An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Posts from — July 2008

Buggin’ Out

Hitchcock would have been tickled with inspiration. Remember in the Good Book when Moses is in Egypt and he’s all: “Let my people go!” and then Pharoh’s like: “ Uhm… no” (paraphrased)? The next thing you know there are bugs everywhere. In their soup, in their water, in their hair…everywhere! Well, I have no way to prove this but I think I know where they came from: Arusha, Africa.

The day was damp. The sun had yet to be seen but you could tell by the lessoning light it had retired for the evening. Already our day had its fill of unnecessary adventure, when our plane landed at a different airport than it was scheduled to. Fortunately things were calming down. The guesthouse we checked into was run by the Catholic Church and was everything you would hope: simple and clean. The workers didn’t speak much English but enough to point the right direction for dinner.

Before I continue, you should know a couple things about Africa. First, tourists are advised never to walk around at night. Even most locals avoid it for safekeeping. Second, the power can go out at anytime. The suggested restaurant was down the street but at least had streetlights to chase the shadows, so with natural light fading we decided it was our best option.

The restaurant was nice: outside, covered, with a fine assortment of Italian and Indian food to choose from. We sat. We ordered. We waited and relaxed in the cool, humid evening air. Then the atmosphere started to change. It began with the purr of a generator, compensating for power that had apparently gone out. Then I notice a slight movement out of the corner of my eye. Bugs, and not just a few. I’m not talking about cute little moths with curly tongues and adorable antennas. No these were long flying worms.

Swarm by swarm they moved through the restaurant. It became clear these soulless larvae had been sent by devil himself the way they flew aimlessly about, repetitively trying to end their tormented lives by pounding into the light. They had wings like dragonflies, but the bodies like grubs. Oh yes, and I forgot to mention something: Mandi, the friend I was traveling with- she has bugaphobia. Not like “oh-that-beetle-is-gross” phobia. More like “that-bug-brushed-my-hand-so-I’m-gonna-pass-out-and-die” phobia. I knew we were in trouble.

I played it cool, pretending I didn’t notice there were flying worms grazing my head, probably in search of some cool cavity to raise a family in. And judging by my friend’s frozen stair and shortness of breath, any attempt at light conversation was going nowhere. So like Moses in Egypt, I knew it was time to leave. I handed Mandi my hooded jacket. “Put this on. Follow right behind me and just look down at my feet.” I said as looked across the room as the ceiling darkened and morphed like a cloud of disgustingness.

I thought if we could just get through the restaurant it would get better. We briskly moved to the sounds wings wizzing past our ears. We made across then passed by the illuminated sign where worms began to pile up like leaves under an autumn tree, squirming and stunned from flying full force into the hard sign. Fortunately, the further we got from the generated-lights of the restaurant, the fewer the bugs. Unfortunately, there was also less light.

I stood and stared into the dark desert across which rested the promise land of a clean room and bug nets. Meanwhile, my thoughts ran with the warnings of the night. Mandi behind, darkness in front, we started down the road. My pace was quick, my words few. An occasional squeal and dry heave assured me my friend was right behind. Then into the darkness my name was all but yelled. I looked back. “Derek… Derek, there’s one on you!! There’s one on your shoulder!!” “Mandi…” I said. “I’ll be ok with the bugs, I just don’t want to get jumped…” I shook my jacket, quivered my spine and continued.

We passed a couple shadowy figures until eventually we saw a light. A man sat, darkly at the entrance of our guesthouse with a lantern lit. The most beautiful sight you ever saw, especially if you were Mandi. We closed the windows, lit a lantern and once our appetites returned, finished the pizza we ordered hours before.

Everything happens for a reason right? Maybe this was to remind me to be thankful. Thankful for lighted streets. Maybe for indoor restaurants. Or maybe it was just to make me stronger. Stronger so I would be ready for something like… say getting charged by a rhino. But that’s another story…

July 22, 2008   No Comments

Make Friends

I’ll be honest, I was a little anxious when I climbed into the Zanzibar cab. First of all, the guy who offered me the ride the night before was not the guy now driving the cab. Secondly, I was told there would be a group, turns out it was just Mandi and I. Finally, a few days prior I learned of a group of masked men hijacking a restaurant in the area by gunpoint. However, we had a flight to catch and were already cutting it close.

So I did what every savvy traveler would do. I got in. But to make sure it was legit I did the “ask for a receipt” trick. “Receipt?” asked the driver and supported it with an are-you-kidding look. “Ah, never mind,” I replied. “I’ll be alright.” I moved on to my next strategy. Make friends.

