an American embassy
(it had been bombed a year ago).  One interesting sight that I saw
EVERYWHERE in the area (including all over Zanzibar) was literally hundreds
of older Japanese minibuses with markings in Japanese indicating the
original uses for them in Japan: I saw one saying "Chuo Driving School,
Tottori Japan", another for a florist in Osaka, one for a restaurant in
Yokohama, and so on.  These were all over the country -- and not just used
as minibus taxis, but private taxis and business vehicles as well.  I don't
know if they were donations from the Japanese government, or just a Japanese
businessman selling used minibuses for a lot less than new ones would be,
but the sheer number of them (and the fact that I saw them only in Tanzania)
makes me think they were probably some sort of aid.  At any rate, they were
a common sight all over the country, and provided me with lots of
entertainment as I'd try to look at each passing one to see what part of
Japan it had come from, as well as what it was originally used for.
   Reaching the port area, we stopped at the Kilamanjero Hotel, where we
were to leave the Which Way truck for the duration of our stay on Zanzibar. 
Taking what we'd need from the truck, we walked the short distance down to
the waterfront, passing dozens of little stalls selling everything from
cheap Chinese radios to clothes to cookies.  At the port area itself, there
are a few different ferry companies to choose from and plenty of hawkers
outside trying to sell you tickets.  Which Way uses the "Azam-Marine" Sea
Bus (www.azam-marine.com), though Azam has a few different vessels (the one
used today was a different ship than the one for our return).
   While on Zanzibar, we were to be responsible for our own meals and
accomodations (with just the first night's hotel arranged), so Carmen gave
us each US$50 (it was supposed to be US$60, but suddenly, the US$5-each-way
departure tax was not included in the tour price -- so the US$60 became
US$50) -- and we were to make that US$50 last for three nights of
accomodation and five days worth of meals.  During all of this, our guides
Carmen and Laroux were to be free of responsibility for us and set off on
their own in stone town and one of the neighboring islands. 
   After Carmen gave us our tickets, we had about 45 minutes to wander
around the dock area.  The weather was hot and humid, so I bought a
hankerchief from a stall for Tsh200/US27c, then looked at some of the
Chinese knock-off radios for sale in the stalls, including a "Sunny SW-10"
shortwave radio (instead of the popular SONY SW-10 model -- with the box
trying to mimic the Sony's box), as well as some items labelled "Philibs"
(instead of "Philips").  After looking in at a catholic church across the
street from the ticket windows, I started to become thirsty -- but the drink
prices near the ferry companies were too expensive, so I decided to walk
around town for a bit, soon finding a small Indian-run store near the UN
offices selling sodas for about half of what they were going for just a few
blocks away.
   Though we boarded the boat at the correct hour, it didn't leave on time
(they wanted to get as many passengers on as they could, and more were
always trickling in).  As we finally did leave, I went outside to the upper
deck for a look out at Dar es Salaam, though after a while, went back down
below due to the sun.  With this vessel and the ticket we had, we were
allowed to either go inside or outside (though on the return vessel, there
was an extra first class area which we weren't allowed into).  The inside
seats had some air-con (though very weak) and a TV (Carmen mentioned they
usually play violent movies on the trip, but it was merely tuned to the
Cartoon Network, and the reception was poor.  Perhaps the video unit wasn't
working, because up above in the captain's area, I saw a "Mrs. Doubtfire"
video laid out next to the ship's VCR system, but it was never shown).  The
trip on the Sea Bus took 2.5 hours, and though there are faster ferries,
they cost more money.  Besides the ferry business, Azam is in other fields
as well, and on board the boat, Azam biscuits (cookies) were for sale. 
Knowing I wouldn't have any lunch that day, I decided to buy an orange soda
(Miranda -- Pepsi's equivalent of Fanta) and a package of "glucose biscuits"
(sugar cookies) imported from Oman.
   Arriving into Zanzibar, you must go through customs and clear immigration
again, even though the island is part of Tanzania.  We had to provide our
yellow fever cards and passports (which were stamped), but they didn't even
bother to open our backpacks, instead choosing just to mark them with blue
   The night before, we were told to leave most of our junk behind on the
bus and only take the things we'd really need for our stay on the island. 
While in Namibia a few weeks back, I bought a cheap, blue (made-in-China,
I'm sure) "Travelex" school backpack for a few dollars, and wound up using
that as my "Zanzibar bag."  It was cheaply made, but did have foam
insulation inside along the back, and somehow managed to last my entire trip
from Namibia until I was ready to come home (towards the end, one of the two
zippers to the main compartment broke, but the other still worked, so I left
it with Peter & Naomi in Cape Town to give to other travellers or locals who
might need it).  Me with my trusty blue Travelex backpack became a familiar
sight, as my larger (real) Eagle Creek pack became more a storage pack than
one I toted around with me everyday.
   Once in Zanzibar, we took a short minibus taxi from the port area to our
hotel in stone town: the Karibu Inn ("karibu" means "welcome" in kiSwahili),
run by a very friendly Indian fellow.  Which Way put us 4-to-a-room for that
first night to be cheap, meaning myself, Ted, Greg, and Audrey had to share
the same room (with the 4 Germans taking another room).  The room was OK but
hot (there were two standing fans but little ventilation), and each bed had
a mosquito net.  Since Carmen had told us that we'd have to arrange for our
own accomidation, I reserved myself a private room for the night we'd be
back in stone town (with air-con -- I wanted to finally kick the stupid cold
I had and start enjoying my trip) and left a deposit.  It should be noted
that ALL accomodation on the island needs to be paid for in US$ (sometimes
exceptions are made, but most places require US Dollars for rooms). 
   Exchanging money up the street, there was a place that gave a 1:1 rate
for US$ Travellers Checks -> US$ cash but charged a 5% commission.  Still,
it was necessary to get more US$ cash, as it's used and needed everywhere in
Africa, but many banks and ForEx shops will only give out local currency,
not US$ cash.  As well as getting some US$ cash for the rest of the trip, I
also changed some US$ into Tanzanian shillings and received a better
exchange rate here (US$1=Tsh800) than the 740 rate I had received in Arusha.
   After changing money, I left my passport and the money I wouldn't need in
the hotel's safe for the next few days (Tsh500 charge, for which you're
allowed to open it up once before your final time) and went out exploring
stone town with DJ.
   Stone town on Zanzibar is an interesting place: the streets are extremely
narrow (one would think they're not big enough for cars, but that doesn't
stop people from driving down them), the buildings are of Arabic and Indian
design, and it's extremely easy to get lost, as the streets twist and turn,
and there are very few places where you have a view of anything other than
the tall, old buildings next to you.  Still, stone town isn't that big, and
if you get lost, all you need to do is just keep walking and you'll exit out
somewhere soon enough.  It's an extermely interesting place to wander around
and get lost in though, with small Islamic shops, young kids playing in
traditional Muslim clothing, intricately-carved doorways, and the constant
warning toots from cars or bikes driving its narrow streets.  The look of
Zanzibar is definitely that of the Middle East, with its population being
almost exclusively Muslim, regardless of race: on the island, there are only
two churches (one Catholic, one Anglican), but over sixty mosques.  Mixed
with the ancient architecture though, is the odd satellite TV dish, and
Zanzibar is also one of the best places in Africa to find a fast, reliable
internet connection: in stone town, try "Macro Software Systems Ltd." (look
for the "Macrosoft" sign out front).  They charge Tsh1500 for 15 minutes of
fast access in a nice, air-conditioned room.
   Calling overseas from Zanzibar is a bit more difficult (and expensive)
than finding an internet connection.  Your cheapest option is to use one of
the public phone shops, but they're not exactly cheap: for calls to Europe
or the USA, the best price you'll find is US$2.90/min (always quoted in
US$ -- and if you don't pay in US$, they'll let you pay in local currency at
their own rate of exchange).  Many of the telephone shops charge US$5/min
though (especially those in the tourist areas of stone town), and you really
have to look for the ones that charge "only" $2.90/min.  The way it works is
these shops buy pre-paid phone time from companies that sell it to them, and
then turn around and charge you whatever they want for that time.  For
instance, at the "Too Short" shop (located just down the street from the
Karibu Inn), the owner dials a special number which tells him how much
credit he has left (say US$22.00), then you place your call.  When you're
finished, he calls the same number, and if the recording says he has
US$16.20 left, you owe him the difference of US$5.80.  The "Too Short" shop
is actually one of the best places on the island if you need to make a call
(they were the cheapest at US$2.90/min, and offerd the correct exchange rate
if paying in shillings), but the problem with these telephone shops is that
once a shop's credit has been used up, no one can use the phone until the
owner sends the private phone company more money -- and that money gets
registered.  On the first day, I called my dad just for 1 minute to let him
know I was OK, but later, Greg decided to call his girlfriend, and wound up
using all of the store's credit.  Because of that, Audrey wasn't able to
call home to Australia -- the owner said to check back the following day,
but even four days later, the money he sent to the company still hadn't been
registered and credited to his account.
   One thing about the stores in Zanzibar is that they seem to open and
close and random times -- the hours posted on a store window are rarely
followed.  Whether this is because of religious reasons (that might dictate
a change in hours depending on the day) or just a lack of interest in
keeping regular hours, I don't know, but it was a common sight to see small
shops be closed even when their signs indicated it was their normal business
hours -- then open and close again seemingly at random.  Some businesses
(such as the Macrosoft internet cafe mentioned above) try to spread out
workers' hours so the shop is always open: the second time I went into
Macrosoft, I asked a question to the young man working there, and he
answered "I don't know... my boss is off praying... I can ask him when he
gets back."
   This general side of the island has a few distinct areas: there's stone
town itself (with one part of it being the tourist street where all the
curio vendors set up shop), the area by the port with its great night food
market, the market area (with one section containing the meat and fruit
shops, and another section selling clothes, electronics, and other items),
and the other, quieter side, containing offices and a local museum. 
   DJ and I spent most of the afternoon first walking through stone town,
then exploring some of the quieter sections (passing the museum, but not
going in).  By late afternoon, a nice breeze had started, and it suddenly
turned much more pleasant, especially by the water.
   At the waterfront is an outdoor cafe with tables and chairs, so I decided
to sit down and write a few notes in my journal for a while.  Offshore were
many large cargo ships, and onshore were some of the recently-offloaded
containers bearing names of the larger shipping companies such as Maersk and
Triton.  In the evening, this area turns into one of Zanzibar's best
attractions: a night-time food market, where dozens of stalls (which start
setting up in the late afternoon) sell freshly-prepared food ranging from
octopus to calamari (squid) to marlin to beef-kabobs -- to even candy and
doughtnuts!  Not having had any lunch (other than the biscuits and a KitKat
bar with DJ), I ordered a bunch of beef-kabobs (dipped in delicious spicy
chilli/mango sauce) for Tsh500, fresh calamari (Tsh500), and other seafood
delights.  The scene reminded me of the night-time food stalls in Fukuoka
Japan, and is not only a place for good food, but a place to relax and watch
people (there are also plenty of curio-vendors in the area if you feel the
need to buy souvenirs).  The food was fresh and cheap, and was hands-down
the best seafood I had on the entire trip.
   After the filling dinner, our entire group headed to the bar across from
the Tembo Hotel for a short time, but not too much was happening, so we soon
went back to our own hotel to call it a night.
   Before going to sleep, Ted and I had arranged both fans in the room so
they would circulate air somewhat evenly among the four beds, but in the
middle of the night, Greg got up and turned both fans solely on himself
(typical of him).  Around 4:00am I woke up (sweating), moved them back, and
tried to go back to sleep.
   Misc. info: a bottle of soda costs Tsh200 at non-tourist shops in stone
town if you return the bottle (if not, it's Tsh250), but at the tourist
shops (and elsewhere on the island), it can be a lot more (in Jambiani,
sodas are Tsh400, and they charge Tsh100 extra if you don't return the

Feb. 2: Stone Town / Jambiani Beach
   After a small-but-included breakfast at the Karibu Inn, I went walking
with Audrey to look around the area where the fruit and meat markets were
located, though we were back at the Karibu Inn by 9:00am for a spice tour.
   The Lonely Planet highly recommends a tour of some of the island's spice
plantations given by a Mr. Mitu that is an all-day affair (from 9:30am -
6:00pm) for US$10.  We all wanted to take such a tour (and everywhere you
go, touts come up to ask if you'd like to go on one), but Carmen said that
if we were interested, Which Way uses a different person that they recommend
for US$10.  I mentioned to some of the group that we'd probably be better
going off on our own hooking up with Mr. Mitu's tour, but the group figured
that Which Way's choice must be pretty good too.  As we all soon found out
though, this was hardly the case, and by the end of the afternoon, everyone
was wishing they had chosen the tour given by Mr. Mitu.  It's not that the
tour we went on was horribly bad, but it certainly fell well short of what
it could have been.
   The entire spice tour itself was quite short (only lasting from 9:30am to
1:45pm), and our guide seemed bored and going through the paces, knowing
that no matter how well or poor a job he did, he'd still have the business
of the next Which Way group to come to town.  We started off by walking
around the nearby area, first stopping at the old fort, where we were taken
to a shop where a local artist sells his work.  Every few nights at the
fort, traditional music concerts are given, and as a musician myself, it's
something I would have liked to have seen.  However, with our guides being
less than forthcoming with information, none of us knew that there had been
such a concert the previous night -- and the next one wouldn't be until
after we'd leave Zanzibar (again, at every place we went, when we'd ask our
Which Way guides about things to do in the local area, they'd never have an
answer -- either they didn't know, or they didn't feel like telling us, but
these were guides that have done this trip a number of times, and were of
virtually no help).
   After looking around the old fort, we went to visit the old slave market
(now the Anglican cathedral, with a hostel next door).  As we soon found
out, the slave market has its own admission, and wasn't included in the
price of the tour.  After paying Tsh600 extra, we entered the grounds and
looked into the two cramped, cold storage rooms below where slaves were kept
60-75 per room.  Here, slaves were beaten to test how "strong" they were,
with those who could take their beating fetching a higher price.  Above, we
had a short look in at the Anglican church before leaving the area.
   From the church, we hopped into a van and went with the driver and guide
to a spice plantation.  The one we visited was small and used mostly for
tourists: it's only 3 acres, though the family of five that owns it has
other larger lots as well.  On the plantation, the various spices are not
grown in separate areas, but rather are all planted together.  This is
apparently common, and as most spices like shade, there were plenty of tall
trees overhead (including some very tall coconut trees).  The guide showed
us some of the various spices and fruits found in the area, and we were able
to smell and taste a number of them, including licorice, casava, cinnamon,
extremely good pineapple, taro, soursop, jackfruit, various peppers, and
coconuts (to name just a few).  For the coconuts, one local boy climbed a
tree and threw some down, while another made a carrying basket out of palm
frongs.  Our guide told us the boys aren't paid except for tips given by
tourists, so we gave them each some shillings.  At the end of this part of
the tour, you can purchase many of the various local spices (as well as some
not found on Zanzibar), all sealed in plastic bags.
   Next, we visited some ruins, but once again, the entrance fee was not
included in the price of this spice tour, so only Greg opted to pay the
extra money while the rest of us just relaxed under the shade.  After this,
we visited the tour guide's house, where his wife made us lunch -- spicy
rice with beef, served with passion juice.  The meal wasn't bad, but it felt
as if they were both just going through the motions (for instance, hanging
above us while we ate was an unusual picture of a winged-horse with a human
female head, and when we asked the wife what it was a picture of, we
couldn't even get a straight answer).  By the time we were dropped off back
at the Karibu Inn at 1:45pm, we all felt somewhat cheated.  The other
(better) tours cover everything we saw (including lunch), and also go to
some of the area beaches until 6:00pm for the same price (and Mr Mitu
probably wasn't as apathetic about the whole thing as our guide was).  We
were soon finding out not to follow Which Way's advince on matters.
   After getting our bags at the Karibu Inn, we hopped back into the van so
the driver could take us to the east side of the island.  Which Way had
arranged the van (with us having to pay extra, of course), even though it
would have been considerably cheaper to take a public minibus taxi
(dalla-dalla) on our own (not to mention, we'd then be able to decide our
own return time on-the-fly, rather than have to stick to a pre-arranged
pick-up).  We were heading to Jambiani Beach, on the south-east side of
Zanzibar -- where the resthouse Which Way had "chosen" for us wasn't as good
as some of the other choices nearby.
   The road from Zanzibar town to Paje (on the east side) is tarred and
quite good -- but the road from Paje to Jambiani is gravel and QUITE bad --
NOT the type of road you'd want to drive a vespa on, though some people were
doing just that.  We were told later that there were plans to tar this road,
but since it was an initiative of the local Zanzibar government (rather than
the national Tanzanian government), when (or if) it would actually get done
was anyone's guess.
   Finally arriving at Jambiani Beach, we checked ourselves into the
Visitor's Inn, and I decided to spend the extra money to get a room to
myself where I could get some sleep and finally kick this cold that had been
bugging me for the past few days.  The price for the private room was US$25
a night (US$50 for the two nights), and though expensive, was worth the
price to have a few nights of good, uninterrupted sleep.  The first room
they showed me was a small, entire bungalow that I'd have all to myself, but
it was located next to the bar -- and the whole purpose of me wanting a
private room was to get some sleep, so I asked if they had something similar
further away (though as it turns out, it was unwarranted, as the bar tended
to close quite early).  They showed me another room (half of a two-room
bungalow) at the other end, and I took it: the room was basic, but nice,
with a ceiling fan, four-poster bed with mosquito net, toilet, and a shower
with a sign instructing you to inform the staff if there's no water so water
can be brought to you, as the water mains in the area are often bad.
   Jambiani Beach itself is quite nice, and immediately reminds one of
Chaweng Beach in Thailand: fine white sand, turquoise water, palm trees, and
little thatched huts to relax under.  The most annoying thing about the area
(though they can be found all over Zanzibar) are the "beach boys" -- the
touts that will come up to you and harass you, asking you to book a tour
with them or buy any of the various items they have for sale (they're quite
persistant, and by the beach, many tend to be young kids).  In general
(espeically with the slightly older touts), saying "no" or "no thank you"
will deter them only perhaps 25% of the time -- typically, a "no thank you"
is just an invitation for them to try selling harder -- but one trick I
found that works quite well is to say "no thank you, my friend" instead.  If
you add the "my friend" at the end, in most cases (perhaps 75% of the time),
they'll leave you alone.  I don't know if it's because saying "my friend"
softens the blow or if it's because it shows you know "the game" (and are
not just another dumb tourist trying to say "no"), but it worked quite well,
and once, a tout even replied "I'm sorry, but I have to ask... that's my
job" -- something I respected, so I responded "no problem, I understand",
and went on my way.
   The first thing I did after setting my bags down was go for a swim with
DJ and Christian in the warm, shallow water.  As is often the case here, you
can literally walk out into the water for miles (literally), and have the
water still only come up to your knees.  In fact, a commom sight in the
early mornings is that of women walking far out into the ocean, bending
down, and harvesting seaweed (which is later set out onto the streets to
dry).  Even further out, you can see waves breaking (indicating the point
where the reef and shallow area ends), but that's at least 10kms from shore.
   Jambiani (and the whole south-east part of Zanzibar) has a relaxed,
isolated feel to it, and it shows even in the way service is provided:
though you likely won't be turned away if you just show up and order food
(business is business after all), things go slow here, and every hotel and
restaurant in the area requests you to order your meals one meal in advance
(ie, order your dinner at lunch time).  We did so, and all had dinner at the
hotel restaurant that evening.  The meals at the Visitors Inn aren't bad,
but were no where near as good as those found at a neighboring hotel's
restaurant the following day.  I had chicken soup (Tsh1,000), rice and
chicken tikka that was too salty (Tsh3,500), and chips (french fries --
Tsh1,000) that I wound up giving to everyone else.  From the bar, I also
bought some orange cream biscuits (cookies) made in Oman, which I later took
back to my room.
   The evening was spent lying out under the stars and talking with DJ. 
There was some wind, but it was still quite pleasant, and far off in the
distance, the sound of the breaking waves could be heard.

Feb. 3: Jambiani Beach
   I had a good night's sleep in the bungalow: the windows had no glass
(only screens), but it was balmy enough where it didn't matter.  The wind
outside also meant there weren't many mosquitos about, but just in case,
both beds had good mosquito nets hanging over them.
   Early in the morning, the women were out in the sea, gathering seaweed
that they would later place out onto the streets to dry.  Walking to the
restaurant/bar area of the Visitors Inn for breakfast (only so-so, but
included in the price), there was a satellite TV, but it only seemed to get
one channel.  At 9:30am, all eight of us went snorkling.
   The day before, we had arranged for someone to take us out on a boat,
since the water is way too shallow to snorkel unless you go far out from
shore.  We were told the "normal" price is usually Tsh3,500 a person, but
since we were a group of eight, the price would be only Tsh3,000 each. We
booked through the Visitors Inn (I'm sure they took a big cut), but the
price (only about US$3.75) was practically nothing for hiring a boat and
snorkel equipment, and we were told that we could stay out as long as we
   The boat was small, hand-made, and quite narrow: there was no room to
actually sit inside it -- only room to sit on the ledges and put your feet
and gear in the center (further out were two long pieces of wood on both
sides for balance).  Still, the ten of us (eight in our group plus the two
guides) managed to fit, and as I looked up, I noticed that the sail was
hand-made out of patched-together rice sacks.  Near the shore, the water was
too shallow for us to get in, so first we had to push the boat out a ways,
though even after getting in and sailing for a bit, we once again hit the
shallow bottom and had to get out and push.  By the time we actually stopped
at the snorkel spot (still not as far out as where the waves were
breaking -- that was still another 1-2kms further), we were a good 6-7kms
from the shore.  Even here, the water was only about 9ft deep, and you could
easily touch some of the taller rocks on the ocean floor.
   Wearning a long-sleeve shirt for sun protection and having put plenty of
lotion on, I went in for a look around.  The coral is unfortunately dead (at
least here), but there were still plenty of fish and other sealife around to
make it interesting.  Besides the common sea urchin and angelfish, there
were some beautiful large starfish (grey, with red dots and sparkles on
top), though the area still can't compare to places such as Australia,
Mauritius, or Hawaii.  After a short break on the boat, I went in again for
a second time, swimming out to where another boat was anchored.  There, I
talked a bit to the the tourists on board (they were from Northern
California) before returning back to our boat.  The total time in the water
for our group was probably about 1.5 hours, after which we decided it was
time to go back.
   On the boat, our guide told us that if we wanted, we could charter the
boat again tomorrow and he would take us further out from shore to where the
waves were breaking (telling us there was better snorkling out there, and if
we went out early enough, the morning tides would mean we could literally
walk on the edge of the reef).  None of us wanted to bother snorkling again,
but we asked the guide to take us a bit further out in the boat just to have
a look -- which he did.  Once again, upon heading back and nearing the
shore, the water became too shallow to support the boat, and we all had to
get out and push for the rest of the way.
   By 1:30pm, we were back from snorkling, though none of us had thought to
pre-order lunch.  By now, the local women were done gathering the seaweed,
and piles of it were laid out to dry in the middle of the road.  As we all
started to relax on the beach by the Visitors Inn, the "beach boys" began
coming up to us, asking if we wanted to arrange a snorkel trip, a dolphin
cruise, buy some coconuts, or eat at their parent's house for dinner. Later,
while walking along the shore, the touts that didn't bother canvassing the
beach would yell out "eat here, my friend!" as I'd pass a hotel, restaurant,
or even a house.  Every few feet, it'd be "Jambo!  Karibu!  Welcome!  Come,
look!  Eat here, my friend!"  Besides the touts, there were plenty of other
young kids just hanging around, as schooling on the island doesn't begin
until age 7.  Earlier that day while coming back from snorkling, I had
spotted the sign for a restaurant called "Wings & Waves", and having
forgotten to order lunch at the Visitors Inn, thought I'd give this place a
try.  DJ thought it was worth a shot too, so she joined me for lunch.
   The general layout of Jambiani is something like this (from north to
south, facing south, and with the ocean on your left): the local school, the
fancy Sau Inn, the Visitors Inn, and the Jambiani Beach Hotel with its
"Wings & Waves" restaurant.  To walk around, you have two choices: the one
(and only) pothole-filled road that connects all the small east-coast towns
(often with seaweed lying out on it to dry), or the beach itself.  DJ & I
decided to walk along the beach, and soon came to the "Wings & Waves"
restaurant attached to the Jambiani Beach Hotel.  The day before, when I
asked the dulla-dulla driver about the Jambiani Beach Hotel (as it sounded
like a good place in the Lonely Planet book, and I was beginning to realize
that the places "Which Way" recommends were less than stellar), he told me
the place was closed.  Whether he lied on purpose, or honestly thought it
was closed I don't know, but the place (and its restaurant) ARE open -- and
a good choice for someone staying in Jambiani.  It's not that the Visitors
Inn is a bad place -- both the accomodations and restaurant were fair, but
the Jambiani Beach Hotel seemed to be better and cheaper, and its "Wings &
Waves" restaurant is a far better place to have your meals.  Here,
Tsh3,000/US$3.75 bought me some very good cooked (not fried!) calamari
strips in tomato sauce, along with two helpings of delicious spicy rice.
   After lunch, DJ and I walked back via the road, passing a lot of little
kids looking at us.  We sat down under a tree for a bit, and a tiny kitten
came up to us... the kitten broke the ice with the kids (who saw us playing
with it), and they soon came up to play with it as well.  Walking back to
the Visitors Inn, a lot of the young kids wanted to hold our hands (or at
least touch a foreigner), and with there not being much else to do in the
village, we were the center of attention.  Once back at the Visitors Inn, DJ
wanted to relax, so we split up as I kept walking north.
   Just a little south of the fancy Sau Inn is the local school: it consists
of a half-dozen covered (though windowless) one-room buildings, complete
with chairs and chalkboard -- and on one of them was a 1993 date.  By now,
school was out for the day, so I peered into some of the rooms for a look. 
In one, English lessons were up on the chalkboard (with notations on what
each part of speech was in a sentence such as "I play football"), and
another (presumably the science room) contained just one lab table in the
center -- but I was quite impressed with what was written on the chalkboard:
"Laboratory Preparation of Oxygen"... "Potassium Calcimate"... "Catalyst:
Manganese Dioxide"...
   After looking around the school grounds, I stepped into the Sau Inn (the
fancy hotel of the area) for a look.  A sign outside the place mentioned
Email access, but when I inquired about it, the desk clerk told me "yes we
have it, but it's down now." I didn't know if he meant the computer was down
or the power (for as I was later to learn, power in the region is very
spotty).  In the lobby, I noticed a sign on the bulletin board about the
local school posted by a Belgian exchange student who had been teaching
there: it mentioned that the school was both a primary and secondary school
with over 1,000 students, and that people were welcome to visit -- but also
that the school was in need of donations for supplies.  When I asked the
clerk where the teacher's guesthouse was (listed on the poster, with an
invitation to come and arrange a visit to the school), he told me she had
recently returned back home to Belgium, so there were now only local
teachers at the school.
   In the late afternoon, I walked back to the "Wings & Waves" restaurant
for dinner, where I met two young English gals travelling for nine months on
their own (having just started three weeks ago).  One was a teacher and the
other a speech thearapist, and we enjoyed a nice conversation on the steps
of the restaurant.  The girls were staying at the attached Jambiani Beach
Hotel, and seemed pretty happy with their accomodations (indeed, from the
outside at least, it looked like a decent place to stay).  As it started to
get dark, one of the restaurant workers began setting out lanterns, for the
power had apparently been spotty all day (shortly afterwards, the power went
off completely, and meals were cooked and eaten by lanterns and candles). 
While dark, I noticed a strange lighting condition in the sky: in the
distance, parts of the sky seemed to light up randomly with defused light --
but there wasn't a cloud to be seen (nor a spotlight).  I wasn't quite sure
what it was, but later that evening, Ted said it was "heat lightning"
(whatever that is).  I ordered some chicken curry with pineapple (munching
on a Tsh400 Cadbury bar while waiting for it to be prepared by
lantern-light), and ate with the gals at the table -- at which point the
power suddenly came back on.
   After dinner, I walked back to the Visitors Inn, where Ted was sitting
out on the beach.  We talked for a bit, and saw some of the "heat lightning"
before turning in at 10:00pm.  Upon getting back to the room, the power in
the area went off again -- this time staying off all through the night
(making the ceiling fan useless).  Along with the sound of the wind outside,
I took out my pocket radio and managed to catch Kenya's KBC again, hoping to
catch up on some news.  No luck though -- the Classical Music Hour was from
10:00pm-11:00pm, but that late at night, there was no news-on-the-hour at
11:00pm -- it went right into a program of pop music.

Feb. 4: Jambiani Beach / Stone Town
   This morning, I awoke to a room still without power -- and now, without
water as well.  After the included breakfast, the eight of us walked further
south along the beach for about 40 minutes until we reached the Sea View
Restaurant, where we looked inside and ordered some sodas and tea.  Being
morning, it was quiet inside, and one of the employees sat down and talked
with us.  An interesting fellow, he spoke good English, as he had lived and
played soccer in England and was now the coach of the local soccer team
(yesterday afternoon while wandering around town, I had seen them playing). 
None of the sodas were cold because the power had been off since yesterday,
but the coach mentioned that there was a new transformer being installed in
a nearby town, which might be one of the reasons for all of the recent power
failures -- though he said power has always been a problem on this side of
the island.  When I asked if the one pothole-filled road that connects the
east coast villages would ever be tarred, he replied that they're first
planning on finishing it all the way to Paje, and then perhaps continuing it
down the east coast -- but said it's the Zanzibar local government planning
it, not the central Tanzanian government, so when (or if) it ever gets done
is anyone's guess, commenting that things get done slowly in Zanzibar.
   A few days earlier when we had to tell the dulla-dulla driver what time
to pick us up in Jambiani, I had recommended early this morning (figuring
there wouldn't be too much to do in the area) -- but the group wanted a
later pickup, so we arranged for the driver to come fetch us at 2:00pm.  As
it turned out, everyone was saying I was right, for there wasn't anything to
do but sit around and relax -- which is what everyone wound up doing after
walking back from the Sea View Restaurant.  Before lying down though, I
decided to take another walk along the road.  The kids too young to be in
school came up to touch me (or just wave hello), and as school let out at
12:00 noon (it was a Friday), hundreds of students in uniforms (with the
girls all wearing white veils) poured out onto the street.
   After coming back to the Visitors Inn, I joined the rest of the group in
lying out on the wicker lounges under the shade of the thatched-roof
shelters.  The dulla-dulla driver actually came a half-hour early, figuring
we'd be ready to leave (and sure enough, we were).  Piling everything into
the van, we quickly left Jambiani -- though it actually is quite a nice
place, especially if you want to just sit back and relax (if you're not
content to sit still for a week, it's worth at least a night or two).
   On the drive back, we asked the driver to stop at a roadside food stall
to pick up some fruit.  I bought some finger-sized bananas for Tsh100 --
originally the man wanted Tsh300 for the bunch, but I bargained him down to
Tsh100 for 1/2 the bunch (I'm sure it was still more than what a local would
have paid), and they were quite good.
   Driving back into stone town, we arrived at the Karibu Inn again (passing
a Toyota Coaster bus with "Chuzenji" written on the side).  At the hotel
desk, Ted lost his temper and blew up when he realized he had not reserved a
room: though we all knew we'd have to arrange rooms for ourselves for this
night, Carmen apparently only came up to some us to tell us that the rooms
fill up fast, and to arrange everything that first night.  Not having been
told, Ted didn't know the rooms would be booked so fast, and since Carmen
came up to me, I figured she had come up to everyone else as well.  The four
Germans had arranged the same large room for themselves, but the other
four-person room was now booked with another group -- and Ted became furious
that I had known about having to reserve a room but hadn't mentioned it to
him, as they'd now all have to pay more for smaller rooms.  Ted threatened
to become violent towards me, but the Indian owner didn't want any trouble,
and was kind enough to give Ted, Greg, and Audrey another room and only
charge them the same $10/person rate as if they were staying in the large
downstairs room -- apologizing over and over, accepting responsibility, and
saying it was his fault (though it wasn't).  It was very nice of him to do,
considering this all happened because of our Which Way guides.  Again,
Carmen told us as a group that we'd have to arrange for our own rooms after
that first night, but later went up only to a few of us to warn us that the
rooms here book fast and that we should make the arrangements BEFORE leaving
for the east coast.  We all assumed that Carmen had told everyone, so those
that had been told never bothered to mention it to anyone else.  Another
nice present from our "wonderful" Which Way guides.
   After checking back into the hotel, I went out walking in the afternoon. 
I stopped at the Macrosoft cyber cafe again to check my email (Tsh3,000 for
30mins)... the owner had gone to pray at the mosque, but his helper was
there to watch the place.  In another part of town, the local movie theatre
("Cine Afrique") was advertising a new Arabic movie starting tonight: "Big
Screen, Big Sound!" the sign said, though the building looked quite old on
the outside.  The "Too Short" shop was still out of telephone credits (the
phone company they use still hadn't registered the payment the shop sent
in), and I spent some time just wandering around the city.  In the evening,
I went back to the night food stalls, having my first taste of some
wonderful marlin (Tsh500), as well as calamari (Tsh500), octopus (Tsh500),
and doughnuts (Tsh100).  Taking a chance (as the glasses were being washed
and re-used), I tried some freshly-squeezed sugar cane juice (Tsh100) and
walked around the area, watching Christian buy lots of curios (including
four Masai statues) and DJ bargain aggressively for some ankle bracelets and
   On the way back to the hotel, I stopped in at the fancy Tembo Hotel to
see if they either had any newspapers for sale or had an old one they no
longer needed (the clerk on duty looked, but couldn't find any).  When I
asked him if it was busy this time of year, he said yes, but that the rainy
season would start soon (in March and April), when it would rain everyday. 
He said January and February are always busy, but March and April would be
quiet due to the constant rain.  Apparently, the main rainy season is in
March & April, though there's also a smaller one in November and December.
   Back at the hotel, I talked some more to the owner, and thanked him again
for taking responsibility when it wasn't his fault at all.  We had an
interesting conversation, with him telling me the Karibu Inn building has
been a hotel for six years (before which five families lived in the
building).  He mentioned that it's only been recently since the local
Zanzibar government has allowed private hotels -- and that 10 years ago, the
only places to stay on the island were in three government-run hostels
("like communist Russia.")  Now, the government has opened itself to
tourists, but because this is still a recent development, tourism here isn't
yet fully developed (perhaps it's just as well).  When I began asking about
politics, I was told that during the last election, the current CCM (the
political party in power) president barely won (by less than 1%), and is now
trying to change the constitution so that he can run for a 3rd term this
October (with the current constitution allowing only two terms).  The
opposition CUF (Civil United Front) political party is quite strong in
Zanzibar and coastal Tanzania, but not as much in the rest of the country
(all around Zanzibar, you can see pro-CUF grafitti).  The hotel offers email
access, but it's quite expensive (Tsh3,000 for 15mins), though the owner
mentioned that many of his room reservations now come via email, telling me
he pays US$50 a month for his internet account, plus the phone or wireless
charges.  When I asked him about VAT, he said that the new 20% VAT tax was
introduced that year (1999), and is added to just about everything in the
   Back in the room, the remains of my cold were lingering, but I was
feeling much better.  I had paid extra for a room with A/C in it, and it
really came in handy.  There were no sheets or blankets on the bed (because
of the hot humid weather), but I let the A/C cool off the room before
turning it off (and the oscillating fan on) before going to sleep.

Feb. 5: Stone Town / Dar es Salaam
   Today at breakfast (which included a fried egg this time), Ted came down
and apologized profusely for yesterday.  Audrey (who had seen what happened)
talked to Ted yesterday, and it was just a case of Ted being fed up with
everything and having lost his temper.  Apologizing, we all decided to go
off on a walk later that morning.
   First though, I wanted to find the one and only supermarket on the island
(the "Cash 'N Carry") -- and went out with Audrey to try to locate it.  The
hotel manager had written out a map, but Audrey and I started having a nice
talk while walking and neither of us paid much attention to the directions
until it was too late.  Needing to be back at 8:45am to meet the rest of the
group, we turned around, but still wound up having a nice walk anyway.
   At 8:45am, we headed towards the marketplace -- to the area that sold
clothing, cloth, dresses, electronics, and other supplies for the locals
(not too far away from the meat & fish markets).  I wanted to buy a mosquito
net for the tent, and plenty of vendors had them hanging in their stalls. 
The first price quoted was Tsh4,500, but that soon dropped to Tsh4,000/US$5,
so I decided to buy one, paying in US$.  After that, some of us split up to
look at various stalls... I walked with DJ & Christian for a bit looking for
high SPF-factor sunscreen that wasn't too expensive (I had seen some Nivea
SPF30 for Tsh10,000/US$12.50, but that seemed awfully expensive, especially
since many shops were selling lower SPF-factor lotions for almost nothing. 
It seemed that locals either didn't use sunscreen, or used a low SPF-factor
type, and the high SPF-factor lotions mainly bought by tourists had their
prices jacked up accordingly).  Not finding any SPF-30 lotion in the area
(this was the "locals" shopping area, not the tourist area), I decided to
wait and see if the Cash 'N Carry would have some later on.
   Most of the Muslim men in Zanzibar were wearing traditional Muslim caps,
and I thought it might be interesting to pick one up as a souvenir, as up to
this point I hadn't bought any souvenirs at all.  Some were for sale in the
tourist areas, so this morning, when a vendor tried to sell me one, I asked
how much.  His first price was Tsh7,500/US$9.38, then his second price was
Tsh7,000, but I decided to wait.  A few minutes later, I passed a religious
shop and walked inside.  There, since it was a shop for locals rather than
tourists, I had my choice of any cap in the store for Tsh1,000/US$1.25.  I
picked one up, and shortly afterwards, split off from DJ and Christian to go
back to the hotel, set my stuff down, and once more try to find the Cash 'N
   The manager at the Karibu Inn mentioned that the Cash 'N Carry was next
to the Spice Inn -- but though I managed to find that on my own, I couldn't
locate the supermarket.  I stopped in at the International Hotel to ask, and
one of the employees (sitting around, bored) stood up and took me to the
supermarket (not asking for any money for showing me the way, as many local
kids do with tourists).  The store was not exactly "supermarket" size (it
had only 4 aisles and was about the size of an average 7-11), but compared
to the small mom-and-pop stores on the island, I guess it could be
considered a "supermarket" here.  It was bright, air-conditioned, and had
lots of imported items: I bought a box of made-in-the-UK Kellogs "Frosties"
(Frosted Flakes) with Arabic writing that had been marked down from Tsh2,500
to Tsh1,500 because of the February 21st expiration date, a Snickers Ice
Cream bar (small size Tsh1,600, large size Tsh2,000), a package of Mentos
(made in Indonesia for the Middle East), and a box of "Bachelor's" instant
chicken soup mix (something that really came in handy over the next few
nights).  Interestingly, I actually found some Pocari Sweat for sale (with
Arabic writing) and Diet Dr. Pepper (for a whopping Tsh1,000 -- Diet Pepsi
was only Tsh300), as well as other imported foods (including biscuits from
Hong Kong) -- but no cheap high-SPF factor sunscreen.
   From the Cash 'N Carry, I looked around some of the area shops, stopping
at a local newsstand to buy a local English newspaper (The Guardian, Tsh300,
www.ippmedia.com).  I hadn't heard much news over the last few days, but
waking up this morning, did catch Radio Tanzania's 10-minute English news
broadcast at 7:00am, hearing that over the last month, 5 people died of
malaria in Botswana's Chobe/Okavango region (I guess it was right not to go
when I was told things were pretty wet and awful that month).
   Back near the hotel I saw Christian & DJ by the water, then stopped in at
the "Too Short" shop to check on the telephone.  The phone still wasn't
working, so I walked to a shop across the street from the post office that
also offered calls for US$2.90/min -- but in the end, I just decided to
forget it.  However, the shop had SPF-26 Nivea sunscreen for sale for
Tsh9,500/US$11.88.  Asking if I could pay US$11 (Tsh8,800), the Indian lady
at first said "OK", but the savvy young black kid helping her out said "no,
it's not enough" -- so I then said "how about US$11 + Tsh500?" (Tsh9,300),
to which she agreed.  Tsh9,300/US$11.62 is still expensive, but was at least
a bit better than Tsh10,000.  As it turns out, I wound up not even needing
the extra bottle of sunscreen, but it's always better to be safe than sorry,
especially since I knew decent sunscreen would be almost impossible to find
further south at Lake Malawi.
   I stopped in once more at the "Too Short" shop to get some snacks and
water (the prices were much better here than at other nearby shops), and
just walked around the hotel area for a bit until it was 12:30pm and time to
meet Carmen & Laroux once more.  At 12:30pm, the minibus taxi came to take
us to the port (why we were given a taxi for this one hop I couldn't
understand, as it wasn't that far to walk, and in fact we had a longer walk
later that afternoon from the Dar es Salaam docks back to our waiting bus).
   At the dock area, we boarded the boat, though this time, it was the
"normal" vessel for the run, with a large main section downstairs and a
small first-class area upstairs (which we weren't allowed to enter with our
ticket).  Just as well though: my flu was finally gone, but it was hot and
humid outside, so I was more than content to sit inside with the air-con
(which worked better on this boat than the first one) and read the paper. 
Inside, they even put on a video (a typically violent Hong Kong kung-fu
movie), though I didn't watch it, as I wound up sitting next to a young Dar
es Salaam local and having an interesting conversation with him on both
Tanzania and the U.S.  He was a hotel clerk in Dar, but considered his job
only temporary, and wanted to look for something else in a few months (his
English was quite good).  He said corruption was everywhere in Tanzania,
mentioning that if you have money, you can get a passport in 3 days instead
of the usual wait.  He said the current president Salmin Amour (of the CCM
[Chama Cha Mapinduzi] party) won by such a small margin in the last election
(less than 1%) that both sides claimed victory, and there's lots of
political bickering, especially now that Amour is trying to amend the
constitution to allow him to run for yet another 5-year term.  Members of
Parliament are also divided over the matter, and it's something that will
have to be worked out over the next few months.
   The newspaper I bought had an interesting opinion article in it about the
importance of Tanzania remaining a secular state and not joining the OIC (an
organization of Islamic countries) and letting religious fundamentalism be a
basis for aid and politics.  Another story in the paper was that most of the
country (including Dar es Salaam -- not just Jambiani Beach) had suffered
major power outages for the past two nights, blaming it on old transformers
that were in the process of being upgraded.
   Once back in Dar, we walked from the dock back to the parking lot of the
Kilamanjero Hotel, where our Which Way bus was waiting.  Upon starting it
up, Carmen banged and damaged the driver's-side door to the cab (not
noticing the large light pole right there), and from that point on, it had
to be kept shut with a rope (with Laroux climbing in via the other door to
get to the driver's seat).
   On the way back to the campground, we stopped for 30 minutes by the side
of the road next to a row of small market stalls to stock up on supplies. 
Here, I actually found a large juice-pak of 100% pure orange juice (imported
from Portugal), and picked up a few other things.  Each of the little food
market/stalls had almost the exact same items as the other though, and I
couldn't figure out how eight or ten of them could stay in business when
they each sold the same items as the ones next to them.
   Back at the same campsite as a few days earlier (Silver Sands), DJ & I
helped prepare dinner, though Carmen did most of the cooking: a good beef
stew with potatoes and carrots in a ramen soup base.  After dinner, I went
to the TV room to jot down some notes in my journal as some Indian kids
staying at the campsite popped a video of "Andre" into the VCR.  After about
30 minutes, the power suddenly went off, so I went to brush my teeth.  When
finished, the power was magically back on again, and "My Stepmother is an
Alien" was on the tube -- but after a half-hour, the power went out again --
so this time, I just decided to turn in.  Walking back, I noticed that the
bar upstairs still had power, though I also heard the din of what was
probably a generator.

