Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Random Post-Trip Thoughts

I'm now back in SF. As promised, here's a final, random thought:

Traveling in some parts of Africa takes a lot of time and effort, so it makes sense to sign up w/ an overland truck that carts you around. (Which I did.) Unfortunately, I didn't get all that much interaction w/ local people/culture in most of the places we went. The result? I perceive my trip as a weird "Disney-ized" experience rather than the "real" Africa. (Whatever that means) On future trips, I'll probably stay in one place, study the language, etc....

That said, I had a great time. My high points were the amazing sights, encounters w/ wildlife, adventure activities, and interactions/friendships with other travelers. It'll be tough to go back to work, even though I eagerly anticipate watching my bank balance go up instead of down.

Signing off,

A few notes on coming back to SF:
  • The flight attendant wouldn't let me get off the plane, even though the door was open and nobody was going through it. She did this so that the 1st-class passengers could disembark first. I was offended and dreamed of a proletarian revolution.
  • The men's room in the airport had paper towels. I couldn't help taking a few to go.
  • The day after I got back, I went to CostCo, amodern-day cathedral of consumerism. This store is a shocking, vulgar display of American excess. I loved it. Bought giant bags of lettuce, carrots, and shredded cheese. Restrained myself from getting the 10 lb. package of Italian sausages.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Leaving...on a jet plane...

Well folks, it's over. I'm getting a plane tomorrow for SF.

Just 16690 km to SF from this spot! This photo was taken in the "Waterfront" of Cape Town - an area that bears more than a passing resemblance to San Francisco's Embarcadero, Fisherman's Wharf, and Pier 39.

In a way, being in Cape Town makes me feel like I'm home already, because so many things are the same: the shifting sun/wind/rain weather patterns, the tourists/touristy areas, the beaches, the surfers, the presence of a former prison island just off the coast (Nelson Mandela was a guest in the one here), the high cost of living, the excellent seafood, the tolerant and ecumenical atmosphere, the good museums/planetarium/aquariums, the high-priced malls and fashionista shops, the mountainy topography...

Anyway, I could go on and on. If SF and Cape Town aren't already sister cities, they probably should be.


Coming up next time for my final blog post: reflections on my trip as a whole. I know, I know - you're all breathless with anticipation. But hey. This is like my diary, so if I wanna reflect, I'll reflect...

Thursday, October 11, 2007



Am I the only one who thinks they're all overpriced?* For example, even low-end places like Motel 6 cost $40-$50 for one night's stay, which seems outrageous to me considering what you can buy w/ $50.

Some examples:
  • 100 lbs of rice
  • 10 items of clothing from a thrift store
  • 10 burritos from a local taqueria
  • A monthly Muni pass in SF
  • An excellent selection of artisan cheeses
  • Enough gas to drive you from SF to Tahoe, Pt Reyes, Yosemite, and other fine destinations
  • Lots of other things
While I value a good night's sleep as much as anyone, it doesn't matter too much to me where it occurs. On the floor, in a car, in a sleeping bag...all of these are good options, much better than renting a costly bed. Which brings me to my point:

I'm now a huge fan of Couchsurfing.com. The service is free, you meet new people, and you get an inside perspective on wherever it is you're traveling.

Without this excellent networking website, Mike and I never would have met Van Zijls and Leandra, a great couple who've hosted us for three nights here in Cape Town. They even climbed Table Mtn w/ us, which all of us thoroughly enjoyed (even though it was 3 hrs of laborious effort on what seemed like an endless staircase).


* One possible exception is the time I got a hotel room in China for US$1.15... now -that- was a deal, and the bugs weren't even that bad.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

I Usually Consider Myself Something of an Environmentalist...

...but not in Africa, apparently.

Here's a picture of Mike, me, and my sister doing a combo quad-biking/sandboarding trip amongst the Namibian sand dunes in Swakopmund.

The three of us are riding quad bikes - ATVs that can roar up and down fragile dune ecosystems with frightening ease and speed. Granted, nothing much (that I can see) lives on the dunes we tore up, but I'm not sure if it was originally that way.

