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Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania and Zanzibar!!!!
Well I’m back from my epic vacation! It was so great to be away for three weeks and to see other countries in Africa.
It was also great to travel to the top of Namibia, above the red line, and to see how different the north really is. There are homesteads that the families live on and the cows, donkeys and goats roam freely so one has to be careful when driving on the highway.
Our (I traveled with three other PC volunteers) adventure began as we crossed the boarder into Zambia from Katima, the easternmost point of Namibia in the north. One taxi and one minibus later and we were in Livingstone. We stayed there for the night and the next day which gave me an opportunity to go and see Victoria Falls. The other girls had already been so one went white water rafting and the other two shopped. As you can see from the pics below, it is dry season and the falls were not that spectacular from the Zambia side. I didn’t feel like paying the money for a visa to go over to the Zimbabwe side to see the other half of the falls, although I hear the view is much better from over there.
That night we were on a really nice bus to Lusaka where we arrived at 3am and then sat on that same bus until about 4am. The bus station was quite sketchy and since the bus wasn’t going anywhere, it seemed like the best thing to do. We finally got out and used the restroom (we have now entered a land where public toilets are pit latrines….basically nice holes in the ground that you squat above…..I think we all got pretty good at it over the course of the week) and then found our next bus. This bus wasn’t as nice and was extremely crowded as the space below the bus usually reserved for luggage was filled with items that the bus company was being paid to transport across the country. I must say…they did come around and give us a little bag of cookies and a soft drink during our approximately 13 hour bus ride though (keep in mind that time included crossing the boarder into Malawi which took about 2 hours since the bus was full). Once we arrived in Lilongwe, it was again sketchy. Fortunately Michelle, one of the girls I was traveling with, had spoke extensively to another volunteer about prices for taxis so we were fortunate to use her knowledge to avoid getting ripped off. Four girls with big backpacks caused a big stir at all the bus and taxi ranks as they couldn’t wait for our business and our money!
We stayed the night at a hostel in Lilongwe and asked the cool kids working at the hostel for a dinner recommendation. We then took another taxi to a fabulous Thai food dinner. It was great to take a shower and be off of buses for a while. The next morning, back to the bus station where Michelle worked her magic again and negotiated the correct rate for our next bus ride to Nkhata Bay, Malawi. We made the mistake of sitting in the front of the bus. Big mistake because they use the front seats on the other side of the bus for luggage and as we traveled, they kept loading more people on which meant more luggage. Then people were standing in the isles and my shoulder became a body rest. Oh…it gets better….then there were engine troubles! And this is like an old school bus where the engine is inside the bus under a cover at the front of the bus. So…as we sat there in front, me now holding a little girl of about 2 or 3 on my lap (the poor thing kept falling asleep standing up and leaning into me so I asked her dad if it was okay for me to just hold her instead) the cover was lifted and gusts of hot air blew our way as several men stood around and tried to figure out how to fix the engine. Fortunately within about 30 minutes, one of the guys figured out that if he tied a rope to some part of the engine he could pull the rope once the driver got it into first gear and get it going. This made for an even greater adventure because they would get going quite fast and the road was narrow so the driver, keeping his cool, would honk and honk at people on their bicycles and other drivers coming from the opposite direction. Everyone seemed to understand that our bus had gone rouge and they all got out of the way in the nick of time….thankfully. We arrived in Nkhata Bay after dark and luckily a local figured out we were the ones trying to figure out how to get the free ride from town we had been promised by our hotel. He got us there safe and sound and we again took much needed showers and ate a fabulous meal. The next day we stayed put as our hotel (hostel…not sure what to call it because it was much too nice to call a hostel but it had that laid back feel to it) was right on Lake Malawi where we swam and rested in the sun, snorkeled and checked out the fresh water fish, and took a sunset boat ride and saw Condoleza Rice and Tony Blair…. two eagles that the driver had trained to come and fetch fish he threw in the water close to the boat. Amazing day…..