Feb. 6: Kisolanza Farm
   This morning, I sat at the beach to watch the sunrise before having a
breakfast of cold oats again.  We left the campsite at 7:00am with a long
drive ahead of us, but after a few hours, had to stop at a petrol station as
the gas pedal on the truck was sticking.  I was picked to go into the cab
and press down on the pedal while the rest of the group hoisted the cab up
and tilted it forward so someone could take a look at it.  There I sat,
leaning forward in the truck cab pressing the accelerator, while Laroux and
the petrol station attendant fixed the cable.  Afterwards, Ted and I made
conversation with some of the local kids that had gathered around to watch:
as it was a Sunday, many were out in their best dress, and from their
clothing, the kids seemed to be a mix of Muslims and Christians.  One girl
had something written in Swahili on her T-shirt, but when I asked what it
said, she shyly ran for cover behind one of her friends (others though, were
more eager to talk, asking how we were, and chatting with us for a bit).
Culturally, for better or worse, I noticed that none of the children smiling
or waving at us as we'd pass them in the bus wore Muslim clothing -- those
wearing traditional Muslim garb would only watch us pass silently.  Also,
here in Dar, with a larger Muslim population (and perhaps more tourists),
only about 10% of the kids we'd pass would wave at us (with this figure
jumping substantially the further south we went -- in places like Malawi and
Zambia, a good percentage of the kids we'd pass would wave to us as we'd
pass, and those that didn't would quickly wave back if we waved at them).
   Today, we were basically driving from Dar es Salaam to Malawi via the A7,
and along the way, drove through Mikumi National Park, though we didn't
stop.  There is a campsite in the park, but Carmen said if you don't stay
there, you're not allowed to stop anywhere (apparently, Carmen got in
trouble a few years ago for trying to do so).  About the only wildlife we
saw was a mother and baby elephant crossing the road, but more prolific than
the wildlife in the area were the speed bumps: both "official" ones (those
recently built -- Laroux commented that Tanzania has recently undergone a
speed-bump-building craze), and "unofficial" ones (of the pothole variety).
After the park, we passed the Morogoro area, which has a large tobacco
processing facility and plenty of tobacco famrs.  All throughout the region
were hundreds of blue and yellow plastic bags littering the roadside... in
this area, they all seemed to have Arabic writing with Mickey Mouse on one
side and Tom & Jerry on the other (the fruit we bought yesterday at the
roadside stall was given to us in bags such as these).  There were also
plenty of crews out working on the roads, and the signs to inform motorists
about them had some amusing English: "Slow down, diversion ahead."
   The drive today was quite long (from 7:00am - 5:00pm), and later in the
afternoon it began to drizzle a bit.  That evening, we spent the night at a
place called Kisolanza Farm -- a campsite located on a farm owned by white
Tanzanians.  For some reason I can't quite put my finger on, I enjoyed this
campsite much more than some of the others, even though the campsite was
really an afterthought to the farm (which was the family's primary
business).  Still, the lady in charge had gone out of her way to make sure
the facilities offered were decent (including not only putting lanterns in
the outhouses, but toilet paper as well), and offering hot showers and a
small-but-friendly bar to relax in (complete with burning coals in little
kettles to keep warm by).  Perhaps another appeal about the place is that
it's pretty much in the middle of nowhere -- it's not located in a city, but
is on a farm in rural Tanzania.  The lady who runs it is also an extremely
nice person and an interesting person to talk to: the youngest of six
children, she's 3rd-generation Tanzanian (born in the country), but was sent
off to Kenya and Europe for boarding school.  When none of her siblings
wanted the farm upon inheriting it three years ago, she decided to come and
take it over, but it hadn't been used for ten years, so she was still in the
process of starting it up again.  The farm yields coffee as well as 16
different vegetables that grow well in the area's cooler climate (the
elevation here is 1800m).  There's no electricity or telephone on the farm,
but there's a generator, and as with many parts of Africa, cel phones now
often work where land lines are scarse.
   After setting up our tents in the rain, I went into the bar to get a soda
and met not only the lady who runs it, but Harry, a friend from South Africa
that had dropped by for a bit.  He mentioned he just returned from driving
20kms each way to send 5 emails from a place where there are phones, as
there aren't any in the village where the farm is located (the closest big
city is Iringa, which we passed earlier, about 50kms away).  The lady
mentioned that until recently, they had to rely on radios to communicate,
but now, they can just hop in the car and drive 20kms each way to use
email.  Besides the campsite, there are also "hotel" accomodations
available, and she goes out of her way to make guests feel at home.  Her
helpers are locals, and of course, growing up in Tanzania, she speaks fluent
Swahili with them.  Originally, I was going to order a Coke, but when I
noticed a sign that said "hot chocolate" (either Tsh700 or US$1), I had to
try one -- and with the cold, damp weather outside, it immediately hit the
spot.  Besides using quality hot cocoa mix, she also mixed in pieces of
Cadbury chocolate bars as well as Amarula (liqueur) -- though I asked for
mine without the liqueur.  Hands down, it was the best hot cocoa I've ever
had, and in the end, I wound up having four of them (two now, and two
later), and that night, upon the urging of Katje (who likes Amarula), I even
tried one with the liqueur.
   Sitting there in the bar, we talked about everything from politics to the
farm: the lady mentioned that we had just missed a group of supermodels (who
had stayed in the hotel accomodations) just the night before.  She doesn't
have any kids, but said if she did, she'd send them to Dar or overseas for
schooling, telling me that about 90% of kids go to primary school here, but
very few continue onto secondary school in this area).  She mentioned that
for years, tourists would skip Tanzania in favor of Kenya, but that this is
slowly beginning to change, with more and more visitors from abroad
discovering Tanzania.  She also mentioned that police in Tanzania have a
daily speeding quota they have to fill -- if you're unlucky enough to get
caught before the quota is met, it's usually Tsh20,000/US$25 -- at least on
the books.  After the quota is met, it's whatever you agree upon with the
officer (usually with most or all of it going into the officer's pocket).
   The drizzle stopped in time for dinner, and afterwards, I went back to
the small thatched-roof bar with Audrey, Katje and Soren for some more hot
chocolates and conversation.  Charles (Swahili name: Chalis), the local who
helps out in the bar was there, though the owner had gone by now (dinner
took much longer to cook than we thought, and it was already quite dark). 
Inside the bar are round, low-to-the-ground wooden stools to sit on and keep
warm next to the burning coals, and after relaxing for a bit, we all decided
to turn in, as it was cold and everyone else had already gone to sleep.
   Inside the tent, I listened to my radio, picking up KBC (Kenya) again. 
At 9:30pm, they had a radio drama in English, of which the exact title I
can't quite remember anymore -- it was something like "Two is Enough" or
"The Two of Us", and was the first of seven parts (to be broadcast each
Sunday evening at 9:30pm for a half-hour).  The story: poor-yet-enthusiastic
Nairobi University student (and his buddy & roommate) meet rich girl (also a
fellow Nairobi U. student), when she crashes her brand new BMW that her
daddy (a retired Kenyan ambassador to the U.S.) gave her into the guys
riding their bike.  The girl apologizes, admitting it was her fault, and the
young man begins falling in love with her.  Modern radio-plays are almost
extinct in the U.S., but listening to this Kenyan one with its over-the-top
acting was great!  In typical Kenyan fashion, the protagonist preaches about
how important education is, and how lucky he and his roommate are to be
attending Nairobi U... while before the two meet, the girl speaks with her
girlfriend about life, love, and what she wants.  The acting and script are
"proper", and in some ways unintentionally quaint to listen to -- and out of
sheer fun, I would have tuned in for the next six weeks to hear the other
episodes, had I been able to.

Feb. 7: Lake Malawi - Chitimba Beach (Malawi)
   After breakfast (during which I had one of the soup packets I bought in
Zanzibar -- which really hit the spot, especially in the cold weather), we
left early for the long drive south into Malawi, not arriving until 4:30pm
(5:30pm really, as Malawi is one hour behind Tanzania).  Because of the
altitude (1800m), this part of Tanzania looks a little different than the
area we had just come from -- there are plenty of pine and eucalyptus trees
here mixed in with the banana trees, and everywhere you look are small, red
brick buildings made from the local clay (with the kilns used to make the
bricks scattered throughout the area).  The farms here consist of very
small, locally-owned plots of maize --  this compared to the farm we stayed
at last night which was 5,000 acres.
   Right before lunch (12:45pm), we reached the Malawi border (making it
11:45am), where we exchanged some money into Malawi kwacha through the bus
window (getting an exchange rate of US$1=MK46, which was the same as the
banks would later give) and had our passports stamped inside.  For Malawi,
one of the questions asked on the border form is not only how much money
you're taking into the country, but how much you plan to spend as well.
Carmen told us not to put anything lower than US$200 (I put US$250), even if
it wouldn't be the truth (explaining that the border officials don't like to
see anything less than US$200).  This question was also asked in other
countries of the region including Zimbabwe, and we were always told to put
down at least US$200, even if we had no intention of spending that much.  I
did feel somewhat guilty about travelling this way -- most of our money was
going not to the local economies, but to South Africa (where Which Way is
based) or the whites who own the campsites we'd stay at.  We'd cook our own
meals instead of patronizing local establishments (even in areas where they
were available and safe), and our supplies were either brought up from South
Africa, or bought at the larger supermarkets (which were either South
African chains or owned by large companies) rather than small, local
stores.  But as part of a pre-arranged camping group (and one in which the
guides paid no attention to the participants), we had no say in the matter.
   Malawi is an extremely poor country, but its people are friendly, and it
shows.  As we'd drive down the road, people would stop and wave at us (even
adults) -- much more so here than in Tanzania.
   The road from the border to our campsite at Lake Malawi was TERRIBLE, and
while Malawi does have some nice, well kept-up tarred roads, some (such as
this one) are in dire need of repair.  There were literally more potholes
than surface on the road, and Laroux wound up driving on the dirt shoulder
for much of it since it was better than hitting potholes every other second
(each filled with water from recent rains).  The bad part of this road (an
80km stretch) took almost four hours to cover, and it probably won't be
fixed anytime soon.
   The farms along the way looked less organized than in Tanzania, and the
roadside stalls poorer and more dilapidated.  More chilling though,
throughout the region (but especially in Malawi), a common site would be a
building or business that was completely deserted: sometimes the building
would be finished but empty, and other times, the building would be only
partially-finished (perhaps without a roof) -- but these abandoned buildings
were a common sight everywhere in the country, and not a minute would go by
without seeing yet another deserted structure.  It was an eerie sight, as
stores with their names and the type of business painted on the outside
would be windowless and empty with grass growing on the inside... more than
anything else, these abandoned structures were almost certainly due to
Malawi's extremely high AIDS/HIV rate (more on this later).  Another common
site on the drive was plenty of nice, new water wells (probably built by
foreign aid agencies) scattered throughout the various villages.  I don't
know how safe the water is from these wells, but people were using them all
the time.
   While flying from Johannesburg to Nairobi back in January, the plane went
over Lake Malawi, and I was impressed with how deep a blue its color was. 
The lake is one of the longest fresh-water lakes in the world and an
excellent source of water for irrigation, though as the owner of Nanchengwa
Lodge later lamented, its water is rarely used for such purposes.  There is
a question of whether the lake is safe to swim in or not -- some areas have
been confirmed to have bilharzia (schistosomiasis -- small worms that bore
into your skin) -- but the vast majority of the lake does seem to be safe
(areas to avoid are those around villages where water is dumped into the
lake, areas where the water is stagnant, and areas with reeds, where the
snails that carry the worms like to live).  At first, I didn't swim in the
lake for fear of contracting bilharzia, but after a few days I decided to go
in, and have had no problems.  Just keep in mind that there is a small risk
in certain small pockets of the lake (stagnant water, reeds, run-offs), but
if you avoid these areas, everything should be fine.
   Our campsite tonight (run by an English couple) was on Chitimba Beach,
right at the shore of Lake Malawi.  With its large, sandy beach, it actually
reminded me of Southern California (albeit with fresh water rather than an
ocean).  The campsite here is quite popular, and plenty of other overland
camping trucks were parked for the night.
   We set up the tents, but tonight Greg and Ted (who had been sharing a
tent) had a falling out when Greg refused once again to help with setting
the tent up (instead, he went to the bar).  Finally, Ted told Greg to pitch
his own tent (there was a spare one in the truck), and the two of them would
have nothing to do with each other for the rest of the tour.  I suppose it
was inevitable, with Ted (quick to anger, but a nice guy) and Greg (lazy and
obnoxious) not being the best choice for tentmates -- besides being a jerk,
Greg had also proven to be quite lazy lately: he and Christian were cooking
partners, and yesterday at the farm, he left Christian to do all the work
himself yet again, going right to the bar.  Finally, having had enough,
Christian told Greg outright that he was lazy, and between this and Ted
today, Greg sulked back to the truck to take out the spare tent.  The thing
was, if Greg was only lazy, it'd be one thing, but he was also something of
an obnoxious prick to both the rest of the group, and the locals we'd
encounter along the way, and we all wondered how he had managed on the Nomad
tour he had supposedly taken the previous year.
   After setting the tents up, a bunch of us walked down to the waterfront,
where some of the local kids came up to talk with us, asking to be pen-pals.
They spoke English well (as English is the official language, and is taught
in schools -- though ChiChewa is the common language of the home), and we
talked with them for a bit, exchanging addresses.  It was nice to sit and
watch the sunset with DJ, and after dinner, DJ, Christian, Katje, Soren, and
myself went back in the dark to sit on the sand and talk about everything
from previous trips to movies to work to where-in-the-heck our money goes on
a Which Way tour.  In the distance, there was lightning over the lake
(though no thunder), and on the lake itself were the lights of quiet fishing
boats (no motors) with their owners looking for fish.

Feb. 8: Mzuzu / Lilongwe
   It is now about the 1/2 way point in the tour.  Ted and Greg still aren't
talking, and my small cheapie Travelex backpack started going bad about
three days ago (one of the two zippers to the main compartment won't work,
but the other still does).  Last night, the bar played music well into the
night (loud enough to where I had to ask them to turn it down), but I still
somehow managed to wake up before sunrise, and just before dawn, I walked to
the lake shore to see the fishing boats that had been out all night come
back with their catch.  Crowds of locals approached the boats to buy their
fish for the day, and a few people showed me what they had purchased: mostly
small, silvery fish, though one lady showed me a large one she had bought
for her family.  The campsite really is located on a nice stretch of
   After breakfast, we headed away from the lake, driving through mountains
that could have easily passed for the U.S. if not for all the huts scattered
everywhere.  At the higher elevations, the temperature became cooler, and
pine trees dotted the road.  The condition of the roads themselves also
improved greatly: in the hills, they were tarred and well kept-up (though it
was pretty hard to pass slow-moving petrol trucks with all the sharp turns
and curves) -- a far cry from the dilapidated condition of the lakeside
   Upon arriving in Mzuzu, we stopped for 30 minutes to visit the local
supermarket (first though, I had to use the loo at the petrol station, as I
had developed a slight bout of upset stomach).  Throughout Africa, you'll
see many of the same large petrol companies (BP, Mobil, Shell), though
various countries also have their own brands (in Malawi, you'll see
OilCom -- Oil Company of Malawi, and in Tanzania, Agip).  Inside the market,
I bought a few sweets, a local newspaper, and the BBC magazine "Focus On
Africa", a quarterly newsmagazine with news and analysis on Africa:
www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/focus.  I tried to buy torch batteries, but the
store only sold the larger "D" size -- no "AA" batteries.  In general,
things in Malawi were just a bit cheaper than in neighboring countries, but
not by much.  Inside the store was a bulletin board, on which a notice was
posted about Christ and a local church, and outisde the market were stalls
selling items such as maize, fruit, cheap electronics, nail clippers, and
playing cards imported from China.  At the very start of the tour in
Tanzania, I purchased a deck of Chinese-made playing cards, thinking it'd be
nice to perhaps have a card game going in the evenings.  However, they were
so cheaply made (out of newspaper material!) that I knew they wouldn't last
more than a day.  The only time I saw decent playing cards for sale on the
tour was near the end (in Zambia), but at about US$5 for the deck, I decided
to pass (it was too difficult to play cards on the bus, and everyone on the
tour had a habit of turning in early anyway -- usually right after dinner).
   While the rest of the group looked around the outside stalls, I wandered
around the area a bit... not too far away, construction was being finished
on a small, new mini-mall that included a PEP store: the building was
finished and the PEP sign up, but it would probably be a few weeks before
the store actually opened.
   In typical fashion with our two "guides", we DIDN'T stop at the main
marketplace of the area just outside of town -- instead, we stopped at these
few outdoor stalls here only because it was convenient to the supermarket
where Carmen and Laroux could buy plenty of snacks for themselves.  Since
Carmen had ripped the intercom-phone on the bus out, we had no way to
communicate that we wanted to stop earlier at the large marketplace -- but
even if we had, I doubt she would have stopped anyway.
   While in Mzuzu, Laroux ran into a driver from another overland camping
company and asked him the condition of one of the roads we were to take. 
The driver told Laroux that the road was flooded and closed -- and that they
had been the last ones to get through.  Later on in the tour, we found out
this wasn't true (as another overland camping tour on the exact schedule as
us managed to get through), but at the time, with the information given,
Laroux had little choice but to make a change in course.  Instead of going
to a campsite half-way down the lake, we would now head for the capital city
of Lilongwe, stay there for a night, then head up to Nanchengwa Lodge (at
the south end of the lake) and spend the extra time there instead.  While it
seemed that Laroux made his decision to divert course honestly (based on the
information provided by this other driver), what we didn't know at the time
was that Carmen and Laroux would force us to spend all our extra days at
Nanchengwa Lodge -- where our two guides would be served and pampered -- and
turn part of our tour into their own little paid vacation.
   At Mzuzu, Laroux broke the news to us that we'd have a long drive ahead:
we wouldn't get into Lilongwe until the evening, and then would leave the
next day for Nanchengwa Lodge at the south end of Lake Malawi (skipping the
campsite at the middle of the lake).  This other driver had told him one of
the bridges on the road we needed to take was flooded with the water 1.5m
high, so a change in plans was necessary -- but Mzuzu looked like an
interesting place, and it would have been nice to perhaps spend one of the
many extra nights here (or for that matter, to have even one full day in in
Lilongwe, as even though we spent two nights in the capital, we were only
given 3 hours to look around the city on a Sunday afternoon, when everything
was closed) -- but our "guides" had now decided our fate, and that fate
would be to give themselves a few days off at their favorite lodge.
   The drive south to Lilongwe was indeed long, but still offered some
interesting observations: all throughout Africa, wherever a new business or
office is being built, you'll see a sign out in front of the construction
site listing every possible thing you might want to know about it, from what
the building will be to the contractor, the engineer, and who financed its
construction.  African women everywhere carry large, heavy items on their
heads (balancing them perfectly as they walk), but the funny thing is that
they'll do so not only if both their hands are being used, but even if both
their hands are free (back in Lesotho, Jen, the Peace Corps volunteer,
mentioned that the volunteers are instructed not to try this themselves, as
the local women have been balancing heavy items on their heads since they
were young girls, and someone with a body not used to it could easily break
their neck).
   The road from Mzuzu to Lilongwe goes through mountains, and has plenty of
pine forests and North American scenery (though with lots of red clay and
red bricks thrown into the picture).  For part of the trip, I sat on the
cooler at the front of the bus with DJ, looking at everyone and talking for
a bit before reading the local Malawi newspaper I picked up in Mzuzu ("The
Nation" -- which had for its motto "Freedom of expression the birthright of
all" [sic]).  Alongside the road, lots of people would stop to wave and
smile at us as we passed, and we tried to pass the hours as best we could.
   For lunch at the side of the road, we had baloney sandwiches (of which we
were allowed only 3 slices per person).  Earlier in the day while at the
supermarket, DJ (finally fed up with having only cold dusty oats for
breakfast) asked Carmen if she could buy some Corn Flakes (as Carmen was
buying other supplies for us -- and plenty of snacks for herself), but
Carmen responded with a "no", saying "there's stuff like that on the truck"
(which there wasn't).  The quality (and lack of) food was beginning to
bother the group at this point with good reason: clean, well-stocked
supermarkets like the one we had just visited were readily available, yet
our guides seemed unwilling to stock up on supplies except for their own
huge stashes of snacks, food, and booze -- which we all suspected was coming
from our money, for our money certainly wasn't being used to buy food for
US.  It was no wonder Carmen and Laroux never ONCE ate breakfast or lunch
with the group: they had their own private stash of food (surely bought with
our funds), and would be foolish to eat what we were being given.
   During the long ride, I still had a bit of an upset stomach, and had to
go to the bathroom.  Because Carmen had removed the phone from the bus, I
had to wave frantically out the window in order for Laroux to notice me and
stop so I could go off the side of the road.  Africa is not the U.S., and if
you have to go to the bathroom, you go in the bush.  For each day's ride,
we'd usually have a regular bathroom break only in the morning (usually at
around 9:30am), stopping again only at lunch (12:30pm) unless someone waved
frantically out the window.  After about two days of a slightly irregular
stomach, I took one Imodium tablet and the problem immediately went away (in
11 weeks, it was the only case of traveller's stomach I had).
   We arrived into Lilongwe at about 4:30pm, but had no time to look around
town.  The campsite we stayed at (Kiboko Camp) is in a residential area of
the city (there's a sign inside the bar asking guests not to make noise
after 10:00pm, mentioning they were given special permission to serve drinks
as bars aren't allowed in the area -- so only campers staying at the
campsite can ask for drinks -- and to please behave yourself).  Kiboko Camp
is nice enough, though the Dutch lady who runs it is snobbish, rude and
surly (her daughter and the other workers aren't nearly as bad).  They offer
international phone calls for US$3/min and the internet (with a SLOW
connection) for MK10/US22c/min -- however, they allow you to make calls or
use the computer only during certain hours, and as there's only one phone
line for both, if someone is on the computer for an hour, you must wait
until they're finished -- and if it then becomes past the time you're
supposed to use the phone, it's tough luck, as the owner won't make an
exception, even for a quick call.  Sodas in the bar cost MK20/US44c, and
meals can be ordered as well.
   The city of Lilongwe is divided into sections, and each part of town is
known as a particular area (such as "Area 3" or "Area 43", etc.)  Kiboko
Camp is located in Area 43, a nice, wealthy part of town filled mostly with
whites living in western-style homes behind high walls (usually with pieces
of broken glass cemented into the tops of the walls to prevent anyone from
climbing over them).  The guard at the main gate told me the house directly
across the street belongs to a white man who sells power generators in town,
and next to him is a local veterinarian.  Not too far away is a golf course
with a sign saying "Members Only" -- though the guard told me you could
become a day-member if you pay.  On the main street are dealerships for
Hyundai and Honda cars as well as a brand-new, western-looking mini-mall
complete with supermarket and internet cafe -- though we never had time to
see any of this except for a few hours on Sunday when everything was
closed.  Asking the guard at the gate if it had rained recently, he said it
had rained pretty hard on Sunday, but that good weather would be coming, as
the moon was showing now (telling me that the moon has power -- it clears
away the clouds when it shines!)
   That evening, I hung out and talked with people from some of the other
overland camping groups at the campsite, including one doing the same
Nairobi -> Victoria Falls route we were doing.  Unlike us, these people were
really enjoying their tour -- the food was good and their guides receptive
to their suggestions (such comments were something we'd encounter at each
campsite we went to, and just began to drive home to us how bad our Which
Way tour was).  Though it's hard to say if Which Way (as a company) was at
fault or it was just our guides (as lousy guides can ruin an otherwise great
tour), in the end, all of us were wishing we had chosen another outfit to
travel with.
   On the table in the bar area, I saw an old newspaper (the Daily Times),
and curious about local news stories, I asked the owner if I could have it
(since the news was now outdated).  She adamantly said "no" -- saying she
wanted to keep it for spray-painting.  Still, I glanced through some of the
stories: Malawi opposition parties are contesting the upcoming June 15th
election, but are doing it peacefully by going to court (unlike so many
other countries in Africa)... it had rained quite a bit earlier in the week,
and there were pictures of all the potholes in the roads, mentioning that
they were the same ones that had been patched up last year... there was a
press release from the government's "Anti-Corruption Bureau" that listed
upcoming corruption cases: "CASE: The Republic Vs. Lee Photo Studio. 
OFFENSE: Corrupt transactions with public officials.  DATE SET: 24 Feb,
2000.  STATUS: Continuation of hearing."  Other cases of corruption listed
included "corrupt transactions in awarding of contracts", "evasion of duty",
and "corrupt practices involving illegal diversion of maize"... also in the
paper: the Malawi Human Rights Commission was looking for a new logo, and
sponsoring a logo design competition, with MK3,000/US$65, MK2,000, and
MK1,000 prizes... there was an interesting article by a black Malawian
columnist about the recent dry spell, and the reaction to this in some parts
of the country: in some areas, rituals were performed (including offerings
to ancestral spirits), but there were also reports of witch-hunting, with
some people being accused of "holding" the rain.  The columnist had even
heard of incidents of people smearing hot paper into the noses of others to
get them to "release" the rain, and went on to ask why people should still
have that way of thinking in this day and age -- how it is a challenge for
the country in the future to give up these ways.  The columnist then went on
to also talk about the country's many potholes, lamenting that it's always
the same potholes that need fixing each year, and why can't they be fixed
better?  Specific potholes and locations were listed... on another page was
an interesting ad: "The Malawi Revenue Authroity -- Launch Announcement. 
The Malawi Revenue Authroity (MRA) is an agency of the Goverment of Malawi
responsible for assessment, collection, and accounting for tax revenues.  It
has been formed to improve the functions previously carried out by the
Departments of Customs & Exise, and Income Tax.  The MRA will operate on a
commercial basis, with an independent Board of Directors.  Employees of the
MRA have been drawn from both the public and private sectors.  Selection of
employees was carefully done to meet the aims and objectives of the MRA,
which demand a high degree of professionalism and integrity."  The ad went
onto say that the agency would be officially launched on 15 Feburary, 2000
by Malawian president Dr. Bakili Muluzi, and at the bottom, said: "Pay
Taxes... Build Your Nation."  As you can see from these news items,
corruption is a concern in Malawi, but it's also a problem throughout the
entire region.
   Some other items in the paper: a "Thought for the Day" section, written
by Brother Maurice Njawala, complete with biblical quotes and thoughts, and
a large classifieds section filled with everything from birthday greetings
to death announcements (usually included with each item would be pictures --
always with serious and "proper" expressions rather than smiles).  One
message was to a young man from his fellow classmates, telling him to
"succeed beyond the sky", but sadly, the death announcements catagory would
almost always contain more ads than any other catagory.  AIDS is never
mentioned as the cause of death, even though Malawi has one of the highest
AIDS rates in the world (rather, it's usually worded as "died from a short
illness" or "died from a long illness"), and there are plenty of memorial
ads not only for people who have recently passed away, but for those that
passed away months or years ago (typical would be ads saying things such as
"it's been one month, and we all still miss you" -- with a picture almost
always included).  It is sad and sobering to see how many of these types of
notices there are.  Ted mentioned in passing that you don't see many older
people around, and a few days later, I found out that the average life
expectancy of a Malawian is under 40 years (39 for a woman, 38 for a man).
   That night, I listened to the radio a bit.  There are two FM stations in
town, but even though the main one (Radio Two) advertises "FM Stereo", the
sound was mono.  The other station (with full stereo sound) was playing
Christian music.

Feb. 9: Lake Malawi - Nanchengwa Lodge
   We all had an early start this morning for the drive back to Lake Malawi.
Along the way, we stopped at a little curio market (only because Carmen and
Laroux wanted to stop and buy souvenirs).  I would have bought something
here if only for the fact that I'd rather the money go to local Malawians
rather than tourist shops in the large towns -- but there was honestly
nothing I needed or wanted.  Just about everyone else bought something
though, including large wooden chairs with beautiful carved pictures of
elephants and other animals on them, as well as wooden chess boards with
matching stands (the once-roomy bus was quickly getting filled with curios,
and I was now the only one in the group that had yet to buy a real
   The road leaving Lilongwe was in good condition, but the road by the lake
was once again full of potholes (though not quite as bad as it is further
north).  Alongside the road throughout Africa, you'll see people selling
items, and Malawi was no exception: everything from wicker chairs and tables
to fruit and charcol (used for cooking) was being sold off the side of the
road (often, there will be items out on display with no one apparently
around, but once you stop, someone will quickly appear).  Maize is being
grown everywhere (usually on small plots), and it's definitely the most
popular crop of the area.
   We arrived at Nanchengwa Lodge (where we were to spend the next four
days) and set up our tents.  The lodge is run by an interesting white
family: the parents were origially farmers from Rhodesia (the old name for
Zimbabwe), and were 3rd generation Rhodesians, forced out when they lost
their land.  Moving to Malawi 25 years ago, they've been here ever since. 
Their youngest daughter Kim (now in her early 20s) was born in Malawi, and
their situation is interesting -- the mother told us "look, we're African,
we've lived here all our lives, but the locals always say 'no, you're
white.'"  She went onto say that anyone who condemns whites in Africa hasn't
spent any time here, and once people spend a few months, they soon
understand.  At their current location they have a small farm, and started
the campsite as a way to help supplement their income, learning as they
went.  They now feel confident that they know what people want in a
campsite, and will soon be moving to a new location a bit further up the
lake (the current spot is up for sale, with at least a few potential buyers
having expressed interest).  The new location will allow them room for a
larger farm with more animals, and construction on the buildings there has
already begun (I went out to see the site a few days later), though even
after the move, they will continue to use the Nanchengwa Lodge name.
   The current campsite is located right at the lakeshore, and though there
weren't many white swimmers in the lake, just down the shore were plenty of
local villagers and children splashing about.  I was still unsure about
whether or not to go into the lake (with fears of bilharzia), though at the
campsite, met up with another Which Way truck doing a 50-day Cape Town to
Kenya trip), and most of them had gone in.  At the bar, I asked Kim (the
younger daughter) about bilharzia, and she said it wasn't a problem here --
that they've lived in this current location for a few years, and go in all
the time.  The water seemed to be moving, with small waves by the shore (not
stagnant), so that afternoon as DJ decided to swim, I joined her for about
15 minutes.  It certainly was refreshing, and afterwards, we played
volleyball on the sand with people from the other Which Way group...
   For the time we were stuck at Nanchengwa Lodge, the other Which Way truck
(doing the 50-day Cape Town to Kenya trip) was here as well, and we all kind
of hung out together.  They were a large group with originally 23 people,
though that number became 21 after an incident in the Okavango region of
Botswana: the group had flown into the delta region, and was riding in
mokoros (the small wooden dug-out canoes) when an alligator attacked one of
the boats, reached for a camper's arm, and dragged him in.  He somehow
managed to get free, and his wife (they were newlyweds from Australia)
actually jumped in to help.  From the camp, he had to be flown back to Maun,
but from there, the insurance company didn't want to OK the flight to
Johannesburg at first, and wound up causing a delay of six hours (he finally
did get to Johannesburg, and was stitched up there -- he now has finger
movement, but wrist movement is still spotty).  It was something that put a
bit of a damper on the rest of the group's spirits, but most of the group
was in their early 20s and was determined to have a good time -- including
having a "fancy dress" party one night, where they'd make ad-hoc dresses out
of anything they could find.  It's a shame we didn't have that kind of
spirit with our group, but morale was quite low with the food situation
being the way it was.  Tensions were builing, and Carmen was in a bad mood
as people started asking about the food (seeing the real food the other
Which Way truck was having -- for instance, the previous night, they had
ostrich kabobs for dinner).  But what did Carmen and Laroux do while here?
They didn't stay in tents and eat with us... no, they stayed in the house
with the lodge owners, being served farm-fresh eggs, bacon, and toast every
morning and eating all their meals in the house (all of which had to be paid
for at the end -- and one need not guess too hard where the money came
   By now, everyone in the group wanted to split the extra time we had
between here and Lilongwe (since with the current plan, we'd have only about
three hours to look around the capital later on), but Carmen and Laroux
adamantly said no, saying "You're here for Lake Malawi, and this is where
we're going to stay!" -- while being pampered watching satellite TV, going
spear fishing, and having full farm meals each day while we -- the paying
customers -- had no choice but to sit at the same beach day after day doing
nothing, eating cold oats for breakfast, and being mad as hell.  Carmen had
told us earlier that Nanchengwa was her favorite campsite, and at dinner
that night, when we asked again politely if it might be possible to just
stay two nights here instead of three, she just got up and left to go
drinking at the bar (disgusted by this, we just left the food out).  Carmen
had been hitting the bottle every night while on the tour, and as this would
be her last Which Way tour, she didn't give a damn about anything.
   With tensions high, DJ and I went to the bar area to play backgammon. 
Then, wandering up to the house, I noticed the satellite TV and walked in. I
asked Sherri (the mom, and owner of the lodge) if it'd be ok to watch, and
she said sure (the family that runs Nanchengwa Lodge is quite friendly, and
they DO run a good campsite -- it wasn't any problem with Nanchengwa that
made us angry, it was that we were deleting and shortening other things in
order to stay here longer simply to satisfy Carmen's desire to have a paid
vacation on our money).
   The TV is located inside the main house, but Sherri and her family are
quite open, and I sat down with them to watch the news: in both South Africa
and Mozambique, there were terrible rains and floods.  Maputo (Mozambique)
was now totally isolated, with its roads washed away and lots of dead and
homeless from the flooding (it would even get worse in the coming weeks, but
this was the first time I had heard the news -- and I didn't know what to
do, as I was scheduled to fly into Maputo at the end of my trip).  An
entrance to Kruger National Park (in South Africa) was also flooded and
broken, and tourists there (includig a soccer team) had to be airlifted
out.  Also in the news was the continuing fuel crisis in Zimbabwe: the
country has been financing military operations in the Democratic Republic of
the Congo on account of the DRC's diamond mines, and because of this
expense, had defaulted on payments to oil companies -- so the companies had
shut off Zimbabwe's supply of fuel.  As we were to be spending some time in
the country soon, this wasn't good news, and Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe's
leader who has been in power for over 20 years) blamed the problem on
farmers, accusing them of hoarding diesel.  An interviewed farmer said this
was ridiculous -- that they're only buying the minimum they need on the
farm, commenting that "what are we supposed to do -- drive a tractor into
town to the petrol station?  We have to have a little diesel on the farm,
otherwise the crops won't be harvisted in time."  The other big story
concerned the upcoming referendum to re-do the constitution in Zimbabwe
(largely seen as a test of Mugabe's popularity, as Mugabe campaigned
strongly in support of it).  It was to be this weekend, and protests and
demonstrations were taking place throughout the country, with people on edge
both from this, and the looming fuel crisis.
   That evening, I talked a bit with Sherri as she lamented some of Africa's
problems... she said so much is wasted in this part of the world, especially
if it's given -- saying Lake Malawi is about the best source for farming
irrigation you could ask for, but its water is almost never used. She
mentioned the high AIDS rate in the country, telling me that a while back, a
local which doctor claimed to have a magical cure, and everyone who visited
him thought they were suddenly cured.  Sherri sighed, saying people still
won't believe that there is AIDS -- and that if they die, it's usually
attributed to the "obvious" disease (such as cholera), rather than the AIDS
that has guttted a person's immune system to the point where they'll die
from such a disease instead of just getting sick from it.  Ted asked her
about the half-empty buildings you see all over the country, and Sherri
replied that AIDS has decimated the population to the point where entire
areas are now deserted.  She went on to say that one local fellow she knows
told her that he's re-used the same condom over and over for the last 6
months, washing it out and drying it -- and no matter how many times she
tries to tell him it's not safe, he keeps insisting that it is -- and that
it's a waste of money to buy a new one each time.