As for sandboarding, it involves going to the tallest, steepest dune around, and then sliding down on a piece of waxed plywood. (I have a picture of this, but I'm a small dot going down a hill, so it's not that interesting.)

Sandboarding feels surprisingly safe, although we're told that participants reach speeds of up to 80 km/hr. Anyway, it was a great rush and a great experience, despite the mouthful of sand I got when I foolishly opened my mouth to scream.

A Dry, Dusty Middle of Nowhere...

The Namibian desert can be a strikingly forlorn place...

But it's beautiful too. Here are the dunes at Sossusvlei (my sister, me, Michael):

And here are the Naukluft mountains. (We hiked the Olive Trail, which follows a dry riverbed at the bottom of a canyon. This is one of my all-time favorite hikes.)

A thought on hiking:
I would bet that many Africans shake their heads in bewilderment at the fact that westerners walk (e.g. "hike") for fun. In other words, for many of us, walking is such a novelty that we actually go out of our way to do it. Imagine that! Spending time and money to go out for a walk, with no purpose other than enjoyment...whereas, of course, most people around here do it out of necessity, to get them from place to place. It's a strange world, my friends. A strange world...

Friday, October 5, 2007

Robbed! Oh, the humanity!

I'm mad!

Mike and I stayed in the common dorm of a backpacker's lodge near the airport in Joburg a few nights ago, and someone took the opportunity to steal from our backpacks while we were out for dinner. List of missing items:
  • My favorite jacket - a soft shell from REI. (This jacket had served me well for years. It deserved a better fate than to warm the body of a thief. And it was expensive. That bastard...)
  • My sunglasses
  • My dirty SmartWool socks (???)
  • My candy bar (adding insult to injury...) - we found the remains of the wrapper near the scene of the crime.
  • Mike's pants
  • Mike's doxycycline (an antimalarial)

What's strange is that other costly items weren't taken, like a digital camera, an ipod, etc. This was one odd thief. Like he/she/it was very picky and only wanted certain items for his/her/its own convenience, rather than going for valuables.

Anyway, my faith in the essential goodness of human nature has been shaken. Watch out, world. A slightly more cynical Bruce is now out there. May all forms of bad karma fall upon the head of the thief...

Monday, October 1, 2007

Canoeing in the Okavango Delta

Sorry, no photo this time. I was even going to upload some video clips, but alas, the internet cafe here in Windhoek prohibits plugging in USB devices. (Foiled again. Next time, Gadget, next time.)

Anyway, Mike and I have just finished out Botswana safari, where we went around the Okavango Delta for a few days in these dugout canoes called "mokoros." It was fun, but here's what I actually want to talk about:


Our safari overlapped with Independence Day in Botswana, meaning that instead of spending the national holiday with friends and family - and swilling beer like the rest of the nation - a few unlucky souls had to shepherd around a bunch of tourists.

I've rarely felt so much like a tourist, because in this case, our guides were obviously not too happy to be there. They fulfilled their responsibilities faultlessly, but there was rarely any levity in their voices or expressions. Can't say I blame them. After all, who wants to work on a holiday? How did they in particular draw the short straw? Who twisted their arm to make them agree? (For the tourist machine cares not for the nuts and bolts within it...)

Needless to say, this was something of an uncomfortable situation for me, because it reminded me that I'm a big rich tourist paying for an experience. I enjoy picturing myself as an open minded journeyman walking down the road less travelled...when in truth the road I'm on is worn and rutted from hundreds of thousands of footsteps.

Boy, now that I read this over it sounds pretty cynical. Here, I'll end with something of a moral: Sometimes, a safari is just a safari. So I should just chill out.

(i.e. Paying for a unique adventure is fine, but I shouldn't expect deep connections and/or transcendent experiences. Sometimes, my guide is there just for the money - which, hopefully, is a feeling everyone understands.)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"From Hell's heart, I stab at thee..."

Mosquitoes. Oh, how I hate thee...

I saw this sign at the Jolly Boys Backpacker Lodge in Vic Falls, where Michael and I have stayed for the past few days:

Amen, brother. Amen.