The next day…off again! One taxi ride to the bus station where we were overwhelmed with combi drivers (basically vans) wanting our business. They even broke out in a fight. By this time we were all really good at setting our boundaries (“if you want our business you better quit touching us….” “If you keep getting in my face and trying to take my bag I will NOT use your combi….”). We finally got a combi and were on our way. That was a longggg ride. The seats were really close together and our bags were stuffed under the seats below us so our knees were in our chins and we were 4 deep in each row. I now have a totally new respect for the feelings of thinking you are going to have a panic attack! Did I mention on the previous bus ride there were people holding chickens….live chickens…just like you would see on a foreign bus scene in a movie…oh, and the little boy who screamed bloody murder when he got on the bus and saw me and Michelle? I think we are two of the first white people he had ever seen. Too bad I had given the little girl back to her dad by that time…maybe it would have helped if she was still on my lap…..
A few hours later we were off that combi and in another taxi to the boarder of Tanzania. Crossed the boarder and got on a dala dala (city bus) on our way to Mbeya, a transport hub city. What a beautiful ride! Everything was so green and lush. It was like entering another world. Malawi had also been beautiful and so different from Namibia but this was amazing! And at every stop there were people at the windows selling fresh fruit (this happened along much of the trip while we were on the busses)..mangos, tiny sweet bananas, roasted corn, and bottles of water…pretty much anything you could ask for right outside the window…and cheap! We arrived in Mbeya, found our hostel, got money and headed back to the bus station to negotiate our ride for the next day. Because it was a Saturday, many of the busses were already full for Sunday. Luckily we found a bus, reserved seats then found some dinner and got to relax for a bit.
Sunday…..off to Dar es Salaam! Another all day bus ride. This one with crazy religious music videos blasting on the TV’s over head. One flat tire and many many kilometers later….we arrived at the bus station in Dar. Got a taxi to city center and thankfully got to our hotel. Oh man is it hot and humid in Dar! We went and found some dinner. I thought a cold beer would be nice but this country is mostly Muslim so no luck. Back to our hotel to try to take cool showers to cool off then off to bed.
Zanzibar! Got up and had breakfast and headed to the ferry station where we were told it was sold out. Then he changed his mind and was happy to get us seats and take our American money. The ferry was really nice. Enclosed, air conditioned with a movie playing. I was expecting a ferry like the one that goes to Mackinaw Island that is opened with wooden bench-like seating (or at least it was some 20 years ago…). No, this was really, really nice. Get to Stone Town and find our hotel. The women at the hotel are so sweet and give us an upgrade to air conditioned rooms. We wondered what the catch was but no catch…she was just that nice and business was slow. We headed about Stone Town and got lost for a while in a residential area. We found our way back around and found the open markets where we roamed around for a while longer. Michelle and I went one way while Anita and Adonita went the other way. We ate some fabulous street food and found some great deals in the little shops tucked away in the narrow streets. I didn’t feel like I was in Africa at all. With it being very Muslim, there is the call to prayer over the loud speakers and the women who are covered from head to toe.
The rest of the week was spent on the North and East sides of the Islands where we enjoyed time on beautiful white sand beaches, ate lots of yummy street food and had amazing breakfasts of fresh fruit, etc everyday and just relaxed and enjoyed the slower pace. I was able to go and snorkel out by Mnemba Island which is a tiny Island off the coast of Zanzibar. According to Amer, the snorkel instructor, no boats except those who are authorized are allowed on the Island. Apparently there are just a few small houses there that can be rented out for lots of money….to the likes of people like Bill Gates. The water is crystal clear and the fish were amazing! It was one of my favorite days on the Island.
Back to Stone Town for another night before heading back to Dar es Salaam early the next morning(Michelle had a stomach bug that wasn’t going away so we wanted to get back early and go to PC in Dar es Salaam and get her to the doctor). We were successful in getting back early and getting to PC where Michelle was treated and given meds. Poor kid was a trooper and didn’t complain at all despite being stuck in bed some of the days we were in Zanzibar.
We were all pretty quiet at the air port and then at the Joburg airport. Time to go back to Namibia and back to site. The trip was amazing and I feel so blessed to have gotten to do such extensive traveling while here in Africa. We all agreed it was an amazing trip and we all realized how soon we are to the end of our service. I think we all agreed we are ready to come home and start our American lives again and this trip was a great way to come to the close of our service.
Sorry this is so long and I hope it wasn’t too boring…guess you had to be there! :-) Do enjoy the pictures and thanks for reading. Happy Holidays everyone. (oops...these pics are out of sequence...scroll down to the one of me at Vic Falls and keep going down then back to the top....sorry...ugh.)