Feb. 10: Lake Malawi - Nanchengwa Lodge
   I was up early this morning, and after doing laundry, talked a bit with
Audrey & DJ who were also up early.  Last night, Carmen had told us not to
make breakfast until 8:00am (since we'd be staying a few days here and there
was no need for an early breakfast), but of course neither Carmen nor
Lauroux showed up for breakfast (they had fresh eggs, toast, and ham served
to them while watching satelline TV inside the family's house -- while we
had the daily cold bread and dry oats).
   Soon after breakfast, it started pouring rain, so everything was moved
inside the bus -- but it didn't do much good, for there was a leak in the
roof right above Katje & Soren's seat near the front.  After a while of
everyone just sitting in the bus doing nothing, I decided to go watch TV in
the family's living room.  However, the TV was scrambled -- someone at DSTV
had screwed up and cut off their service, even though all the bills had been
paid (the only channels not scrambled were Chinese CCTV and a music video
channel).  The father told me he had sent in payment, but the DSTV
representative in Malawi wasn't very reliable (and even though mail can be
spotty in rural Africa, DSTV does not allow its customers to send in advance
payments for upcoming months).  Later that day, the father contacted DSTV,
but it would be a little while before the service would be restored. 
However, there was a VCR hooked up to the TV with a number of video tapes in
the cabinet (mostly sent by friends or left by visitors), so I popped in "A
Fish Called Wanda" taped off the BBC, and a bunch of us sat down to watch
(though someone taped over the last 5 minutes of the movie) -- not exactly
the way to spend the day while on vacation in Africa, but with the rain (and
us being stuck here for a few days anyway), there didn't seem to be much
else to do.
   For lunch today, Carmen decided we'd have the spoiled leftovers from last
night (the food left out because Carmen walked out in a huff to go drinking
at the bar) and a small salad.  As with breakfast, she didn't eat any of it,
for hearty, home-cooked meals (served with our money) were waiting for her
in the house.  Then, over "lunch", she told us that the national park in
Zambia we were to visit (South Luangwa National Park) was washed out -- and
we'd be spending yet another extra day in Malawi -- though instead of
finally dividing it up and spending one extra day someplace else, we'd (of
course) be spending yet ANOTHER day here at Nanchengwa Lodge (so she and
Laroux could extend their own little vacation).  By now, the group was
furious, but there was nothing we could do.  Whether or not Carmen lied to
us about South Luangwa being washed out I don't know (she claimed to have
found the news out by talking to the Which Way headquarters in South
Africa), but later on in the trip we met up a few times with a Dragoman
overland tour doing the same itinerary as us, and they had NO problem
visiting the park on the exact days WE were to be there (which, when we
found out later, pissed the group off to no end).  To add insult to injury,
not only were we not refunded the South Luangwa entrance fees, but later
when the entrance fee for a Zimbabwean national park went up a few dollars,
Carmen demanded we pay her the extra money, instead of her just using the
money earmarked for South Luangwa to cover the difference.  At the end of
the tour, Ted asked if some money would be refunded to us (such as the money
earmarked for the South Luangwahe entrance fees), and Carmen's reply was to
say there was absolutely no money left.  Watching Carmen and Laroux stay in
the house instead of their tent, eat prepared meals everyday, and constantly
buy tons of snacks, food, and booze, we all knew where our money was going. 
I was the only one in the group to have booked directly through Which Way in
South Africa (via the internet) instead of going through a travel agency, so
I knew I didn't have much recourse afterwards to complain (figuring any
complaints to Which Way would just be ignored), but everyone else in the
group (who had used travel agencies) vowed to contact their agents upon
return and demand at least a partial refund.  It's very easy for someone
reading this to think that perhaps this is just being written by someone who
isn't "used" to this type of tour, or could be excused as just a lone
disgruntled camper, but by this time in the trip, every single person in the
group was already taking down notes to write to Which Way upon return. 
Christian, Katje, and Soren in fact, had taken Which Way the year before on
a Namibian tour, and swore never to take them again.  Greg had taken a
"Nomad" tour the year before, and likewise, could not believe how
below-standards Which Way was.  Ted was so fed up with the situation that
upon returning home, he wrote me that he had requested a FULL refund from
Which Way via his travel agency.  I don't know what will happen (Which Way
itself was recently bought out, so there is now a new owner), but I know
NONE of us in the group will ever be on a Which Way tour again (DJ is
planning a trip to South Africa and Namibia next year, and has contacted
Dragoman tours -- the competing overland company whose people we met along
the way... they seemed to be quite a bit better than Which Way).  Driving
home the frustration was meeting up with other budget overland groups doing
the same itinerary as us and seeing the difference first-hand, from the food
to the flexibility to the way the guides would actually hang out with the
group (towards the end of the trip, with us staying at the same campsites,
the Dragoman people became our own unofficial guides, as Carmen and Laroux
wanted absolutely nothing to do with us).  I can't tell you how it made us
feel, as each evening we'd hear how the Dragoman campers had asked their
guides to stop for a few minutes at an interesting marketplace or other site
along the way (usually at a place we had seen as well and wanted to stop
at), but with Carmen having ripped the phone out of the bus, and not wanting
to listen to a thing we said, we'd just zoom on past heading right for the
campsite.  This is supposed to be the independent, overland camping
   After lunch, the rain stopped, and most of us went into the local village
to look around.  The current location of Nanchengwa Lodge is next to two
small villages: one Muslim (next to the lodge), and one Christian (just a
bit down the road).  Sherri told us the local Muslim villagers don't like
them being there (for one thing, you must go through the village to get to
Nanchengwa Lodge from the main road) but the new location will be better,
and the locals there are more receptive.  Even here at the current location
though, locals are always hanging out by the camp's gate (to either sell
something, or just to pass the time), and as we left, some local kids came
up to talk to us.  Two approached me and DJ... one was 16, and the other
looked about the same age.  They both spoke English quite well, and provided
a lot of information about Malawi: here, primary schools are free, and there
are lots of them throughout the country (with schooling usually starting at
age 6 or 7 and lasting for 5-6 years).  Secondary schools though, aren't
free, and and are typically situated only in larger cities, not in the small
rural villages -- so only those with money (not only for tuition, but for
living expenses) can attend.  There ARE some scholoarships available, but
only for perhaps the top 1 or 2 students out of every 100.  Except for the
first few years of primary school and CheChewa classes (the local language),
schooling in all subjects is done in English.
   The kids also told us about subjects other than school: Malawi became an
independent country in 1964, and became multi-party in 1994 (they also
mentioned that a lot of aid comes to the country from overseas -- especially
from Canada and Europe).  Talking about the two local villages, they pointed
out the two mosques in the village next to the lodge, but mentioned that
they were both Christians from the other nearby village (commenting that the
village boundaries are quite small).  I asked one of them how large his
family was, and he answered that he had a sister and two brothers -- but
that his sister passed away this year (he didn't say from what and I didn't
ask -- though it was almost certainly AIDS-related).  The two of them make
small wood carvings to earn money, and asked if I'd like to buy a wooden
keychain carved with my name.  Having resisted buying anything so far, I
decided to go ahead and get one.  The kid who had been especially
informative was asking MK100/US$2.17, and though I knew Ted had bargained
down to under half that the day before, told the young fellow "it's too
expensive -- but you've been an excellent tour guide, so I'll pay the
MK100... consider it a tour guide payment" (to which he smiled as we shook
hands).  The next day, he had a beautifully-carved wooden keychain with
"LARRY" on it waiting for me, and after all this time, it was the first real
souvenir I bought -- and quite a nice one at that.
   Walking through the village (and just about everywhere ELSE in Africa),
the one item kids always ask for (other than money sometimes) is a pen.  If
I had known this, I would have brought a package of pens with me from the
U.S., as here, you can buy a box of 10 BIC pens for under US$1.  Ted in
fact, did bring some pens with him, and gave them all away (often by
throwing them out the bus window) -- the kids love them like you wouldn't
believe, and I wish I had brought some with me (this isn't the case so much
in wealthier countries such as South Africa and Namibia, but in countries
such as Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia, kids would ask "you have pen?" -- and I
wish I had one to give them).  Upon returning home, I posted this on an
internet newsgroup and received a reply from someone who took issue with me,
arguing that it's bad to give children pens, candy, or anything, as it
encourages begging.  I agree with the no-candy stance 100%, and also about
beggars -- but the case of giving out pens is, I believe, a bit different:
unlike candy (which will only rot the teeth) and money (which will only
encourage more begging), the sole purpose of the pen is for school -- the
small kids all receive free primary education in most of these countries,
but many can't afford the necessary supplies, and giving a pen is, in the
long run, an item that will help the kids help themselves.
   Whenever I had the chance, I'd enjoy talking to Sherri about various
things, as unlike the owner of the Lilongwe campsite, she's nice, friendly,
and more than willing to talk with you about anything.  She keeps a lot of
pets around -- including dogs, cats, and a pet monkey named "E.T."... a
traveller found E.T. a while back when locals were trying to (illegally)
sell him at the side of the road when he was only four days old.  Knowing
the baby would be unable to fend for itself, Sherri took him in.  Soon,
he'll join two other orphaned monkeys at the new site, but in the meantime,
he's quite playful around everyone, with E.T. treating Sherri as mom, and
Sherri playing mom to E.T.  Other than little E.T., there are also plenty of
wild monkeys that hang around the nearby trees.
   Sherri mentioned she'd be going both to the new campsite and to the
market tomorrow, and when I asked if it'd be possible to join her (to
escape, and pick up some food), she said no problem. "Nanchengwa" is the
name of the lodge, not the nearby village ("Nanchengwa" is the CheChewa name
for the hammerhead birds you find near the lake), so the new campsite will
retain the Nanchengwa name.  At the current site, they have a small farm
where they raise sheep and cattle (which they use for food), but the new
site will have much more room for animals and a farm.  They're also about
ready to purchase a campsite across the lake in Mozambique, and when it's up
and running, will start running 2-week overland trips between the two
countries.  For the southern portion of Lake Malawi where Nanchengwa is, the
land you see on the other side of the lake is Malawi -- but further up the
shore, the land on the other side becomes Mozambique.
   Sherri talked more about Malawi, once again lamenting how things go to
waste here, saying Malawi has everything, including a huge fresh water lake,
but only two white-owned sugar plantations use the water for irrigation. 
She also said it's quite possible to have three crops of maize a year as
there is no frost, but that local farmers only bother to plant two crops per
year (the maize here is white, and tastes quite different than American
sweet yellow corn -- and looking at the discarded cobs on the ground, every
part of it gets eaten).  Sherri did mention that a few years ago during a
drought, the U.S. shipped American yellow corn as food aid -- but it gave
the locals stomach problems.
   While discussing the DSTV problem, Sherri's son Ryan told me that until
just recently, Malawi had no TV at all -- Malawi's first TV station started
up in January 2000 (though reception is unavailable in their area due to its
remote location -- so as with other rural families who can afford it, they
rely on DSTV satellite TV).  Cellular phones DO work in the area though, and
Sherri has two different ones: the main phone on a desk in the back room
actually operates via a cel conection, and there's also a handheld unit
which she keeps outside in a home-made "phone box" on the steps to the main
house (as it's the only part of the camp where the reception is strong
enough for it to work).  Using the handheld phone, I tried to call South
African Airways in Lilongwe to cancel my flight to Mozambique and move my
flight to Mauritius up a few days because of the terrible flooding, but the
phone to their office just rang and rang, and no one picked up on the other
end even in the middle of the business day.  Sherri laughed and said that
was common -- that I'd be lucky if anyone bothered to pick up the phone (no
one ever did, even though the number was indeed correct, and I tried
repeatidly).  So later that evening, I used the phone in the back to call my
dad (reversing the charges -- Sherri mentioned that making a collect call
was something new the phone company had just started this year), and had him
call South African Airways in South Africa from the U.S., as it's only
US30c/min with our phone company -- much cheaper than the US$3/min I'd have
to pay to call South Africa from Malawi (I needed to find out which days of
the week SAA flies to Mauritius in order to find out if I could move move my
flight there up a day or two in place of going to Mozambique).
   That evening, the meal was the first decent one we had in days -- by now,
Carmen was aware of us being fed up, so for dinner, we had meat rolled in
pancakes.  After dinner, we went to the TV room to watch a video, as DSTV
was still down.  Kim said she's seen every video there dozens of times, so
just pop in whatever I want -- so I put in "Stripes", with Ted, Audrey, and
DJ watching as well.
   Two misc. observations: one is that all throughout Africa, I was utterly
surprised at how perfect the smiles were on the locals.  Especially among
those in their 20s or 30s, if they had teeth, they seemed to be perfectly
straight and beautiful, yet none of them had orthodontics or braces.  The
other observation is that (thankfully) there aren't many smokers in Africa.
Whether it's a cultural thing or simply a matter of not being able to afford
a luxury, the smoking rate is virtually zero (or at least very, very low). 
There are cigarette billboards and advertisements everywhere, but just
walking down the street and observing people, the only ones smoking would be
whites (either local whites or tourists).

Feb. 11: Lake Malawi - Nanchengwa Lodge / Maldeco
   To match the dinner from last night, this morning for breakfast we had
something other than cold, dry oats for just about the only time during our
whole trip: pancakes -- but we all knew things would soon go back to normal.
   The day before, when I told DJ that I'd be going into town with Sherri,
she wanted to go as well (not only to buy some decent food, but just to have
something to do).  There was room for both of us in the black Mitsubishi 4x4
(with the steering wheel on the left -- an American friend of Sherri's left
it to her when he went back to the U.S.), and after a short delay while
Sherri talked to one of the hired help, we were on our way.
   The property where the new Nanchengwa Lodge is being built is about 8km
up the main lake road, between two large hotels (one of which will be a
Meridien).  It'll be closer to supplies (including the one tiny supermarket
in the area: the PTC), and with the large hotels nearby (one with a casino),
there will be more things to do.  One thing about Malawi though: don't be
fooled by this description into thinking that this area is developed -- far
from it -- as even in areas with hotels, you're still in rural, poor Malawi
(while driving, Sherri pointed out the turn-off for one of the hotels, as
you can't see it from the road -- and had she not done so, I'd have no idea
there was anything developed in the area).  Perhaps because tourism is still
in its infancy here, Malawi still seems 100% rural, even in areas that now
play host to large hotels: the roads to and from them are still
pothole-filled, there's very little official public transportation, and
everything gets done in its own time.
   Showing us the new property, Sherri mentioned that you don't buy property
in Malawi, you lease it for 99 years.  There's still 50-some years left on
the lease for the current Nanchengwa property, so Sherri had taken out an ad
and had already heard from some people in the UK interested in "buying" the
remaining 50 years of the lease.  She also mentioned that there aren't many
white Malawians in the country -- that most whites come here to work for a
company for a year or two, then leave... but her family are permanent
residents with Malawi passports, and her youngest daughter Kim was born in
the country.
   The new Nanchengwa Lodge will have a campsite, en suite challets, and
tree houses (the current location has a couple of them built just as an
experiment, and Sherri told us that they're always the first things booked,
so the new location will have even more).  There will also be a restaurant
and bar, and as Sherri pointed out where everything would be, she mentioned
it had taken 5 years just to get the paperwork for the land approved (during
which time they had to set up at their current location, knowing it'd only
be temporary -- even so, they built quite a campsite at the current place!)
They couldn't start building at this new property before all the paperwork
was signed because if they did, the government officials would just turn
them down and take the developed property for themselves.  But now that the
paperwork has been completed and construction has begun, the new site will
be finished very fast (already, the frames and roofs of some of the
structures are up, though they were waiting until after the rainy season to
finish the rest of them).  There were about a half-dozen men doing hard
construction work in the hot sun, but Sherri (disappointed with the way they
were working) was angry that they were doing something the wrong way.  She
sighed, and told us "do you know how many times I've told them to do it a
certain way, and as soon as you leave, they just do it their own way?  I'm
going to have to stay here and make sure it gets done right.  People are so
lazy here."  Perhaps she has a point (Malawi is much more laid-back than the
western world), but then, that's the world one chooses to live in.  Still,
compared to Sherri, just about any of us would probably qualify as lazy -- I
was amazed with the drive this lady has: as a middle-aged woman, she's
raising three kids in their 20s, running a farm and campsite (with all that
it requires), overseeing the building of a completely new campsite, working
on buying another property in Mozambique, and trying to set up trips between
the two countries.  Though she has her husband and locals to help her out,
she always seems to be doing something, and I wondered if she ever has time
for a rest.
   Because Sherri needed to stay behind at the campsite to supervise the
construction, she said we could either hang around for a while with her (but
she'd need to go back first to the lodge to pick up something), or we could
just head on to the PTC (the local "supermarket") by ourselves.  She said
getting to the PTC on our own wouldn't be a problem: she'd drop us off on
the main road, and we could hitch a ride for a few kwatcha to the
supermarket (DJ was a little nervous about this, but I assured her it'd be
fine).  On the way back to the lodge to pick up supplies, Sherri dropped us
off at the main road, and we flagged down the first pickup-truck taxi we saw
(generally, people flag down vechicles and pay a few kwatcha to those that
give them lifts).  I was surprised that the first one we flagged down
stopped for us (as we were obviously not locals), but I went up to the
driver, said "PTC", and arranged the amount beforehand: MK10/US22c each.  We
piled into the back of the open bakkie (crowded with at about 10 other
people), and hung onto the sides as we drove down the road.  At first
everyone was staring at us (whites typically don't get around this way), but
a smile goes a long way in Malawi, and many of our fellow passengers smiled
back.  After the bakkie taxi stopped a few times to let people out and pick
up others, it stopped at a junction in the road where one of the locals in
the back motioned for us to get out.  We did so, but I didn't see any PTC
supermarket around.  I asked in the cab, and the person sitting next to the
driver pointed to the road on the left, saying "walk there for PTC, one
kilometer."  So, DJ and I started walking down the little side road, not
sure if this was the right way (after all, this was a small off-shoot road
that didn't seem the type where you'd find a supermarket at the end). 
Still, it was an interesting walk, and I told DJ my philosophy that "getting
lost can be the most fun", so we continued on.  A lot of the locals in the
huts and shops we passed stared at us as we walked ("this must be what it's
like to be a movie star", I told DJ), but many of them waved, and a lot of
kids were calling out "hello!"
   After not too long, we reached the end of the dusty road, and the tiny
village of Maldeco.  Sure enough, right there on the left near the end was
the tiny PTC supermarket.  However, before going inside, we were both
thirsty, and decided to get a drink at one of the locally-run stalls at the
end rather than inside the PTC.  Walking up to a stall, we both ordered
Sprites for MK10/US22c (returning the bottles).  Dusty, small, and compact,
Maldeco still had more than most villages: at the cul-de-sac at the end of
the road was a few food stalls, the PTC, two tailor shops (with old Singer
sewing machines), and a video-house where you could come in, sit down, and
watch a kung-fu or fighting movie (such as "American Ninja") on the TV for a
small admission (with the available videos being listed outside the
building).  While resting on the steps drinking our Sprites, a local guy
came up to us to talk.  He spoke English well, and when I asked him if it'd
rain (it was starting to look like it might), he answered yes, he thinks
things will be good, and that it will rain.
   The PTC was small (four aisles), but still "the" supermarket of the area,
where many people pick up their supplies from (I couldn't understand why it
was located 1km off the main road in a small village rather than on the main
road itself, but nevertheless, there it was).  Inside, we bought biscuits
and yoghurt (there were two types: one said to keep refrigerated, the other
said no refrigeration required even though it contained milk and cream -- so
I tried both), though there were no "AA" batteries for the torch.  For a
bunch of biscuits, candy, and yoghurts, the total came to MK377/US$8.20
(note: in Malawi, most of the biscuits for sale seem to be made by a company
called "Universal", located in Malawi's largest city, Blantyre).
   After walking back the 1km to the main road, we needed to get a ride back
to Nanchengwa Lodge.  The first pickup we passed didn't stop for us (if it
was because we were white or because it was quite full, I don't know --
though as we continued walking, we soon passed it again, with it stopped by
the side of the road, seemingly broken).  There weren't any other bakkie
taxis coming our way (or any other vehicles for that matter), but then, a
man in a company bakkie came by and stopped to give us a lift.  DJ sat
inside, and I sat in the back -- which would have been fine, save for the
fact that he drove full-speed down the pothole-filled road (which probably
didn't feel so bad in the cab, but in the back, I was bouncing around and
hanging on for dear life!)  The man was quite nice, and he and DJ had a nice
conversation inside (he told DJ there was one road in Malawi that was so
smooth, you could almost fall sleep while driving on it -- but most of the
others were in terrible shape).  The pickup was his company's, and he was on
his way to Monkey Bay to fix something.  He wasn't sure where Nanchengwa
Lodge was, so both DJ and myself had to be on the lookout for the small
sign.  Once at the turnoff for the lodge, he didn't want to accept any money
(saying he was happy to help), but DJ gave him MK15 anyway.  From the main
road, DJ and I walked the 1.5kms to the lodge, where we had our yoghurt for
   In the afternoon, I talked with Kim (who helps out at the bar sometimes).
She said she's happy here in Malawi -- she likes the fact that things are a
bit slower and more of a challenge.  Being born in the country, she has left
Africa only once (to go to Holland), and commented on how easy everything
was there (admitting to pizza, chinese-food delivery, and getting lots of
music copied onto CD-Rs) -- but said it's better not to introduce modern
things into 3rd-world countries too fast.  Her family recently bought a
computer, but it's still packed away and won't be opened until they move to
the new site (where they'll use it for the books) -- for now, her
grandfather does the books on paper with no problem.  Kim (like her mom)
also mentioned that fruit is hard to find in the area, because locals don't
want to grow it even though it'd be easy to do in this climate (most of the
fruit sold in in the country has to be imported from South Africa).  The PTC
that day had some questionable-looking apples, but no other fruit, and while
some stalls in the area sold pineapples and mangoes, finding other fruits
(such as apples or oranges) was close to impossible.
   In the afternoon, I hung out at the bar, and watched DJ playing "bao"
with Don, the local bartender.  Bao is a game played everywhere in Malawi
(though Don thought it was originally from elsewhere).  Throughout the
country, everyone seems to be playing it, and it's amazing to just sit and
watch locals (including Don) play.  Variations of bao are found throughout
Africa (in Zimbabwe it's called ndsoro, and in South Africa, khoi-khoi), but
in Malawi, bao consists of a board with four rows of eight holes in which
seeds (or rocks) are moved about.  It's a game of logic and skill (rather
than luck), in which you move your seeds around the board in an attempt to
take as many of your opponent's seeds as you can.  Before each move, you
must examine the board and think ahead to decide how the move will play out
further down the line (as the number of spaces you can move is determined by
the amount of seeds in the pile you pick up).  The game isn't difficult to
understand, but is by no means easy to play well, and for beginners like DJ
and myself, trying to think ahead can take quite a while -- especially when
trying to remember all of the small rules and exceptions to the rules. 
Earlier, seeing all the locals playing bao in the village, DJ ordered a
custom-carved set for herself from one of the locals outside the gate (to be
finished in a few days).  At the time, I didn't bother with one (I didn't
want to have to tote it around with me), but it's the one thing I now regret
not having bought: in the end, I did find a board for myself in a
Johannesburg (South Africa) museum shop, but it's bigger and not anywhere
near as nice as DJ's small, compact set (mine also doesn't have two of its
holes square-shaped, as is traditional in Malawi bao).  Learning how to play
the game from Don at the bar passed away many hours, and at least gave us
both something to do.
   Some news items from Thursday's Daily Times: Opposition parties will not
have their meetings covered live on MBC (Malawi Broadcasting Company) --
only the incumbant party will be eligible, even though the country's
Communications Act provides for equal coverage.  A minister was quoted as
saying that it didn't matter which party was in power, but only the party in
power would be covered.
   While talking to Sherri earlier, she mentioned the problem of overfishing
Lake Malawi (saying mosquito nets are often used, so EVERYTHING is caught),
and sure enough, the paper talked about the problem as well: Senga Bay and
Salima are areas of especially bad overfishing -- so much so that some
species have now vanished.  Officialy, the Fishing Act says fishermen are to
use 3.1-inch gill nets, but fishermen in Senga Bay (with no control), use
1.5-inch nets.  Now, they have small catches, and don't realize why...
   "The dead body of an alleged wizard in Chitipa district was recently
exhumed, burnt, and reburried... it was carried out by two witch doctors. 
The move was to ensure safety of the deceased's relatives from the alleged
wizard's evil spirits and charms which he left behind.  The man was a
fearful wizard known for his dangerous charms"...
   At least 26 people are dead from the flooding taking place in South
Africa and Mozambique.  At Kruger National Park, 200 people were cut off by
the rising waters.  In Maputo (the capital of Mozambique) and neighboring
Matola, more than 100,000 people have been left homeless...
   The war in the DRC (Democratic Republic of the Congo) is causing a lot of
problems for Africa.  Zimbabwe can't pay its petrol bills because money is
being diverted to pay for its involvement in the DRC (because of Zimbabwe's
president Robert Mugabe having a vested interest in the DRC's diamond
   An advertisement: "Breaking News!" Commercial Bank of Malawi Ltd. is
adding two new ATMs -- one in Mzuzu, and one in Zomba, making a total of
seven ATMs nationwide...
   Sherri mentioned to me that the government recently received millions of
US$ in foreign aid for fixing the nation's roads, but nothing ever gets
done.  In the paper was yet another article about the poor condition of the
roads, mentioning that over the last two months, 30 people died in road
accidents.  It complained that nothing was being done to fix them, even with
the large amount of taxes and foreign aid being collected -- and put forth
that it's no longer good enough for them simply to be patched up... these
roads were never meant for heavy trucks, and for there to be any real
improvement, they must be completely re-built from scratch...
   Two more small items: a recording studio was recently opened in Lilongwe
for the country's recording artists, and there was an ad for the Chimaliro
Private Secondardy School in Mzuzu (tuition: MK1,350/US$29 for day-schoolers
or MK3,950/US$86 for boarders, though it didn't mention if this was per-day,
per-week, per-month, or per-term).
   In the evening, we watched a "Fawlty Towers" video in the house.  The
other "Which Way" group was holding a "fancy dress" party, but our group was
low on morale and tired, so when the video was done, we just went to sleep.

Feb. 12: Lake Malawi - Nanchengwa Lodge
   For breakfast today, we once again had cold, dry oats -- we didn't even
have bread, as by now, it was all stale (for lunch, Carmen borrowed some
bread from Sherri, but Carmen didn't have to worry -- she and Laroux were
still eating home-cooked farm meals).
   The previous day, everyone but Ted had booked a boat & snorkel trip out
to the island in the middle of the lake (US$10 per person).  We had arranged
a 9:00am trip, but Ryan (Sherri's son, and the person who operates the boat)
had stayed up all night partying with the other Which Way group, and at
9:00am, Don at the bar said Ryan was still asleep, and probably would be for
a while longer.  The weather was perfect, but there was nothing we could do
other than hang around the bar all morning and wait.
   For lunch, we were given two meat patties each (prepared by the lodge),
and Ryan came out to ask if we still wanted to go.  Since it was mid-day
(and hot), we decided on a 2:00pm departure time instead.
   At 2:00pm, everyone in our group (except for Ted, who just wanted to
relax) went out onto the boat.  Along for the ride with us was one of Ryan's
friends, though by now, the weather had turned cloudy (not the best
conditions to go snorkling in).  Stopping close to the island, we all jumped
in, though my mask didn't fit right (I had to go through a couple of masks,
and still had problems).  In the water were plenty of small, colorful fish,
but the lighting wasn't as good by now, and the area certainly can't match
that of Maurituis, Hawaii, or Zanzibar.  Still, it was a pleasant enough
trip, and perched in the trees on the island were a few fish eagles (which
resemble the American bald eagle).  Ryan's friend caught some fish with a
spear gun and threw one in the air -- and the fish eagle swooped down to
catch it before it hit the water.  He then threw one more towards the eagle
before setting the rest aside to have for dinner.  Audrey, beginning to get
fed up with Greg by this point in the tour, actually shoved him in the water
for a bit of fun, and though he wasn't angry, everyone got a great laugh out
of it (it was about time someone did that -- and Audrey was the last one
you'd suspect!)  On the other side of the island, some otters were playing
on the rocks, and the area makes for a nice spot to just stop and relax at
for a bit.
   On the way back, I talked to Ryan: he has left Africa only once (to go to
Australia), but was schooled for 12 years in South Africa.  He said that
most of the locals don't know how to swim even though such a large part of
the country centers around Lake Malawi -- and there are reports of drowning
deaths all the time.  When he pointed out the Mozambique coast in the
distance and I mentioned to him that I had planned to go to Maputo in a few
weeks, he said "no, you don't want to go.  They're totally buggered there
now with all the flooding."
   In the evening, the DSTV service had been restored, but I took a shower
and sat at the bar and the outside covered deck to chat with some of the
other campers.  Rain was close (falling on the other side of the lake and
over the lake itself), but it never reached Nanchengwa Lodge.  Wanting an
egg, and tired of the food we were being given, I ordered a toasted-egg
sandwich for MK75/US$1.63.  I also paid my bar tab: US$10 for all the sodas,
soda waters, and snacks for four days, plus US$10 more for that afternoon's
boat trip.
   At 8:00pm, I went into the house to watch the SABC news, and indeed there
were reports of more flooding in Mozambique.  Calling my dad back, I found
out he was able to reach South African Airways, but was told that all SAA
flights to Maputo had been cancelled until at least Feb. 15th due to the
rain.  Luckily, I would be able to change my Mauritius flight to an earlier
one, but would do so myself later on, once in Zimbabwe or South Africa.
   While eating dinner tonight, Laroux turned the cassette player on the bus
to full volume -- so much so, that we couldn't even hear ourselves talk over
dinner.  Ted asked if it could be turned down a bit, but Laroux just ignored
him.  The Which Way truck was also broken, but Laroux didn't even start
looking at it until now -- the evening before we were to finally leave camp.
   On the radio tonight, I caught some of the MBC (Malawi Broadcasting)
English news broadcast, hearing that in Namibia, there has been yet more
trouble in the Caprivi region, and the U.S. is again warning all Americans
to leave the area.

Feb. 13: Lilongwe
   Today we finally left Lake Malawi with a late start at 8:30am.  At
breakfast, DJ told Carmen we needed fresh bread (showing her mold in the
bread we had left), but Carmen just waved her off rudely.
   Headed towards Lilongwe, I noticed some people out fixing potholes in the
roads -- except as I later found out, they weren't official workers, but
locals who go out and crudely patch up a hole, then try to get money from
passing vehicles for their efforts.  Perhaps this is a good idea in theory,
but everyone I spoke to said they just make the situation worse by shoving
any kind of junk they can into the holes -- and there are so many potholes
on Malawi's roads, that having five or six fixed doesn't make one bit of
   Along the way, we stopped at some roadside stalls to buy tomatoes.  When
DJ asked Carmen once more about buying some bread, Carmen's reply was "it
all comes from Lilongwe... it'll all be stale here too.  This is an overland
trip...what do you expect?"  Of course Carmen didn't have to worry about
eating moldly bread for lunch -- she still had bags and bags of potato chips
and snacks left for herself and Laroux.
   We arrived into Lilongwe at 2:00pm, having only a couple of hours to look
around Malawi's capital -- and because it was a Sunday, just about
everything in town was closed.  It would have been nice to take one of the
extra days from Nanchengwa Lodge and spend it here, but no matter how nicely
we asked, Carmen & Laroux wouldn't do it -- for it would have meant
shortening their private little holiday at the lodge.
   The only part of town with anything open on Sunday was a small area of
curio shops with two nearby supermarkets.  Not wanting to buy curios, I
walked around with Audrey for a bit up the main street, looking through the
windows of all the closed businesses.  Along the way, we passed a street
vendor selling bananas (Audrey picked up a bunch), and on the way back, I
stopped at a music stall where two guys were selling cassettes of local
Malawian musicians.  It started to rain, so Audrey went on ahead, but I
stayed to look at some of the tapes, figuring some local music would be as
good a souvenir as any curio.  I couldn't tell if the tapes were originals
or bootlegs -- at first glance, they all looked like copies, with every
cassette being a stark aqua color with only "Panasonic Stereo (Japan)" on
them (and no indication of the artists or songs on the actual tapes) -- but
on the boxes were stickers and seals for the Malawi Copyright Association. 
I asked the guys at the stall what some of the current popular albums in the
country were, so they showed me a few, and let me listen to them on their
boom-box.  When I asked how much, one of the two guys said "MK70/US$1.52 per
tape", but the other guy then said "no, no... MK100/US$2.17 per tape."  When
I asked which it was, the second guy said "MK100... MK70 is for a blank
tape."  I didn't know if he was telling the truth or just trying to rip off
a tourist, but I told him I'd take three of them -- but only had MK250... if
that wasn't OK, two at MK200 would be fine, but I didn't have MK300.  He
agreed to three for MK250/US$5.44, and with the rain starting to fall
harder, they began packing up shop as I left to walk back to the curio area
and the bus.
   Back with the others, I went into the nearby supermarket to pick up a few
supplies.  As the rain stopped, I then walked over to the curio area to
finally have a look.  By this point, I was a little sorry that I hadn't
bought myself a small bao board at Nanchengwa as DJ had, but most of the
curios here were wooden animal carvings, and the one bao board I saw was too
large and didn't look in very good shape.  The vendors here (as everywhere)
are quite insistant that you look at what they have, but after a while,
everything begins to look the same.  Still, the others in the group wound up
buying plenty of things, with myself again being the only one not to buy
anything (other than the cassette tapes).  When it came time to board the
bus, I slipped one of the music cassettes into the tape player, and one of
the local sellers (from whom DJ bought an item) heard it, looked up, smiled,
and said "hey, that's good music -- you're listening to my favorite Malawian
music!" -- so at least the vendor wasn't lying -- these were the current
popular tunes in Malawi.
   We arrived at Kiboko Campsite (where we had spent a night almost a week
ago) to find the ground soaked and muddy thanks to the recent rain.  It
began to sprinkle again as we put up our tents, so as soon as we were
finished, I headed into the bar to sit and talk with some other campers. 
Getting tired of the food we were being served, I decided to order a snack:
ice-cream with chocolate syrup (MK75/US$1.63) from the bar.
   Tonight at dinner, Carmen blew up -- mad at how everyone was talking bad
about her and the tour behind her back.  The family at Nanchengwa Lodge had
heard some of us making comments (deservedly so) about the food, and had
told Carmen about it.  Without an apology for anything, she told us to stuff
it -- that it wasn't HER job to help out with the cooking, and that from now
on, we'd be doing it all ourselves.  However, it WAS her job to help with
the cooking: the trip is a participation tour, but Laroux's job is that of
DRIVER, and Carmen's job is that of COOK (with assistance from the
campers).  After all, what the hell was Carmen getting paid for anyway?  She
certainly wasn't driving or being a guide in any possible sense of the
word -- the only thing she did other than give us a 10-second run-down of
the next day's plan over dinner each night was to prepare lunch and dinner
(with help from us campers).  As an example to support her right to be
angry, she mentioned that the folks at Nanchengwa had overhead someone (it
was me) saying that they didn't like powdered milk.  "It was me," I said,
"and why should that make you upset?  I didn't mean anything by it... I also
don't like, nor do I drink coffee -- it doesn't mean anything.  But we HAVE
been a little upset over a couple of other things" -- at which point I
mentioned how the group wanted to spend one of the extra days in Lilongwe
instead of all of them at Nanchengwa... then DJ mentioned everything from
the moldy bread to how our dinners compared to those of even the other Which
Way trucks, to how she had asked her more than once to buy corn flakes or
something other than dry oats for breakfast: "You said 'we have this stuff
on the bus', but we don't!" -- to which Carmen just replied that this is
what we signed up for, and we should go stuff it (before walking off to go
drinking again).  Throughout the entire tour, we tried to have a group
spirit going -- after all, this was a once-in-a-lifetime event for most of
us -- but from day one when Carmen ripped out the intercom-phone on the bus,
it was plainly obvious that our guides wanted nothing to do with us, and
would be using this trip as their own personal vacation on our money.
   After dinner, I went back to the bar and talked to a young Australian
music teacher and her friend who were taking a year off to travel.  When I
mentioned I'd be in Johannesburg at the very end of my trip, they both urged
me to see a play called "The Zulu" at the Market Theatre (I'm glad they
recommended it, for I never would have seen it had I not been given a heads
up about it -- and it was a wonderful production).
   In the bar was some reading material left by a UNAIDS worker about the
state of HIV and AIDS in Malawi, as well as general living conditions.  Some
of the information found in the UN report: In Malawi, 70% of the full-time
farmers are women, performing 87% of the agricultural labor... and more than
50% of all Malawians live below the poverty line.  The country's population
has doubled over the last 20 years to 9.8 million in 1998, with an annual
growth rate of 1.9% -- with 14% of the population living in urban areas.
Probably the saddest bit of information was the estimated life expectancy of
the population: only 38.9 years for a male, and 39.6 years for a female. 
The illiteratcy rate in Malawi is 27.2% for males, and 56.6% for females.
The per capita GNP is $210, and it's estimated that 267 people a day
contract HIV in Malawi.
   Besides the UN report, there was also a Malawi government report on AIDS
that I glanced through.  Some of the information in that report: the
sub-Saharan region of Africa has 1% of the global population yet 67% of the
world population of people living with AIDS.  83% of the world's AIDS deaths
occur in this region, with 80% of all HIV-positive women and 87% of children
infected with AIDS living in Africa (with Malawi having one of the highest
AIDS rates in both the region and the world).  The Malawi government is now
trying to put out the message about AIDS, but according to their own report,
there is inadequate collaboration between different institutions resulting
in duplication, a waste of resources, and conflicting messages.  "Very few
Malawians are presently utilizing available councilling and testing
services" it says.  The Malawi government has a strategic framework plan for
2000-2004, but it'll be an uphill battle: "The challenge: inadequate
observance of abstinance before marriage, and mutual faithfulness.  Low
acceptance of condom usage, and inadequate distribution."

Feb. 14: Petauke (Zambia)
   Today, we'd be leaving Malawi for Zambia.  In the morning though, we had
to push-start the Which Way truck, which now wouldn't start on its own.
   At the border, Carmen told us to again write down anything over US$200
when asked "how much did you spend in Malawi?" (regardless of how much we
actually spent).  The Mwami border post between Malawi and Zambia is a bit
different than other borders in that once you've cleared Malawi customs, you
must then drive for about 5 minutes to reach the Zambian side -- and there
were no money-changers around to buy Zambian kwatcha from.
   Once in Zambia, we stopped at the large ShopRite supermarket in Chipata,
the big town of the local province (Zambia has 72 tribes and 9 provinces). 
From the window of the bus, I could see lots of big stores and factories,
but we didn't have time for anything other than the ShopRite.  Inside the
market, they accepted only Zambian kwatcha -- and as we hadn't stopped to
change money yet, only Carmen (who was again buying tons of potato chips and
snacks for herself) could buy something here.  While waiting, Greg had
managed to find a bank and change some money (US$1=ZK2860), but after a few
minutes of browsing in the store, I noticed there were credit-card swipers
at the checkout stands.  Asking a cashier if they accepted MasterCard or
Visa (MasterCard has a strong presence in Africa), she said yes -- so I went
to pick up a few things (finding a decent deck of playing cards -- but at
almost US$5, decided not to buy it).  Basically, I just wanted to buy some
snacks, but once at the checkout line, the cashier said it would take a few
minutes for the credit card transaction to go through.  When I asked how
long it would take (as Carmen was just leaving the store), the clerk told me
"anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes... it depends... we have to call South Africa
for credit card approval" -- so I apologized, saying I couldn't wait, and
had to leave without buying anything.  It certainly wasn't Carmen I was
concerned about (not after the way she had been treating us), but I didn't
want the others on board to have to wait 10 minutes for me.
   Driving through Zambia, the scenery looks somewhat like Malawi's, with
red soil and maize everywhere -- but unlike Malawi (where most areas visible
from the road were being used for something -- either buildings or small
farm plots), Zambia has plenty of unused areas, with only trees, weeds, and
scrub brush to look at.  The Zambian people are as friendly as their
Malawian neighbors, and would constantly wave to us as we passed.  The
villages here seem larger in size (with more huts), though there doesn't
seem to be as much cattle around as in Malawi.  In parts of Zambia, the
small power lines aren't propped up by poles at every point they should be,
with a pole being present only every 2-3 "spaces" (where there's no pole,
the wires are just crimped in place, giving the power lines a look of
pole-hang-hang, pole-hang-hang, etc.)
   Stopping at the side of the road for lunch, we soon had lots of curious
kids come out to see what was going on.  Unlike in some areas (where people
don't like to be photographed), these kids loved having their pictures
taken, and would smile, pose, and point out things to each other.  Most were
dressed in tattered clothing, and one kid had a hoe slung over his shoulder
for working in the field.  Smiling, they never asked for handouts, but were
just curious to see what we were doing (thankful for an excuse to break the
day's tedium, perhaps).  For lunch, we had rolls and fresh grated cheese
(bought from the ShopRite), and Ted went over to give them some.  The kids
had never eaten cheese before, and were a bit apprehensive, so I turned
around and pointed to some of the cows standing next to them, saying "it
comes from them", taking a bit myself.  A few of the kids then tried a bit
of the cheese, giggling -- so a few more did as well (at which point, Ted
gave them a taste of some jam).  The kids were poor, but looked as if they
receive enough to eat -- they weren't hungry or pushy for the food, but were
merely curious, and only those "brave" enough to try something strange did
so.  Ted and I then talked to them a bit, though not many of them understood
English.  Some were shy, but others were quite eager to try to talk, and
when lunch was over, they all waved at us before going back to their daily
   That night, we stayed at the only campsite on the entire trip owned by a
local black: "Zulu's Kraal" (Mr. Zulu is the owner's actual name, and
"kraal" means "paddock" -- the enclosed area where sheep and cattle are
kept).  The campsite is located near the town of Petauke, next to the car
upholstery & tyre spares shop Mr. Zulu also owns.  Carmen mentioned it was
one of the most expensive campsites to stay at (US$5 per person to camp,
US$10 for a challet), but it's a nice place, and the staff are quite
   After setting up the tents, DJ and I decided to go for a walk outside the
camp's gates.  It was cloudy and looked as if it might rain, but anything
was better than just staying inside another enclosed campsite again.  We
walked down the main road into town for about 45 minutes, just having a look
around the area: there were some typical small shops (from restaurants to
barbers), and further down a side road was the one fancy (for the area)
hotel, complete with satellite TV in the bar (or so we were told).  Walking
down the main road, locals would cycle slowly by us on their bikes, and an
occasional truck or car would pass... there was nothing too special about
the area, but it made for a nice walk.  On the way back, it started to rain,
so as soon as we reached camp, we headed for the thatched-roof bar -- where
Ted was already engaging two workers there in conversation.
   In the covered bar, Ted, DJ, and myself began talking to Nellars and
Ruben, two local workers at the campsite.  Nellars (or Nellie, as Ted called
her), 23, was very smart and articulate: her father works at the Barclay's
Bank in town, and DJ, Ted, and myself found out a lot about Zambia from her
and Ruben over Cokes (two for US$1) while the rest of the group just stayed
in the bus while it rained...
   In Zambia, a large family will live in one hut (usually with two rooms: a
bedroom and a living room, with the kitchen being separate and outside) --
though usually between the ages of 10-15, children will separate from their
parents' hut to have their own.  A straw roof will last about 3 years, and a
mud wall will last up to 10 years -- meaning that the roof must be changed
more often than the walls.  The major crops in the area are maize, tobacco,
groundnuts (peanuts), and cotton.  A staple of the local diet is "nsima"
(maize porridge), to which you can add meat, fish, chicken, or vegetables,
and the average Zambian eats two meals a day, not three (as it'd be too
expensive).  The papoose that mothers use to carry their babies around with
them is called a "chitenje" in the local language, and are seen everywhere. 
"Bao" is also popular here, but is called "nsolo" in the local tongue.  Both
Nellars and Ruben mentioned that they had each gone to school, but that it
was harder now for young kids to attend, as all schooling in Zambia (even
primary schooling) costs some money.  The population in Zambia is about 6
million people, with 1 million of those living in the capital, Lusaka, and
to give you an idea of the salaries people make, both Ruben and Nellars
(luckier than many) said they earn about US$37/month for managing the
campsite.  Nellars had such a perfect smile that DJ, Ted, and myself were
quite impressed (she's never had any orthodontic work done of course), and
Ted even started singing her a song.  It was quite a nice way to pass the
   In the evening, we met up with a Dragoman overland tour group staying at
the same campsite, and were to run into each other constantly from now until
the end of the tour (as they basically had the same itinerary as us).  Their
group was small but friendly (two Canadians and one Kiwi), and it was here
that we found out they had just come from South Luangwa National Park on the
very day we were to be in the park (but Carmen had told us the roads were
washed out, so we'd have to spend more time at Nanchengwa Lodge).  This was
yet another instance that made us all know we had joined the wrong tour.
Unlike our Which Way "guides", the two British Dragoman guides hung out with
their group, and everyone said they were having a great time.  We talked
until about 10:00pm in the bar before finally turning in.  At night, the
rain started up again, though not hard enough to cause any problems.
   I caught a VOA news broadcast (909 MW/AM) on my radio, and heard that
early poll reporting from Harare (Zimbabwe) had 70% saying "no" to Robert
Mugabe and his referendum, but apparently, his support tends to be higher in
the countryside, so it would be a while before all the votes were counted
and the final tally known (though people were apprehensive that a delay in
reporting the outcome could give Mugabe time to rig the results).

Feb. 15: Outside Lusaka
   This morning, we all had to push the bus again to get it started.  Last
night, Nellie said she'd dance for us when we left in the morning if I
played my tape of Malawian music, but the battery was now dead on the bus,
making the cassette player dead also.  Still, she came out to wave goodbye
along with plenty of local kids, who peered over the fence to watch us pack.
   Off on the side of the road today were more items for sale: charcol,
floor mats made of straw, melons -- even bedframes, doors, and other
furniture.  Laroux stopped to buy four floormats for his apartment, and put
them in the bus with the other souvenirs and curios.
   Outside, the weather was cloudy and overcast, and there were plenty of
uniform-clad kids on their way to school (the uniforms by the way, are sold
not only at specialty shops, but at supermarkets such as ShopRite as well). 
After passing a shop with the name "Knowledge Is Power", we came to some
kids filling potholes for donations (one even had his hand out, but Laroux
just passed him by).  These kids (along with some we saw last Sunday) were
working informally for donations, though later today, we actually did see
one official road crew out working on the road.  From Petauke to the large
suspension bridge, the road is full of potholes, but from the bridge onto
Lusaka, it's well-maintained (the suspension bridge is highly guarded by
armed men with machine guns, and you're not allowed to take pictures
anywhere near it).  Along the way, I spotted some political grafitti (not
too common in Africa) saying things such as "Vote Nyangu MP" or "Vote UNIP",
and because of the rains, the entire area had plenty of tall, wild green
grass growing everywhere.
   Coming into Lusaka, the scene looks much like other large African cities:
on the outskirts are the wealthy white homes secluded behind high walls
(often with broken glass, barbed wire, and security signs), and the walls
leading up to downtown are plastered with painted advertisements for
everything from insurance companies to food products.  Coming into the
capital, we passed a modern strip mall that could easily have been in South
Africa with all its South African shops (PEP, ShopRite, Steers steakhouse,
Hungry Lion), and a bit further down the road, an empty lot had a large sign
in front proclaiming it was the future site of another new shopping mall, to
be completed by 2001.
   Lusaka itself is a big, bustling city, though we didn't spend any time
there at all -- not even a few hours to look around.  The crime rate in the
city is supposed to be high, but from the bus window, it looked clean,
prosperous, and not at all seedy -- with computer stores, Chinese
restaurants, LaserDisc outlets and BMW dealerships.  Passing through the
city centre, we stopped at a BP station to not only fill the tanks up, but
our spare fuel cans as well (for our trip into Zimbabwe, where the on-going
fuel crisis has brought about a shortage of diesel -- though at the station,
we were told that the problem is worse in the countryside than in Harare). 
At the station, diesel was ZK1,700/US63c a litre -- so when the pump reaches
ZK99,999, the attendant must jot down the amount, clear it, then continue
pumping (as the pump can't handle numbers past 99,999).  While waiting at
the BP station, I noticed that the fancy cars whizzing by (from SUVs to
Mercedes) were being driven by blacks as well as whites -- though there were
also plenty of vehicles that seemed ready to fall apart at any moment.
   We spent the night at Eureka Camp on a farm run by an English family just
outside Lusaka.  Though by now there was no real use for Zambian money (as
we were to go into Zimbabwe tomorrow), I wanted to have some local currency
anyway (for souvenirs, and to perhaps buy a soda or two before crossing
over) -- so at both Zulu's Kraal last night and at Eureka campsite tonight,
I managed to trade some US$ for Zambian kwatcha (and here at Eureka, the
bartender was kind enough to trade me some fresh, good-condition bills for
the ragged ones I received at Zulu's Kraal).
   In the afternoon, I caught "The Matchmaker" (with Jeanine Garofalo) on
the bar's satellite TV, and for dinner, Carmen actually bought some fresh
meat for us at the bar, cooking it on a braai (barbeque).  After dinner, I
spent most of the evening hanging out with the Dragoman group and their
guides (who were at this campsite as well), watching them play bao and
chatting the night away.  There were three campers with their group: Katie,
a teacher from the Niagara Falls area of Canada (who also worked at the
local Hard Rock and was taking a semester off to do this trip)... Mal, a
Kiwi in her early 20s who was taking an entire year off to travel... and a
middle-aged Canadian guy also along for the ride.  We talked in the bar
until I turned in for the night at about 11:00pm.

