Hakuna Matata

Trip Start Dec 05, 2009
Trip End Sep 23, 2010

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Jambo Jambo, (that's hola a todos in Swahili...or hi everyone)

I know the title of this entry is cliche, but I have had the song Hakuna Matata (from the Lion King) in my head since we arrived in Africa, so I felt it an appropriate title.

Mission impossible: 6 countries in 7 days.  Yup, we did it.  Uruguay, Argentina, France, England, Kenya, and Tanzania.  When I last left you, we were getting ready to depart South America.  It's only been 2 weeks since we were there, but it already feels like forever ago.  After leaving Buenos Aires, we enjoyed a brief (and cold) 23 hour layover in Paris.  Since Ben had never been, we did a 10 mile walking tour of the classics: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triumph, Champs Elysee, Louvre, etc. Then, we were off to London for an even shorter 8 hour layover, but we got to visit with friends and family.  Finally, we arrived in Nairobi on March 14th.

As you might imagine, we were quite exhausted after all that travel so we pretty much just holed up in our hostel in Nairobi for 2 days, which was fine because we weren't clear about safety issues there anyway.  The one night we did venture out was to meet a friend of Ben's for dinner.  He had suggested we call up a cab driver he knew who could drive us to the restaurant.  So we called around 5:30 to ask him to pick us up at 6:30.  He said he would call back in 30 minutes for directions.  By 6:30 he hadn't called, so we called again and he said he was a few minutes away.  7:30 rolls around and still no driver.  Just as we were going to call and cancel, the owner of the hostel comes up and says she's overheard the problem and her brother is heading that way and would be happy to give us a ride to the country club where we were meeting.  We eagerly accepted the offer of a free ride as taxis are quite expensive in Nairobi.  It turns out the owner's brother is a high ranking executive for the East African Brewing Company, the countries largest beer company.  He was incredibly friendly and went out of his way to be nice to us and had no problem taking us out of his way when it turned out we were supposed to go the Karen Country Lodge, not Club.  (yes, they both exist!).  It was a very fortuitous experience.

After two days cooped up in Nairobi, we were ready to head to Tanzania to start our 5 day safari to Lake Manyara, Serengeti and Ngrongoro Crater National Parks.  The safari was fantastic!  We saw almost everything one could hope for (including the big five) and had wonderful weather despite the fact that it is the rainy season. I think the highlight in terms of what we saw was a leopard feasting on a gazelle.  Watching it tear apart this helpless animal brought out some primitive fascination in me and didn't bother me nearly as much as I would have thought (and perhaps more surprising, didn't bother Ben, the lifelong vegetarian!)  Maybe Jung was right about that whole archetype thing! The Serengeti was much as I imagined it to be, vast and endless and dotted with acacia trees.  Animals romaed freely and didn't pay much attention to the cars.  The down side of a safari, however, is that you have to stay in the car and at times it was difficult to remember that I wasn't in an amusement park or zoo.  Aside from the beauty of eastern Africa and the incredible animals, the best part of the trip was our driver/guide, Calvin.  Calvin told us at the start of the trip that his wife was expecting their first child any day.  Ben and I felt badly that he would be with us and not her for such an important occasion.  On the third day of the trip, a son was born and Calvin asked us to help him come up with names for the baby.  He wanted a biblical name, but he wanted the Hebrew version so it would sound different.  We think he chose Ben Tzion (coincidentally, this is Ben's hebrew name), but we are unlcear if he chose that pronunciation or if he actually named him Zionson.  We are working on figuring that out.

Prior to leaving Arusha, the starting point of our safari, we stopped by the International Tribunal for Criminal Acts in Rwanda, which is located in Arusha.  Although we didn't stay long, it was really interesting to view the tirals of criminals from the 1994 genocide.  The U.N. seems to be doing this right!

We ended our safari back in Arusha where we caught an early morning bus to Dar es Salaam (the captial of Tanzania) with high hopes of making a 4PM ferry to Zanzibar.  The bus ride was long and hot and smelly and we arrived at 3:30 at which point we immediately jumped in a taxi headed for the port.  We arrived with 8 minutes to spare, but were instantly surrounded by touts trying to direct us to their ticket office.  In all of the chaos we missed the boat as it decided to leave a few minutes early (perhaps unheard of in Africa).  We were hot and sweaty and very unhappy.  So, we spent the night in Dar and took the early morning ferry the next day to Zanzibar (which incidentally left 30 minutes late!)

For those of you unfamiliar with Zanzibar, it is an island off the coast of Tanzania that used to be a major slave trading port.  It is an Arab island with mosques and middle eastern influence, though many of the people are of African origin and Swahili is still the main language.  Zanzibar is known for its gorgeous beaches and crystal clear, turquoise water.  While Ben and I have had amazing luck with weather on this trip, especially traveling in many countries during their rainy season, we haven't had great luck with our tropical excursions (please see La Cucaracha entry if you need a reminder of the San Blas Island disaster!).  Well, our experience in Zanzibar has been by no means a disaster, but it hasn't been as idyllic as we'd imagined.  First of all, it is now the rainy season and it is indeed raining...a lot.  And the rainy season means it is hot  with no wind.  This is why it is the low season.  Secondly, the beaches that in the photos look pristine and white are covered in seaweed and the tide goes out nearly a mile so you can't swim much of the day.  Finally, the place we chose to stay was a bit shabby, but that was okay until we were ready to go to bed and as I was putting down the mosquito net, it got caught in the fan and caused the fan to come to a grinding halt, while scattering debris of who knows what all over us and the bed.  Amazingly, the fan still worked after we untangled the net, but the net was disgusting and full of holes and as it turned out, didn't do much to prevent the mosquitoes from finding me.  So, today we decided to ask the much nicer place next door what their rates were. For only $5 more per night, we have a much nicer room with air conditioning and a pool and cleaner facilities.  It is much more the paradise we'd imagined.

And here are some thoughts on our short time in Africa:

Although I miss speaking Spanish, I'm thinking Swahili might be my next language.  It seems very learnable.  Most importantly, it's phonetic and uses our alphabet, but what I like best is that the words sounds like what they mean.  For example, tembo is elephant, twiga is giraffe, and kibuko is hippo.  I mean, it just sounds like those animals, right?

While bugs that make you itch seem to love me (i.e. mosquitoes, bed bugs, and sand flies), African bugs that bite appear to prefer Ben.  I think Ben killed enough Tse Tse flies to actually reduce the population on the continent.  One day, there were so many in the car that his attempts to rid himself of them looked like an audition for So You Think You Can Dance.  I will forever be able to pull up this image and laugh!  He also managed to get a bee in his pants, which stung him and then wouldn't die!

I was concerned about what vegetarian food would be available in Africa, but as it turns out the Indian influence in east Africa means that vegetable curry is a standard EVERYWHERE...I am almost sick of it, which is bad timing considering we are heading to India this weekend!

Touts in East Africa are as bad as in Egypt, if not worse.  The instant we arrive somewhere, whether by boat, bus or taxi, it is as if a swarm of flies has descended on us and you have to wade through it swatting and saying no until you can say it no more.  Though this did not happen to us, we read that in Zanzibar it is so bad, that a cab driver will tell you the hotel at which you have reservations has burned down so that you will go to the one where they receive a commission.

Okay, I think that just about does it for our time in Africa.  We have 3 more days in Zanzibar and then we are off to India.

As always, more photos on http://picasaweb.google.com/hzanville

 I hope you are all happy and well.

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