Sunday, June 10, 2007

Very Long Post - Zambia, Malawi, & Tanzania - Updated

I haven't had internet access at all in the last 2 weeks going through the dark heart of East Africa. Been a lot of ups and downs and I'll try to remember and summarize what's happened.

First of all, Africa is incredibly expensive. If you go to the game parks and tourist areas expect to spend a small fortune. You would think since the countries are so poor it is cheap like in Asia, but all the parks and hotels charge rediculous prices because they know you have no choice but to pay it.

The last entry I was going over to Vic Falls in Zimbabwe. We were misinformed that you could get a $10 one day visa to go over and see the falls, instead we pay $10 for a 7km cab ride to the border and find out it's $30 for a day visa (the brits had to pay $55!) then we go over and it costs $20 just to get into the park to see the falls. We had a nice buffet dinner at night scheduled for $20 a person and this is quickly becoming the most expensive day of my trip. We decide not to go to the falls at all, getting really sick of every dollar being sucked out of us. we just hung out for lunch and got harrassed by every other person on the street asking me for my shoes or a pen or a t-shirt to trade for wooden salad bowls, giraffes, rhinos, and every other african craft item you can imagine. Bring a box-full of Bic pens to Zim and you could furnish your whole house with wooden figurines. Walking down the street all I heard was "I love your shoes!" from every stall I passed. The country is falling apart and the people are the most desparate i've ever seen. Even the currency has an expiration date b/c there is something like 1000% inflation and they have to keep issuing new bills. The buffet dinner that night was nice, had warthog meat for the first time and watched some half naked tribal dancers pimp their millenia old culture out for a few dollars in tips (i hate seeing this crap).

Next day we went to the Zambia side of Victoria falls, and it was only $10 and really great...the mist just pours on you and it's impossible not to get soaked. We had a great time running around and checking out the assortment of rainbows formed by the mist. Have an awesome picture of stacey standing under a full rainbow. After that we met up with the new group we would be with from Livingstone to Nairobi.

New group has been a lot of fun, the main problem on this half of the trip has been the itinerary. First week of the trip we spent the first 4 out of 5 days driving 13hours a day then just setting up our tent drinking and going to sleep.

Stacey and I had an interesting experience in Lusaka, Zambia b/c our visa had run out (no one told us we needed to ask at the border for 10 day visa, since everyone else in our group only stayed 3 days they only gave us a 3 day one). We told the tour leader several times we needed to renew our visa but they didn't take us to an immigration post until the day after it ran out. We spent 2 hours trying to find it in Lusaka, finally find it on the second floor of some random building downtown and this fat bald guy who runs the show is standing behind a counter...his whole job is to extend visas. Takes him a minute to notice our visa is out of date, tells stacey and I very emphatically we needed to pay 1 million kwatcha each as a millllliiiioooon kwatcha...almost laughed when he said it. forget the exact x-change rate, but i think it was about $150. We said we don't have the money and he pronounces us deported immediately and that if we had been caught at a checkpoint we'd be sitting in jail. Says we have to go to the border that day and leave the country, takes out a big stamp and pounds it into our passports. Then he starts asking us why we didn't get it extended earlier and we go on about how we're on a tour and didn't have any options and that we're really sorry, etc etc. He gives Stacey and me our passports back and says "get out of the country right now"...I walk out and look at my passport and he actually gave us a 10 day extension...huge asshole, but really funny in retrospect, didn't even have to bribe him.

After 3.5 full days of driving we get to Luangwa national park, stay at a campsite there along the river. From the campsite we can see hippos, crocs, baboons (they ran around the camp stealing all our food) just hanging out by the river. Even saw a few giraffes. We stayed there 2 nights, the 2nd night there was an optional game drive in the park, but it cost $25 to go into the park and $35 for the drive, $60 dollars for a 3hr drive...I'm not that into animals. I guess people come to africa for the animals and it's worth it to them, but $60 is crazy to me. We saw almost all the animals I wanted to see from our campsite anyway.

From there we spent 2 days driving to Malawi and the scenery got better and better and the people friendlier. Malawi has some of the friendliest people I've met. Even the people selling the trinkets and paintings are so friendly and not so pushy that it makes you want to buy stuff from them. In Zim I might have bought some things, it was really cheap, but the hawkers were so irritating and aggressive I didn't buy anything. The first day in Malawi we stop on the side of the road for lunch in what seemed to be in the middle of africa even when you think you're in the middle of nowhere people just seem to pop out of the trees. Within a few minutes we had an audience of children. Someone in our group had a soccer ball and we start up a game of soccer with the kids. Someone produced a whistle and one of the locals became a referree. A bunch of us played soccer with the kids for about 45 minutes and before it was over about 75 people had come to watch the game...people were running and biking down the street from a mile away to come watch. Had lunch then left the soccer ball and whistle with the kids.

From there we went to Lake Malawi, beautiful area. The lake is so big it looks like the ocean, can barely make out the other side. We started another pickup game of soccer with a bunch of local fisherman down the beach from where we were staying...a lot of fun. I tried to go scuba diving the next day, but the campsite reception was too incompetent to organize it properly and the scuba staff had all gone home by the time it was set up. Ended up going snorkeling, which was better than I expected, a lot of colorful fish many of which are only found in that lake. On the the boatride back to the beach I saw one of the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen, with the mountains in the background, the calm water, and fisherman coming off the shore for their nightly fishing trip.

Next day went to another campsite on the northern part of the lake. There we hung out on the beach some more the first day and the second day a small group of us hiked up one of the mountains and caught some great views of the lake and surrounding mountain. Hellishly hot, but a very good hike.

After Malawi spent 2 days driving through Tanzania to Dar Es Salaam on the northeast coast. Now in Muslim country, mosques all over and the city has a middle eastern feel to it. After stopping in the middle of town for everyone to use ATMs we had to take a 500meter ferry to the campsite we were staying at. After driving for 11 hours, running around town in the heat, we then had to wait 2hrs just to take this ferry a distance we could easily swim. Then the next day we had to wait 2hrs to take the ferry back to the mainland...stuff like this has been what pisses me off about travelling with this tour group, it just doesn't make sense to camp out in a site on an island it takes 2hrs to get to and from...would rather have gone straight to Zanzibar that day.

After Dar we went to Zanzibar, found a hotel after spending 2hrs waiting for that short ferry, 1hr waiting in the hear for the ferry to zanzibar, then 1hr waiting at Zanzibar immigration due to our tour guides insisting we have to go through as a group (we didn't have to). Once we found a room it was all forgotten though, and stacey and I and Sean, another person from our group just wandered around Stonetown. The town is really beautiful, all kinds of narrow alleyways and interesting architechture. The people are also incredible friendly, almost all muslim, the women with their heads covered and men wearing cool little hats. Had dinner that night at a fish market where they grill kebabs of almost any kind of fish you can imagine.

Next day Stacey, Sean and I rented a Jeep and drove around the island...mostly off-roading...lots of fun and got to check out a bunch of inland villages and fishing villages. Went up to the Northwest coast and found a room there. Hung out by the beach, and the next day found a scuba shop with a couple other people from our trip and went out for some great diving on the east coast. Beautiful fish and coral reefs.

Today we head back to Dar then off to Arusha tomorrow for the Serengheti and Ngorogoro crater (insanely high park fees, but I think i have to do it...$360 for 3 days!!!...I might do the 1 day trip for $180)


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