Feb. 16: Kariba Dam (Zimbabwe)
   This morning, we all had a treat: eggs for breakfast.  This wasn't due to
Carmen having a change of heart though -- Greg (fed up like the rest of us)
had bought some eggs a few days before in Malawi, and this morning, DJ
volunteered to cook them.  You'd be surprised how wonderful they tasted
after having nothing but dried oats for almost a month...
   We left camp at 8:00am (after having to push-start the bus again, though
the cassette player inside now worked), and stopped at a BP station outside
of town for more diesel.  Driving out of Lusaka, I saw more political
graffiti ("Vote Tembo MP"), and noticed a sign at an electrical station
saying "restricted: no photography."  Something interesting to note is that
all the cows in the region here have large humps behind their head -- and
even the road signs warning of cattle are painted with the humps.  Ads for
shoe polish companies such as Kiwi are everywhere, as shoe polish is widely
used in the region -- but not just for shining shoes: tourists come to
Africa hoping to buy souvenirs made of ebony, but ebony is expensive, so
most of the locals use other wood, then use black shoe polish to turn the
wood black (earlier in the trip, Katje & Soren bought some wooden busts, and
were later disappointed to see black shoe polish starting to come off on
their arms... but this is Africa, and the locals don't even try to hide what
they're doing: you can often see them polishing the wood up, and near the
curio stalls are dozens of empty, discarded cans of black Kiwi shoe polish).
   Our drive to the border took us through a national forest with lots of
trees and mountain roads, and at the side of the road, plenty of monkeys
were hanging around (literally).
   On the Zambian side of the Zambia/Zimbabwe border is a nice new building
(probably the nicest in the country)... the toilets though, are pay (ZK200),
so if you can wait, the toilets on the Zimbabwe side (labelled "Male",
"Female", and "Parapalegic") are free.  Between the two countries'
immigration offices is the large Kariba Dam, built as a joint project
between Zambia and Zimbabwe in the 1950s, and finished in 1960.  Some
hydroelectric power does come from the dam, but last year was the only time
in the dam's history that large amounts of water were allowed to be
released -- though this year (for only the second time in the dam's
history), they would be doing so again due to the extremely heavy rains and
the high level of water against the dam (there were notices in the paper and
on the radio informing people that the dam would be opened on a certain
date, though I'm sure many rural villagers would not receive the news in
time).  You can walk around the top of the dam, taking in a nice view of it
and the river below (where a lone hippo and crocodile were swimming), and on
top is a sign listing all the animals rescued by humans when the dam was
first built, showing the number of each species saved (as the dam caused
many animals to lose their homes).
   At the border, a single-entry visa for Zimbabwe is US$30, and a
multiple-entry one is US$50.  Laroux told us that at Victoria Falls, the
local Zimbabwe immigration office there would allow you to leave for the
Zambian side, then re-enter Zimbabwe again even on a single-entry visa, as
long as you came back within 12 hours of leaving (ie, for a day-trip to
visit the Zambian side of the falls).  When I asked the immigration official
at the Kariba border about this though, he said this wasn't true -- and that
I would need a multiple-entry visa if I wanted to do this.  Asking Laroux
again to make sure, I only received a curt "I already told you last
night" -- but in the end, I decided not to bother paying more for a
multiple-entry visa -- and as it turns out, Laroux WAS right: as of the time
of this writing, no matter what they tell you at the other border posts, the
local Zimbabwe border post in Victoria Falls WILL let you leave and return
to Zimbabwe on a single-entry visa as long as you return within 12 hours. 
   While waiting to pay my visa fee, I noticed a sign up on the wall at the
Kariba Zimbabwe immigration office: "As of December 10, 1999, export of fuel
out of Zimbabwe in any tank other than one affixed to your vehicle is now
prohibited."  This border was also the first one where anyone actually
boarded the bus to have a look inside, but once the customs official was
satisfied, he let us cross into Zimbabwe.
   The first thing we did upon entering Zimbabwe was stop at a Shell petrol
station near the border that had diesel available.  After that, we went up a
nearby hill to stop for lunch next to the "Most High" Hotel -- from where
there's a great view of the dam and its lake below (used for recreation), as
well as plenty of curio dealers set up in the area for tourists that come up
for the view.
   Needing to use the toilet, someone suggested going into the hotel.  It
was closed for rennovation, but a security guard said I could use the toilet
out by the pool (on the way, I passed the white owner who was supervising
the rennovation -- and he said it was OK to go ahead and use it).  Note that
if you have to hit the toilets up here, there's also a country club nearby
where we were able to use the facilities (and they even had toilet paper in
the stalls -- a rare find!)
   After lunch, we were to walk down to the Barclay's Bank to change money,
but when we did so, we found the bank closed (with no ATM) -- as on
Wednesdays, it closes at 13:00.  There was only one other place nearby to
change money (a forex shop), but while it appeared to be open, its front
gate was locked (the owner was probably out for lunch).
   The weather was overcast, hot, and muggy, and I wanted something to
drink -- but none of the little shops would accept anything other than
Zimbabwe dollars.  Meanwhile, Audrey had found a curio stall that had a bao
board for sale, so I walked back up with her to take a look at it... but it
was too large and too expensive.  Some of the others in the group bought
souvenirs, but I passed.
   Not having much choice, we all went downhill in the bus to the small Spar
supermarket to see if we could change money there.  We finally had a bit of
luck, as next to the Spar was an change bureau.  The shop offered a rate of
US$1=Z$37 with no commission (on the TV last night, the rate was quoted as
US$1=Z$38, but the US$1=Z$37 rate was constant with what every other forex
shop in the country was charging), so I changed some money.  The lady in the
shop was quite friendly and unusually trusting: she owed me Z$3,330 for the
money I was changing, but the smallest bills she had were Z$50s -- so she
asked if I'd be going into the Spar next door.  When I answered "yes", she
gave me Z$3,350 (Z$20 more than she was supposed to), saying "if you go into
the Spar and get something, come back with the change."  I then gave her
ZK1,000 worth of Zambian kwatcha, but I still owed her Z$12, so I left,
promising I'd come back with the change (she had trusted me, and I would
honor that trust by coming back).  At the Spar, I bought a few things
(including film, soap, paper, and an ice-cream bar -- perfect for the hot
weather), and returned back to give the lady the change I owed her.  She
asked where I was from, and when I answered the U.S., asked what I thought
of Zimbabwe so far.  We chatted for a bit about the weather and other
things, and it was quite nice talking with her.  After that, I bought a very
cheap (Z$8/US22c) Sprite at a nearby stall (rather than from the Spar), and
soon it was time to go.
   Before heading for the campsite, we stopped at a nearby garage to have
the truck looked at (it was having trouble starting, and we'd have to
push-start it each morning).  While waiting, a local white (who we were to
see later that afternoon as well) drove up in an Australian Moke to have a
look -- though after some time, Laroux decided to first drive to the
campsite and leave us off, then bring the truck back to be worked on.  The
camp we stayed at that night (M.O.T.H. Camp) was different than the one we
were originally to stay at (we were to stay at one with a pool along with
the Dragoman group), but it wasn't bad, and was close to the garage
(probably the reason for the change).  The white lady running the office was
nice enough, but didn't seem to know anything about anything -- from where I
could buy a phone card to the outcome of the just-completed referendum
(saying she didn't even vote, and had no idea if the referendum passed or
not -- something hard to believe, as it was a top story everywhere).  The
organization that runs the campsite (M.O.T.H. -- Memorable Order of Tin
Hats), provides housing for the aged, and while the campsite wasn't anything
special (the only place to get a snack or drink -- the office -- closes at
6:30pm), it certainly was more than adequate (and I liked the fact that the
money earned was going to a good cause).
   With the weather being so hot and sticky, the first thing I did at camp
was cool off with a shower... but shortly thereafter, Greg told us all he
had found out about a good swimming pool at the nearby Kariba Yacht Club --
so he, Audrey, DJ, and myeslf soon headed off for the club, walking just a
short distance up the road.  Once there, we were able to buy a day
membership for Z$20/US54c, and it was certainly worth it: at the bar, we
each ordered soda waters, then sat out on the deck overlooking the lake for
a while before Greg, DJ, and myself went in the pool (Audrey was perfectly
happy just to relax and read her book on the deck).  One clever thing that
caught my eye: the restrooms at the club were humorously labelled "outboard"
for men, and "inboard" for ladies.  Though the pool had some insects
floating around, it was clean enough -- and quite refreshing to do some laps
in.  After swimming, we met up again with the Moke-driving guy from the
garage and talked with him for a bit.  He didn't think our truck would be
fixed before noon tomorrow, but by the time we arrived back at camp to
prepare dinner (relaxed and refreshed now), the truck was there, fixed.
   The paper that day ("The Herald") had many interesting news stories: the
Mugabe-backed referendum has been defeated -- 54% NO to 46% YES, with the
countryside voting YES slightly more, but the cities delivering a resounding
NO (six of the country's ten provinces voted YES, but the four that voted NO
were the largest ones).  Only about 20% of eligible voters even turned out
for the election, and even in the countryside where Mugabe's support is the
strongest, the YES vote wasn't much more than the NO vote.  Mugabe gave a
statement accepting the vote, and lauded the Zimbabwean people for voting in
a peaceful and orderly fashion.  Now, the current 1980 "Lancaster"
constitution will remain in effect until another go can be made at changing
it or writing a new one.  More than a few people told me that during the
writing of the proposed constitutional changes (the referendum that was just
defeated), Mugabe promised to hold hearings to find out what the people
wanted -- but it was revealed that the terms of the new constitution had
already been decided upon before any hearings, and such hearings were
nothing but a sham to look good to the public...
   In Mozambique, 48 are confirmed dead and 15 missing in the country's
flooding (and it would only get worse in the coming days, with the rains
being the heaviest since 1951).  In Maputo and nearby Matola, hundreds of
homes are still underwater due to lack of proper drainage systems, giving
rise to fears of a major cholera and malaria outbreak -- and the rains have
also displaced 150,000 people in those two cities alone (when the Portugese
left their former colony, they did so with a scorched-earth policy, doing
things such as pouring cement down the sewers to prevent adequate drainage
in the cities.  In the end, thousands of Mozambiqueans would lose their
lives or homes due to Portugal's vindictive behavior)...
   Other news: Petrol rationing continues in downtown Harare (usually
between Z$400-Z$500 worth depending on the station).  The manager of a Mobil
station in the CBD (Central Business District) was quoted as saying "Most of
the filling stations in the CBD received limited petrol suppplies... which
may last for three days if rationing is closely monitored"...
   Other items in the paper: an ad for a Harare electronics store called
"Circuit Citi" [sic], and a political cartoon with the caption "Zimbabwe,
2000" under a picture showing the 1980 Lancaster House Constitution (the one
that remains in effect now that the recent referendum was voted down)...
there's a 4-page ad for the upcoming "Mobile Registration Programme" (where
the government drives to rural areas of the country to enable villagers to
register births, deaths, and sign up for voter registration), and the ad
lists the dates and various areas the mobile programme will be visiting...
there is news that a teen burgular (16) was sentenced to receive two strokes
of a rattan cane as punishment, as well as a report from South Africa that
South African president Thabo Mbeki offered Zimbabwe a loan of R800 million
(US$131 million) to help with its current petrol/cash crisis -- conditional
on Zimbabwe pulling its troops out of the DRC (though the South African
foreign minister has said that Zimbabwe hadn't asked for, nor received such
a loan)... taking up a few pages in the paper was a story about the premiere
of a movie partially shot in the Victoria Falls area of Zimbabwe, featuring
a young local boy as one of its stars.  Though the movie seemed extremely
"B"-grade (and featured mostly unknown European actors), it received quite a
spread due to it having been filmed in the country.
   In the "Letters to the Editor" section, two of the letters were signed
with real names, but others had only handles (a letter reporting a bad
driver was signed only "Shaken, Harare", and one titled "Performers Marred
Tournament" was signed "Ashamed, Harare").
   Finally, while listening to SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation)
on my radio that evening, I heard a news report that one-quarter of all
South African policemen are illiterate.

Feb. 17: Harare
   It rained a bit during the night, but the real rain came this morning at
breakfast (luckily, we finished our eggs just before the rain started to
come down hard).  When the downpour hit, half of us went in our tents and
the rest went in the bus -- but after a few minutes, Carmen came back out to
say we can't just wait for it to clear up -- so we took down our tents in
the pouring rain and left the campsite.
   Before leaving the Kariba area, we stopped at the same Shell petrol
station again to get diesel, and while Laroux was filling up the truck, I
hopped out and talked to some of the station attendants (Zimbabweans are
quite friendly if you engage them in conversation, and I enjoyed doing so
whenever possible).
   The drive from Kariba to Harare isn't too exciting, with just a lot of
trees, weeds, grazing lands, and farms (most of which -- but not all -- had
white-sounding names), and it was here in this area at this time that the
farm seizures first started...
   It all started quietly enough, with a small group of black war veterans
deciding to occupy and squat on some land owned by white farmers (claiming
it should rightfully be theirs) -- but as time went by, more and more blacks
began doing the same, and as of the time of this compilation (May 2000), the
situation has become totally out of control.  There's a strong case to be
made for both sides (for the whites who legally purchased the land at the
time, as well as for the blacks who had their land taken away from them
years before by English colonial power) -- but rather than trying to resolve
the issue peacefully, Robert Mugabe has used it as a last-ditch attempt to
hang on to power after 20 years, as he sees his popularity declining
(evidenced by his recent referendum defeat).  Ignoring the rulings of his
own courts (which recently ruled the seizures illegal), Mugabe has sided
with the black squatters, encouraging them to continue, and making
statements to the effect that if any whites forced off their lands have a
problem with it, they should take their complaints to London.  Worse still,
the confrontations have become violent -- and more than a few people have
lost their lives over the past four months.  Sadly, this IS a legitimate
issue that needs to be addressed and resolved, but with an aging 20-year
dictator using it for his own personal gain, things don't look good.
Zimbabwe does have elections scheduled this year -- and hopefully the issue
will somehow get settled peacefully over the coming months.
   This area of Zimbabwe is agricultural, and nearby are plenty of
businesses to support the nearby farms (selling everything from fertilizer
to tractors).  There are plenty of electrified fences around the farms (to
keep the cattle in and trespassers out), and while many of them are indeed
efficient and productive, we also passed plenty of fenced-off areas that
seemed to be going to waste (miles and miles of unused farmland with nothing
but weeds growing up from the ground).  The cattle in Zimbabwe (unlike that
found in neighboring countries) is of the non-humped, American variety.
   Passing through Karoi (a nice small farm town) without stopping, we then
passed through the "large" town of the area: Chinhoyi (once again, without
stopping).  It's a shame to try to visit a country if all you do is zoom
from one point to another without taking the time to look around for even a
few minutes, but that's the way a Which Way tour is (and sadly, Chinhoyi
looked like a nice town to explore: besides all the ag-related businesses,
ATMs and shopping malls, there was also a nice local marketplace that seemed
worth checking out -- but of course, we had no way to communicate with
Carmen that we wanted to stop, though even had we been able to, her response
would have been a resounding "no" anyway).  Most of the ride this morning
was spent getting some phone numbers in order for the free afternoon in
Harare -- as I'd need to take care of a lot of business today (everything
from changing my airline tickets to making reservations for an extra day on
   Every few miles along the road were signs reading: "Beware: You have now
entered an area atively protected by members of the neighborhood watch and
armed [??]...Anti-hijack campaign" (I couldn't make out one of the words
whizzing by so fast).  Also, a common sight here (as in the rest of Africa),
is the ubiquitous "superette" (mini supermarket) -- and along with plenty of
these, I even spotted a butcher shop with the sign "Great Dyke Butchery" on
   Coming into Harare, the scene is again similar to the outskirts of many
large African cities: large rich homes with satellite TV dishes secluded
behind high walls.  We arrived at the Possum Lodge Backpackers in Harare at
1:20pm, and after putting our tents up, ate a late lunch.  The lodge is
located in a nice, tree-lined area of Harare (where all the embassies are --
it's on the same street as the Embassy of Greece, and is nearby the
embassies for Iran and Palastine), and is a 10-minute walk to the start of
downtown or a 15-20 minumte walk to the center of downtown.  The lodge is
nice enough (with a restaurant, pool, ping-pong table, and bar), though it
can be a bit noisy, as it always seems to be busy, and one side of the camp
borders Second Street -- a major street in the area.  You can place overseas
phone calls from the lodge, but there's a 3-minute minimum on such calls --
and at Z$250/US$6.76 for a 3-minute call to South Africa, or Z$300/US$8.11
for a 3-minute call to the USA or Europe, it isn't much cheaper than using
one of the telephone shops in town (though they don't charge for incoming
calls if you have your family call you back at the bar, you must still
contact your family to have them call you back).
   The afternoon was cloudy, but thankfully not raining.  After lunch (and
cleaning up -- it was DJ's and my turn to cook), I left the campsite to go
into town... it was about time I had an afternoon to myself, and I wasn't
about to let it go to waste.  Harare is a nice enough large city, without
much charm but still not a bad place -- however, I needed to take care of
some business first.
   The first thing I needed to do was find a post office were I could buy
some telephone cards.  According to a small map I had of the city, there's a
post office heading away from downtown, but after walking for a minute or
two in that direction, I decided to turn around and head for downtown,
knowing I'd find a bigger post office in the city centre.
   In Zimbabwe, both telephones and mail are handled by the PTC (Posts and
Telecommunications Corporation), but the phone system in the country is a
laughing joke: even in the capital, finding a public phone (especially a
CARD phone) is a real challenge -- and then, almost without exception, that
phone will be broken (though if by some luck it's actually NOT broken, your
call will almost never go through).  The situation is no better for phones
in offices or homes: at the Possum Lodge bar that night when I tried to call
home to the U.S., it took an average of 15-20 tries to get an overseas line
each time.  The bartender's response?  "What do you expect?  This is the
PTC."  If you want proof of how bad Zimbabwe's phone system really is, all
you need to do is look in the local paper, which is filled each day with ads
from companies expressing the same problem: "due to a PTC fault, all of our
phones are down.  Please contact us on the following mobile numbers..." 
Each day, any paper you pick up will be FULL of ads such as these ("due to
the rainy season, please use our mobile phones to reach us" or "our
telephones have not been working for weeks.  Please contact us at our mobile
   Upon reaching downtown, I headed to a large post office and bought myself
three telephone cards (Z$50, Z$100, Z$200), figuring I'd buy a few in
different demoninations so I could keep them as souvenirs once they were
used up.  Outside the post office was only one card phone, and it (as well
as the coin phones) had a long queue in front of it.  When it was finally my
turn, I tried to call the U.S. Embassy in Mozambique to check if things were
indeed as bad as I had seen on TV, but no matter how many times I tried, the
call wouldn't go through (nor would it go through to the UK or Canadian
embassies in Mozambique either).  I then tried to call home to my message
machine just to see if the phone was actually working or not (though I
couldn't have checked messages anyway, for even though the phone was
push-button, it dialed with clicks, not tones) -- and it took five attempts
to have the call to go through (and often, even when a call would start to
go through, the line would suddenly go dead after a ring or two without
being answered on the other end -- though no credit was deducted from the
card).  Finding a working line out of the country is quite a challenge --
and a mystery in a country where other parts of the infrastructure are
actually quite good.  Afterwards, I tried to call South African Airways in
South Africa, and miraculously, it took only three attempts to get that call
to go through (though at the rate the telephone card's credit was being
eaten, it would have run out long before an agent answered -- as even the
expensive cards are eaten up almost immediately when calling out of the
country).  All this calling took a while (since there was always a queue for
the phone and I'd get back in line so as not to be rude), but finally I gave
up and decided to just find the South African Airways office here in Harare
instead.  There was no yellow pages in the phone booth, so I walked up to
one of the post office windows and asked the lady there if I could look at
one.  She brought one out, and I soon found the address and phone of the
local SAA office.  With yet another queue at the phone, I decided to ask for
directions rather than waste anymore time trying to call them.
   On the way to the SAA office, I passed Parliament House and stopped to
ask if it'd be possible to have a look inside.  The guard out front said it
was indeed possible as long as I entered before 4:30pm, so I continued on,
planning to return when finished with SAA.  When I came back later though
(before 4:30pm), I was unable to go inside, as all the people eligible to
show a visitor around had already gone home for the day, and one's not
allowed to enter without such a guide.
   Upon reaching the SAA office, I spoke to one of the agents there
(Claudia), who cancelled my Mozambique flights and put me on an earlier
flight to Maurutius (on the 25th instead of the 26th).  She wasn't able to
issue a refund, but said that I could receive one either in Johannesburg, or
once back in the U.S.  Once that was done, I also asked her to do the
seating for my flight back to the States, but she pulled up the old
reservation by mistake (with a return in April rather than March), and I
didn't even notice it was the wrong reservation until I left the office (a
few weeks ago at Cape Town airport, I had paid South African Airways US$125
to change my return date from April to March).  Later that afternoon, when I
noticed the printout she gave me had the incorrect April date on it, I began
to panic (even though my physical ticket had the correct March return date
on it), and that evening, spent quite a bit of money from the bar at the
Possum Lodge calling my dad, asking him to contact South African Airways in
the U.S. to find out what went wrong.  As it turns out, though the old
record was still in the computer (with Claudia finding that one first), the
correct one was in as well -- and there wouldn't be any problem.
   With the ticket taken care of, I then wanted to make some phone calls to
Mauritius and check email if possible.  Pointing out the window of her
office, Claudia said there was a phone & email shop across the street, so I
went to check it out.  Their prices (which also required a 3-minute minimum)
were high, so I opted to pass in hopes of finding a working card phone
(after all, I had just purchased Z$350 worth of telephone cards and didn't
want that money to go to waste).
   Walking around Harare, one thing I noticed here as well (as the sight is
common in virtually every large African city) is the sheer number of trash
cans found on each street.  Often attached to lights or poles, there are at
least a half-dozen of them on any given block, and having them so convenient
means people actually throw their trash into the bins rather than down onto
the street.  The results are quite apparent, with the streets of most major
African cities being quite clean and free of rubbish.
   In the middle of a pedestrian shopping mall, I found a card phone that
actually worked -- once.  I managed to place a call to the Johannesburg
airport Road Lodge and make a reservation for myself for one extra night
(since I wouldn't be going to Mozambique), though as soon as I hung up, the
phone broke down and gave an error message on the display.
   While walking around the city that afternoon, I tried more than once to
use some of the local ATMs -- but they're not as reliable in Zimbabwe as
they are in other countries: the Barclay's Bank ATM I found was closed, and
the Stanbic (part of Standard Bank) ATM wouldn't accept my CIRRUS-based
card.  A common problem with ATMs in Zimbabwe is that even if the ATM has a
CIRRUS or PLUS decal on it, it still won't work with CIRRUS or PLUS-based
savings or checking accounts (even though the ATM's screen shows you have
the option of withdrawing from these accounts) -- the only time they worked
with foreign cards was using them to withdraw cash from either MasterCard
(part of CIRRUS) or Visa (part of PLUS).  For instance, the Standard &
Chartered ATM had a CIRRUS sticker on it (as do all Standard & Chartered
ATMs in Zimbabwe), but no Zimbabwe Standard & Chartered ATMs would ever work
with my CIRRUS-based ATM card, even though the card worked fine in other
countries of the region.  When I tried my VISA card though (a credit card
instead of a savings or checking account), it did work -- so I withdrew
Z$2,000/US$54 from Visa and went on my way.
   While doing my errands, I did take a little time look inside some of the
city's shops... in one (a Chinese shop), fake Sony PlayStations were for
sale (with the name just slightly altered), and some of the larger camera
stores were selling disposable cameras at high prices (the cheapest I saw
them for was US$19 with flash or US$13 without).
   Soon, I found myself at the main post office, and thought I'd check to
see if there were any card phones nearby (as they seem to be located near
post offices).  Sure enough, I hit it big time, as below the post office
down a flight of stairs was a whole row of card phones.  The first two I
tried didn't work at all, but the third worked -- so I started placing my
calls.  First, I needed to book myself a room for the first night in
Mauritius (I had already arranged accomodation for the subsequent 3 nights
at the north end of the island, but I'd be arriving a day earlier now, and
would need a room for that first night).  Figuring it'd be nice to spend one
night in the island's capital (Port Louis), I telephoned a hotel I found in
the Lonely Planet book (the Hotel Le St. George), which was now asking US$40
for a room.  I made a reservation, though in the end, I wound up staying
someplace else.  I then called Bridle's B&B in Cape Town just to check in
and re-confirm that I'd be staying there at the end of my trip.  As always,
they were quite friendly, and said if I needed to come a day early (as I was
contemplating), it wouldn't be a problem.  When this was done, I placed a
call to a person who runs tours of Soweto, booking myself on a tour for the
following week.  The credit on the phone card gets eaten moderately fast for
calls to South Africa, but when calling Mauritius or the U.S., the credit
seems to disappear almost instantly.  I had soon depleted all the credit on
the phone cards, but had accomplished what I needed to do: I had cancelled
my Mozambique flights, booked an earlier flight to Mauritius, arranged
accomodations for the new itinerary, and booked myself a Soweto tour.
   Continuing to wander around the city, I stopped at a bookstore and picked
up another small notebook (to use as a journal while on Mauritius) and a
newspaper -- though I didn't notice the newspaper was an old one from
February 11th until it was too late.  Still, it contained some interesting
news items on the then-upcoming referendum, including a full-page ad
(sponsored by the "Constitutional Commission" and printed in the local
African language) urging people to vote YES (and thus, support Mugabe). 
Also in the paper was an ad from the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation,
mentioning that ads for the 2000 election will be at going rates -- and then
goes on to say that "ZBC will produce its own programmes and invite all
contesting political organisations to participate.  If the security of our
crews is guaranteed, public meetings conducted by political organisations
will also be covered."
   I'd have to be heading back to the campsite soon, but took another
half-hour or so to look around.  There are many beggars sitting out on the
city's sidewalks with cups in front of them, and as one lady began singing
(quite well), I left her a donation.  Passing a Ster-Kinekor mutiplex
theatre, I arrived at a new indoor shopping complex (complete with fancy
atrium) and looked inside.  As people began leaving work at 5:00pm, the
streets soon filled with upright, well-dressed Zimbabweans going home, and I
realized it was almost time for me to leave as well.  Not too far away was a
wonderfully-designed modern glass building that I noticed was the Zimbabwe
National Reserve Bank -- and I couldn't help but wonder if there was any
money left in it at all.
   At about 5:30pm, it was finally time to head back for the campsite,
though I did so reluctantly -- for after a few weeks of being with the
group, I really enjoyed having the freedom of a few hours on my own.  It's
not that the group was bad -- everyone except for Greg was fine, but morale
was low due to the way Carmen and Laroux were treating us, and getting
soaked in the rain that morning had also given everyone a sour mood.
   Dinner that evening was served to us by the Possum Lodge -- and even
though it was only cold spaghetti, I didn't mind, for it meant that DJ & I
didn't have to cook -- though I wish Carmen would have told us beforehand
that we wouldn't have to be back early to prepare dinner (it was typical
Carmen -- helpful as ever).  Carmen also angered the group another way that
night by telling us to put our tents up in one specific area (the noisest
one next to the nearby street), and NOT to put them in the area where it was
quieter -- then went ahead and put her own tent up in the quieter section,
far away from us.
   Before and after dinner, I spent quite a lot of time at the bar using
their one telephone to first call South African Airways, then my dad (both
to discuss my fear of there being a mistake in the return reservation, as
well as arranging flight times for my brother's upcoming wedding).  In the
evening, it started to drizzle, but after dinner, I spent some time reading
the (correct) day's paper and jotting notes down into my journal while some
of the others in the group watched a bad movie on satellite TV.
   A few misc. observations: all over Harare are plenty of minibus taxis
(usually saying "Omnibus Transport" -- though I saw one spelled "Ominbus
Transport"), and cel phones are extremely popular here due (naturally) to
the fact that the PTC's land-lines never seem to be in working order.  Also,
that one BIC pen I borrowed from the desk clerk in Halali, Etosha weeks ago
is still writing.  From Etosha onwards (except for the few days on
Mauritius), this entire travelouge was written using it, and the pen
deserves to get filed along with my "Yamagiwa" bag (an electronics/AV store
in Japan) under the catagory of "unusually trusty travel items" (when I
bought some LaserDiscs at Yamagiwa in 1990, they gave me one of their normal
plastic shopping bags... and the darn thing refuses to tear!  I take it on
trips -- including this one -- and though it gets ragged and worn, it never
   In today's "Herald" newspaper: long-distance and rural travellers now
face bus fare increases of 34%, from Z82c/km to Z$1.10/km effective today...
the Concorde is to land at Harare International Airport tomorrow for the
second time in seven years, with a group of 50-60 children who participated
in a British Airways-sponsored art competition aboard... petrol supplies at
some stations in central Harare have improved by yesterday afternoon, with
motorists being allowed to buy as much as they want (with no rationing)...
in South Africa, the kombi taxi drivers are protesting against government
plans to reform the industry in that country by attacking minibuses carrying
commuters... the World Bank might re-start aid to Kenya again by mid-year...
in the paper's opinion section was an article written by a local teacher who
was fed up with teaching: "I have joined the teaching service in 1971 and am
still a teacher today.  After 20 years, I now feel tired, less motivated,
and at times bankrupt of new ideas to motivate the pupils.  Yet I may not
retire until 55.  If I resign now at 49, I will lose a good retirement
package.  Staying on the job I feel is cheating, because I am no longer
dedicated to my job.  What do I do?  I would like the Public Service
Commission to advise me on the best way out.  --Basa Raoma, Murambinda"...
the Herald also commented on the new Harare city budget, which included
large fee increases -- admitting that the city council avoided increasing
school fees, but as things stand now, students must buy their own books and
texts, which will wind up hurting the poor even more... finally, it also
mentioned that hospital costs have risen 100%.
   Tonight, as Carmen and Laroux slept (having put their tent up in the
quiet area of the campground), no one in our group had a good night, as not
only did the street noise keep us up, but the bar was open pretty late --
and after it closed, the local staff (speaking an African language) then
played ping-pong and talked through most of the night.

Feb. 18: Great Zimbabwe
   Leaving Harare at 7:45am today, we passed a street named "Rotten Row"
while going through downtown.  Both a Shell and a Mobil petrol station we
stopped at were out of diesel, but a BP on the other side of the road had
some left, so we stopped to fill up there.
   While driving out of the city, I noticed a small truck from a funeral
home, and written on its side was: "Moonlight Funeral Services: we light
your way to final destiny."  With all the death occuring in Zimbabwe now
from AIDS, I'm sure the funeral business must be booming.
   Today, we'd stay at the Great Zimbabwe ruins (Shona ruins from the 11th
century, and the place that gave Zimbabwe its current name).  The drive from
Harare to Great Zimbabwe is nothing special -- just lots of grazing areas
and weeds, with almost no villages (at least by the highway).  Passing right
through the town of Masavingo (the "large" town near the ruins), I once
again wished we could have stopped to just get out and look around even for
only an hour, as there were plenty of shops, a "locals" marketplace, a nice
park, and a long queue in front of the bank -- but we stopped only at the
local Shell station (with an attached mini Spar) to get more diesel.
   The campsite at Great Zimbabwe is about 30kms from Masavingo, and is
located inside one of Africa's most interesting sites: the ruins at Great
Zimbabwe (made a national monument in 1937) date from 1200-1500AD, and were
the home of Shona civilization and the Shona king of the time.  They're made
of stone ("Zimbabwe" means "Great House of Stone" in Shona), and when
Rhodesia became independent in 1980, the country took its new name from this
monument.  The complex is quite large, with the ruins up on the hill having
belonged to the king, and the sites down below, to his wives.
   It was a cloudy, foggy, overcast day, but Carmen said that it almost
always rains here.  Audrey and myself decided to hire a guide (availble for
Z$75/US$2 a person), while the others declined -- a shame, as our guide was
quite nice, and provided us with a lot of information and history about the
area.  The small museum located at the site was currently being refurbished,
so only a temporary building was available, but the main reason to visit the
area is to see all the huge stone walls and buildings that still stand
today.  The soapstone birds (small bird statues excavated from the area)
have become a symbol for Zimbabwe, and their likeness can be found on the
the country's coins (on the back) and bills (as watermarks) -- not to
mention replicas at just about every curio stall you come across.  While
showing us around, our guide was also quite willing to talk about everyday
life as well -- from boyfriends to her hair (when Audrey asked how long it
takes to have her hair braided, our guide mentioned she was unhappy with the
last hair stylist she went to, and would try another one next time).
   After touring the ruins, Audrey wanted to walk out to the main road,
where a line of curio-sellers had set up shop.  Walking in the mist, we
passed the hotel attached to the campsite and stopped in for a wonderful cup
of hot chocolate.  At the curio stalls, Audrey bought a large tablecloth
(which she planned to cut and turn into a dress), and I noticed plenty of
empty Kiwi shoe polish cannisters (for turning the wood black) left in the
area.  On the way back, we stopped at the hotel once more for another hot
cocoa -- and in the bar where we sat down, English-dubbed Japanese cartoons
were on TV!
   Walking back to the campsite, we ran into another Which Way truck that
would be staying the night here as well.  With the ground quite muddy and
the drizzle starting up again, we flagged them down for a lift -- and
inside, noticed this other Which Way bus had a leak in the same place as
ours: the roof over the front right-hand seats.  Back at camp, the rain
began to come down harder, so all eight of us just tried to pass the time by
sitting in the bus.
   After a decent dinner (a braai, with both beef and sausage), we all
turned in early, but none of us had much sleep -- for not only was the
ground wet from all the mist and rain, but Carmen, Laroux, and the other
Which Way driver kept us up all night talking in Afrikaans amongst
themselves.  Still, the campsite itself was quite good: though there's no
bar or anything to do in the evenings (except to find your way to the hotel
complex 600m away), it's located right by the ruins, has toilets with toilet
paper, hot showers, and is Z$280/US$3.73 to camp for the night.

Feb. 19: Bulawayo
   It was still misting at breakfast, but looked as if it might clear up
soon, and after the last of the eggs, we left for Bulawayo.  The first thing
we did was stop at the Shell station in Masavingo (with the attached Spar)
for diesel.  The Spar wasn't yet open, but I hopped out of the bus to start
talking with the attendants, and at the Shell window, picked up a bag of
popcorn for Z$1.10/US3c and a newspaper.
   On the drive to Bulawayo, I spotted plenty of monkeys on the side of the
road playing and sitting on the rail line, as well as a passing road sign
which said "Filter When Safe" (rather than "Merge Ahead").  African women
were carrying baskets on their heads under umbrellas, but soon the sun
started to come out -- and for the first time in days, I took out my bottle
of sunscreen.
   We arrived at the Bulawayo City Caravan Park by 11:30am, and as with the
government-run campsite at Great Zimbabwe, Bulawayo's campsite is also very
nice: hot showers, toilets and a good setting -- but no bar or place to hang
out in the evening.  At the gate is a "FAX/Telephone/Email" booth with no
email service, as well as plenty of advertisements for local businesses and
establishments (including one for the "Bulawayo Hebrew Congregation").  The
camp is located off a nice residential street near the Natural History
Museum, and is only a few minutes walk to downtown via the back footpath
through a small park.  After setting the tents up and having lunch, I went
out to explore the city.
   Bulawayo is large, but rather than being centralized, the city is quite
spread out.  For Africa, its streets are wide and were built this way so
that ox-drawn carriges could make U-turns.  Bulawayo's elevation of 4,000
feet also means that malaria isn't a problem, and gives the city a pleasant,
moderate climate.
   The first thing I did after leaving camp was stop at a takeaway for a
quick bite and something to drink (as lunch hadn't been very appealing). 
There, I asked the white lady running the place where the marketplace was
(hoping to find a bao board) when one of her regular customers said he was
just about to leave for that area, and would show me the way.  The white,
middle-aged Zimbabwean was an interesting fellow (who mentioned he was
toying with the idea of becoming a tour guide himself for nearby Matopos
National Park), and I learned a lot from him as we walked through the city. 
As was the view with most white Zimbabweans (and many non-whites as well),
he detested President Robert Mugabe -- and made sure he talked loud and
clear about how he hated him as we passed others on the street (saying most
people are afraid to speak out against him for fear of "disappearing").
Ecstatic that the recent referendum was defeated, he was adamant that after
more than 20 years in power, the country needed a new leader.
   The first thing we did was stop at the large F&S supermarket so he could
pick up some items (there, he bought me a bottle of his favorite local
orange-concentrate mix -- though I later gave it away, as while the gesture
was nice, I don't like such highly-sweetened drinks).  Then, walking down
Bulawayo's streets, he pointed out the city's many historic buildings --
when they were built and what they used to be, as he had lived most of his
life in Bulawayo.
   As we walked, I mentioned that I needed to find a camera shop selling
disposable cameras, as just yesterday, the rewind knob on my old Canon AE-1
Program had broken (I could still rewind the film with a lot of effort, but
thought I should pick up a disposable just to be safe).  Though I had seen
them for sale in Harare, the guy wasn't sure any local shops would carry
them, saying "this is Zimbabwe" -- but we tried a few camera shops anyway.
The two I went inside (including one that was Korean-run) didn't carry any,
so the guy suggested going back to the F&S, as most stores would be closing
at 1:00pm on Saturday -- but I didn't think a supermarket would sell them,
so we just kept walking.  Before long, we reached the local flea market
where we parted ways, and I thanked him for the mini tour of the city.
   The flea market wasn't the curio market I was looking for, but was still
interesting to look at nonetheless: much as with some flea markets here in
California, the stalls sold cheap, new items -- everything from CDs to shoes
to combs.  I wound up buying a small tube of toothpaste for Z$35/US95c
(giving the lady the orange-concentrate mix as well), though I later saw the
same toothpaste for sale cheaper at the supermarket.
   After a few minutes at the flea market I decided to walk back, and soon
found myself at the curio stalls where Ted and Audrey were busy browsing. 
Here, every vendor you see tries to get you to look at their wares ("let me
show you what I have!  It doesn't cost anything to look!") -- but when I
mentioned I was looking for a bao board (and described what I meant), one of
the fellows came back with a scruffy one that had obviously been used for
several years.  When I told him I would want a new (and smaller) one, the
man said one could easily be made for me, but would take some time (and
unfortunately, I'd be going soon).
   With it being a Saturday, most of the shops in town closed at 1:00pm
(including a Kodak Express shop that through the window, I noticed did
indeed sell disposable cameras) -- but I still spent the next four hours
wandering around the city anyway.  A few businesses were still open (I had
an ice-cream cup and some mini-doughnuts at the "Creamy Inn"), but more than
anything else, I just enjoyed being out for a walk in the beautiful weather.
First, I wandered towards the courthouse (with its green copper top), then
just meandered all over the city at random, going up and down any street
that caught my fancy.  In the distance, I noticed a coal-burning power plant
(much like the ones you find in South Africa -- which resemble nuclear
plants), and as I kept walking, found myself at the Bulawayo Centre (a
shopping complex with stores and cinemas).  The internet cafe in the Centre
was already closed (it was 2:00pm), and the nearby telephone shop with an
"Email/Internet" sign in the window had no Email service -- but the CNA
bookstore inside the Bulawayo Centre was open until 3:00pm, and inside, I
managed to find a made-in-France disposable Kodak camera for Z$470/US$6.26
(though there was NO indication as to what its film speed was).
   As the CNA closed at 3:00pm, I left the Bulawayo Centre and found my way
to the large TM supermarket: a huge, American-sized supermarket (and the
only one open on Saturday afternoons) with plenty of people outside and
dozens of minibus taxis picking up and dropping people off.  Interestingly,
earlier that afternoon, I had passed a "Food 4 Less" market (closed on
Saturday afternoons) whose logo design was exactly that of the "Food 4 Less"
markets in California -- though since it was the only one I saw in Africa, I
don't know if it was actually part of the U.S. chain or not.
   At 4:00pm, I walked back to the caravan park and decided to pay a visit
to the Natural History Museum just two blocks away.  The admission is Z$20
for locals and Z$78 for visitors, but is well worth it, as I was amazed at
how good a museum it actually is.  One would not suspect that a museum this
good would be found in Africa (let alone in a "secondary" city such as
Bulawayo), but it is one of the city's best assets.  The place is not only a
wonderful general museum for local kids to learn about everything from
geology to dinosaurs (including an "underground mine" exhibit displaying
many of the various minerals found in Africa along with their uses), but
also contains exhibits and displays on African culture and history for the
visitor.  The museum covers everything from natural history (birds, man,
geology, dinosaurs, predators) to Zimbabwe-specific themes (exhibits on
Rhodes, African chiefs, leaders both black and white, culture, customs,
aftifacts, and examples of early life in the area), and even sets aside the
the lower level for visiting exhibits (this time, the area contained
pictures and samples of sea life from the Seychelles).  I figured I'd be
done looking at the museum within 20 minutes, but when closing time came at
5:00pm, I wished I had more time.  It really is a museum worth checking out.
   After looking at the statue of Rhodes outside on the museum grounds, I
headed back to the campsite to see what the others were doing.  Most were
just hanging out doing laundry, but Greg and DJ were getting ready to check
out a local pool they had heard about nearby.  Changing into my swim trunks,
I decided to join them.  Sure enough, just a block or two behind the
campsite (via the back footpath) is the local Bulawayo swimming pool -- and
like the museum, it's quite nice... with its large pool and grassy setting
(complete with palm trees and a well-manicured lawn to relax on), it
instantly reminded me of something I might find in a nice, older Southern
California city such as Arcadia or Pasadena -- though unfortunately, we
arrived at 5:50pm, just as the pool was getting ready to close at 6:00pm. 
Though we'd be staying in Bulawayo tomorrow night as well, we wouldn't have
a chance to use the pool, as we'd be spending the day in Matopos National
Park and wouldn't arrive back until 6:00pm (still, it was nice enough that
both DJ and Greg took pictures of it).  On the wall inside the office was an
old black & white photo of the pool taken years ago, and the man at the gate
told us he'd been working there for 25 years.
   After returning back to the campsite, I went for a short walk down the
tree-lined street the campsite is located off of, and with its nice homes
and quiet setting, it made for a pleasant late-afternoon stroll.
   Back at the campsite, I caught up on my journal a bit and looked at the
day's paper: the season's lightning death toll rises to 112... more flooding
and cyclones are expected in Mozambique... this weekend, students at a
Harare school whose parents haven't paid the tuition were paraded in front
of their classmates in an attempt to embarass them into paying... and a
column in the paper mentioned that during the current petrol crisis, private
car owners are cashing in by giving rides -- and recounted an ugly incident:
one guy driving a car was charging Z$15 for lifts instead of the usual Z$10,
and the two passengers he picked up didn't want to pay the extra money --
but lied and said they would.  The driver sensed they were lying, and when
the two admitted they only had Z$10 each, the driver parked his car in a
narrow alley, making sure the passengers couldn't open the doors to get out.
The driver then went in for a drink, came back, went in for another drink,
came back out again, and so on -- finally letting the passengers go a full
seven hours later.
   In the local Bulawayo paper (The Chronicle): rains leave 2,000 homeless
in rural areas... rains destroyed 242 huts within the last week... a full
year's water supply has streamed into Bulawayo's dams in the 3-day period
ending yesterday... Mugabe urged his ZANU(PF) party to listen to people's
complaints in light of the recent rejection of the referendum... more than
3,700 people will be displaced by the Gwayi-Shangani dam... there were also
plenty of ads dealing with broken phone lines: "We would like to advise our
valued customers that all our Bulawayo telephone numbers are down due to a
PTC fault"... "We would like to advise our valued customers that all our PTC
lines are out of order.  Please phone us on the following mobile lines as
alternatives"... "Telephone Blues: We would like to advise our valued
customers that during the rainy season, our PTC lines are invariably out of
   In the evening, most of us went out to the movies (with just Christian,
Soren, and Katje staying behind, feeling they wouldn't be able to follow the
dialogue).  The Bulawayo Centre has a 4-plex, so calling a taxi, we went off
to see "American Pie" (though Audrey saw "Entrapment" instead).  At the
Centre, all four movies start at the same time (in this case, 8:00pm), so
the ticket window opens shortly before 8:00pm, and people waiting for all
four movies buy their tickets at the same time (ticket prices were only
Z$45/US$1.21 -- though sodas cost Z$25).  The theatres are small, relatively
new, and kept clean (no sticky gum on the floor) with decent projection and
sound.  The show begins first with ads (in this case, for Coca-Cola) before
the coming-attraction trailers.  Then, the lights go on, and there's a
one-minute intermission before the lights dim and the show starts.  The
audience was about 3/4ths black and 1/4th white, and responded quite well to
the movie, laughing along with the jokes (as opposed to a Japanese audience,
which tends to watch in silence, even at the funniest parts).
   We had arranged with the taxi driver who took us to the Centre to pick us
up at 10:30pm.  However, when the movie was over, it was quite cool waiting
outside under the nice, full moon.  When 10:30pm came and our taxi hadn't
yet shown up, we asked a guard to ask another driver to radio in about our
cab.  A few minutes later, our driver showed up and apologized for being
late (saying he had to leave a fare off).  Back at the campsite, I took a
hot shower and turned in at 11:15pm.
   Misc. note: due to the poor telephone lines in the country, cel phones
are quite popular with those who can afford it.  One cel company offers
pre-paid cards called "mango" cards -- and though they have recently changed
the name to "juice", everyone still refers to them as "mango" cards (I even
read a column where the writer lamented that his kids now know "mango" to
mean a cel card, not a fruit).