One of the first things we learn in life is mankind’s favoritism. The coach who starts his son, the Class President elected by her cute smile, the prom-king synonymous with “starting quarterback”. The examples are endless. So I learned at an early age that befriending unpopular professors can afford you extra time on important papers. Or that a charity laugh will get you a long way in life (though you do increase risk of being tagged “brown noser”).

Now having grown into a strapping young man, I find it just as useful traveling. Everyone wants a friend, and you are less likely to rob or take advantage of your friends… that’s the theory anyway. So sitting in the back of a cab, with a visibly disgruntled driver leading us through dirt roads, I start in. “Are you from here? Did you like growing up here? Is your family here?” Etc., etc.

Within minutes we were talking about the good ol’ days, life on the island, changes over the years. Then the car slowed. It came to a stop in the middle of the road. Police approached the window. I watched as the driver’s demeanor changed. Driver offered a shallow greeting. Policeman returned and looked with casual suspicion to the back seat. A quick exchange was made in Swahili and the driver waved on. With irritated eyes, the he gave more attention to his rearview than the road before, mumbling curse words. “Do you think the government is corrupt here?” I asked.

With that he explained the people’s contempt. “Look around,” he said. I did. The landscape was rich, the people poor. He spoke of the rich soil, the spices that were sold all over the world, and the people whose state was worsening. The people were tired. “Is there no one making a stand?” I asked. There were some but not many. “You need to start a revolution,” I told the man. There was hope in his eyes.

In all of my travels, I have yet to see a place so ripe for revolution. The people are unsettled, but aware. More than once I noticed people roll their eyes at the mention of government. Though living in paradise, they were not happy.

He gave us a tour through the famous Stone Town, pointing out architecture and buildings from different political eras. We reached the airport with time to spare. “I will watch for your name…” I told the man who smiled and handed me his card in return. I shook his hand. We were friends.

July 9, 2008   No Comments

Zanzibar-Touched by Tourism

zanzibar.jpg It’s considered by many to be the number one beach location in East Africa, but we had no idea what we were doing. Sitting in the terminal waiting for my final 30-minute flight to Zanzibar, I thought I would ask someone who might. I targeted two fellow travelers sitting across the room with backpacks at their feet. I took the “maybe we can split a cab” approach, which worked like a charm.

The two Amsterdamians had spent the last several months in Africa working at a hospital where they studied medicine as part of their schooling back in home. Not only were they terrifically friendly, they had their stuff together. Dutch friends, Mandi and I split a cab to the Northern part of the island, where we were greeted my another Dutchman who had everything sorted out. We checked in, then over a Tanzanian beer, and under a faded African sky we swapped stories in the cool salty air.

Zanzibar is an island in which the history is as rich as the white sand beaches that separate the turquoise sea from some of the world’s finest spices. Scuba diving, snorkeling, sailing on traditional dhow ships, sampling the spices peppered throughout the island: there are plenty of activities. Or you can simply explore underprivileged alleys, sit with locals over a plate of rice, beans and fish head, and relax on a stunning spread of seaside sand.

It is an intriguing place, this Zanzibar. Women covered by dark veils expose only their focused eyes and a small section of surrounding skin. Men mend the nets that catch their livelihood. Children play football or practice moves in the sand. The beaches are beautiful. The water clean, clear, and home to small simple sailboats of Arabic decent.

As you sit studying the sails wandering across the water, men young and old pose friendship as they practiced their own form of sales. Trinkets, beads, henna, massage, the offers are endless. We were there in the calm before the storm of tourist season. And as I sat in the sand, a people’s reality became more real.

The seas were soothing, but the air tumultuous. I’ll admit I was slightly spoiled from a Malawian people who earned the title: “friendliest people on earth” ; however, the change here was significant. Anxious to interact, I would offer a Swahili “Jambo” to every passerby, and unless there was something to sell, the few who felt obliged to respond, generally did so unenthusiastically and without eye contact. Whereas, in Malawi I felt welcome even given unearned respect for simple hue of my skin, in Zanzinbar it was quite the opposite. Suddenly white did not mean welcome.

Tourism drives this island. In a land over populated with poverty, a tense dichotomy is born. The people are forced to fight for tourist attention just to feed their families. Tourists are annoyed by bombardment. Locals irritated, watch at an untouchable distance the frivolity of funds flowing freely from foreigners on the soil of their own paradise.

I sat on the other side, hoping reach across the divide. To connect on a level less monetarily based. To connect. To converse. It happened a couple times, but it wasn’t easy. I’m sure it meant more to me then them. I was eager, but I suppose I can understand their excitement to make friends was not so enthusiastic as mine.

July 1, 2008   2 Comments