Feb. 20: Bulawayo / Matopos National Park
   Using the telephone stall at the gate of the campsite, I called home this
morning: when I had asked the guy there the previous night what the rate to
the U.S. would be, he told me Z$70.5c/min with no 3-minumte minimum -- but
this morning after placing a call, the rate on the computer at his desk
popped up as Z$233/US$6.30 for 2 minutes (Z$177/minute).  When I asked about
it, he said "well, maybe because it's morning now, and more people make
calls in the morning."  I protested: "But you said weekends were the cheap
rate, and today's Sunday!"  "Sorry, but that's what the computer shows." 
Even though there was no 3-minute minimum, it was more expensive than other
shops that had a minimum -- and the true cost of the call isn't known until
after you're done (I wound up having to pay by credit card).
   At 8:45am, Brian and Paul from Adventure Travel came to pick our group up
for an expedition into Matopos National Park.  Both guys (white Zimbabweans)
were excellent guides, and I cannot recommend them enough to anyone planning
on visiting the park.  As soon as the eight of us hopped into the open-air
(but covered) Nissan truck, we were on our way -- though at the park gates,
we were told that due to the recent rains, vehicles weren't being allowed
inside the park.  However, unlike some of the other game parks I visited, we
would be allowed to enter on foot if accompanied by authorized guides (in
this case, Brian and Paul).  It was hot (though not uncomfortably so), and
as we hiked, Brian was a wealth of information about the area and the
animals found here (as well as the political situation in the country). 
Paul was quite good at tracking animals down, but perhaps due to the recent
rains, not too many animals decided to show themselves this morning (we ran
into a few giraffe and some warthogs, but nothing much else -- and coming
across another guide and group, they hadn't had much luck either).  After
about two hours, it was decided that Brian should take us out of the park
and show us a few other things while Paul would stay behind and try to find
some rhino... we'd then come back, and hopefully be able to find the rhino
   While Paul left to go animal-tracking, Brian took the rest of us to a
small, nearby family farm where he has an arrangement with a local lady
(whose husband passed away) to show people her small plot so visitors can
see how people live in the area.  Being a Sunday, no one was home, but we
could still look at the huts from the outside and get an idea of what local
farm life was like.  We then crossed the road to look at a nearby cave (full
of rock-drawings from various ages -- from old, red San drawings to newer
white ones), and by the time we left, the old lady's daughter had returned,
enabling Brian to give her a bit of money for allowing us to look around the
   At this point, we returned to the park gates for a good lunch (sandwiches
and ice water -- when Audrey asked if the water had been boiled, Brian
replied "it's local Bulawayo water, but there's no problem with it.") There
was a family of warthogs wandering across the path to the bathroom, and as I
gently tried to get past them, the mother snorted before leaving with her
kids.  Soon, Paul came back with some luck: he had spotted some rhino, and
when lunch was finished, we'd go to find them.
   After putting the coolers back in the truck, we set out once again.  This
time, we hiked deeper into the park (for well over an hour), and after
turning course a few times (with Paul noticing their tracks), we found the
rhino: a mother and her baby, relaxing in some mud.  We were quite close,
and since we were on foot rather than in a vehicle, if the mother were to
charge at us, our only recourse would be to climb up a tree.  Still, it was
wonderful to see the endangered rhino so close (and on foot, rather than
through a car window) -- and staying quiet, we crept even closer to watch
(though we stayed under the shade of a tree).  Both mother and baby were
rolling in the mud, eating it for the minerals, and didn't seem to pay us
much mind.  The walk back was muddy, through wild grass (some of which was
taller than me), and off in the distance were plenty of stone boulders --
some in formations, and others balanced on the surrounding hilltops.
   At the gate, we then left for Cecil Rhodes' grave (the founder of
Rhodesia as well as the DeBeers diamond company).  In his will, Rhodes was
very specific about where he wanted to be burried (on a specific mountaintop
in Matopos), and what his epitath was to say ("Here lies the remains of
Cecil Rhodes") -- and after an easy walk up to the gravesite, one is
rewarded with a fantastic 360-degree view of the surrounding area.  Also
nearby is a fancy monument to other white men of Rhodes' era, and crawling
all over the tan rocks at the top are plenty of multi-colored lizards.
   Driving back into town, Brian left Paul off at a service station before
dropping the rest of us back at the caravan park, and even though there
wasn't much to write about for the day, it was actually one of the best days
on the whole tour.
   Earlier, Paul had given me his newspaper, so in the early evening, I was
able to catch up on the day's news.  After dinner, Ted, DJ, Greg, and myself
decided to go see "Entrapment" (even Carmen and Laroux went -- though they
naturally sat separately from us), though we were almost late due to having
to wait for Greg to finish a phone call.  I had already seen "Entrapment"
three times (twice at home, and again on the plane to South Africa), but the
ticket was cheap enough, and it was better than just staying back at the
caravan park doing nothing.  At the movies that night, I realized that
tomorrow would be the last full day with the Which Way group.

Feb. 21: Victoria Falls
   We left the campsite this morning at 7:00am for Victoria Falls, stopping
first at a BP station for petrol.  While driving through town, I noticed a
young black girl in a school uniform (perhaps about 13) talking on her cel
phone while walking to school -- even with the many poor in the country,
there IS a real middle- and upper-class, and not just among whites.
   I picked up a "Chronicle" at the BP station and caught up on some of the
latest news this Monday morning: in Namibia, UNITA rebels kidnapped a woman
and her two kids... Mozambique is expecting another hurricane today, with
aid outfits are trying to fly in food and relief supplies... and yet another
ad in today's paper says "our PTC lines have been out of order for over a
week.  Please use our cel numbers..."
   Today (February 21st) is Robert Mugabe's birthday (he's 76 years old),
and the Chronicle has a propaganda-like spread proclaiming what a great man
he is (earlier, Brian mentioned that both the "Chronicle" and the "Herald"
are controlled by Mugabe.  A newspaper that has recently started up -- the
"Daily News" -- is one of the few true independents in the country, but has
been suffering labor problems recently).  The paper is also filled with ads
from various large Zimbabwe companies, eager to wish Mugabe a happy
   Also in the Chronicle is an article on the "21st February Movement" -- a
program formed 14 years ago to honor the nation's youth (and Robert Mugabe's
birthday).  Every year, each of the country's 10 provinces send selected
children born on Feb. 21st (and after 1980 -- the year of Zimbabwe's
independence) to a selected city and treats them to various special events. 
This year, Victoria Falls will play host to the events, and the lucky kids
who are picked will be bussed via luxury motor coach to Victoria Falls.  The

organization tries to get companies to donate money for the kids, and a
fund-raising committee (supposedly independent from Mugabe's ZANU(PF) party)
was formed to oversee funds and organize activities.  Kids from Bulawayo
will have to wait to celebrate until early next month though, as "21
February Day" coincides with the local Youth League Workshop.
   The drive to Victoria Falls isn't anything special, and we arrived at the
Victoria Falls Municipal Campsite by 1:00pm (the camp is OK, though not as
nice as Bulawayo's or Great Zimbabwe's).  We set up our tents for the last
time, and after making lunch (it was our turn), we all left to explore the
   Much like Queenstown New Zealand, Victoria Falls has tried to become the
adreneline-capital of the region, and besides viewing the falls, there are
plenty of activities from bunji jumping to white water rafting to keep you
busy (and plenty of tour-booking desks to book the adventures for you). 
Carmen mentioned earlier that if we wanted to partake in any such
activities, we should book at "Safari Par Excellence", the booking agent
that Which Way recommends (for kickbacks, no doubt, as there certainly were
no discounts for us), and after lunch, those in the group that wanted to
book an activity walked up with Carmen.  After the less-than-stellar
companies that Which Way had recommended throughout the tour, I was more
than a little hesitant to use Safari Par Excellence, but in the end, the
prices for most tours are pre-set by the operators, and discounts (if
available) seem to be offered by all booking agents -- so I decided to go
with the group to see what they had to offer.
   DJ wanted to try her hand at white water rafting, but as I have done this
before (and didn't care for bunji jumping), the only activity that piqued my
interest was skydiving.  Now, I'm not a "danger" person, but I do actually
enjoy heights, and had always wanted to try skydiving at least once -- so I
figured "why not just try it here?"  Well, the price certainly wasn't cheap
(US$160), but in the end, I decided to pay it and give it a try.  However,
Safari Par Excellence would only accept credit card payments made in Z$
dollars (claiming they only had Z$ credit card slips).  They first
calculated what US$160 would be in Z$ -- but at their "current" exchange
rate (US$1=Z$39.75 rather than the proper US$1=Z$37), it would be a lot more
once Visa received the transaction and had to convert it back to US$. 
Complaining about this, they kept insisting that it wouldn't be more than
US$160 -- but knowing better, I wrote "NOT VALID FOR OVER US$160.00" next to
my signature.  Sure enough, with Safari Par Excellence's inflated exchange
rate, the bill was for over US$166 (and Visa had let the charge go through,
as since everything is automated, the slips themselves are never examined
unless there's a dispute).  Too busy to bother after returning home, I let
the US$6 slide, but let this be a warning to you: be very careful about the
exchange rate used when someone in Victoria Falls quotes you a price in US$.
Shortly after I booked the jump through Safari Par Excellence, I found the
offices of the skydiving company ("Tandemania"), and wished I had just
booked directly through them instead of giving "Safari" their percentage and
letting them take an additional hidden commission off the top with their
inflated exchange rate.
   After booking my skydiving stint for tomorrow morning, I looked around
the area a bit... the town of Victoria Falls is actually quite small, but
full of tourists (mostly of the rich, fly-in type -- the reason everything
in the area is so much more expensive than in other parts of the country or
region).  There are hundreds of indoor and outdoor curio stalls of all
types, but don't even bother looking at them unless you're prepared to pay
through the nose for anything you find.  The prices here are so much higher
than in the rest of the country, it's almost laughable -- and bargaining
does little good, since the starting price is so astronomical.  The sellers
here know there are more than enough rich, older tourists flying in everyday
to buy their curios that if they don't get your business at a price 20x what
it should be, they'll just get it from someone else (and sadly, most of the
time they're right).  So take this warning: DO NOT wait for Victoria Falls
to buy souvenirs unless you want to be fleeced.
   At one of the outdoor curio markets, a hawker said he could find me a bao
board (called "ndsoro" in Zimbabwe), and asked me to come back in a few
minutes.  While waiting, I stepped into the one indoor shop I had skipped
earlier, and there inside the shop was the hawker, talking to the shop's
salesman (as luck would have it, the one shop I had skipped earlier was the
one that actually had bao/ndsoro boards for sale).  As I walked over to look
at the boards (they had no price stickers on them), the hawker approached
me, saying the price would be Z$1,000/US$27 (with him obviously getting a
handsome cut of the profits) -- but the four boards they had weren't half as
nice as the one DJ bought in Malawi for MK360/US$7.82, and though he went
"down" to Z$800/US$21.62, it was still WAY too much.  The next day, I walked
back into the shop by myself, and noticed the boards now had price stickers
of Z$776.25/US$20.98 on them.  I walked right out.
   When looking at some of these curio stalls, one trick used by hawkers is
to say "Oh, I like your cap!  I'll trade you something for your cap!" or "Do
you have a pen?  I'll trade you something for a pen!" -- but don't fall for
this line: it's only a ploy to get you to stay at the stall and start the
bargaining process.  Just for the heck of it though, I played along once:
earlier, I had given Audrey my unused plastic water-bottle to keep, so she
gave me her spare cap in return -- and when a seller said "I like your hat! 
Come... I'll give you something for your hat!" I thought I'd try it and see
where it went (as I was wearing my dirty "Seac Sub" cap I bought in Cape
Town, and had Audrey's cap as a spare).  Even though I didn't see anything I
wanted, I picked out something mid-size -- but then the hawker said "oh no,
that's too big!  I can't give you that for the hat!  So the hat and how
much?  Z$800?  Ok?"  One other seller offered me point blank something from
the "tiny" asile on his display for the hat, but even though I had no need
to keep a dingy cap, there honestly wasn't anything I wanted more than it!
   In town, I stopped at the local post office to buy some telephone cards
(two Z$50 cards) just to find out that NONE of the card phones in Victoria
Falls will complete overseas calls to the U.S. if the area code begins with
a "7" (yet another quirk of a phone system that's laughable).  Of the few
card phones in town, most were broken -- but there WERE a few working ones
around, including one at the entrance to the campsite.  However, from each
card phone I tried, calls to any U.S. telephone number with an area code
beginning with "7" were blocked (an "ERROR" message would pop up immediately
on the LCD display as soon as the "7" was dialed).  Calls to other area
codes NOT beginning with "7" (949, 213, 310, etc.) went through fine -- but
this did me little good, as all the people I wanted to call (including to
home) had area codes beginning with a "7" (I even thought of calling a
friend in New York and asking him to call my dad with a message to call me
back -- but HIS area code began with a "7" as well!)  An interesting note
about the Victoria Falls post office: inside, up on the wall, are small
poster ads for products such a laundry soap (in a post office?)
   Checking out an indoor shopping arcade, I found the Tandemania office and
two internet cafes.  Stepping into Tandemania to verify that I had indeed
been booked for the following morning, I asked what the weather forecast was
for tomorrow -- and everything looked good.
   Once business had been taken care of, I went to go see the falls
themselves.  It was about 4:00pm... but this turned out to be the perfect
time to see them, as it's when the lighting is right for multiple rainbows
(I never did see the falls from the Zimbabwe side in the morning, but I can
tell you there will be plenty of rainbows over the falls if you view them in
the afternoon).  There is a constant spray at the falls that never lets up,
and from the sky, it looks almost like clouds rising up from the ground (as
I would see the next day while skydiving).  The admission charge on the
Zimbabwe side is US$10-US$20 depending on the time of year (it was US$10 in
February) -- but if you exit, you're not allowed to re-enter without paying
admission again.  The park closes before sunset, but once a month on nights
of a full moon, you can enter for a "moonlight night" admission of US$30.
   The area surrounding the falls has plenty of lush vegetation, trees, and
grass due to the constant spray, and you can get quite soaked walking along
the trails and standing at some of the lookout points.  While looking around
the area, a 20ish Japanese guy asked me if I could take his picture, and we
soon got to talking as we walked around the falls: he was from Chiba, and
worked in a camera store (he had a medium format camera with him), and would
be travelling around Africa on his own (rare for a Japanese tourist).  He
was going to Mozambique next, but hadn't heard about the terrible flooding
in the region, so I warned him to check with his embassy first before going.
   At about 6:00pm, I left the falls area to look at the bridge that crosses
between Zimbabwe and Zambia (and is also the area's bunji jumping site). 
Sure enough as Laroux had said, local Zimbabwe immigration WILL let you
enter Zambia and return back to Zimbabwe on a single-entry visa if you
return within 12 hours (they don't even bother to check or stamp your
passport unless you ask -- instead, they give you two little pieces of paper
which you give the gate guard when you leave and re-enter Zimbabwe).  This
afternoon, I "left" Zimbabwe to walk onto the bridge, though I didn't
actually enter Zambia (its immigration office is a short distance past the
bridge).  On the bridge, plenty of bunji jumping was taking place (it's
supposedly the highest bunji bridge in the world at almost 300 feet -- and
$95 a pop), but I was happy to just look at the view.
   I returned to camp at around 6:40pm, where the group had our last dinner
together (Carmen made spaghetti, with DJ and I cleaning up afterwards).  In
the evening, I walked around town, buying a soft-serve cup at Wimpys before
entering the indoor shopping arcade to check my email.  The large internet
cafe upstairs would not allow telnet from their systems (after waiting a few
minutes for an open termial, I verified this myself), but the guy there said
to try a place in town called "Telco" -- located in the alley behind
Hunter's Bar (mentioning it's where the internet cafe gets their own
connection from -- and that they allow telnet there).  I went to check it
out, and sure enough, had no problem telnetting from Telco -- though at
Z$120/US$3.24 for 15 minutes, it was a bit more expensive than the other
internet cafe (at Telco, you must use their own special telnet program --
different than the standard windows job, but fine nonetheless).  At least
the connection was steady, and extremely fast.
   After checking email, I ran into Christian, Greg, DJ, Katja, and Soren at
the Expolrer's Pub.  Everyone seemed to be having a good time (Christian was
quaffing down a few more brews than he should have -- as was Greg), and we
all talked for a bit.  After that, DJ, Greg, and myself left to go check out
a disco in the "Great Enclosure" at The Kingdom Hotel down the street (a
fancy new complex re-done just a year ago, and run by Zimbabwe Sun Group,
not part of South Africa's Sun Hotel chain) -- though we never did see it,
for once inside, we were distracted by the casino and its slot machines. 
While walking around earlier, I had merely peeked in at the casino, but now,
as Greg sat himself down at the slots (with DJ doing so as well), I thought
I'd try my luck (unlike many casinos in Africa, this one has no entrance
fee).  I changed Z$10/US27c into coins, and 20-30 minutes later, walked away
with a Z$20 bill (winning a "big" Z$10/US27c!)  Inside the casino were
plenty of Japanese tourists gambling money at the roulette wheels and
tables, and while wandering through the aisles, I met up with Katie and Mal
from the Dragoman group, as well as their two tour guides.  After Katie
played some blackjack (which ended quickly), we all sat down together to
talk.  The guides (unlike Carmen and Laroux) were a pleasure to talk with,
and yet again, I wished I had chosen Dragoman rather than Which Way.
   At a little past 11:00pm, I left the casino for the campsite, where I
took a shower and turned in.  Christian was still out (the first and only
time the entire tour he was out later than me), and came back quite drunk a
bit later on.  The next day, I heard DJ left Greg at the casino, as he was
drunk and getting abusive towards her (like myself, DJ doesn't really
drink), but no one was able to sleep much that night with all the general
campground noise that lasted well until the sound of construction took over
at 5:00am.

Feb. 22: Victoria Falls
   This morning I was up at 5:30am -- not only because of the construction
noise, but also to be up early enough for my skydiving trip.  By 6:00am,
everyone else was up as well, and we were soon all saying goodbye to each
other.  A few days earlier, Carmen had mentioned that if we wanted a
personalized "Which Way" T-shirt as a souvenir of the trip, we could have
one made up here in Victoria Falls at a place she knew about (for US$17) --
but with the way we had been treated on the tour, not one person wanted a
Which Way T-shirt.  However, before it was time to go, I corraled everyone
together for an "after" group picture (to go with the "before" picture we
took in Nairobi) -- and everyone else soon wanted their own "after" picture
as well (all except for Greg, who pulled his cap down and just looked at the
ground for everyone's camera).  While we would all see each other around
town later that day (except for Greg -- who disappeared after breakfast,
never to be seen again), this was officially the end of the tour.
   It was a beautiful morning with a clear sky and full moon, and by 6:00am,
the stationary balloon over the falls (from which you can view them for
US$20) was already up in the air.  Basically skipping breakfast (though
others didn't have much desire to eat either), I left the campsite at 6:30am
for the Safari Par Excellence office, where I would be picked up by
Tandemania at 7:00am and could leave my luggage (in an agreement worked out
with Which Way).
   Right on time at 7:00am, Spud and Eric of Tandemania came by to pick me
up and drive me to the airport... Spud was the person who would be jumping
tandem with me, with Eric was going along just for the ride (if I had
ordered a video, he would have been the one to operate the camera).  Hopping
into the back of the covered bakkie, I had to read and sign pages and pages
of indemnity forms as we drove to the airport (located about 20kms outside
of town off the main road).  After stopping to pick up an assistant who
would help out on the ground, we soon found ourselves at the airport.
   Waiting for us there was a small Cessna (piloted by a local), and while
Spud, Eric, and the assistant set everything up, I used the toilet at the
airport fire station.  When they were ready, Spud gave me instructions on
how to jump and land with him while slipping me into the gear.  Once on
board the plane, we were fastened to each other (though Spud didn't tighten
the straps all the way until shortly before we jumped).  The door on the
side of the plane was removed for jumping, so I had a terrific view for the
   It would take a few minutes to reach the correct altitude (9,000ft above
the airport -- Spud had an altitude meter on his wrist), and while climbing,
the pilot flew over the falls, giving me a fantastic view of them from the
sky (sure enough, it does indeed look as if clouds are rising up from the
ground).  I took some nice shots out the open door with my old Canon until
shortly after the halfway point -- when (though still climbing), the pilot
turned back towards the airport and Spud told me it was time to get ready. 
Giving my large camera to the pilot, I slipped the disposable one into my
pocket (as Eric said it'd be OK to take pictures once the chute opened), and
with Spud clamping us tightly together, we inched towards the open door. 
Going over the instructions once more, Spud told me to dangle my legs out
the door, bend them back beneath the plane, hold my harness with both hands,
and tilt my head upwards while arching my back a little.  While I was
perfectly calm during the jump itself (it's actually quite enjoyable), I do
have to admit that I had just a bit of trepedation right as we were about to
jump -- with my legs dangling out an airplane at 9,000ft above the ground --
but soon enough, we were out the door with a gentle push, and free-falling
towards Earth at a speed of 200kph (125-130mph).
   While in Las Vegas, I had once tried an "indoor skydiving" attraction,
but there's no comparison to the real thing: it's an exhilarating experience
to free-fall from such a height, and the 40 seconds or so of free-fall
(before Spud opened the chute) seemed to go by in an instant.  Surprisingly,
I felt very little discomfort: an initial butterfly in my stomach when first
diving immediately went away, and though there was constant wind in my face,
none of it was going up my nose as I thought it might (perhaps because of
the goggles).  Spud tapped me twice (signaling I should put my arms out and
bend them a square 90-degree angle from my body), and after about 40
seconds, opened the chute, slowing us instantly down.  The next few minutes
were spent gently floating down to Earth, watching Eric off to the side
having fun on his own, and looking down at the spectacular view with miles
and miles of trees and forest below me.  Though on the plane by the open
door my hands had become quite cold, once we jumped, the temperature was
actually pleasant -- and with little wind until just above ground, it was a
perfect morning for jumping. 
   I was enjoying the jump so much that at first, I forgot that I had my
disposable camera with me -- though once I remembered, I took it out and
began snapping pictures.  As we came closer to the ground, Spud had me place
my feet on top of his, and for the landing, I was to bend my knees and bring
them up towards my stomach as much as I could.  We landed gently (rolling
just a bit), and it was over -- a perfect landing.  Upon standing up, the
first thought through my head was "I want to do this again!", and had the
price been more reasonable, I almost certainly would have.  I know that
tandem jumping isn't anywhere near as difficult as jumping solo (in a tandem
jump, your instructor guides the chute and you're basically just along for
the ride), but while it certainly was an exhilarating experience, it was
also a lot more (you'll excuse the pun) "down-to-earth" than I thought it
would be: no discomfort (even during the free-fall), and something that I
think most people could easily handle.
   Back on the ground, I did notice one thing: some of the money I had left
in my wallet was missing (I had counted it exactly before going up, and one
Z$100 bill/US$2.70 was now gone).  The assistant was the one watching my
belongings, and though I was going to mention it to Spud and Eric, I then
thought to myself "stealing money isn't right, but he might lose his job
over it, and to me, it's only US$2.70."  For better or worse, I decided to
play dumb, and didn't say anything.
   On the drive back into town, I asked to sit in front with Spud so I could
get an idea of the layout of the town as we drove through it (as the truck
had no windows in the back).  While driving, we chatted a bit about Zimbabwe
and skydiving, and once back in Victoria Falls, noticed the Sprayview Hotel
(where I'd be spending the night) off on the left-hand side of the road. 
When I mentioned to Spud that I'd be staying there, he said (as others in
town had), "I don't know how the rooms are, but it has a nice swimming
   It was only 9:00am, and I was already back in town with the full day
ahead of me.  I met up with Mal (the Kiwi on the Dragoman tour), and we had
breakfast at the Pink Baobob Cafe (recommended by her Dragoman guides --
who, unlike Carmen & Laroux, knew which places were good, and let the group
in on the information).  There, I had freshly-squeezed orange juice
(Z$50/US$1.35) and scrambled egg on toast (Z$65/US$1.76), as I had eaten
only a bit of dry bread and syrup earlier, not wanting to eat much before
jumping, and certainly not wanting to have cold oats for one more day.
   After breakfast, I went to have a look at the Zambian side of the falls,
but this time at Zimbabwe immigration, the officer there only wanted to give
me one slip of paper for the gate guards instead of two (as I had been given
the previous afternoon).  When I inquired, I was told that a second slip
wasn't necessary -- but I had a sinking feeling that it was (and I was
correct).  Leaving Zimbabwe, I gave my only slip to the guard at the gate as
I left to walk towards the bridge.  On the way, I ran into Ted, who had just
come from watching some of the bunji jumping (though he hadn't actually
crossed into Zambia).  However, he had been given two slips of paper upon
exiting.  Uh-oh.
   On the other side of the bridge, I entered Zambia (no problem, as I had a
multiple-entry Zambian visa in my passport, though if you don't, Zambia will
issue you a day-visa for US$10), and walked the short distance to the falls
on the Zambian side.  There, the admission is either US$6 or US$3 depending
on the time of year (it was US$3 during February), but I only had a US$5
bill.  The lady at the entrance booth didn't have enough change (having only
US$1), and when I asked if I could get the other dollar back in Zambian
kwatcha, she replied "do you know what the exchange rate is?"  I had
forgotten it, so instead, she just wrote "change $1.00" on my entry slip and
said I could stop back on the way out to see if she had any change by then.
   The views from the Zambian side of the falls aren't as spectacular as
those from the Zimbabwe side, but they afford the visitor much closer access
to the actual falls and are definitely worth seeing: not only can you hike
down to the bottom of the falls (a bit off to the side, but still close
enough), but you can also walk along the edge of the falls on top -- right
by the point where the water goes over the cliff.
   The first thing I did on the Zambian side was walk down the "boiling pot"
path to an area near the bottom of the falls not too far from the bridge.
The "boiling pot" gets its name from the circular currents the water takes
as it flows into the area (resembling someone stirring a pot of liquid), and
the climb down to it is a mix of steps (for the upper part) and rocks (for
the lower part).  With all the constant spray in the area, the lower part
resembles a lush, green rain-forest, and at the bottom (once you've climbed
over dozens of rocks), you find yourself at the boiling pot itself.  There's
not really anything too exciting about the area, but the walk down is nice
(if slow because of having to climb the rocks), and it's about the only
place you can get a view of the area from the base.
   After climbing back up, I began to walk everywhere along the marked
paths... there are plenty of trails to follow in the area, and I wound up
taking just about all of them.  One path takes you to the point next to
where the water is just about to fall over the side of the cliff, and it's
quite interesting seeing the falls from this "back" side.  Hanging around
the areas near the spray will get you quite soaked, and it's worth noting
that the metal walking bridges here can get quite slippery with all the moss
that collects on them due to the spray.
   After looking around the falls for a good 3 hours, I left the park,
stopping back at the entrance booth to see if the lady had received anymore
change.  Sure enough, when I asked, she produced a US$1 bill, and crossed
off the "$1.00 change" she had written on my stub.  Just outside the
entrance are some curio stalls and a snack shop, so I thought I'd have a
look just in case there was a bao/ndsoro board for sale.  It was the same
old routine though, with pushy hawkers telling me how much they want my cap
(or pen, or T-shirt) -- once again, saying it just to get you to start
bargaining -- but even if it were true, and I could trade my old cap, pen or
T-shirt for something, I honestly wanted to keep those items more than
anything I saw at the stalls.
   Suddenly out of the blue, a convoy of SUVs and police cars drove up, and
everyone's attention turned to them.  Walking up to one of the officers, I
asked what was going on, and was told that a Namibian politician (the
assembly speaker, if I remember correctly) was visiting the falls with his
Zambian counterpart.  Near the parking area, I walked into a small
curio/snack shop to buy a soda and talk to the friendly white lady who runs
the place, but even in here, there was nothing interesting to catch my eye,
so I soon left to walk back to the Zimbabwe side.
   At Zimbabwe immigration, there was now a problem: I had used the only
slip of paper given to me earlier in order to leave Zimbabwe, and now needed
another to re-enter the country.  The official at the counter was a trainee
and wasn't sure what to do -- but the lady next to him looked at my passport
and saw that the exit stamp had today's date on it (thankfully, the
mis-informed official had earlier stamped my passport -- something they
don't usually do for a day-exit).  When I noticed the same official on the
other side of the room (and pointed him out to the lady), she looked at him,
nodded her head, stamped my passport, and gave me a slip of paper so I could
get back in the country.
   On the walk back, I was offered a lift by the owner of one of the local
campgrounds, but thanking the guy, I decided just to walk.  However, on the
way back (as well as walking in town later), I was approached constantly by
obnoxious hawkers trying to sell their wares -- and they can be quite
annoying.  Here, you must completely ignore them, because if you say "no",
"no thank you" -- or even "no thank you, my friend", they just won't stop
harassing you.
   The thing I wanted to do next was to check out the fancy Victoria Falls
Hotel: this is the luxury hotel where those with money (lots of it) stay,
and the place was full of rich, older tourists (mostly white or Japanese).
The grounds of the hotel make a nice walk, with a sculpture garden (its
items for sale), pool, restaurant terraces, and gardens -- but it soon began
to get hot, so I decided to look around inside.  Walking down one of the
hallways, I noticed an empty reading room that was air-conditioned and
well-stocked with newspapers.  Sitting down on a comfortable chair, I cooled
down for a bit, catching up on some of the recent news (including news that
Cyclone Eline hit Mozambique over the weekend, and that the dam at Lake
Kariba will open its floodgates on February 26th).
   Around 1:30pm, I left the Victoria Falls Hotel to walk back to the Safari
Par Excellence office to pick up my luggage, and from there, I walked up to the
Sprayview Hotel.  The Sprayview is the region's one "budget" option (at
US$55/night), and is located at the edge of the town away from the falls
(though the town is quite small).  Walking from the Sprayview to the center
of town takes about 10 minutes down a gentle slope, but walking up
that afternoon (especially with my heavy pack and in the hot mid-day sun),
it took about 20 minutes.  Arriving at the hotel at around 2:00pm, I
promptly checked in.  The hotel grounds are pleasant (with indeed a
wonderfully-large swimming pool), but the rooms are definitely budget:
there's no TV (just a broken radio), and the decor looks more than a little
dated.  Still, it's adequate, and though US$55 for this type of room would
be a ripoff anyplace else in the country, here at Victoria Falls (where the
other area hotels charge from US$150-US$290+ for a room), it was the obvious
   The rooms have celining fans and air-conditioning -- but don't expect the
air-con to work: the first room I checked into had an air-con unit as loud
as a diesel truck that didn't seem to cool the room at all, so I asked if
I could try another room.  In the 2nd room, warm air was coming out of the
unit, so I asked for a 3rd room (normally I wouldn't make a fuss, but I was
spending US$55, and after a month of camping, I had been looking forward to
air-con!)  When I went with the bellman into the 3rd room (#42), the
air-con seemed to work OK -- but after a few minutes, it suddenly shut off. 
When I asked at the desk about this, they finally said that the air-con
system was being worked on, and they'd ask the maintenance guy to look into
it.  Before leaving the hotel to go out, I made the mistake of leaving the
unit set to "on" -- for when I came back later, the room was hot and muggy
(with the unit indeed going back on, but spewing out nothing but muggy,
musty air).  Finally meeting up with the air-con maintenance man, he
explained that each room's unit is not an individual cooler, but rather, is
connected to the large, main air-conditioning unit at the edge of the
hotel.  Since major rennovations were going on at the hotel (including to
the rooms), someone had damaged one of the water pipes, though it should be
fixed soon (an older man overhearing our conversation chimed in that he had
been at the hotel for a few days now, but no matter how many rooms he tried,
he couldn't get one with working air-con).  Normally, I would have just
opened the windows, but there were no screens on them and Victoria Falls is
a malaria area, so in the end, I just turned on the ceiling fan and tried to
make due.  To be fair, the Sprayview isn't a bad place at all -- it's just
that I had been looking forward to air-con after a month of camping and was
a bit disappointed when it didn't work.
   After dropping my luggage off in the 3rd room, I left to go back into
town.  Grabbing a late "lunch" (a takeaway sandwich and soft-serve cup at
Wimpys), I looked around some of the curio stalls again (seeing the Z$776.25
price stickers on the ndsoro boards now inside the indoor curio shop). 
Audrey (who at first thought her travel agent had booked her at the Victoria
Falls Hotel), was actually booked at the Sprayview -- so I'd be seeing her a
bit later... but I did meet up with Ted, DJ, and the Dragoman group while
trying (with no luck) to use the card phone at the campsite, and we all
talked for a bit.  DJ had enjoyed her rafting adventure (as had Katie and
the other Canadian -- though they had used a different company), and I told
them about my skydiving.
   Walking back up to the Sprayview (and discovering my hot, muggy room), I
decided to go for a dip in the pool.  A sign in the room asked guests not to
use room towels at the pool, so I walked to reception to ask for a pool
towel -- only to be told that they were all "finished" -- so after walking
back up to my room to get a room towel, I finally went in for a dip.  (Note:
people here like to use the word "finished" instead of saying they're "out"
of something... and also use the word "brilliant" to describe anything
good -- such as Carmen saying "ach, it's a BRILLIANT campsite!")
   Audrey was relaxing by the pool, so I invited her to come in for a dip
with me.  Joining me in the water, we talked about our just-finished tour,
our guides, and the group between swimming laps.  The poolside
bar/restaurant is popular even among those not staying at the hotel, and
hearing someone call my name, I turned around to see Spud (from Tandemania)
sitting there, having a drink with a friend.
   After swimming, I wanted to go back into town for the evening, so as
Audrey relaxed at the hotel, I went back out.  First, I stopped at Telco to
try to check my email, but a meeting was in progress inside and they'd be
closed for a few hours.  Next to Telco is a takeway stand, so I ordered a
small pizza there and ate it on the nearby bench (though I should have
waited, as the restaurants inside the Great Enclosure at the Kingdom Hotel
are much better and just as cheap).  Finishing the pizza, I walked into the
Great Enclosure casino and met up with Ted, as well as Katie and the rest
of the Dragoman gang.  I took the Z$120/US$3.24 I would have spent for 15
minutes of email access and used it on the slots (with it lasting me about
the same amount of time).  Afterwards, the Dragoman gang sat down for dinner
at the Italian restaurant next to the casino, and Ted and I kept them
company.  Though I had already eaten (a shame, as the pizzas here looked
delicious), I ordered a chocolate malt -- and was quite satisfied.
   At 9:00pm, I decided to go back, and though I had walked the distance
between the Kingdom and the Sprayview a few times during the day, I was a
bit apprehensive about doing so at night (as part of the walk is un-lit) --
so I decided I'd take a taxi back if it didn't cost too much.  The first
taxi I asked wanted Z$100/US$2.70 for the short distance, but another driver
then offered to take me for Z$70, so I accepted.  Ted came along for part of
the way (being dropped off at the campsite), and I was back at the Sprayview
Hotel shortly after 9:00pm.  It was really quite a full day.

Feb. 23: Victoria Falls / Johannesburg Airport (South Africa)
   This morning I had a large, included breakfast with Audrey out by the
pool (as it'd also have to be my lunch as well).  After breakfast, the two
of us walked into town to take one last look around the curio markets
(including the fancy "Elephant Walk" section, where psudo-real dancers were
putting on a show).
   In one small shop back in the main curio area (just about the only open
business in an otherwise deserted building), I found a tiny wooden hippo for
Z$16/US43c -- which seemed a fair price, as the hawkers at the outdoor curio
stalls were asking 10 times that for the same item.  As mentioned earlier,
the curio situation in Victoria Falls is reversed from other parts of
Africa, with the "regular" indoor shops actually being cheaper than the
outside stalls (because of the greed of the outside hawkers).  For example,
some slightly-larger hippos selling at this shop for Z$49 were being sold in
the outdoor stalls for Z$250-Z$400.  If you simply must buy a souvenir in
the area, my suggestion is to just visit an established shop -- you won't
get a bargain, but you won't be fleeced either (as you most certainly WILL
be at the outside curio stalls).  This seems to be true only in Victoria
Falls, and not in other parts of Africa: in some of the small villages in
Malawi, I felt almost guilty for not buying something other than a keychain
to help them out -- but here in Victoria Falls, there is absolutely NONE of
that -- as a tourist, you will be ripped-off and treated as just another
sucker.  The "rip-off-the-tourist" atmosphere in the area (along with the
constant touts pestering you with everything from curios to booking tours to
changing money) is, I suppose, inevitable with the town being a major
tourist destination, but it can still leave a very bad impression of the
   Other than a bao/ndsoro board (which I finally wound up buying in
Johannesburg at the end of my trip), the only other thing I was looking for
was stickers of flags from the various countries I had visited.  The only
place I had seen such stickers for sale was in a small shop in Nairobi,
though I didn't buy them at the time for I felt they were too expensive and
didn't like their look -- but since then, I had been unable to find them
again.  One shop here though, was selling patches of the various African
flags for Z$73/US$1.95 each, so I wound up buying 11 of these instead of the
   When finished at the curio stalls, Audrey and I split up, with her going
back to the Sprayview to relax, and I going to take one last look at the
casino inside The Kingdom with the 45 minutes I had left before I'd have to
head back to catch the airport shuttle...
   The day before, I had pre-paid for a UTC shuttle to take me to the
airport: there is a shuttle scheduled to meet each departing flight, and it
will either pick you up at your hotel, or you can catch it in front of the
UTC office in town next to Wimpys. Telling the others in the group about it,
DJ said she'd buy a ticket as well, since we'd be on the same South African
Airways flight and could go to the airport together -- but I still had at
least 45 minutes before I'd need to start heading back to the Sprayview.
   There in the casino, I cashed the last of my remaining Z$ into coins (as
the shuttle had already been paid for and I had no more need of any Z$), but
after 45 minutes of playing the slots, I still had what I started with -- so
I left the casino and used the money to catch a taxi back to the Sprayview
(Z$50/US$1.35), as it had just started to rain.
   Back at the hotel, the rain started coming down harder (at least I was
getting ready to leave -- though I felt sorry for Audrey, who would be
staying in town an extra night).  While waiting for the shuttle, I bought a
paper at the front desk and said goodbye to Audrey.  Soon the shuttle came
(with DJ and one other passenger inside), and we were off to the airport.
   At the airport, South African Airways uses the Air Zimbabwe counter (and
your boarding pass says "Air Zimbabwe" on it -- though it IS an SAA flight),
and there was both a large tour group of older Americans from the mid-west
as well as a large Japanese tour group waiting to clear customs.  Today was
the first time I had to check a bag in, as on all previous flights, I had
been able to take my backpack (which turns into a duffel bag) on board.
   After paying the US$20 departure tax (which must be paid in US$ cash), DJ
and I hung out in the terminal for a few minutes.  I still had a bit of Z$
left, but there wasn't much to spend it on at the souvenir shops... so I
went to the terminal bar and ordered chocolate ice-cream in a dish for
Z$40 -- just what I had left.  While sitting there, a young lady from
Holland came up to us to ask if we wouldn't mind filling out a questionaire:
she was Dutch, but was in Zimbabwe researching malaria (and ways to make the
public more informed about it).  The questionaire contained questions such
as "which malaria prophylactics did you use before coming to Zimbabwe?" and
"what do you think is more dangerous in Zimbabwe -- malaria, or auto
accidents?"  As soon as we were finished, I noticed the plane had already
begun boarding (in fact, it wound up leaving early), so DJ and I quickly
left to board our flight.
   On board, the plane was completly full.  I had arranged seating for the
flight while back in South Africa (seat 1A), but at the check-in counter
that afternoon, they tried to assign me another seat.  When I replied that I
had already arranged a seat weeks ago, they re-checked, then gave me the
proper seat.  This was more fortuitous than I first thought, for even though
there was no "official" 1st-class section on that flight, the aircraft had
the first few rows set up as 1st class -- so while the rest of the cabin was
squished into tiny seats, I found myself with plenty of room to stretch out
and relax (poor DJ was stuck in the back, but I did walk back once to say
hello to her).  The plane was indeed completely full, and in fact back in
October, I couldn't even get the "African Explorer" rate for this flight
(having to pay full economy fare), so perhaps I did deserve the unofficial
1st-class seat.  Though the seats were 1st-class, the meals were the same
throughout the cabin -- and for the first time on an SAA flight, a bit
disappointing: just a tiny ham-on-a-roll sandwich and a granola bar.  On
board, I sat next to one of the guys in the American tour group, and we
chatted for a bit: the group had all stayed at the Victoria Falls Hotel (it
definitely wasn't a budget tour), and he was surprised to see someone able
to stay in Africa 11 weeks, as their own tour was only a bit over two weeks
   Back at the Johannesburg airport, I went to an ATM to get some rand, then
walked up to the South African service counter to try to get a refund for
part of my Mozambique ticket... as with the Victoria Falls flight, I had
been unable to get a cheaper "African Explorer" rate for the outbound, but
was able to get the "Explorer" rate for the return -- meaning there were two
different fare types for my cancelled Mozambique ticket.  I would probably
never see a refund for the "Explorer" rate return because of the way the
program is set up, but I did at least deserve a refund for the full-fare
economy outbound ticket.  While in Harare, Claudia (the SAA agent there)
told me I could get a refund for this portion either back in the U.S. or at
the Johannesburg airport -- and when I expressed fears that an agent in
Johannesburg may not know what to do and may not want to give me a refund,
she told me "well, then they're stupid.  They'll give you a refund."  When
the agent in Johannesburg then told me they couldn't give me a refund
(saying I'd have to wait until I returned back to the U.S.), I smiled and
said "gee... that's not what I was told in Harare.  Um... don't take this
the wrong way, but the agent there said you're stupid here if you don't do
it, because you're supposed to be able to."  "What agent said that?" the
lady asked.  "Claudia, at the Harare office."  With that, the lady here (who
had been quite helpful and didn't seem stupid at all) went back to ask her
supervisor, came back out, and said "well, she told you wrong.  We DON'T
refund here -- it normally has to go through the U.S. office, but since you
were told differently, I'll try to put the paperwork through."  She took my
ticket and gave me an informal recepit, onto which she scribbled a
Johannesburg phone number in case the refund didn't get processed.  I
half-expected never to see the refund, but surprisingly enough, it appeared
on my Visa card a month later.  With this agent, I also booked seating for
the newly-changed return flight from Cape Town to Atlanta, but unlike with
the flight over, the aircraft being used that day would have its upper-deck
set aside for business class, and all the exit-row economy seats were being
held.  Just to have something though, I booked myself a seat at the very
back of the plane (where the rows were only two seats across instead of
three), and was told to call the day before the flight to see if any
exit-row seats had opened up.
   When finished with SAA, I called the Road Lodge to tell them to pick me
up at the airport, but upon walking outside, the van was already there.  I
flagged it down and went back to the hotel.  At the Road Lodge, room #202
was occupied, but the lady gave me #204 (next to #202), and after checking
in, did some laundry in the sink.  In passing, the shuttle driver had
earlier mentioned that it was OK for anyone staying at the Road Lodge to use
the pool over at the City Lodge (since they're part of the same chain), so
later on that afternoon, I decided to try it -- and waited for the next
shuttle to come by.  The pool at the City Lodge was nice but unheated, and
with the cloudy, cool weather, no one else was in but me.  However, a few
minutes later another guy jumped in, telling me that hey, if someone else
was in the pool, it couldn't be too cold for him!
   After swimming for about 20 minutes, I dried off and went to look for
dinner.  By the Road Lodge, there's only the one coffee shop (or Mr.
Delivery), but near the City Lodge are plenty of businesses and small
restaurants.  Getting directions from the front desk, I walked a few short
blocks to a strip mall of takeaways and restaurants.  In one of them (the
"Steaming Schwarma" takeaway), I played a bit of pinball ("Creature from the
Black Lagoon" -- R2 for 2 games) and ordered a toasted egg sandwich.  Also
in the same complex was a "Japanese" takeaway called "Ichiban" -- but as I
walked in, the ladies at the register looked Chinese not Japanese, and
Chinese music was coming from the boom-box.  Hearing it, I said "hey...
Chinese, not Japanese", and smiled.  One lady said "no, Japanese food!" --
so I pointed to the boom-box and said "no, I mean you're playing Chinese
songs!"  Surprised, the lady said "ah, yes!  It's Cantonese!  How did you
know?"  Then, two customers walked through the door -- and the Chinese
ladies stood up, grabbed a drum-stick, hit a little drum, and shouted
"Irasshaimase!" (the typical Japanese greeting used when a customer walks
into a shop or restaurant in Japan).  It all seemed too kitch for me, and as
soon as I was out the door, I couldn't stop laughing.
   After a while, I walked back to the City Lodge, where I asked the desk
clerk a few questions about Johannesburg while waiting for the shuttle to
the Road Lodge.  Back in my room, I called up Mr. Delivery and ordered a
pizza (quite cheap here, even with the delivery charge), and sat back to
relax and watch some TV.
   Misc. notes: local calls from any Road/City/Town Lodge hotel are free. 
To reach "time" in South Africa, dial "1026" for English and Afrikaans (it
alternates with each announcement).  The exchange rate in Victoria Falls was
posted as Z$38/US$1 (rather than Z$37/US$1 as it had been in the rest of the
country) -- I don't know if it differed because of the town (as it did in
Tanzania), or because of actual exchange rate fluctuations during the week. 
Back in South Africa now, the dollar had become even stronger against the
rand, and the current rate was creeping close to US$1=R6.4 (instead of the
original US$1=R6.1, as it was at the start of my trip).

Feb. 24: Johannesburg / Soweto
   It was an overcast, drizzly morning today, but at least I had my first
good night's sleep in a month.  I went downstairs at the Road Lodge to have
some hot cocoa while waiting to be picked up for my Soweto tour.  While in
Harare, I had called ahead to book a Soweto tour from an outfit mentioned in
the Lonely Planet (Max's Maximum Tours), and at the time, had been quoted a
price of R200 including pickup and dropoff at the hotel.  However, the man
showing up this morning was Max's assistant Adolf, and the price turned out
to be less (the sign at Rocky Street Backpackers -- where the others on the
tour stayed -- indicated R130, so in the end, I gave Adolf R150: R130 + R20
   Adolf stopped by with his VW kombi to pick me up first before heading
onto Rocky Street Backpackers (where he'd pick up a British girl and a
Germany guy).  On the drive, I chatted with him a bit about life in South
Africa, and he seemed upbeat about the country's future.
   Johannesburg has a high elevation, and the city came about because of the
large gold deposits in the area.  Soweto (which stands for SOuth WEst
TOwnship), came into existence as a place for blacks working in the gold
mines to stay.  On the drive to Soweto, we passed many of the now-abandoned
mines, and their shafts were clearly visible.  Adolf mentioned that many of
the mines have closed because the price of gold on the world market no
longer makes them worth the effort, but if gold prices increase, some might
re-open -- though one closed mine has already been turned into an amusement
   Upon arrival into Soweto, the first thing you realize is that Soweto is
not just a small area -- it's a huge, entire city in its own right, with
different sections, areas, and types of homes.  The first place we drove
though was one of the nicer areas of the township, containing decent,
wealthy, homes with satellite dishes that seemed almost out of place.  Adolf
told us that some of these homes belonged to drug dealers in the area, but
even though everyone knows who they area (the sellers come out at night),
people are afraid to do anything against them for fear of the police being
in their pockets.  The next level of home was more common: average (but
quite decent) middle-class ones with yards, gates (though not of the
security type), gardens, and an acceptable car in the driveway.  These homes
belonged to civil servants, government employees, and teachers.  In the
distance, we could see rows of large barracks that were the men's hostels
where single men -- often from other countries such as Mozambique -- would
stay while working in the area.  Besides the hostels and better homes,
Soweto has plenty of shanties -- thousands of them.  Made out of any kind of
material people can get their hands on (though usually some sort of
corrugated metal), some are serviced with water and electricity, though many
are not (and those people must walk down to the local tap for water, go to
the porta-potty for the toilet, use car batteries for power and parafin for
light in the evening).  Those without phones must either use the public
phones or visit one of the many private telephone shops in the area.  The
shanties are occupied by just about everyone: the employed, the unemployed, 
the poor, recent arrivals to the area, those waiting for a house to be
built, etc.  Shanties are considered property, and if someone moves out of
one, it will be sold to a new buyer just as if it was a home.
   While Adolf stayed in the kombi, a local guide came to take us for a walk
and show us around the area informally known as Mandela Settlement.  The
guide was an unemoplyed man in his early 20s, and took us first to a lady
who lives in a shanty with her two daughters (13 and 17 -- both in school at
the time): inside, the shanty was cold, and the sound of the wind against
the metal roof was constant.  There was a charcol stove, some candles, and
parafin (kerosene) lamps for light, as well as a small boom-box and TV
hooked up to a car battery.  The lady earns some income by weaving used
plastic supermarket bags into purses and hats.  She told us she's been
waiting for a house for 6 years, and when she finally gets one, she'll sell
the shanty (which she and her family built) to someone else.
   We then walked around the area for a bit, and were constantly followed by
young kids following us just to see what was going on or hold our hand,
never asking for handouts.  Though there is still much that needs to be done
in areas like these, the task is not insurmountable, and it's amazing to see
how much the current government has already managed to do (the area already
has a new Community Centre and library).
   Next, our local guide took us to the high school where he himself had
been a student and asked permission from the headmaster if it'd be possible
for us to visit a classroom.  After getting permission, we visited the class
of one of his former teachers (a nice, well-dressed, and highly articulate
young woman), who let us look in on her class for a few minutes.  The kids
were doing work on their own for the moment, but the teacher introduced us
and answered any questions we had (the British girl on the tour was a school
teacher, so she had quite a few).  As for the kids, they were simply happy
for the distraction from the routine, but seemed too shy to ask questions --
so I started the ball rolling, asking what they were learning and what they
wanted to be when they grew up.  I don't know if this was a typical
situation or not, but I was quite impressed with both the teacher and the
classroom (especially after hearing so many reports on teachers' apathy) --
though of course, it was not the type of school where you'll find computers
and an internet connection (as I'm sure the white suburbs of Randburg or
Santon have in their schools).
   After walking around Mandela Settlement a bit more, we joined back up
with Alfred in the van, first driving past Winnie Mandela's house (quite
fancy with lots of security measures) before driving onto Nelson Mandela's
house and looking inside.  There, the ex-president's modest home has been
turned into a museum, with exhibits ranging from pictures of a young Mandela
to gifts and accolades from current world leaders.  Inside, a guide showed
us around, gave us some history, and answered our questions, while outside,
school kids were hanging around the nearby snack shop.
   Near Mandela's house is a memorial to one of the young men killed in the
June, 1976 uprising in Soweto (when students rebelled against being taught
in Afrikaans, seen as the language of the oppressor).  Displayed all over
the memorial is probably one of the most famous pictures in all of South
Africa: that of one student carrying another who had been shot.  As the
famous photograph of a naked, young Vietnamese girl running defined the
Vietnam war for many, so to does this picture define Soweto and the freedom
movement that came from it.
   Outside the monument are plenty of small souvenir stands, and I wound up
buying a "South Africa" baseball cap from a lady for R25/US$3.97 here.
   Scattered throughout the township are extremely tall, high-intensity
light poles left over from the apartheid era, originally built for security
purposes, but used today to provide the township with a source of light
during evening hours.  As with the townships in Cape Town, most businesses
are small, locally-run shops, but there are a few white-owned businesses and
corporations coming in (though still just a few), including a Pick 'N Pay
supermarket and a PEP store.  One thing both Adolf and (in Cape Town) Paula
pointed out was the important role that soccer stadiums played in the
struggle against the old white regime: during the apartheid era, rallies and
large gatherings were illegal, but the one place where people could gather
and not arouse suspicion was for a game at the local football (soccer)
stadium.  Therefore, these places became the unofficial meeting sites for
leaders of the anti-apartheid movement, and much of the struggle was
planned, discussed, and presented at these stadiums.
   The tour of Soweto that day was interesting, but still not anywhere near
as informative as the "One City" tour of the Cape Town townships with Paula:
she took us around to meet people on foot, and was flexible enough to see
where the moment took us, whereas the Soweto tour merely consisted of
driving through the different areas and getting out only for a pre-arranged
walk.  For instance, we passed the main market area of Soweto, but instead
of stopping (even just for a bit), we just drove right through it in order
to keep on schedule.  Soweto is now one of the Top 10 tourist destinations
in South Africa (I believe it's something like No. 6), and you see plenty of
white tourists with video cameras wherever you look.  I just had the feeling
that it was more of a packaged tour than the Cape Town one was, and I was
extremely glad that I had taken Paula's tour a month earlier.
   The Soweto tour was over by 12:30pm, and both myself and the British girl
wanted to do a Johannesburg city tour.  However, Adolf was already booked
for another Soweto tour that afternoon, so when he left us all off at Rocky
Street Backpackers, we decided to use the services of Alfred, an independent
taxi-driver and tour-guide-wanna-be that Rocky Street uses.  Alfred's
services would definitely come in handy, as not only did I want a city tour
that afternoon, but in the evening, I wanted to see Mbongeni Ngema's
("Safafina!") new play "The Zulu" at the Market Theatre -- but when I
earlier asked a taxi driver how much he'd charge to go between the Market
Theatre and the Johannesburg Airport Road Lodge, I was quoted R200/US$31.75
one way.  I then asked the Road Lodge shuttle driver how much it should be,
and he got me a "discounted" rate of R130 each way from one of the waiting
taxis in front of the hotel -- but R260/US$41.27 round-trip was still too
expensive, especially since the tickets to the show were only R45/US$7.14! 
Alfred though -- a nice, relaxed bloke whose favorite expression is "Cool
Bananas!", said he'd charge R60/US$9.52 each way -- much better by far than
any of the regular taxis.
   That afternoon, the British girl and I hired Alfred to show us around
Johannesburg for a few hours (he was already showing an Australian tourist
around, but had dropped him off at a local brewry for a bit).  Though he's
fine as a taxi driver, he still doesn't yet have the knowledge to be an tour
guide (though he's trying -- he constantly asked us to critique him fairly
and tell him what needs to be improved).  Originally, he quoted us a
reasonable R50 per hour, saying "since I'm new at being a tour guide, make
it R50 per hour total instead of per person", but later on, he said "You
know what?  I'm still new at this and need to improve... in the future when
I get better, I can charge more, but for now, I'm still learning, so just
pay me what you feel like, and it'll be fine."  A nice guy, Alfred always
has his cel phone handy in case he's needed.
   The first thing we did was drive through some of Johannesburg's nicer
suburbs, including the area around Rocky Street Backpackers with its many
Jewish businesses nearby.  Just down the street from the hostel, we stopped
at a camera store so I could run in and buy another disposable camera (Agfa,
R80) to use for the day.  From there, we stopped at the museum near the
Market Theatre, where Alfred left us off for a bit while he went to go pick
up the Australian.  The museum is nice but nothing special, and we were done
in 30 minutes (there is enough to see to warrant spending more time, but I
had already seen similar exhibits elsewhere, and with the limited time we
had, we both didn't want to spend more time than we had to).  At the
museum's gift shop, I asked on a whim if they had a bao/ndsoro board (not
thinking they'd actually have one), and lo and behold, they did!  While it
was a bit large, expensive (R160/US$22), and didn't have two of its holes
square-shaped (as is traditional in Malawi bao), it was still a nice set,
complete with matching, polished stones and instructions so that others can
learn how to play.  I picked one up, and put it in the back of Alfred's car.
   From the museum, we went to the Carlton Centre downtown, which contains
the tallest building in Africa (50 stories high) -- and for R7.50/US$1.19,
you can take an elevator up to the observation deck.  You can't go outside,
but there's still a nice view of Johannesburg and its surroundings from the
top even on a cloudy, overcast day.  Alfred pointed out a few things,
including a nice, new, green-glass building that used to be the Holiday Inn,
though it's now closed due to the lack of people wanting to stay in the
downtown area with its high crime rate...
   Unfortunately, Johannesburg has a major problem with crime, and people
are fleeing to the suburbs like never before.  It's the only place in the
country that I didn't walk on my own, and even Alfred kept stressing that
the downtown area isn't safe -- saying that anyone walking with a backpack
(even a daypack) would be an instant target.  He said most of the crime
isn't directed towards whites, but rather tourists.  Quite truthfully, I
wonder if it's as bad as everyone says: I went to school in New York, know
how to walk and live in a big city, and probably would have been fine on my
own.  Seeing the vibrant downtown section during the day really ate at me
inside -- I pined to get out of Alfred's car and start walking around, but
with the lack of time, the only practical choice was to go with a driver. 
If I ever go back though, I'll look around the city on foot (though DO
listen to the warnings, as the crime rate in this city IS high, and if you
look like a tourist, you'll certainly be targeted).
   The area near the Carlton Centre reminded me a bit of Broadway Street in
Los Angeles, with plenty of small shops, stores, and seedy hotels.  Looking
around, I saw hardware stores, discount outlets, electronics shops, Indian
groceries, and China shops.  As a sidenote, today's newspaper carried a
story that Ster-Kinekor (the large South African cinema chain) would be
closing its downtown Johannesburg cinemas.
   When we were finished with the Carlton Centre, the Australian and Brit
were done for the day (asking to be left off back at the hostel), but I
wanted to look around a bit more.  Even though it was drizzling outside, I
asked to be left off at the Bruma Flea Market out in the suburbs.  The
market is an outdoor, semi-covered place with stalls selling new items
(rather than used junk), ranging from African souvenirs to PlayStation
games.  At one of the curio stalls, I saw a wooden antelope and thought
about buying it (unlike most tourists I guess, I had been looking for a nice
wooden antelope rather than a hippo, lion, or giraffe.  I saw one for sale
in Tanzania, but didn't buy it at the time).  The employee was finishing up
selling to visiting Hong Kong Chinese, and though the price sticker had R50
on it, I asked him "how much?"  He first said R30/US$4.76, but when I said
"how about R15/US$2.38?" he said "ok" -- so I wound up buying it.  It's not
anything special (he probably paid R5 or less for them), but was what I
wanted, and cheap enough to where I didn't mind having picked it up.
   While walking around, I realized that I hadn't eaten anything all day
other than a cup of hot chocolate... it was 4:30pm now, and I was beginning
to get quite hungry.  I stopped for a mini-pizza (about the size of a large
slice), and talked to the Indian lady at the booth while I waited for it to
be cooked.
   When finished at the flea market, I walked across the street to look
inside a "GAME" store (a large store similar to Home Depot, WalMart, or
Target that carries just about everything, including hardware, housewares,
electronics, TVs, computers, and food).  Across the street from GAME was a
McDonald's, and I decided to buy myself a R95c/US$15c soft-serve cone (the
current promotion).
   At this point, I headed to the giant Eastgate Shopping Mall to kill some
time and get out of the cold.  The complex is quite large (there are 250
stores inside), and though most closed at 5:00pm, a few were still open
(though I still enjoyed window-shopping around the closed stores).  At the
CNA bookstore, I bought the day's paper to read over dinner before trying to
call home from a card phone directly outside.  When I gave my dad the phone
number to call me back at, the phone rang -- but when I picked it up, it was
completely dead.  I didn't understand until I noticed a message on the LCD
display indicating that incoming calls were not allowed on the phone (or the
neighboring one).  I hadn't seen this before, and had to then track down a
phone that DID allow incoming calls (a pair of blue coin phones) -- but I
now had no change.  Going back to the CNA to ask for change, I had to wait
for some time, as the customers were all paying by credit card (and once
when the cashier had the drawer open, he forgot to get some change out for
me even though I was standing right there).  Finally getting change, I
called my dad, gave him the new number, and had him call me back at the blue
coin phone.
   For dinner, I walked into Nando's expecting to be able to relax and read
the paper while eating.  It wasn't to be: ordering the usual (a chicken
sandwich with extra-hot peri-peri sauce, no mayonaise, and a bowl of spicy
rice), I was told after paying that they were out of spicy rice -- and would
have to get the refund from my waiter (this in a fast-food restaurant). 
First, the kid waiter brought over one R2 coin, then finally another...
though he still owed me R1.  When the sandwich arrived, it had NO peri-peri
sauce but plenty of mayo, so I asked it to be done as I had ordered it, as
well as for my remaining R1 refund.  Normally, I'm quite forgiving on such
things, but the service here was almost comical, so after my sandwich, I
went next door to McDonald's for a children's burger and another promotional
soft-serve cone.  After reading the paper for a bit, I left to call Alfred.
   Alfred told me to wait by a specific exit, and soon came to pick me up
and take me to the Market Theatre.  During the drive, he got lost -- but at
least it afforded me an opportunity to see what downtown Johannesburg looks
like at night (a deserted ghost town).  Finally, Alfred found his way, and
we arrived at the Market Theatre.
   Alfred had already seen "The Zulu" 2.5 times (once seeing just the first
half) -- and wanted to see it again, but was undecided what to do.  He knew
he'd have to come back at 11:00pm to pick me up, so was tempted to stay,
telling me what a great play it was.  In the end, he bought a ticket for
himself (R45), but right afterwards, saw a flyer for a cheap (R15) one-man
show going on at the same time elsewhere in the complex.  He now wanted to
switch, but didn't think the box office would exchange the ticket.  I had to
convince him that he should at least ask, as the worst they could say was
"no" -- and sure enough, he was able to change his ticket (losing R10).  At
intermission for "The Zulu" however, Alfred was waiting in the lobby: his
show was already over, and he had been less-than-thrilled with it.  I told
him he should come in and watch the second half of "The Zulu" with me, as
there were empty seats (including one next to me) -- but he was afraid of
getting caught.  Still, instead of him just hanging around for another 90
minutes, I convinced him to walk in with me, which he nervously did (hey, he
had already seen it twice, and they had stiffed him R10 while exchanging
tickets tonight).  Once inside, we both enjoyed the second half of the show.
   The Market Theatre is a small, cozy theatre located near the museum, and
is the perfect setting for "The Zulu."  The R45/US$7.14 ticket price made
the show affordable for everyone, and the play itself was wonderful (I'm so
glad the Australian backpackers in Lilongwe told me not to miss it --
otherwise I would never have seen it!)  While waiting for the show to start,
I heard some voices with an American accent behind me, and turned around to
see a group of about 15 African-American tourists from all over the U.S.
filling up the row.  The one directly behind me was from Delaware, and I
enjoyed talking to her for a bit, with it nice to be able to speak to a
fellow American after all these weeks away.  Soon, the show started, and I
was immediately impressed: "The Zulu" is a musical telling of the Zulu
victory against the British in 1879.  There's an 11-piece band above the
stage in the back, and a large cast (26) of excellent actors, dancers, and
singers.  The story is told with music, dance, song, and spoken word
(sometimes in Zulu, but mostly in English).  The energy of the dancers was
unbelievable -- never stopping for close to three hours -- and I couldn't
imagine them doing this night after night.  It's an incredibly enjoyable
show, and one I highly recommend to anyone visiting Johannesburg (or any
city where it's about to begin touring).  During the intermission, I
purchased the CD soundtrack of it (ironically, at R60, the CD was about half
the going rate of a typical CD in South Africa, but still more than the live
performance itself!) though the CD doesn't do the performance justice, as
many of the better songs are missing.
   When the show was finished, Alfred and I went back to the parking lot
(where he refused to pay anything to the car guard), and took me back to the
Road Lodge (amazingly, even that late at night, his phone rang during the
drive back with a request to pick up someone he hadn't even met yet).  I
wound up paying Alfred R140 for the day, for which he seemed pleased.  He's
a nice guy and a good option as a way to get around Johannesburg at a
reasonable price.  If you want to reach him, his current cel phone number is
082-663-4867, but if ever changes, you can always check with Rocky Street
Backpackers for the new number.
   Back at the Road Lodge by 11:30pm, I spent a little time sorting out the
things I'd need to take with me to Mauritius, and hoped to leave the rest of
my things in one of the hotel's safety deposit boxes on the ground floor. 
Earlier that evening, the larger boxes were already occupied, but I decided
to try again the next morning, when a large one did indeed become available.
The things I no longer needed I left out in the room with a note for the
cleaning lady indicating she could take them if she wished.  With that, I
went to sleep shortly after 12:30am.

Feb. 25: Port Louis (Mauritius)
   Waking up at 5:50am this morning, I checked downstairs at the lobby of
the Road Lodge to see if any of the large safety deposit boxes had opened
up.  Luckily one had, and I managed to cram all the things I wouldn't need
for Mauritius (from the bao board to my stuffed Travelux backpack) into the
box.  The official rate for renting one of these boxes is R2/day, but in the
end, I was never charged anything (there is a key deposit, but it's fully
refunded when the key is returned.
   After having a Road Lodge breakfast, I took their shuttle to the airport
and boarded the plane (the airport connector gate was broken, so we had to
walk out onto the runway in the rain).  On board, two passengers missing
from the plane (a Mr. Wu and Mr. Wang) had checked in luggage (a high
security risk) -- so we had to wait 30 minutes until the bags were found and
removed from the aircraft.  Finally we took off, and from the window, I
could see Mozambique (full of water from all the recent flooding) and
   Before landing in Mauritius, the stewardesses came through the aisles to
spray for any germs or bacteria that might be on board (something required
before landing in Maurutius -- though it was also done the other day on the
flight between Victoria Falls and Johannesburg), and once landed, we were
told to stay in our seats until the local health inspector cleared us -- but
as far as I could tell, he never came onboard the plane.  After a few
minutes we were able to disembark, and everyone filed out to the
customs/immigration area.  To enter Mauritius, you must first get a stamp
from their health desk (a yellow fever card is required if you've come from
a yellow fever area), as well as show proof of an ongoing or return
ticket -- or that you have enough money to buy one.
   At the airport, there is an ATM just outside baggage claim to your right
as you exit the building -- though it's easy to miss, as you don't see it
unless you look behind you as you leave.  As with most ATMs on the island,
when using a foreign card, the machine will print or display the current
exchange rate for most major currencies: DEM, FRF, GPB, SGD, USD, and ZAR
(while I was on the island, the exchange rate was US$1=Rs25, and the ATM
printout said "US$ Draft: Buy 25.31, Sell 25.75... US$ Note: Buy 25.03, Sell
25.75").  I withdrew some money for the next few days, though almost all
ATMs on the island are linked to the major international bank networks, so
getting money anywhere is quite convenient.  The unit of money in Mauritius
is the rupee (Rs), and while certain things such as food can be quite cheap,
others items such as taxi rides and electronics can be expensive.
   A few facts about Mauritius: the island was discovered in 1505 by
Portugese navigator Pedro Mascarenhas, and was occupied successively by the
Dutch (1598-1712) and the French (1715-1810) before being ceded to Great
Britain in 1814 by the Treaty of Paris.  The official language for
government documents, street signs, etc. is English, but everyone speaks
both local Creole and French -- and people's English ability varies widely. 
Generally, the large Indian and Chinese population on the island speak
English quite well (as well as Chinese and Bhojpuri)... though among others,
it varies.  Most islanders speak 3-4 languages at least to some degree:
Creole, French, English, and perhaps an ethnic language.  The majority of
advertisements and billboards are in English, but often, things such as
restaurant menus will only be in French.  When you walk into a shop, you'll
automatically be greeted in French (since the vast majority of whites are
French tourists), and only if you don't respond will the salesperson then
try English.  Most people do understand at least some English, so if it
appears that you're not being understood, try speaking slower.  The island's
population was listed as 1,120,530 as of December 1997, with the majority
being of Indian decent, though there is also a large Chinese population as
well as Creole (people of mixed European and African origin), African, and
   Mauritius became independent on March 12, 1968, with its constitution
based on the Westminster pattern, and power resting with a Prime Minister
and a Cabinet.  The island is approximately 1,865sq. kms, with 330kms of
coastline (almost entirely surrounded by coral reefs), a central plateau,
and mountains.  It's situated in the southwest Indian Ocean, approximately
2,000kms from Durban, South Africa.  For such a small island, the climate
varies widely depending upon what part of the island you're in: for example,
the coastline generally has good weather, but the central city of Curepipe
always seems to have rain.
   Other than tourism (of which most of the island's visitors come from
Europe -- specifically, France), the other mainstays of the economy are
sugar and knitwear.  Sugar plantations are everywhere, as are the large
knitwear factories... flying into the airport, you can see the roof of the
large "Tropic Knits" building.  Many of the top designer labels have
garments made in Mauritius, and such clothing can be found at reasonable
prices all over the island, even on items not actually made here.  The main
attraction for tourists though, are the sandy-white beaches, turquoise
water, and coral reefs, which draw thousands upon thousands of European
visitors each year.  The feel of the island -- from its climate to its
geography and economy -- is very similar to Hawaii: the weather can be muggy
and hot, but the rains (at least by the coast) seldom last for long.  Sugar
cane is everywhere, and if you were to look at some photographs of
Mauritius, you could easily be forgiven for thinking they were of Hawaii.
   The island is a cultural mix of people, and at least on the surface,
everyone seems to get along.  Chinese holidays such as Chinese New Years are
celebrated, as are Indian holidays (including ones specific to Mauritius,
such as "Maha Shivaratree" -- celebrated in honor of Lord Shiva, with Hindu
pilgrims dressing in white to make a yearly pilgrimage to the island's
volcanic lake, Grand Bassin).  These are public holidays on Mauritius, and
the island's population is quite proud of their ethnicity, whatever it may
be.  Most local pop songs are either in French or local Creole, and sega
(the island's own indigenous form of music and dance) is quite popular (sega
has its roots in African music from early slave days, with Creole lyrics and
dancers that sway their hips).
   At the airport, there is a tourist information desk, but no one was
manning it when I arrived.  There was one nice lady standing past customs to
help anyone with questions, but when I asked for a map, she didn't know what
to do, as no one was staffing the tourist desk.  She suggested trying the
airport information desk nearby, but the best they could do was furnish me
with a French-language brochure.
   Since I was arriving onto Mauritius a day earlier than originally
planned, I decided to spend the first night in the capital of Port Louis
before heading up to the self-catering flat I had booked for myself in
Pereybere.  The island's airport (Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Air Terminal) is
located in Plaisance, on the south-east side of Mauritius, and is far from
most places of interest.  Getting from the airport to Port Louis or the
north of the island will set you back a lot of money if you decide to take a
   Taxis on Mauritius are extremely expensive, and fares must be bargained
for in advance.  All have stickers on them indicating where they are based
(not only which city, but which street or area of the city as well), and a
taxi fare to another area is usually either doubled or must include enough
fare for the driver to get back to his home base.  Some hotels work out
arrangements with local drivers to offer a fixed rate (for instance, the
place I would be staying at in Pereybere has an arrangement with a driver to
pick guests up from the airport for Rs750/US$30, but they are still not
cheap.  Normal car hire on the island is expensive, and not really worth the
price.  Small motor scooters (vespas) can be rented in most tourist areas,
but while they may be useful for short hops, they become impractical if you
wish to travel longer distances, especially when compared to the bus...
   The bus is your best option for transportation on Mauritius, and it's how
most islanders get around.  As there is no direct bus from one end of the
island to another, you must transfer -- but the total cost will still be
just US$1-$2 or less.  The only drawback to the bus is that your trip will
take longer than with a taxi, as everytime someone needs to get on or off,
it means another stop.  However, Mauritius has only a few expressways, with
most roads (even the main ones) being only one lane in each direction -- so
most of the time the taxis must take the same roads as the buses (they just
won't stop every few blocks).  Taking the bus also gives you the chance to
see the island the way it really is, at a slightly slower up-close pace,
rather than from the window of a private taxi.  Instead of just one bus
company for the island, there are actually quite a few -- and while they all
generally operate in the same fashion, they each specialize in different
areas and routes.  For those staying in Grand Baie or elsewhere in the
north, you'll need to take a bus from the airport to either Port Louis or
Curepipe, and transfer there to a bus headed up north.  There IS a
scheduled, non-stop express bus that departs from Grand Baie down to Port
Louis for Rs15/US60c, but I'm not sure if it operates in both directions
(and of course, you'll still need another bus between Port Louis and the
   You cannot leave the airport without having dozens of taxi touts asking
where you want to go, and then volunteering to take you there -- but you
don't need to rely on a taxi to get you to your destination.  There is a bus
stop just outside the airport: from the terminal, walk about 500m straight
out of the terminal and keep going right through the car park.  On the other
side of the car park is a bus stop that serves buses going every direction
(there is only ONE bus stop here, but it DOES serve all buses -- the road is
a circular loop, and every bus must pass by it).  If you don't know this
though, it can be a bit confusing -- and when I was told by the driver of
the first bus that came by to wait for another one, I began to get a little
nervous (later, I realized that the first bus was headed for Mahebourg, in
the wrong direction).  After a few minutes, a bus headed for Curepipe came
by, and I boarded it and sat down.  Besides a driver, each bus has a
conductor responsible for collecting the fares... you don't pay as you
enter, but once you take your seat, the conductor will walk down the aisle
and collect the fare from those who haven't yet paid it.  An interesting,
old palm-sized machine with a crank is used to print up receipts, and it's a
good idea to keep these, for if a new conductor or inspector comes on board,
you'll be asked to produce them as proof that you've paid your fare (this
actually did happen once).  The fare from the airport to Curepipe
(pronounced almost like "kerapip") was Rs24/US96c, and from Curepipe to Port
Louis, the express bus was also Rs24/US96c.  The buses themselves are old,
though well-maintained with cushioned seats, and their drivers personalize
them by giving them names, hanging statues of gods from the mirror, and
occasionally -- as on the bus from Curepipe to Port Louis -- putting on some
Indian music.  Along the way, the buses pass right through the island's
small towns, and it's interesting to look out the window at life here: at
the Indian and Chinese storefronts, the small apartments and homes, the
elementary schools, and the children playing in the neighborhood.
   I boarded the bus at the airport at 4:05pm, and arrived into Curepipe at
5:00pm.  The drive from the airport to Curepipe is generally uphill, and
besides the sugar cane fields and knitwear plants, there's even a bit of
forest that you pass through (the island once had miles of forest, which
over the years, has receeded to almost nothing).  Before transferring in
Curepipe, I bought a 1L bottle of "Vital" water from a Chinese-run station
kiosk for Rs9/US36c... water on the island isn't really safe to drink, and
locals either buy bottled water or boil tap water at home.  However, bottled
water is available everywhere, and is reasonable in price.  At the same
kiosk, I tried to buy a telephone card for the many card phones you see
around the island (similar, but not exact copies of the phones you'll find
in South Africa), but the kiosk owner said merely "sorry, they're closed
already" (alluding to a nearby office where they were sold).  You can buy
these cards at Mauritius Telecom, or at many shops and kiosks throughout the
   From Curepipe to Port Louis, the bus passes through the large town of
Phoenix, where the local beer is made.  From there, the expressway is used
to go downhill for a bit, and off to the side, I noticed a billboard for the
Malaysian-made Proton car.
   Arriving into Port Louis, I got off and looked around.  There are two bus
stations in the city, and each is used for buses to different parts of the
island (they're located a brisk 10-12 minute walk from each other).
   A few days ago in Harare, I booked myself into a hotel mentioned in the
Lonely Planet (the Le St. George), but their quoted rate of Rs1,125/US$45 --
plus probably the 15% tax some higher hotels add, seemed too expensive. 
Though late in the afternoon, there was still plenty of sun, so I decided to
walk around to see if I couldn't find something better.  One budget place
the Lonely Planet recommended was a small hotel called "Le Grand Carnot", so
I set out looking for it.  After about 25 minutes I found it (it's near
Chinatown), and it's actually a nice place to stay while in Port Louis: a
Muslim family runs it, and for Rs350/US$14, you get a sparse-but-clean room
with a small breakfast the next morning (the mother speaks English just
enough to get by, but both her son and daughter speak it fluently).  The
rooms are small (the toilet/shower is part of the room, with only a curtain
separating the toilet), but they're clean, and have a fan to circulate air.
   After setting my bags down in room #14, I asked the owners if there was a
restaurant nearby that would still be open (it was 6:30pm, and while walking
to the hotel earlier, I noticed that most businesses were already closed. 
The mother said there were two Chinese restaurants down a nearby street that
should be open, so I went out for a look.  The first restaurant I entered
("The Stallion") wasn't actually open for dinner (just for lunch) -- as in
the evenings, the place turns into a karaoke bar for Chinese fishermen.  I
had a nice chat with the owner though, who told me that both Mandarin and
Cantonese-speaking Chinese settled on the island, though many of the
island's Chinese are Haka (he himself returned to China for over 20 years
before coming back to Mauritius).  When the bar opens at 7:30pm, the
fishermen come, and while there might be an occasional fight, it's generally
pretty good -- "just noisy" he said.  The owner gave me directions to
another restaurant in the area that would be open, so I thanked him and
   Walking down the street, I found the second restaurant -- but looking
inside, it just seemed a little too fancy, so I decided to see if anything
else was open.  Sure enough, at the end of the same block was a modest,
"local" Chinese restaurant (Restaurant Canton, on 15 Rue Emmanuel Anquetil,
near Royal Road), so I walked in.  There, the Indian waiter gave me a menu
(in Chinese and French only, but he offered to translate it for me), and I
ordered the Special Friend Rice with shrimp and chicken for Rs60/US$2.40. 
The owners were Chinese, but the order-takers and waiters were Indian. 
While waiting, I noticed that a can of locally-made sparkling apple soda
made by Phoenix bottlers had no ingredients listed anywhere on the can --
just a "best before" date on the bottom in both English and French.  Asking
the waiter if most people on the island drink tap water or bottled water, he
replied "the bottled water is better."  Not having had any lunch, I ordered
some takeaway as well, including a small star-shaped pound cake for desert
(Rs5).  The restaurant was a popular place with locals, and was clean,
air-conditioned, and served great food (you're even given a free candy after
your meal).
   After dinner, I wanted to do something other than just go back to the
hotel, but other than perhaps a bar or disco, Port Louis (like much of the
island) becomes very quiet at night.  In the hotel room, I ate the rest of
the takeaway, took a shower, listened to the radio, and managed to find some
newspaper pages a few weeks old that had been placed on top of one of the
shelves: mostly in French but with a few articles and ads in English, I
glanced through them for a bit.  Thinking back on the day, I realized that
simply by taking the bus instead of a taxi and staying at the Le Grand
Carnot instead of the Le St. George, I had already saved about
Rs1,400/US$56.  I went to sleep that evening to the sound of dogs barking
outside on the street (there always seemed to be a lot of dogs wandering
around that area of Port Louis).
   One misc. note: On Mauritius (as in many parts of the world), it's the
custom to leave off the last period when abbreviating something: "L.G.K."
becomes "L.G.K", "U.S.A." becomes "U.S.A", etc.

Feb. 26: Port Louis / Pereybere
   The Hotel Le Carnot was fine, and I had a good night's sleep there.  In
the morning, I had the included continental breakfast of tea, bread & jam,
then set off around Port Louis, with the hotel owners allowing me to leave
my pack with them while I explored the city.
   The first thing I wanted to do was buy a telephone card, but was told
that the places selling them wouldn't be open yet (it was 7:30am) -- so I
headed off to the Waterfront.  The Waterfront is Mauritius' equivalent of
Cape Town's V&A: besides being where the cargo ships dock, the area has been
transformed into a shopping and leisure area with tourist shops, cinemas (at
the time playing both Indian movies and the "Thomas Crowne Affair"),
restaurants, and a casino -- as well as the main tourist information office.
To get there, you cross under the main street via an underground pedestrian
walkway, and before you know it, you're at the official tourist heart of the
city.  Everything was still closed that early, but the guards and police in
the area were quite friendly and helpful as they pointed out the shops that
would sell the telephone cards later at 10:00am -- and when I asked one how
far the "Citadel" was to walk, he couldn't help (probably because it's
usually referred to as "Fort Adalaide") -- but said he'd ask a taxi driver,
and when I returned at 10:00am, would have the answer for me.
   Leaving the Waterfront for now, I walked back under the main street and
soon found myself at Port Louis' bustling marketplace.  Still early, only
some of the stalls were open -- but there was more than enough to keep me
occupied until 9:00am.  The marketplace is divided up into sections, and for
the meat area, there are separate indoor buildings for chicken, beef, fish,
pork, and goat.  Another part of the market is set aside for produce and
vegetables, and yet another for prepared food and snacks.  Finally, the
largest part is used for the many small stalls selling everything from
T-shirts to Indian clothes to electronics.  The stalls are almost all
covered, and constantly resonate with the sound of hawkers yelling at you to
buy from them (if they see you're a tourist, they'll first talk to you in
French, and if you don't respond, switch to English).  While the food area
is where many locals buy their groceries, the tourist-themed shops (those
selling T-shirts and souvenirs) are more expensive here than elsewhere due
to the proximity of the Waterfront and the number of tourists that visit the
area.  For example, T-shirts here were Rs150/US$6 at one shop, with another
shop "lowering" their price to Rs125 -- though I was easily able to find the
same T-shirts elsewhere in Port Louis for Rs50-Rs80.  The Waterfront and its
nearby covered marketplace are interesting to explore, but not the best
places to pick up souvenirs -- the place to go is the smaller, uncovered
marketplace that lines the street between the city's two main bus
stations... here, stores set up booths on the sidewalk, and those without
stores just set their wares down on the ground.  There's a large selection,
and the prices are much more reasonable.
   Shortly before 9:00am, I left the marketplace to head for the museum,
wandering through some of the city's streets on the way.   Located in the
heart of downtown, the museum isn't much really, but it does have an exhibit
on the one species the island is famous for: the now-extinct dodo bird,
which once lived on Mauritius (there are plenty of "dodo"-themed T-shirts
and souvenirs sold all over the island for tourists, but the museum has a
small stuffed dodo on display and talks a bit about the animal).
   After looking through the museum, I stopped at an ATM to withdraw some
money, and began to notice that one quirk with the island's ATMs is that at
least with a foreign ATM card, there is no option to see your account
balance -- the only available option is to withdraw money (and even upon
withdrawing money, your remaining balance is never printed on the receipt).
   I spent the next few hours looking around the streets of Port Louis, as
it's quite an interesting city.  As the shops began to open, I entered one
music store that sold both instruments and recorded music -- and with the
exception of locally-produced albums, all the tapes sold were on generic
cassettes with color-copied covers.  What surprised me was how
out-in-the-open this bootlegging was -- not only here, but also later in a
Chinese-owned record store at the Waterfront -- an area frequented by
tourists.  I bought myself a bootleg tape of the "Vengaboys" (Rs50/US$2)
with the "We're Going to Ibiza" song on it that I had heard all throughout
Africa, as well as two cassettes (Rs55 each) of various local Indian Ocean
pop artists singing in French and Creole.  At the Chinese-owned music shop
at the Waterfront, the classical music tapes seemed genuine, but the foreign
pop albums were all obvious bootlegs.  Besides the cassettes, both stores
also sold CDs, but I was unable to tell if the CDs were genuine or not (the
Waterfront store also sold LaserDiscs, VHS, DVD, and CD-Video movies).
   Nearby the music store is the city's large modern glass building, which
is home to Mauritius Telecom.  Inside, I was able to buy some telephone
cards (which supposedly come in denominations of Rs50, Rs100, Rs200, and
Rs400 -- though no shops had a Rs100 card in stock, and only one ever had an
Rs200 card, as most places stock only the Rs50 or Rs400 card).  The cards
give you some "bonus" credit (a Rs50 card has Rs55 worth of credit, a Rs200
card has Rs240 worth of credit), but they also have a 10% VAT attached to
them -- so that Rs50 card with Rs55 credit actually does cost Rs55, and the
Rs200 card with Rs240 credit costs Rs220.  Calls made within the island are
quite cheap, and your card will seem to last forever, but calls made
overseas are extremely expensive, and your card will soon become worthless
(calling just to Japan, a brand new Rs55/US$2.20 card was depleted in 25
seconds, even on a Saturday afternoon).  If you prefer, you can also make
overseas calls from the Mauritius Telecom office, but the rates aren't much
better: returning later that afternoon to call my sister in Hong Kong from
the office, the rate was Rs27.50 (Rs25.00 + Rs2.50 VAT) per minute during
the discount period.  For calls to the USA, the rate for the discount period
(Mon-Fri 10pm-6am, and from 12-noon on Sat to 6am on Monday) is Rs33.00
(Rs30 + Rs3.30 VAT), with that going up to Rs38.50 (Rs35.00 + Rs3.50 VAT)
for any other time.  Note also, that calls placed at the Mauritius Telecom
office have a 3-minute minimum, whereas calls placed from a card phone don't
(since you can wipe out a brand new Rs50 card in 25 seconds or less).  On
overseas calls, your card gets used so fast in fact, that the available
credit shown on the LCD display doesn't even tick down in increments of 1s,
but in 3s, 4s or 5s.  Inside the Mauritius Telecom tower, there is also an
independent cyber cafe, but as it's one of the few businesses with late
hours, I decided to come back later to use it.
   After picking up some telephone cards, I walked into a nearby home
appliance & electronics chain store (Mammouths) and was surprised at just
how expensive electronics are on the island: a name-brand 13" TV costs
US$460, a junky 21" TV will set you back US$460-$500, a tiny AM/FM pocket
radio which goes for US$40 at home is US$70 here -- and these prices do NOT
included the required VAT.  Outside of the larger stores, there are plenty
of cheaply-made Chinese electronics available for only a slightly cheaper
price -- both of the "legitimate" type, as well as the obvious knockoff
attempts with names suspiciously similar to better-known Japanese brands.
   Nearby Mammouths, I stopped in at a small, typical Chinese-run general
store to pick up a cheap snorkel and mask.  Unlike some of the tourist shops
up north (where the prices suddenly just 5 times higher than elsewhere), I
was able to pick up a cheap made-in-China set here for Rs130, buying each
part separately.  The Chinese lady owner and young Indian girl helping out
behind the couner were quite nice, and let me open the package up to try the
mask on before buying it.
   It was a hot, sticky day, but I decided to wear long pants, because
that's what most people on the island wear.  For the most part (especially
away from the beaches), it's only the tourists you see walking around in
shorts... I did see a FEW locals here and there wearing some, but the vast
majority of islanders wear long pants, especially in Port Louis -- though
thongs and sandals are quite acceptable and popular.
   I made my way back to the marketplace again now that all the stalls would
be open.  The Maha Shivaratree festival would be starting next Saturday
(with the pilgrimage starting as early as Monday or Tuesday), and for those
not wanting to walk, there were signs posted saying that for the days
surrounding the festival, buses would be running 24hours to accomodate all
the pilgrims expected to flock to Grand Bassin.  The marketplace was full of
stalls selling white "Maha Shivaratree" T-shirts, as well as a Chinese
import brand of cracker called "Cissy Crackers."
   For sale all over the island are shirts and other clothing from designers
such as Ralph Lauren and Hugo Boss... supposedly, many of these items are
made on Mauritius -- but not all of them, apparently: while examining some
designer shirts at a shop in Curepipe, I noticed tags that said "Made in
Thailand" -- but such designer fashions are still quite cheap here,
espeically compared to what they go for in other countries.
   At the Waterfront, I stopped in at the now-open Tourist Information
Centre, where a local Chinese guy was showing the lady behind the desk his
solar-powered mosquito-repelling keychain.  The lady was quite nice, and
gave me a map of the island as well as some other very good brochures.  Upon
arriving in Mauritius, the one brochure you should make a point of tracking
down is the free "Mauritius & Rodrigues Information Guide."  This brochure
is invaluable (unlike other ones which contain only general tourist fluff),
and has not only everything you need to know about the island, but a
detailed listing of the bus routes as well.  The lady circled which buses
I'd need for the trip up north, and mentioned that a typical taxi fare to
the Grand Baie area would be at least Rs800.
   Upon leaving the Waterfront/marketplace area without buying anything
(items even remotely tourist-related were too expensive), I headed for the
sidewalk marketplace between the bus stations -- and here, found an
affordable, nice T-shirt for myself... the outside stall for one of the
street's shops had a sign indicating T-shirts for Rs85/US$3.40, so I picked
up a nice white one with a sewn Mauritius logo on it.  In the covered
marketplace, other vendors were selling the same shirt for as high as Rs200
(first price), so I asked the young Indian kid if he had anymore in my size,
as most were too big.  He asked his dad running the indoor shop, who then
told me to try back on Monday.  The son asked where I was from (since I
hadn't understood his French), and when I said "the U.S.", he was quite
surprised -- as Americans are quite rare on the island.  He smiled, gave me
a thumbs up, and mentioned he had a friend that had moved to the U.S.
somewhere, but didn't know what part of the country.  Looking at some of the
other shops and sidewalk hawkers, there were plenty of T-shirts available
for under Rs100 here -- including some as cheap as Rs20, but most were too
big or not the designs I wanted.  Still, it shows that if you spend the time
to look around, you can save a lot of money.  One thing interesting about
this street-side marketplace is that besides the street shops, stalls, and
sidewalk vendors, there are also plenty of hawkers just walking through the
crowds, yelling and selling as they walk.
   Leaving the sidewalk marketplace and heading back up away from the water,
I was surprised to see yet another marketplace set up on the very same
street as the Le Grand Carnot hotel -- Edouard Laurent Street (the mom at
the hotel later told me the market happens almost everyday).  The stalls
sold items such as T-shirts and Indian clothing with prices similar to the
cheaper station-area marketplace, and this area is another option for
someone looking to find such items.  Nearby, I also tried to visit the
Jummah Mosque (managing a quick peek inside), but wasn't able to visit it
properly, as it's only open between 10am-12noon on Saturdays.
   Continuing my walk away from the water, I headed up to Fort Adelaide,
about a brisk 30 minute walk from downtown Port Louis.  There's nothing much
here (it's a closed, abandoned fort), but from the top of the hill is a
wonderful, 360-degree view of Port Louis spread out before you.  After
relaxing a bit at the top, I walked back down and stopped in town for an
extremely good slushee (Rs10) at the small snack shop located beneath the
"Chez Madeleine" restaurant (a fast-food place serving burgers and Chinese
food whose "Chez Madeleine" sign out front copies the golden-arches look of
McDonald's).  On the island, I spotted a KFC and a Pizza Hut, but at least
so far, no McDonald's or Burger King -- though there is a local joint called
"Kings Burger".  Figuring it was also time for lunch, I walked upstairs to
"Chez Madeleine" and ordered the chicken fried rice (R60), sitting by a
window and having a nice view of the street below while I ate.  Once
finished, I wanted another slushee downstairs, but being 2:00pm on a
Saturday, the snack shop had already closed, and I had to exit out through
another door (many of the island's shops close by 2:00pm on Saturdays).
   After lunch, I decided to check my email at the "Cyberider" internet cafe
located in the Mauritius Telecom tower.  As I entered the nice
air-conditioned room, the computers were just coming back up (they had
apparently been down for a while), and after a short wait, sat down at a
terminal.  I bought 15 minutes of internet time for Rs20/US80c, telnetting
home to check my email on a good, fast connection.
   By the time I was finished at Cyberider, it was mid-afternoon, so I went
back to the Le Grand Carnot hotel to fetch my bag and leave for the bus
station.  At a kiosk across from the station, I asked how much a 1L bottle
of water was... and seeing that I was a tourist with a backpack, the guy
there answered "Rs10" -- but when I said "gee, it's been Rs9 at the other
kiosks", he smiled and said "well... it's Rs10 for a cold water... Rs9 for a
normal water" -- so I bought a normal water and left.  The lesson: if you
look like a tourist and they think you don't know better, you'll be charged
a higher price.
   Outside at the bus station, signs are posted indicating the cities a
particular bus goes to -- but there are a lot of listed buses and cities,
and if you can't find what you're looking for, just go up to one of the many
bus company employees and ask them.  For example, the limited-express bus
heading north that I wanted was parked right in the middle of the station,
away from any boarding area -- but by asking a bus company employee, he was
able to point me to it.  Some employees will stand next to a bus and yell
out its destination, trying to get as many people on board as possible, and
you'll typically wait a few minutes until the bus is ready to depart.
   The express bus to Pereybere took only about 35-40 minutes and cost just
Rs14/US56c, making no stops except to leave people off.  On the drive up, it
passes the "Consolidated Fabrics, Ltd." knitwear factory set amongst the
sugar cane fields, as well as going through many small, interesting towns. 
In one (I couldn't figure out the name), there was a "7th Mile Store" and a
"7th Mile School" (it seemed to be situated about 7 miles from Port
Louis) -- and another town had a video-rental shop called the "Free Look
Magazine and Video Club" (somehow, I doubt the title was truth in
advertising).  For most of the ride up, an elderly Chinese gentleman sat
behind me and started up a conversation: he was a retired teacher, and now
works proofreading and editing on the local L'Express newspaper.  One thing
about the roads in Mauritius: they can be quite narrow.  Up in Trou aux
Biches, the bus could barely squeeze by a church holding Saturday afternoon
mass with all the cars parked on the street, so the conductor had to get out
and help the driver navigate past them.
   I arrived into Pereybere ("pear-ah-bay-ah") at 4:45pm, and immediately
tried to find the office for Les Cases Fleuries, the self-catering flats I'd
booked myself into via the internet (www.maurinet.com/casesfleuries.html). 
Les Cases Fleuries offers both normal flats (US$18) and ones with air-con
and TV (US$25), and figuring I'd be pretty tired by this point in my trip, I
reserved myself an air-conditioned one.  While I did not see what the
"normal" rooms looked like (they're in a different building near the
office), I can HIGHLY recommend the air-conditioned ones at Les Cases
Fleuries: they're new, large, comfortable, fully-furnished with kitchen, and
centrally-located off the main road above the Shop In Supermarket (near the
bus stop) -- yet face away from the road, so you get no noise at all. 
Outside is a balcony as well as a rooftop area with chairs and chaise
lounges, and inside, the rooms have plenty of lights, a full kitchen with
refrigerator and supplies, a quiet, remote-controlled air-con unit, color
TV, two 5-speed ceiling fans, two comfortable twin beds, a small room safe,
and a shower.
   The flats are run by a local Chinese lady who also owns the Shop In
Supermarket where her niece Joelle works, and following a sign, I soon found
the Les Cases Fleuries office, located down a side street off the main
road.  Meeting the lady who runs it all, I found out that the "normal" rooms
were located in a nice garden setting by the office -- but I was to stay in
the newer building above the supermarket, so the lady had one of her
employees take me the short distance in a van and show me around.  In the
first room (#5), the front door lock didn't work right, and the driver (a
bit slow and relaxed) couldn't find the air-con remote needed to operate the
unit.  After about 30 minutes, we then tried Room #7: the lock was good, but
the TV had no coax antenna cable -- and again, there was no air-con remote. 
I was able to fix the TV problem simply by going back to the first room and
taking the cable from that TV up to this room, but the air-con problem took
a bit longer to solve: as it turns out, the remote is given only to those
that pay for the air-con, so it's generally not kept in the room.  The
driver had no idea where the remotes were located, so he asked the niece
downstairs in the supermarket -- but she didn't know either, so she had to
call her aunt who runs the flats -- but the aunt had just stepped out. 
Finally at 6:20pm, we found out that the remotes were kept in a storage
locker up on the roof, and went up to get one.  The 13" Sony TV received two
stations with moderate reception -- one aired the BBC in English from time
to time, and the other had mostly Indian or French programming.  Once
everything was taken care of, this flat was a great place to stay -- and I
soon began to feel right at home in it.
   While waiting to get the remote-control unit straightened out, I walked
downstairs to pick up some supplies at the Shop In Supermarket.  Large, and
with a good selection, the store's prices are more than fair, tending to be
the cheapest in the area.  Some of the items I picked up: a 5-litre jug of
water (Rs27.50/US$1.10), 1 litre of real vanilla ice-cream (Rs60/US$2.40), a
large loaf of bread (Rs10/US40c), a lock for the small floor-safe in the
room (R60/US$2.40), 300g size of Nestle Corn Flakes meant for the Malaysian
market (Rs44/US$1.76), yoghurt (Rs7.20/US29c), and even imported sliced
Australian beef and Orangina.  Other than food, the supermarket also sells
souvenirs and snorkels (more expensive than the shops back in Port Louis,
but still much cheaper than the other stores up here).
   When everything was finished with the flat at 6:40pm, I walked out to the
beach at Pereybere to look around before sunset.  Though Port Louis had been
sunny, it was cloudy when I arrived at Pereybere -- though by now, the
clouds were dissipating, and there was a beautiful late-afternoon sun. 
Pereybere has a nice small half-circle-shaped sandy beach, as well as an
area by the rocks with live coral.  That afternoon, I rolled my pants up and
waded in the water, watching both tourists and locals enjoying the beach at
sunset.  Looking down at my feet, I noticed how "dirty" they appeared --
except upon looking closer, noticed it wasn't dirt, but a tan, complete with
sandle-strap lines (this even though I had put suntan lotion on my feet for
much of the trip).
   Once the sun set, I walked around the area, checking out the various
restaurants and shops nearby.  Most of them were quite expensive (making it
even more economical to have a self-catering flat in the area, as you can
just buy and prepare your own meals).  A newly-opened one (Le Coconut) was
in the Rs120/US$4.80 range -- perhaps not expensive by U.S. standards, but
most restaurants in Port Louis were half that price, typically Rs50-Rs80 for
similar fare.  The Cafeteria Pereybere had meals averaging around Rs99,
though in the end, I wound up getting yet another friend rice dish (with
shrimp this time) at the Chinese restaurant down the road, Cafe Pereybere. 
Earlier, I also stopped at "Mississippi Fried Chicken" to order a chicken
cheeseburger (Rs40/US$1.60), and the menu sign was only in French. With a
self-catering flat at my disposal, it looked as if I'd be buying my dinners
out, but making my own breakfasts and lunches.
   After dinner, I walked down the main road that cuts through Pereybere. 
It was now dark, and I soon passed a "lady of the evening" dressed in white,
no doubt waiting for a French tourist to come by.  Everytime I'd walk past a
taxi or an empty one would pass me, the driver would toot his horn and ask
(in French) if I needed a taxi.  Thinking about it, I realized that no one
on Mauritius knows I'm an American unless I choose to tell them -- and just
as in most Asian countries a white man walking down the street is assumed to
be American, on Mauritius, a white tourist walking down the street is
automatically assumed to be French.  Even once it's obvious that I speak
only English, the assumption then switches to that of me being a South
African or Brit -- never an American, probably because there are so few
Americans who visit the island.  Earlier, when the Indian cashier at the
Shop In Supermarket asked me where I was from, I told her to take a guess. 
Her first answer was Britan.  When I answered "no", her next guess was
"Australia"... then South Africa.  When I said she was still wrong and asked
her to guess again, she couldn't even think of another choice... and when I
finally told her I was American, she was quite surprised.  This was the case
with just about everyone else here as well, from the security guard at the
Waterfront to the T-shirt vendor to the Les Cases Fleuries driver -- it
wouldn't even occur to anyone that I might be American, even after hearing
me speak.  When the Les Cases Fleuries driver found out I was from the U.S.,
he asked how long the plane ride was.  I told him all-in-all with the stops,
it takes about 24 hours to get from Los Angeles to Mauritius via South
Africa -- and perhaps that's why I didn't encounter ONE American while on
the island.  Of the few times I heard English being spoken by tourists, it
was either by South Africans (a group of middle-aged guys hanging out at a
Pereybere bar at night), British (a Brit and South African lady shopping
together in a Grand Baie store), or Europeans that either chose to speak
English, or didn't know how to speak French.
   After my walk, I went back up to my top-floor flat at 9:45pm -- nice and
cool now, thanks to the air-conditioning I had left on.  Soon though, I
walked back outside to have a look around the building, and in back by the
parking area, met the night guard sitting out in his chair just watching the
night go by.  We chatted for a bit (like most islanders, he was quite
friendly), and the following evening, left some sweets out for him that I
didn't need.  Before going to sleep, I also went up to the roof to lay down
on the chaise lounges (as I did the following night as well), relaxing and
staring up at the night sky.
   On TV that evening, the channel which had shown the BBC earlier (and
whose reception was only in black & white) was now showing a movie in
English, while the other MBC channel was showing The X-Files (also in
English).  Earlier in the day though, while inside the Mammouths electronics
store, I saw a bit of The Rockford Files dubbed into French.

Feb. 27: Pereybere / Grand Baie / Mont Choisy
   In the north of Mauritius, Grand Baie is the area with the large, sandy
beach and tourist ammenities.  Pereybere (where I was staying) is a smaller,
quieter area just a few minutes north of Grand Baie -- and what sets
Pereybere apart from Grand Baie (other than fewer tourist trappings) is that
besides its own small sandy beach, Pereybere also has some nice, living
coral reefs.
   Up at 7:15am this morning, I wanted to go snorkling early and check out
the sea life in the area.  Standing at the main Pereybere beach, looking
towards the sea, the coral reefs are located just off the land's edge that
curves around to your right (where the rocks are).  Getting there is a bit
tricky the first time, but it's really not all that difficult: from the main
road, find the Stephen Boutique next to the Shop In Supermarket.  Look for a
dirt path directly across the street, slightly to the left of the M. Hesse
Shop (don't worry about the "no tresspassing" sign -- that's for the shop,
not the dirt road, which is a normal path that both pedestrians and cars
must use to get to the area's many homes).  Walk down this road for a bit,
and you'll pass a house on your left with a "Pointe d'Azur" sign.  Going a
bit further, you'll notice that there is now water on both sides of you.  On
your left, a wall soon starts, and at the start of the wall is a faint foot
path -- follow it alongside the outer perimiter (the left side) of this
wall.  As you continue, you'll have to climb some rocks, and you can then
either stay on the rocks a bit longer, or walk along the edge of someone's
lawn (as many other people have done from the obvious path -- but if you
feel uncomfortable doing this, just stay down by the rocks).  Keep going in
the same direction (if you used the path at the edge of the lawn, you'll
need to jump back down onto the rocks), and soon, you should be able to see
where the land juts out into the sea.  In front will also be an area of
large, black volcanic rocks, and the reef is located off of these rocks. 
You can easily see the area from the main sandy beach at Pereybere, but it's
much easier to get here by the path than by trying to swim out from the
   Pereybere's reef area is quite good, and one of the best things about it
is that you don't need to go far out into the water to see it: the coral
reefs start just about where the volcanic rocks go into the water -- meaning
you can just stand up right next to these rocks and see plenty of fish and
sea life right by shore.  Unlike so many other areas of the world, the coral
here is actually alive, and swimming through the coral are hundreds of fish
of all types, including some beautiful angelfish.  If you visit this area
though, PLEASE be careful not to step on or kill the coral beneath you -- be
aware that this is a very special area, and should be protected, not
trampled upon.
   Besides myself, there were a few local guys out this morning fishing off
the rocks, but no one else was looking at the reef.  I put on my mask, and
went in to have a look around.  However, the mask didn't fit my face well
(though it seemed to work OK when I tried it on in the store, it now wasn't
100% water-tight) -- so every few minutes, I'd have to stick my head up to
empty the water entering through the seal.  A few minutes later, the snorkel
tube came apart, with the main portion of it falling right to the bottom --
so I got out of the water and walked back into town to buy another tube.  At
the Shop In Supermarket, I found a tube for Rs95 -- a bit expensive, as
similar tubes were only Rs45 in Port Louis and I had paid just Rs35 for
mine -- but still much cheaper than the other shops in town were asking (for
instance, the same mask I paid Rs95 for in Port Louis was Rs350 at the Shop
In -- but was Rs650 at the other area shops.  Also, Shop In's prices include
the VAT [they are VAT-registered], while some other area stores' prices do
   After buying the new tube, I went back to look at the reef a second
time.  The snorkling here is definitely better than at Lake Malawi or
Zanzibar, and at least as good -- if not better -- than Hawaii or
Australia's Great Barrier Reef (plus here, the reef is easily accessible,
right next to shore).  In past snorkling experiences at Catalina Island (off
the coast of Southern California), the orange garibaldi fish there seem to
love crushed Cheerios, and if you throw some in the water, they'll
immediately come up to eat it.  Not so here though: I brought a bag of corn
flakes with me into the water, crushed some up, and threw some in the water,
but the fish didn't seem to react at all.  Though I did swim out a bit, most
of the time I just stayed close to shore, as there was plenty of coral and
fish to see by the rocks.
   After a while of looking at the fish, I left the water and walked back to
the flat to change into regular shorts (it was hot and humid, and I decided
to wear shorts rather than long pants today -- as unlike Port Louis, a good
many locals here seemed to wear them as well).  Walking towards Grand Baie,
I passed a lady at a tour-booking desk offering parasailing rides for
Rs400/US$16 -- cheap by U.S. standards, but it was something I had done a
number of times at home.  Being a Sunday morning, I wasn't sure what I
wanted to do that day, as most shops were either closed or would be closing
soon (for most of the country, shops are closed all day on Sunday, but in
the tourist-heavy Grand Baie area, many shops open for the morning, and
usually close by noon).  Looking at my watch, I realized it was already
after 11:00am, and if I walked, I'd get to Grand Baie just as the stores
would be closing... so I decided to take a bus for the short hop (Rs9), and
arrived into Grand Baie by 11:30am.  Sure enough, most shops were getting
ready to close at noon, and many of them (including most of the fancy
boutiques in the "Sunset Strip" shopping complex) were closed all day.
   The first place I went into was the large Chinese-owned Grand Baie
Supermarket, which sold souvenirs upstairs.  The Indian lady working the
second floor told me they'd be closing at 12:30pm, so I decided to leave and
come back later, since other shops in the area would be closing first. 
Having a quick peek in many of the smaller Grand Baie tourist shops, I
noticed the prices were jacked up on just about everything: T-shirts that
were Rs50-Rs85 in Port Louis were Rs150-Rs170 here, and every item from
souvenirs to food was much higher than it should be -- even higher than in
nearby Pereybere.  Going back to the original supermarket, I tried on a few
T-shirts upstairs, and wound up buying a very nice embroidered one for Rs80
(note: there doesn't seem to be a consistancy as far as clothing sizes on
the island goes -- a T-shirt marked with your size can easily be either too
small or too large depending on the particular shirt.  One "S" size T-shirt
I bought was the same size as an "M" one I bought of the same style -- just
shorter in length).
   When the shops had all closed at 12:30pm, I walked around town for a bit
and took a few pictures of all the boats in the big "Grand Bay."  Then, not
having anything much else to do, I decided to continue walking south just to
see what there was.  After a time, I actually came across one open shop (3R
Longanier Boutique), run by a very nice Indian gentleman.  Inside, he was
listening to the VOA on his radio (re-broadcast locally by the BBC on
Mauritius), and I wound up buying two T-shirts from him: a nice, embroidered
"L" size polo shirt (which was really the size of a typical "M" one) for
Rs100, and a different embroidered "M" T-shirt for Rs80.  As we talked, he
folded each neatly, re-bagging them for me, and while using the bathroom, I
had a quick peek at his living room: bright, airy, and decorated with many
Indian objects and ornaments.  He mentioned that Sunday was very quiet in
the area, with most people just spending the day at home with their
families -- but when I told him I was spending the afternoon walking south,
he recommended a nice area to visit (Mont Choisy), and drew a detailed map
explaining everything along the way.
   Leaving the shop, I continued to walk a bit longer, but as it was quite
hot and humid, I soon decided to catch the bus instead (Rs9).  Though I
wasn't sure where to get off, the conductor spoke English, and pointed out
which stop it was.
   Mont Choisy is a nice area, though you must walk a bit from the bus stop
to find the public passage to the beach (there are NO private beaches on
Mauritius, but the trick in some places is finding a public path to GET to
the beach without trespassing on someone's private property).  The area has
not only a nice beach, but a campground/rest area, and there were now dozens
of buses parked under the trees (earlier that afternoon while in Grand Baie,
I watched as perhaps 30 white & red buses -- chartered for the day -- passed
by on their way south, packed with locals singing and cheering.  Apparently,
Mont Choisy was their destination).
   Walking along the beach for a while, I soon came to the small pier where
some of the local water-activities (glass-bottom boat, water-skiing, etc.)
depart from -- and as I took a short rest there under some shade, I watched
a water-skiier suit up, a family walk onto a small glass-bottom boat, and a
parasailer being pulled off in the distance.  Catching the bus back into
town today was one of the few times I actually had to wait for a bus (a good
20 minutes), and the fare back to Pereybere was Rs11.
   Back in Pereybere, I made myself a late lunch from the stuff I had in the
refrigerator (a peanut-butter & jam sandwich, yoghurt, and some ice-cream),
and decided to go back out to the snorkel spot again -- though this time, to
take some pictures with my large Canon camera.  After running out of film
there, I trodded back to the flat to pick up another roll before returning
to the rocks once again (by this time, I knew the path quite well).  Once I
had some nice shots, I left the camera back at the flat and decided to go
out for another walk -- this time, heading north instead of south.
   There are no sidewalks on the main road here (which is just one lane in
each direction), so one must be careful of traffic.  Still, the road makes
for a nice walk, and I wound up going north for about a half-hour before
turning around to come back.  There really isn't anything much in this
direction, but it was nice just to take a stroll in the late-afternoon and
see how others were spending their Sunday.
   Upon returning, I decided to give Pereybere beach a try, and went in for
a swim at 5:30pm.  The water was warm, and  the area seemed to be a favorite
spot among locals as well as tourists.  I don't know if it was just my
imagination or not, but it seemed surprisingly easy to float in the water
here -- I'm not sure if the saline level here is any higher or not -- but at
any rate, it was nice watching the locals (and a few older, overweight
tourists) enjoying themselves.
   After about 45 minutes, I left the water, went back to change into long
pants, and returned to the beach just before sunset.  Sitting down on a
bench under a tree to jot a few notes down into my journal, an elderly local
Chinese lady sat down next to me, first speaking to me in French, then
trying in broken English before starting to hum as she watched the setting
   Once the sun had set, I went back to the flat to set my journal down and
pick up a Larium pill to have at dinner (it was Sunday -- malaria pill day).
From the phone outside the flat (next to the Shop In Supermarket), I called
the U.S., and used up an entire Rs400 phone card almost immediately.  That
evening, I decided to eat at the Pereybere Cafeteria, and looking at the
menu, saw a listing for calamari (squid) served with either curry or tomato
sauce.  I ordered it with curry, but it arrived with tomato sauce instead.
It wasn't anything special, but was adequate.  At Rs99/US$3.96 (plus another
Rs15 for rice as well as 2% tax and 10% VAT), it was relatively cheap for
the north -- but would be a rip-off anywhere else on the island.
   Walking just a bit further south after dinner, I noticed that one of the
town's two pizza restaurants was closed for refurbishing, but the other
(Pirates Pizza) was open.  The prices for a plain pizza were Rs55/100/140
(or Rs60/110/180 for a ham & pineapple) -- but note that a "small" is really
only the size of a slice, and the "large" is really the size of a medium
elsewhere.  I ordered a mini pizza to take back with me to the room (you're
supposed to eat and drink a lot when you take the Larium), and while
waiting, asked the girl at the counter what language they're taught in at
school.  She said "well, we're supposed to speak English since that's our
mother tongue, but it's usually French.  Sometimes Creole, but usually
French.  Sometimes English too, but usually French."  She also mentioned
that there was just one university on the island, and I couldn't help but
wonder where those not attending it go to continue their education (if at

Feb. 28: Curepipe / Floreal / Grand Baie / Pereybere
   Today was set aside to travel south to Curepipe and the surrounding
areas.  Up at 7:15am, it was raining a bit, but by the time I left at 7:30am
it had stopped.  Still, I decided to wear shorts rather than long pants, as
I'd be doing a lot of walking today, and legs would dry faster than pants if
started to rain again.
   I had to wait a while for the bus to come by, and when it finally did, it
was a normal bus to Port Louis (Rs13) rather than an express.  I could have
walked off at Grand Baie and waited for an express (at a later stop, some
French tourists did this), but I decided not to even though it would have
been faster, as the bus seemed to stop almost every block and took a full
1hr 20mins to get to Port Louis).  Still, I considered it my "tour of the
north", and on it, I was able to get a good look at many of the island's
towns.  Most bus routes in the north are served by the ubiquitous white &
red TBS buses (Triolet Bus Service -- there's a town of Triolet in the
area), and this one was no exception.  Some of the island's other major bus
companies are: UBS (United Bus Service) -- also with white & red buses,
whose routes include the run between Port Louis and Curepipe, NTC (National
Transport Corporation), with its teal, orange, and white buses (I wound up
taking an NTC bus between Curepipe and Floreal), and a fleet of blue & white
buses with a lofty company name for such a small island: World Wide Express.
   The streets in the north are quite narrow, and walking along them can be
a problem especially when traffic from both directions meets up with you at
the same time.  However, the bus drivers on Mauritius are unusually careful
and courteous towards their fellow drivers and pedestrians, especially
compared with bus drivers in other countries: they'll actually wave to let
others go in front, signal when it's safe to pass, and never seem to be in a
reckless hurry (as a precautionary measure, they'll also toot their horn
when coming up behind a pedestrian or cyclist).
   That morning, I noticed Maha Shivaratree banners hung over the streets
with wire, welcoming pilgrims on their way to Grand Bassin.  The colorful
signs said things such as "In honor of pilgrims of Maha Shivaratree" and
"Wishing you a pious Maha Shivaratree."  Many businesses also hung signs on
their buildings or storefronts welcoming pilgrims to their town, and
encouraging them on.
   On the way to Port Louis, we passed through the town of Solitude and its
industrial zone... the scenery here of the large Consolidated Fabrics Ltd.
factory surrounded by sugar cane fields is typical of many of the island's
interior towns.  Coming into the area, a bus with "Knight Rider" painted on
its front windshield passed us by.
   Arriving into Port Louis, I needed to make my way from Immigration Square
Bus Station (where the first bus stopped) to where the buses for Curepipe
depart from (Victoria Bus Station).  There is a shuttle bus between the two
stations, but I decided to just walk it (it's a 10-12 minute brisk walk,
though it can easily be 20 minutes if you walk slower, have a heavy pack, or
don't know where you're going).  From Victoria Bus Station, I found an
express UBS bus to Curepipe (Rs14) which wound up taking the expressway for
much of the way.
   Arriving into Phoenix (the main town before Curepipe), it started to
rain, and as we arrived into Curepipe, the rain only became worse.  Curepipe
is located at a higher elevation than the coast, and it apparently rains
quite frequently in the area, making it the Seattle of Mauritius.  Getting
out of the bus in my T-shirt and shorts, I quickly needed to find an
umbrella, as I had left mine back in Pereybere.  In one local shop, a young
Indian guy showed me a small folding umbrella for Rs135.  I told him I'd
take it, but while fishing for coins, he said "I'll give it to you for
Rs100, ok?" (perhaps he had expected me to start bargaining with him?)  At
Rs100/US$4, he still made a good profit on the cheap Chinese umbrella, but
it was nice of him to voluntarily lower the price, especially without me
even trying to bargain, and with rain coming down outside.
   Though the rain made Curepipe seem somewhat dreary, it's actually not a
bad town: take away the weather, and you have a large, lively, vibrant place
with plenty of shopping.
   The one item that most tourists seem to take back with them from
Mauritius is a souvenir model ship.  No one knows exactly how the craze
started, but one day someone just started making them -- and over the years,
they've become a tradition found in just about every tourist shop on the
island (they're as prolific as T-shirts).  Some of the larger ones with
intricate details go for quite a bit of money, though there are also medium
and smaller ships that are more affordable.  I knew if I were to get one for
myself it'd have to be small and cheap, for even though the shops pack them
well, the chance of it breaking before I returned home was just too great. 
In one of the Chinese-run tourist shops not too far from the bus station
(Tresors de la Marine), there was a collection of small ships, each inside
its own wood-and-glass display case.  Picking one up, its price was marked
as Rs750/US$30.  Immediately, an Indian sales clerk came up to tell me that
the real prices were 20% off the marked ones, making it Rs600.  I still
thought I could do better and didn't want to buy until I had looked at other
shops, so I asked her out of the blue: "is it possible to see the factory
where they're built?"  The lady said it was, and gave me a business card
with an address in the suburb of Floreal on it.  As she gave me the card,
the sales clerk then said "for you, Rs500, ok?"  Saying I wanted to see the
factory first, I told her I'd come back in the afternoon, and asked for her
   Leaving the shop, I stopped to get a snack at a Chinese-run roadside cake
shop... all throughout the island, you can find small pink-frosting-covered
cakes about the size of Ding-Dongs for Rs5 -- and not having had breakfast
that morning, I picked up a few, along with a slurpee.  Still trying to find
an Rs100 telephone card, I stopped at a Chinese-run stationary and
electronics store where the owner didn't have any normal Rs100 cards, but
showed me a new Rs150 (Rs165 with the 10% VAT) Mauritius Telecom "scratch"
card that was just being introduced on the island: on these cards, you
scratch off an area to reveal a code which you can then use to place a call
from any phone on the island, rather than just from a card phone.  I bought
one figuring I'd give it a try later (not to mention I also like to collect
telephone cards when I travel).
   Outside the shop, I called the local office of South African Airways to
re-confirm my flight back to Johannesburg -- something you're actually asked
to do here... and speaking to them, had to be transferred twice before
someone could help me.
   At this point, I set off to walk to the Trou aux Cerfs Crater, located
just outside the downtown area.  The crater (long extinct, and covered with
trees) has a nice view of Curepipe and the surrounding mountains from the
top.  It's about a half-hour walk through the area streets, and the weather
was now alternating between intermittent drizzle and sun.  At the top, kids
from a local school were busy jogging back and forth circling the rim, and a
few tourists driven up by taxis were out taking pictures.  It's worth going
to the crater on foot though, as it's not steep at all, and the walk takes
you through some of Curepipe's quieter areas, allowing you the chance to
look at homes, schools, and neighborhood stores.  One local restaurant I
passed by had the sign "Chez Wong Ng" -- an interesting mix of languages,
but typical of Mauritius, where people are quite proud of their ethnic
heritage and such mixing of cultures or languages are quite natural (shops
will often have Chinese or Hindu names, as well as ethnic music playing as
you enter).
   Next, I wanted to head over to the suburb of Floreal a few miles away to
see some of the garment factories and outlet shops -- as well as the ship
factory that was supposedly in the area.  With it raining hard, I walked
down the street in the general direction of Floreal, hoping to find a bus
stop.  Having no luck, I walked into a shop where the proprietor pointed up
another street and said there'd be a bus stop further up the street.  Luck
was with me though: I didn't even have to make my way to the bus stop, for
as soon as I reached the street, a bus stopped at a red light was kind
enough to open the door for me (probably because of the rain), and after
paying Rs7, I found myself in Floreal a few minutes later.
   Though it was still cloudy, the rain stopped for a bit and I started to
look around the area.  Being left off by the Shell station, I realized the
ship factory was quite close, and managed to find it almost immediately
(passing a strip mall that I'd come back to later).  Inside, I soon
discovered that it was not a factory at all, but rather just another
showroom for tourists: in back, three ladies were merely dusting and
polishing up some models, and when I asked if they were made here, one of
the ladies said "no, we just kind of finish them up here."  Where they're
all made, I don't know, but only in one expensive shop did I actually see a
real workplace in back, with teenage boys and young ladies assembling and
painting the model ships.  Making matters worse, the Floreal showroom here
was charging higher prices than their shop by the bus station.
   Leaving the boat "factory" in a hurry, I walked back to the small strip
mall I had originally passed.  New, and with only a handful of clothing and
jewelry shops, it's nothing to get excited about: occupying the upper-floor
perimeter of the main clothing store is the Floreal Textile Museum, but with
an admission charge of Rs100/US$4, I decided not to bother with it (from
downstairs, I could get a pretty clear view that it wasn't anything more
than a few pictures and displays, and at Rs100, was an obvious tourist
trap).  The downstairs store and other mall shops were nothing special
either, so I soon left to wander down the hill.
   Just a short walk to the bottom of the hill is the large Floreal Knitwear
Factory (which you're not allowed to enter), as well as a few textile
"outlet" stores across the street, including a Floreal Knitwear store.  Like
the other tourist shops on the island, they were selling not only generic
clothing, but designer fashions as well (Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, Hugh
Wilson, Calvin Klein -- even Levis).  Supposedly, a lot of these name-brand
textiles are made on Mauritius, but to what degree this is still true is
anyone's guess.  There definitely ARE textile plants all over the island,
but since clothing here is not required to display its country-of-origin,
most items don't have any indication of where they're actually made.  In all
the clothes I picked up to examine, only two items had the country-of-origin
printed on their labels -- and both were made in Thailand (obviously, they
don't have to be made locally to be sold here).  The price of textiles on
Mauritius is a bit different than at home, with no-name, low-end textiles
being about the same price (or even slightly higher) as similar items in the
U.S. -- but with name-brand, designer fashions being considerably cheaper. 
For instance, regardless of whether they were made in Mauritius or not,
designer shirts on the island sell for about Rs300-Rs400/US$12-US$16 (with
Ralph Lauren shirts selling for Rs350/US$14, and Hugo Boss selling for
Rs350, Rs380, and Rs400).  These prices are especially cheap if you're
visiting from a country such as Japan, where these designer labels can be
extremely pricy.
   Besides foreign labels, Mauritius has its own well-known brands as well,
including Floreal Knitwear, whose large factory there at the bottom of the
hill had the din of sewing machines eminating from it.  Across the street
from the factory is the Floreal Knitwear store, with prices about halfway
between no-name textiles and designer labels.  The store did have a special
on cashmere sweaters: Rs1,100 (US$44) -- quite a bit cheaper than the
Rs2,100-Rs2,300 (US$84-US$92) the other stores were charging, but I didn't
care for the styles on sale, and the ones I liked were all over Rs2,000.
   The bus back to Curepipe was Rs11 (Rs2 more than coming out -- perhaps
because I was catching it one bus stop further on), and back in the city, I
spent some time looking around some of the various souvenir shops.  Down one
of the alleys, I noticed a large, old, colonial-style house, hidden and
tucked away behind the storefronts.
   At the entrance of a shopping arcade, a stall was selling the same size
model ships I had been looking at for Rs350 (in the stores, they were priced
Rs790, though "discounts" down to Rs500 were promised).  I almost bought
one, but there were only two to choose from, and they were different ships
than the ones in the stores.  A nearby shop also had similar ships for Rs380
and cheaper-looking ones as inexpensive as Rs270, so I went back to the
original shop (whose "factory" was in Floreal) and mentioned these prices. 
The same sales clerk I had spoken to earlier then said "ok, final price:
Rs475", but I still relented (in the end, I didn't think the glass would
last the trip back to South Africa -- let alone the U.S. -- so I wanted to
spend as little as possible).  As I began to leave the store, the a
middle-aged Chinese woman running the shop spoke to the clerk in Creole
(asking her what I wanted to pay, I believe), and then said "ok, you can
have it for Rs400" (including VAT, as they were a VAT-registered shop).  She
didn't want to go any lower though, saying that the ships here were of
higher quality than in other places (I doubt it... they looked just as
cheap), but I figured that Rs400/US$16 wasn't too bad, and the shop here was
also willing to pack it for the journey.  At US$16, I'm sure the store made
a tidy profit, but at least it wasn't too expensive, and was only half of
the original asking price (Rs790/US$31.60).
   Having settled on the price, I then had to decide which ship to buy, as
the store had four different models to choose from -- then find one with a
nice wood case.  Spending about 20 minutes, I looked at dozens of pieces
downstairs and upstairs before finally picking a model of the St. Geran, a
ship that crashed onto Mauritius years ago (at least its history is tied to
the island, unlike The Bounty or some of the other ships whose models you
can buy).
   While the ship was being packed, I had a nice conversation with the
owner's daughter (in her late 20s or early 30s).  When I asked her what
language kids are taught in at school, she said English, but that everyone
speaks French and Creole also (with her speaking Chinese as well).  When I
asked about drinking the water on the island, she said they never drink the
tap water straight: they always boil it first, as it's not pure --
especially with all the recent rains (apparently, there had been a drought
on the island for a while, but the rains have now started up again).  She
then asked me about the U.S., interested in why I decided to come to
Mauritius, as so few Americans come here.  She asked what Los Angeles was
like, mentioning that she sees pictures of California on TV all the time,
but has never been able to visit.
   After this, I went back to the indoor gift shop that had the boats for
Rs270-Rs350, as they had cheap T-shirts and caps as well.  Inside, a local
Chinese teenager was buying a Mauritius T-shirt for herself (I guess they're
not just for tourists), and I had to decide whether or not to buy a
Mauritius cap: I like caps, and while most of the Mauritius caps I saw were 
over-priced and ugly, this one store had a nice embroidered one for a good
price.  In the end I didn't buy one because they only had them in black, but
looking back I probably should have, as I never found another cap good or
cheap enough to buy.  In general, shopping in Curepipe isn't any cheaper
than Port Louis (if you scower and bargain, Port Louis is still the cheapest
place to by things), but there's a wide selection of stores in Curepipe, and
the town makes for an interesting day of wandering about.
   When finished in Curepipe, I took an express bus back to Port Louis and
spent some time walking down the sidewalk marketplace between the two bus
stations, since I had to get from one to the other anyway.  The weather in
Port Louis was much better, and the prices here were once again among the
best on the island.  I found the same vendor I bought my "S" size T-shirt
from on Saturday, though he still had only a few ugly ones left in "S" --
but the "M" ones turned out to be the same size (just not as short), so I
bought a matching "M" T-shirt as well.  Though the listed price was
Rs85/US$3.40, I asked if he'd accept Rs80 for it, and he let me have it for
   At the bus station, I caught the express back to Pereybere (having to
wait an unusual 20 minutes for it to depart, but at least once it did, the
trip took only 45 minutes, not the 1hr 20mins the trip down took earlier in
the day).  It was on this bus that a second conductor came aboard to verify
that everyone riding indeed had a ticket (this was the only time it happened
while I was on the island, but it's the reason you should keep your little
receipts until you're off the bus).  He came through the aisles, inspected
everyone's recepits, and punched a hole in them.
   Arriving back into Pereybere at 6:30pm, I dropped the model ship and
camera off at the flat, and set out walking.  Grand Baie is the main tourist
city of the area, and I wanted to see what it was like at night.  The buses
(which typically stop by 7:00pm or so) were still running, but it was such a
nice evening, I decided to go to Grand Baie on foot (it's about a 25-30
minute brisk walk between Pereybere and Grand Baie).  Though it had drizzled
a bit, the rain stopped just as I started to walk, and a beautiful sunset
appeared in the sky above me.  I enjoyed the walk immensely, and am glad I
didn't take the bus.  Along the way, I passed a few restaurants that looked
quite good (including an Indian one I almost stopped at), but in the end, I
waited until Grand Baie for dinner.
   Upon first arriving into Grand Baie, I stopped at the same large
supermarket that I bought a T-shirt from the day before -- this time, buying
some Mauritius keychains for Rs20/US80c each.  After that, I started looking
for restaurants.  Grand Baie has plenty of Chinese restaurants, but getting
tired of Chinese food, I wanted to find a place that served local Creole
dishes.  The area restaurants employ touts to lure customers in, and as I
stopped to look at a menu in front of one place, the Indian tout there
started his sthick (in French first, though when I didn't reply, it switched
to English).  The somewhat-fancy restaurant (La Charette) had a menu of
Indian, Chinese, European, and Creole items listed, so I told the tout I'd
probably be back -- and after looking around town a bit more, I did indeed
return to La Charette, with its covered-yet-outdoor setting.  For
Rs150/US$6, I ordered some creole chicken, asking for it extra-hot.  Good,
free bread is served while you wait, but the size of the dinner itself is
extremely small.  The chicken wasn't bad, but was nothing out of the
ordinary -- and the tiny portion meant I was still hungry (as I had skipped
both breakfast and lunch, having only a bunch of pink-frosted cakes during
the day).  On top of the Rs150, the restaurant also added a 4% taxy levy to
the bill.
   When the meal was done, I walked back from Grand Baie to Pereybere in
darkness... once you leave Grand Baie, there are no street lights along the
road, so I walked against the traffic in order to see the on-coming cars.  I
passed Pirates Pizza, but decided not to stop, opting to just fix something
for myself back at the flat.  Back in Pereybere at 8:30pm, I made myself a
sandwich and just relaxed.  Outside, the sky was a bit cloudy, but the wind
was really picking up, and was howling down through the alley below.
   A few misc. notes: unemployment is very low on the island, and while
certainly not all jobs pay well, most islanders have work... the major
ice-cream brand on the island (called "Ola" throughout most of Southern
Africa) is known as "Miko" here, and has the same logo as "Good Humor"
ice-cream in the States... there is a distinct lack of vending machines on
Mauritius: only once did I spot a soda machine (an out-of-order Pepsi
machine outside one of the shops in Floreal) -- they just aren't popular
here... smoking (as with Africa) is thankfully not so common here either... 
when placing an overseas telephone call, you will hear a series of fast
beeps until the first ring... when I tried to call telephone information
(listed as "90" on the public phones), I received a recording only in French
(most recordings and instructions are in both French and English).  Later, I
found out the number for information had changed... the "#" and "*" keys on
public phones don't work if you use a regular telephone card -- but if you
use one of the new "scratch" cards and DON'T insert a normal telephone card,
they suddenly work.  Using the scratch-off card, I was able to call to my
credit union at home and check my balance with their computer-phone system
for the first time on my trip (since such calls require the use of a working
"#" key)... the new Honda Civics on the island have the same design as the
U.S. models (with updated tail lights), rather than those found in South
Africa which have the older-style design in back... many of the buses on the
island are old Ashok-Leylands... and finally, besides the "Free Look
Magazine and Video Club" I saw earlier, I also noticed a "Free Look Food

Feb. 29: Trou aux Biches / Grand Baie / Johannesburg Airport (South Africa)
   For my last day on Mauritius, I was up at 7:10am and out the door shortly
afterwards.  At first, I was planning on spending the morning in the water
at Grand Baie, but as I boarded the bus, I noticed its destination was Trou
aux Biches.  After paying my Rs7 fare for Grand Baie, I thought it might be
interesting to go further down to Trou aux Biches, so I asked the conductor
if I could change.  I paid Rs5 more, and was given another receipt.
   Trou aux Biches was a great choice, as it has one of the better beaches
of the area and is completely uncrowded early in the morning.  There is no
reef here (you can see waves breaking out in the distance, but by shore,
there's nothing but sand), but the area is perfect for swimming, with water
so clear and warm it resembles a giant swimming pool.  Other than myself,
there was only one other person in the water and a few people walking along
the shore.  I stayed in for a good 45 minutes, enjoying the calm, warm water
under the early morning sun.
   While getting out of the water, a passing cloud suddenly brought some
rain for 3-4 minutes.  As I was already wet, I didn't mind, but the rain did
help allay my fears that I might not be allowed back on the bus due to my
damp swim trunks -- for with the rain, others might now be wet as well.  As
the sun reappeared a bus came by, but there was no problem with me boarding
or sitting down on the bus.
   Back in Pereybere, I decided to look at the coral reefs once more, and
walked out to the edge of the rocks.  There, I went in the water, and had
one final look at the orange and blue coral, as well as the many fishes
swimming around nearby.  Fishing from the rocks was an older French tourist,
and when I was done snorkling, I went up to give him my mask and tube,
pointing out that there was some good reefs right by shore.  He didn't speak
any English, but understood nonetheless, and seemed happy to receive them.
   I went back to the flat at 10:00am to take a shower and pack.  Leaving
behind a few things I would no longer need on the table (my perpetrually
dirty grey PEP T-shirt -- which would be just fine with a wash, swim trunks,
a prop-up mosquito net, towel, the lock I bought for the room safe, etc.), I
gathered up everything else and left to walk downstairs.  At the Shop In,
the niece wasn't around, but a Chinese guy about her age was behind the
counter.  I gave him the keys, and let him know I had left a few things
upstairs for anyone who wanted them.  When I asked if he had a business
card, he gave me a color brochure for Les Cases Fleuries.
   Just down the street from the Shop In, I caught a bus back to Grand Baie.
There, I enjoyed looking around the shops once more, but being the tourist
mecca of the island, I couldn't find any other souvenirs at an affordable
   At around 11:15am, I figured I should start heading for the airport, as I
had a 4:05pm flight, but would need to get there two hours earlier (and
buses on the island aren't exactly quick, with the airport being quite a
distance by bus).  There IS a non-stop express bus that goes directly from
Grand Baie to Port Louis though: it's only Rs15/US60c, and leaves from right
in front of the Highlights Boutique in town.  At 11:15am, the bus --
half-full with passengers fanning themselves due to the heat, was just
sitting there with no driver or conductor present, so I climbed aboard, not
sure of when it would depart.  The bus itself is different than the normal
island buses: it's a smaller, 25-seat air-con mini-bus (with the air-con set
so low, everyone just opened the windows), and as the seats quickly filled
up, people began to stand in the aisles.  At 11:30am, a driver/conductor
came aboard to collect the fare (unlike other buses on Mauritius, there's no
separate conductor on this express -- as with no scheduled stops to pick up
passengers, there's no need for one.  However, the driver did stop twice to
pick up passengers who flagged him down along the way, and just calculated
and collected the fare from the driver's seat).  It took only 35 minutes to
get to Port Louis, but once there, I needed to find a bus that would take me
the rest of the way to the airport.
   When I asked one of the bus company employees about a bus to the airport,
I was told that they leave from beyond the other bus station -- something I
didn't quite understand at first, but I knew it at least meant having to
walk between the two stations... so I decided to walk via the street with
the sidewalk marketplace, and once more bought another T-shirt from the
"Rs85 T-shirt" guy.  Stopping at a small snack stand to buy another
pink-frosted cake, I was charged Rs6 here rather than the usual Rs5 (but a
300ml Fanta orange soda inside one of the shops was only Rs6/US24c with
bottle return).  Water was Rs9 for a 1L bottle of "Vital" (the typical
price), but the cheapest I ever found it for anywhere else was only Rs8.
   When I reached the second bus station and asked where to catch a bus to
the airport, I was pointed even further away, and told to walk past the
station.  The employee didn't speak English well, so I went up to another,
who told me the same thing.  I left the bus station behind, but after a
while, stopped someone else on the street just to make sure.  He showed me
where the bus was waiting, and I was indeed headed in the right direction:
the bus doesn't depart from a station, but rather a small, non-descript bus
stop on a side street a ways past the station.  It's difficult to explain
exactly where this bus stop is located (it's about a five minute walk past
the second bus station down a small side-street), but if you just ask
someone nearby, they'll be able to help you find it.  Because there is no
apparent express bus between Port Louis and the airport, you must catch a
normal bus headed for "Mahebourg" (pronounced "Mayberg") -- as this bus will
stop at the airport.
   At the bus stop, I was pointed to a waiting bus half-full with
passengers, and when I asked the young bus-tout (who turned out to be the
conductor) if it was an express bus, he said "yes" -- but it turned out to
be only something of a limited-express bus (making all the local stops in
town, but finally taking the expressway once it left the city).   The fare
was Rs16, making the total fare between Grand Baie and the airport
Rs31/US$1.24 -- a good deal better than the US$30-US$40 a taxi ride would
cost.  Note that in Pereybere, there is a sign posted by the main taxi rank
with set taxi fares from there to different points on the island, including
Port Louis, Curepipe, and the airport (listed as Rs700/US$28) -- but if you
just catch a taxi on the street or in another town, you'll be stuck with
having to negotiate a price that will most definitely be even more expensive
than these posted taxi fares.
   Going south (and uphill) from Port Louis to Phoenix, it began to cloud up
and drizzle, and by the time we reached Curepipe, the drizzle had turned to
rain (yup, this really is the Seattle of Mauritius!)  Once past Curepipe,
the rain stopped, and under a cloudy sky, the bus rolled into the airport at
12:53pm -- stopping at the same bus stop where I had caught my bus to Port
Louis a few days earlier.  The timing was perfect (two hours before my
flight), and I walked the short distance from the bus stop to the airport
   Inside, I managed to get seat 10K (in the business-class section, though
the food was still economy class), and while waiting at the airport, I
actually did something I thought I'd never do: I purchased something at the
duty-free shop.  I generally laugh at duty-free shops because their prices
are so much higher than any normal store, but they had a small shortwave
radio at just about half the price of what it costs at home.  The reason? 
In the U.S., Sony sells their ICF-SW100S mini digital shortwave radio set
for US$400 -- the set includes the radio, AC adaptor, and an active
antenna... but here at the duty free shop, they were selling the same exact
unit without the AC adaptor and active antenna as the Sony ICF-SW100E -- for
US$232.  Since I already had the AC adaptor (from an older ICF-SW1S unit I
bought in the mid-1980s) and didn't care for an active antenna, it was the
perfect opportunity for me to get the radio for about half of what I'd pay
for it in the States.
   At an airport bank, I changed some leftover rupees into rand, surprised
that the bank actually accepted Rs coins (something most banks won't do when
handling currency exchages), though I was given only a so-so rate (R30 for
about Rs130).  After this, I just waited for the plane to board.
   Before landing into Johannesburg, the stewardesses went through the cabin
to spray, and once landed, I was first in line at immigration (the benefits
of sitting near the front and not having any check-in baggage).  I called
the Road Lodge, and was soon picked up by their shuttle, sharing it with a
Japanese businessman staying at the nearby City Lodge.  We had an
interesting conversation ranging from sakura and ume blossoms to used cars
(his business), and he mentioned in passing that he used to stay at the
now-closed green-glass Holiday Inn Johannesburg before it closed due to lack
of people wanting to stay in the downtown area.
   Back at the Road Lodge, I removed everything from the locker, received my
key deposit back, and went up to the room (#202), calling Mr. Delivery for
pizza (super-thin and cold this time, but at least it was cheap).  In the
room, I packed and relaxed a bit, reading the paper and watching TV.
   In the "Mauritius News on Sunday" English newspaper: Mauritius loses each
year the equivalent of 1% of the nation's GNP (about Rs1 billion) due to
traffic congestion, according to an official report yet to be released by
the authorities... the Land Transport Minister will be visiting Singapore
soon to look at that country's solutions for their traffic problems... the
Land Ministry has also been working on a new laws for vehicles lately, and
the newspaper had seen an advance copy of some of the proposed new laws. 
Subjects to be addressed: the size of allowed vehicles, the governing of a
vehicle's brakes, allowing only safety glass for windscreens, forcing taxis
to have meters, making sure bus passengers will not be able to stick their
elbows out the windows, speed limiters to be installed in every bus and
goods vehicle capable of a speed mre than 80kph -- calibrated to a pre-set
speed at 60kph and sealed so it cannot be removed or tampered with, the
removal of all left-drive vehicles from the roads, no TVs allowed if it can
be seen in any manner by the driver, and a law making it compulsary to stop
the engine if stationary -- except in traffic, or if necessary to operate
the heating or cooling of a vehicle.  So far, these are merely proposals,
but they will be looked into soon.
   The government released its "Youth Action Plan" document to address the
needs of the island's youth -- addressing the problems of drugs and sex, as
well as the rights youths should have, including being free of harassment,
having access to information, equal opportunities in the employment sector
from age 16, proper education and training, adequate housing, healthcare,
and social security.
   In the paper was a column addressing the desire for better local news
coverage on TV and radio: the constitution provides for free airwaves, but
the government bars radio and TV operators from providing listeners and
viewers with a local news or features service, restricting this to the
government-controlled MBC (Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation), though Prime
Minister Navin Ramgoolan said he will soon move to liberalize the
airwaves... the Prime Minister also stated that elections may not be held
this year, and may be postponed until next year instead.
   In South Africa, the top news stories of the day included: the awarding
of the 084 cel prefix to Cel-C, a black empowerment company with major
backing from Saudi Arabia and GTE (the telephone prefix of 082 indicates a
cel phone with service provided by Vodacom, 083 indicates MTN service, and
084 was the license awarded to Cel-C... Swaziland's former deputy premier
Sishayi Nxumalo died over the weekend when his car collided with a herd of
cattle on a major highway.  His death has raised a debate over road safety,
as cows are given free reign to go where they please, unattended.  After a
relatively accident-free holiday season when herders were employed by the
government to chase stray cattle from the roads, traffic deaths reached the
triple-digit level in February.  Last year, Transport Minister Peter Dlamini
and the acting Chief Justice of the High court, Ben Dunn, died on Swazi
roads... in Xai-Xai (Mozambique), the city centre was under 3m/9ft of water
   Misc notes: a Mauritius government report says that the country's youth
(ages 14-29) now consist of 25.6% of the population, or 300,000 people (with
the total population of the island being about 1.2 million)... March 12th is
Independence Day on Mauritius, and this year will be the 32nd anniversary of
the island's independence... most Indians on the island speak Bhojpuri, and
while I was on Mauritius, the island's 2nd Bhojpuri conference was going
on... Mauritius public schools all have the words "government school" in
their title (such as "xxx xxx government school"), and "tuition" is not used
to mean the fee necessary to attend school, but rather to teach or to learn
(as in "tuition in computer science is available").  "C.V." ("C.V") is used
rather than "resume", and "O.N.O." ("or next offer") is the equivalent of
"O.B.O." ("or best offer").

Mar. 1: Cape Town
   Waking up at 5:15am, I had a cup of hot chocoate downstairs at the Road
Lodge (the guy at the front desk let me have it on the house).  The evening
before, I told Peter and Naomi (at Bridles B&B) that I'd be on a 6:00am
flight arriving into Cape Town at 8:00am, but I was actually booked on a
7:00am flight arriving into Cape Town shortly after 9:00am.  At the airport
by 5:40am, I tried to change to the earlier flight, but it was already full
and closed, so at 7:00am, I boarded SA#303 for Cape Town.  This flight was
completely full as well, with the vast majority of passengers being white,
middle-aged businessmen.  I sat next to a white businesswoman in the
advertising field, and we had an interesting conversation about the the
current project she's working on (a claymation ad campaign for M-NET's new
Afrikaans-language service about to be launched).
   Arriving a bit early at 8:55am, I caught the Intercape airport shuttle
(R90 as of today, instead of the previous R80) to the B&B, and arrived
around 9:45am.  It was a clear but windy morning -- and the wind would kick
up even more by the end of the day.  This wind phenomenon is quite common in
Cape Town, and they've given it a name: the "South-Easterly" (or more
affectionately, the "Cape Doctor").  Being sunny but a bit cold from the
wind, I changed into long sleeves, and soon set out for my last full day in
Cape Town.
   The first thing I wanted to do was pick up some maps of the different
regions of Africa I had visited, since decent maps of Africa are virtually
impossible to find in the States.  Peter showed me on a map where the
Automobile Association office was, as well as the offices of a good map
company (Struik Publishing) -- and though I was prepared to walk, he said
it'd be no problem dropping me off at one of them.  Since I was an AAA
member in the States, maps at the AA would be free... so I figured I'd try
them first, and if they didn't have what I wanted, I'd visit Struik.
   At the AA office, I realized I had left my AAA card back at the B&B, but
the lady there was nice, and said it wouldn't be a problem.  I was able to
pick up good driving maps of many of the Southern African countries, but
they were out of the Central African country maps (Malawi, Tanzania,
etc.) -- and I still lacked a good, general African map.
   Leaving the AA, I walked towards the downtown business district, and
happened upon a flea market set up at Darling & Plein Streets (not too far
from the train station).  Apparently, this market happens every Wednesday
and Saturday, so I checked it out, picking up an egg sandwich from a
takeaway booth.  Most of the items (socks, clothing, etc.) didn't interest
me, with only a few booths having what I was looking for: baseball caps that
said South Africa on them -- but the cheapest booth was asking R20/US$3.17,
and others wanted R25 and R30.
   Not buying anything, I left the flea market to stop in at a few local
travel agencies.  I knew I'd need to come back to Cape Town in 2000/2001 to
take the RMS St. Helena and had seen plenty of flyers placed up all over
town advertising incredible deals on round-trip flights for as low as
R5,000/US$793 between Cape Town and LA.  I stopped at Flight Centre, AmEx
(recommended by the South African Youth Hostel office), and Sure Travel, but
all told me the same thing: these fares are only for flights originating
from South Africa (otherwise the fares are pretty much the same as what you
can get in the U.S.)  The hope of a cheap ticket for next year now dashed, I
called SAA from a card phone to see if any prime seats had opened up for my
long flight home the following day, and changed the 70A I originally had to
exit-row 40A.
   Deciding to wander in a different direction than I had previously been, I
happened to stumble upon the city's wholesale district: an area with lots of
wherehouse stores selling wholesale and retail clothing (along with other
items) to the public.  Many places had dual prices: one for single-item
purchases and another for bulk purchase (for instance, some baseball caps at
one store were R12 each, but R7.50 each in bulk).  These were the same caps
being sold by vendors all over the city for R20-R35, and anyone can come
into these shops and buy them at the single-item or bulk rate.  One place I
found (Adderly Clothing, 6 Corporation Street, near Darling), had some
really nice embroidered South African baseball caps perfect for souvenirs. 
The sign said "R9.99 each", but when I asked the owner "how about 2 for
R18?" he said "no, but I'll give you 3 for R25."  I agreed, and picked up
three for the price of one elsewhere in town.  The following day, I returned
to the area, and at Traders Warehouse Clothing Wholesalers (33 Buitenkant
Street, at the corner of Barrack & Buitenkant), picked up two Cape Town
T-shitrs for R9.95 each -- 1/3rd the R30-R35 price being asked at the
tourist stalls in Greenmarket Square.
   Leaving the wholesale area, I found the African Mall (a multi-story
building housing African art and curios made by various artists).  It's an
interesting place to look around in, but I didn't find anything I really
wanted (I'm not much of a curio shopper, and looked just on the off-chance
of finding a smaller bao/ndsoro board).
   Next, I walked down to the V&A, enjoying the sunny afternoon even with
the wind.  At the V&A, I spent a few hours browsing through the over-priced
tourist shops one last time, finally picking up a good regional map of
Southern Africa published by Struik Publishing -- the company Peter had
recommended.  On these maps, there's no manufacturer's suggested retail
price, and at the first shop I saw this map (a V&A travel bookstore), it was
priced at R49.95.  Waiting, I found it just moments later at the nearby CNA
bookstore for R44.95, so decided to pick it up (though I later saw it
elsewhere R39.95 -- including at the airport).  Next, I stopped to buy a
small blown-glass bird at the Ngwenya Glass Shop (the famous Swazi glass
company), as their prices were actually quite cheap (for instance, the small
bird was R20.50/US$3.25 at the Ngwenya shop, yet the exact same piece was
R30 at another tourist shop upstairs).  In a card shop, I found a float-pen
of Cape Town and a violin refrigerator magnet for my violin teacher, and in
another shop, found some small Zulu "love letters" (little designs made of
beads you clip to your clothing)... tradition has it that both the male and
female should wear them when separated, though these were obviously just
cheap tourist souvenirs.  Still, they were inexpensive, and would go good on
my knick-knack shelf at home.  In a tourist shop on the upper level, I
noticed some made-in-Mauitius model ships for sale, and the same one I
bought in Mauritius for US$16 was marked US$52 (with a "discount" to US$40).
   When I was finished in the large, indoor shopping mall, I walked through
the nearby craft market.  One stall was selling T-shirts and pillow covers
with a great matching African design, but their prices were an incredible
R85/US$13.50 for the T-shirt, and R75/US$11.90 for the pillow cover.  The
design was exactly what I was looking for, but even saying I'd buy two
pillow covers and a T-shirt, the white salesguy there would only go down R20
to R215 for the set (making it even more frustrating, besides the money set
aside for the airport shuttle, I had R206 left on me -- but he wouldn't
accept R206 even though it's only about US$1.50 less than what he was
asking -- so I had to pay him the R215 and stop at an ATM later to get more
money for the shuttle).  As I've said before, the V&A is NOT the place to
buy things: the vendors here know that they can charge whatever they like,
and if you don't want to buy it at their prices, there are plenty of other
tourists that will.  Normally, I would have just walked away, but these were
designs I really loved... so chiding myself, I bit the bullet and paid R215
for them.
   Finished at the V&A craft market at 6:15pm (it closes at 6:00pm), I began
my walk back to the B&B.  Being 6:00pm, the business district was now empty,
though there were enough people around that I felt safe.  I stopped at an
ATM on the way back to get more money, and continued my walk up the city
bowl to the B&B.  The wind was kicking up strong now, and a few times, it
literally made me stumble as I walked.  Further up the hill, the wind became
even worse -- this was a tremendous wind, with sand and debris flying -- and
because of it, the walk up to the B&B took a bit longer (I didn't get back
until 7:15pm).  Peter and Naomi looked surprised that I had decided to walk
through the "Cape Doctor" (actually on one level, it was quite refreshing,
even though I seemed to be walking against the wind all the way up the
hillside), but also seemed to be used to crazy Americans.  Behind us, the
trademark "tablecloth" cloud was now hovering over Table Mountain in its
typical fashion, never sinking more than halfway down.
   With the wind howling outside, I phoned Mr. Delivery for some food, not
wanting to walk back down the hill in the wind.  Their lines were so busy
though, that I was getting a fast "circuits-busy" signal.  I couldn't get
through for so long that I called one of the pizza places directly, thinking
that perhaps the phone lines themselves were out of order due to the wind --
but that wasn't the case... with the weather, Mr. Delivery was just
extremely busy.  Finally getting through, I ordered a pizza, and telling
them that the pizza arrived cold the last time I used them in Johannesburg,
asked that it arrive warm.  It took a while, but sure enough the pizza came,
nice and warm.  After the walking I did today and the cool wind outside, I
enjoyed it immensely.
   Some news from today's paper: the Tsumeb (Namibia) Mines which were
liquidated by Gold Fields in 1998, would re-open this year after creditors
overwhelmingly supported a takeover bid by Ongopolo Mining and Processing, a
Namibian company.  Operations are expected to start up again by mid-April,
with the first ore going through the Tsumeb smelter by mid-June -- after a
R15 million reconstruction.  Ongopolo plans to directly employ about 800
workers at the mines... South Africa will have its first lottery starting up
tomorrow, but the situation is total chaos.  Even as late as today (the day
before it's to start), it's still not known what charaties will benefit from
the lottery, and the agency to distribute the 30% earmarked for charity has
not yet been established.  Even the criteria that the individual charities
have to meet hasn't yet been decided upon... tobacco ads are to be phased
out within the next two years in South Africa.  The new regulations are in
draft form, and should soon (hopefully) become law.  This includes not only
a ban on radio and TV advertisements, but on sponsorships and print ads as
well, unless the publications are printed outside of South Africa and their
principal purpose is not the promotion of cigarettes.  Signs indicating the
sale of tobacco are to be in black & white only (not color), and not more
than 1m/3ft from the point-of-sale.  Designated smoking areas should have a
separate ventilation system that extracts air to the outside, and in
restaurants with more than 55 seats, not more than 25% of the floor area is
to be smoking.  Blanche Pitt of the Department of Health put it this way:
"In countries where there has been a partial ban on advertisements, there
have been partial results.  That's why we've decided to go the complete
prohibition [on ads and sponsorships] route"... and black war veterans have
continued to invade white-own farms in Zimbabwe.
   Some misc. information: in Zimbabwe, unemployment is now at a record 50%,
with interest rates above 60%, and 1999's estimated GNP having shrunk
1.2%... there are 940 PEP stores in South Africa, with 300 more on the rest
of the continent... Nando's has 50 locations in Africa... the Zimbabwe cel
phone company Econet has applied to the high court for a license to run a
second fixed telephone network to compete with the government-run PTC.
Econet is challenging a section of the constitution which gives the PTC a
monopoly in the telecommunications sector, with its request being opposed by
the government... the large African petrol company Engen is owned by the
Malaysian oil company Petronas... new vehicle sales in South Africa hit an
8-year low in 1999, declining for the 4th consecutive year.  Sales dropped
by 5.9%, with Toyota still the highest seller, followed by Volkswagen.

Mar. 2/3: Cape Town / Ile de Sal (Cape Verde) / Atlanta (USA) / Los Angeles
   I was up early this morning, but decided to stay in bed for a while.
Watching SABC news in my room, I saw more pictures of the Mozambique
flooding, with SADF helicoptors plucking people up from rooftops, and news
reports mentioning that the Limpopo river was now 125kms wide in some areas
due to the flooding.  Having breakfast at 7:20am, I set out walking by
7:45am.  It was windy again, but not as bad as yesterday.
   The day before, Peter had arranged for the Intercape shuttle to pick me
up for the airport today, but with their recent price increase to R90, it
just seemed too expensive -- so on the walk down the hill, I stopped at the
Engen petrol station and called Intercape to cancel the reservation (saying
I had decided to stay in town longer) -- then phoned Rikki's up to book a
2:30pm pickup at the B&B for the airport (R70).  I then stopped for a bit at
Gardens Centre, where most shops were still closed, but I was able to
window-shop a bit, and did browse in a bookstore that had opened already.
   I continued walking downhill, taking Long Street into the downtown area. 
I spent some time around Longmarket and Shortmarket before heading off to
the wholesale district once more, where I bought my T-shirts (at Traders
Warehouse) and spent a few hours looking through the other stores of the
area.  Nearby, a large South African sporting goods chain (Cape Union Mart)
was having a "garage sale" in a warehouse on Barrack Street.  Though it was
advertised in the paper (I noticed the ad later at the airport), I had found
it by accident.  There were dozens of items all discounted for the special 
sale, but nothing interesting or exceptionally cheap by U.S. standards, and
the queue looked as if it'd take an hour.  Back on Adderly Street, I bought
a keychain at Cardies and noticed they also had the same Struik Southern
Africa map for R39.95 that I had paid R44.95 for at the V&A.  I then spent
some time walking through the outside pedestrian tourist streets and nearby
curio shops, though there was nothing too interesting to see.
   Passing the University, I decided to stop in at their music library once
more as I had done at the start of my trip, to see if they still had any old
sheet music left for sale... when I visited eleven weeks ago, they were
selling old music scores -- mostly of old violin & piano pieces -- for
R1/US16c each to raise money for new scores and equipment (the lady behind
the counter said they hardy had any budget for new music and supplies).  It
was a treasure trove of old, impossible-to-find pieces selling for almost
nothing, but I couldn't carry a stack of sheet music around with me for my
entire trip, so at the time, I left without picking anything up... but now
that I was on my way home, I was hoping there'd be some items left.  Sadly,
most of the good items had already been taken, so I wound up buying only
three old scores.  Ah well.
   I spent a bit more time looking around downtown, and when it approached
the time to start heading back, I walked back to the B&B slowly, via Long
Street again.  On the way, I stopped at an internet cafe to check my email,
but though they had no minimum and charged only R0.50/min, the connection
was painfully slow -- so I logged off after only 4 minutes.
   Back at Bridles by 2:10pm, I took a quick shower, gathered my things,
said goodbye to Naomi (having her book me a room for when I'd be back in
town next year), and left for the airport with Rikki's right at 2:30pm.  On
the drive to the airport, I asked the Rikki's driver about the proposed new
taxi laws, but he seemed to think the new laws wouldn't affect them -- as
they're a different type of operation, and not really a kombi/minibus taxi
   At the airport, there was a huge queue of tourists waiting to get their
VAT refund processed (as there was at the satellite VAT-refund desk in the
V&A yesterday).  As a foreign tourist in South Africa, you're eligible for a
refund on some of the money you've spent on VAT in the country -- though
conditions apply.  Basically, the refund is available only on goods (not on
services such as car rental), and the goods must equal at least R250 or more
to be eligible.  You must obtain a "tax invoice" from the shop where you buy
the goods, and keep all receipts.  Refunds are paid as a rand check, payable
anywhere in the world except South Africa.  Though I bought many things
eligible for the refund (just the 3 Soweto String Quartet CDs alone would
have given me back over US$45 in VAT), I decided not to ask for the refund:
even though I was on a budget, South Africa is a country much in need of
capital for becoming the new nation that it is trying to build -- for
everything from fixing infrastructure to building homes for the majority of
its population without decent shelter -- and with the $/R exchange rate
already more than strong enough, it just seemed petty to stand there and ask
for my VAT money back from the government.  Perhaps if I hadn't been so
impressed with the job the current government has been doing, I'd consider
asking for a refund, but everywhere I looked, I was amazed at how much the
new government had already done -- as well as the staggering amount there
was still left to do.  I was convinced that the money would go to good use,
and I just couldn't bring myself to wait in queue with the hundreds of
well-to-do tourists demanding their few dollars back.
   One thing to note: if you need to get rid of any extra rand, do it BEFORE
coming to the airport, as the exchange rate at the airport bank branches are
worse than at those same bank's branches in town.  For instance, today's
rate for buying rand was 6.31 in town, but 6.44 at the airport.
   At the airport bookstore, I bought the day's paper (they had Nelson
Mandela's "Long Walk to Freedom" book, but it was R99.95 -- so I passed,
opting to buy it when I returned home).  I then walked over to the seats at
the airport snack bar and sat down, catching up on the day's news and
watching all the people in queue for their VAT refund.
   In today's news: there's a contraversy (usually pronounced conTRAversy
around here) surrounding Nando's new ad campaign: the TV spots show a
guide-dog leading a blind woman into a light pole so that he can get to some
Nando's chicken quickly.  Blind and disabled groups protested the ads, and
though Nando's first refused to pull them, it was announced today that they
would be taken off the air, as the Advertising Standards Authority of South
Africa decided to ban them... the South African Revenue Service arrested 70
people in the Western Cape this week as part of its natinwide clampdown on
tax dodgers... the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) is still going
on, with former police commissioner Johan van der Merwe testifying
yesterday.  Applying for amnesty, he admitted his guilt in the SADF's
illegal 1985 raids into neighboring Lesotho, in which 8 ANC members and 3
Lesotho nationals were killed.  Van der Merwe admitted ordering the raids,
saying they never would have been conducted had the Lesotho army been as
strong as South Africa's.  Continuing on, he mentioned that at the time, the
government's policy was "terrorists should be fought wherever they are", and
that "the actions were supposed to be covert and untraceable -- the
government did not want the rest of the world to think South Africa was a
police state"... Thabo Mbeki is behind the country's new lottery (which
starts today, at R2.50 a game) -- esentially encouraging people to buy
tickets and play... in today's Cape Times newspaper, the "birth
announcements" section lasts for 1/2 a column, but the "death announcements"
section takes up a full 7 1/2 columns...
   Because of South African Airways' recent partner-airline change from
American to Delta, the flight today would be extremely long: 21hrs 50mins
just to get to Atlanta -- and after a 2-hour stop in Atlanta, it'd be
another 5 hours to get to Los Angeles, making the total time from Cape Town
to Los Angeles 29 hours.  Part of the reason it was so bad was that today's
Cape Town flight had to first stop in Johannesburg to pick up passengers,
then stop in the Cape Verde Islands for re-fueling.  It'd be a long trip.
   After going through immigration, I spent the last of my rand at one of
the airport shops, buying a small Ngwenya Swazi owl for R26, a small painted
tray (R30), and a large postcard (R4).  It worked out perfectly, and I used
every last Rand I had (though I later found a R1 coin in my pack).
   While waiting for the flight, I saw a girl carrying a violin case, and
went up to say hello.  She was from the States as well (North Carolina), and
had been in South Africa as part of a church group (this made a nice bookend
to the Soweto String Quartet, whom I had met on the SAA flight over back in
   On the plane, my exit-row window seat (40A) would not do for a 22 hour
flight: it was an exit-row seat alright, but had almost no legroom, the
window completely sealed shut, and two young kids behind me constantly
kicking my seat.  Departing Cape Town, the plane was virtually empty, so I
decided to go back to the seat I had originally booked (70A, where the seats
were only two across), and hoped that when we stopped in Johannesburg to
pick up more passengers, the seat would still be unassigned.  The Indian
stewardess I talked to was quite understanding and said she'd talk to the
crew coming on board in Johannesburg about me switching seats.  Since the
flight was almost 22 hours long, there had to be a cabin crew change in both
Johannesburg and the Cape Verde islands, with three different cabin crews
being required just for this Cape Town - Atlanta flight (one of the
stewardesses told me it was due to labor laws).  For each SAA flight, you
can watch the takeoff and landing on the cabin's TV monitor -- an
interesting thing to watch, as such projections of takeoffs and landings
aren't shown anymore in the U.S.  Though it had been good (albeit windy)
weather during the day, it was beginning to get cloudy just as the plane
took off over Cape Town.
   Landing in Johannesburg for an hour to pick up passengers, the plane
became at least 3/4ths full, but seat 70A was still unoccupied -- so I
decided to settle in and use the seat for the rest of the long flight.  It
would be 8hrs 30mins until we'd reach Ile de Sal in the Cape Verde Islands
(a chain of Portugese-speaking islands off the coast of Senegal, Africa),
where we'd refuel in the middle of the night.  The rows of 4-across middle
seats with armrests that raised up (not all did) were now taken by weary
passengers sleeping on them -- and I could easily see why: this flight would
take forever.
   At 2:00am local time / 5:00am South Africa time, we landed on Ile de Sal
(Sal Island) to re-fuel.  We were allowed to disembark and enter one room of
the airport terminal, but were not allowed to wander anyplace else.  For 45
minutes, most of us stretched our legs and looked around the main waiting
room of the Ile de Sal airport, with a total on-the-ground time of about an
hour.  Observing the cars, I noticed that the steering wheel was on the
American (left) side, and besides our large SAA 747, there was also an Air
Portugal plane on the ground, with its passengers inside the airport.
   Inside the waiting room was a bar and a small duty-free shop, selling a
small selection of items ranging from older-model Panasonic phones to
perfume.  Noticing the two local card telephones in the lobby, I immediately
asked at the duty-free shop if they sold telephone cards.  Indeed they did,
and foreign currency is accepted: US$5 will get you a 50-credit telephone
card (I bought two), and the lady behind the counter volunteered that I
should dial "00" before the country code for an international call.  I
called to leave some messages on my dad's machine as well as on some
friend's machines, but when my own machine answered on the first ring
(indicating I had a message), I was unable to pick the message up -- as
though the Schlumberger-made phone had buttons, it dialed with pulses rather
than touch-tones.  When some of the passengers saw me using the phone, they
came up to ask how I was able to call from it.  Telling them about the cards
from the duty-free shop, other passengers soon were coming over to use the
phones as well.
   When I was finished calling, I walked back to the shop to talk to the
lady behind the counter and the man at the cash register, who both looked
Mestizo in appearance and spoke some English.  I asked the lady if they were
open 24hrs, and she replied "usually... we're open whenever there's a flight
scheduled to arrive."  The shop had a few T-shirts for sale (US$16 -- a nice
source of income for the island), and I wound up buying one that says "Cabo
Verde" on it.  I also wanted a sample of the local currency, and was able to
buy two "200" bills of the local currency for US$2 each (with the guy at the
register happily giving me two newer-looking ones).  Before it was time to
leave, I went to the bar to buy a small chocolate bar for US$1, and soon, we
were being called back to the plane.
   While de-planing on the island earlier, we were handed a yellow security
card which we had to show in order to get back on the plane again.  Before
and during re-boarding of the aircraft, an announcement was made that for
security reasons, we were to open all the overhead bins to verify that
everything in there belonged to us -- though almost no one did so, and no
one bothered to enforce the request.
   Back in the air with yet another cabin crew, there was still almost nine
hours of flying left before reaching Atlanta.  Before landing on Ile de Sal,
I sat through the James Bond movie "The World Is Not Enough" (skipping
another movie), and after taking off again, "Mumford" was being shown.  When
that was done, I was beginning to get tired, and noticing that one of the
gentleman who had spread out on a nearby 4-across row earlier was now up and
reading, asked if he wouldn't mind trading places with me so I could sleep. 
He did so, and though I didn't really sleep, I was able to lie down and
close my eyes for about three hours.  Things became a bit choppy at times,
but I didn't mind at all, as the bumps actually improved the monotany of the
flight.  After resting a bit, I sat up again and talked to the guy I had
traded places with... he works for USAid at the U.S. Embassy in Pretoria,
and we chatted about South Africa for a while.  A few hours later, the cabin
lights came on, but there was still a couple of hours left to go until
Atlanta.  Flying over Bermuda, the sun came up.
   Finally arriving into Atlanta, we all had to claim our bags and take them
through immigration and customs (then re-check them onto our connecting
Delta flights).  While in Atlanta, I realized that the agent in Cape Town
hadn't assigned me a seat for my Atlanta - Los Angeles flight.  By the time
I was in Atlanta, the agent at the special connection desk was only able to
give me a middle seat, saying window seats were still available, but blocked
since it was so close to flight time.  She suggested asking at the Delta
Service Counter or at the gate.  Having time to spend, I went first to the
service counter, but after waiting 15 minutes, was told they couldn't access
the blocked seats either.  Then, heading to the gate to wait (where I was
second in line), the agnet opened up with an announcement that if you're
waiting to change your seat, don't bother -- as there are no seats left
(even though I was told by everyone that indeed there were seats available
that I could request at the gate).  When I mentioned this to the agent, he
curtly said "nope, I don't have anything", so I asked him to write my name
down in case a window seat opened up or the flight was overbooked (as I'd
volunteer my seat).  He scribbled down my name, and I left to wander
around.  Coming back a bit later, I asked if they were overbooked.  He said
no, but when I again asked him about a window seat, again, one magically
appeared.  He was surly and rude, and certainly didn't present a good image
for Delta.
   While at the Atlanta airport, I stopped at a snack bar to buy a doughnut
(99c), and when I was asked to pay a dollar and change, I had to stop and
remember that back in the U.S. now, tax is charged separately.  One more bit
of information about the airport: upon first landing in Atlanta, we passed a
sign on the runway saying "Caution: Area Not Visible From Control Tower." 
   The Delta flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles was full (and long), though
I wound up passing some of the time by talking to the businessman sitting
next to me (who imported power tools from Asia), as well as a South African
businessman in the back whom I had met on the earlier SAA aircraft.
   Finally, after a 22-hour flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg to Ile de
Sal to Atlanta -- then a 2-hour layover and another 5-flight, I was back in
Los Angeles, arriving in at noontime.
   Looking back on the trip, I fully realize what a wonderful experience it
was.  Africa is a place that's largely ignored by the U.S. and Europe, but
it's a continent worthy of attention.  Though tradition still holds firm,
the countries here are modernizing in their own way, and I know that a visit
ten years from now will show a vastly different Africa than the one I saw
this time around.  The trip was long, but it was something that will stay
with me for the rest of my life -- and I can hardly wait until the next time
I'm in the area!

     ::::: End :::::