In my opinion, mosquitoes in Africa aren't like other mosquitoes. They laugh at my feeble defensive countermeasures, such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and DEET-based insect repellents. Here's how I imagine their conversation going:

  • Mr. Mosquito: Honey, I'm home.
  • Mrs. Mosquito: Hello dear. How was your day?
  • Mr. Mosquito: Not bad. I bit the bejeezus out of some kid. Even bit him on embarrassing and/or irritating places, like the middle of his forehead and the bottom of his foot.
  • Mrs. Mosquito: Fantastic! But wasn't he, like, wearing 50%-strength DEET, the kind that melts plastic, causes cancer, and routinely blinds small children?
  • Mr. Mosquito: Ha! 50% is pathetic. I sprinkle 50% on my breakfast cereal.

Anyway, African mosquitoes have bitten me over 100 times in a little over a month. Yeesh. I think of Khan in Star Trek II, shaking his fist at Kirk and saying "For hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee..."* And this leads me to my wish of the moment:

I wish I had Japanse animation-style qi-energy,** which I would use solely to wipe out every mosquito on the face of the earth.*** The revenge would be sweet. And I would serve it cold, like Khan did.


*Yes, I know the quote is actually Ahab's/Herman Melville's, not Khan's.

**The kind where raw power crackles around me and runs through my hands and across my skin in violent little waves.

***Screw the food chain.

What a rush!

Vic Falls is an expensive, adrenaline activity-filled tourist mecca. So, I partook.

Here's me bungee jumping.

I have to say, bungee jumping is FUN. The moment right before takeoff, I experienced this ever-so-brief moment of Zen. Of course, it was followed by a somewhat longer moment of sheer terror as I plunged towards the river 100 meters below. Observers say I said something like this:

Me: MmmmmwwaaaaaAAAaaaAAAaaggghhhhhhhhaaaaAAA!

Me: *running out of air, gasp, inhale sharply*

Me: MmmmaaaAAaaAaggggaahhhaaAAa...

Also, I also did this thing called riverboarding. It's where they send you down the Zambezi Rapids with naught but a floaty foam board for protection. It was both fun and terrifying to feel the river throw me around like a rag doll, hold my head underwater like a bully, and slap me in the face with wave after wave as I valiantly tried to follow the guide's instructions to swim faster, kick harder, etc etc. I'd have to say that it was fun, even though I swallowed a gallon of river water and thought I was going to drown once or thrice...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ambient Noise

I think I'll remember last night's sounds for the rest of my life. It went on all night: hippos grunting, lions roaring, elephants trumpeting, and giraffes walking around stripping the leaves off trees...

It's odd for me to be reminded of how divorced I/we all are from nature. As I laid awake at 3am last night listening to the sound of the savanna, a silly thought occurred to me:

That what I was hearing sounded exactly like one of those ambient-noise generators that people buy to help them relax. You know, the ones that have a bunch of different modes, like the sound of the forest, water running, etc. Those silly machines that a city person buys to drown out the sound of the highway outside her window.

And again: the field of stars out here is so clear, the scope of it so vast, that it reminds me of going to a planetarium. What kind of life am I living, where the real night sky reminds me of a planetarium, rather than the other way around?


Animals! We've been going out on safari in the Luangwa Nat. Park in Zambia, and it's chock-full of wildlife...

Elephants, hippos, and monkeys walk through our campsite *all the time*. (Sorry these pics are bit blurry - a photographer I ain't.)

It's great - as well as somewhat alarming - to wake up in the morning and see an elephant staring you in the face.

Squint a bit, and you'll see a white-ish tent on a platform at the top of the picture. This is where I've slept for the past few nights.

It's something of a cliche, but the animals we've seen - lions, elephants, hippos, impala, etc. - are every bit as graceful, beautiful, and awe-inspiring as everyone says they are.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Getting Up Early

Believe it or not, I think I'm starting to enjoy getting up early.

On days when we have a long drive ahead of us, the whole group wakes up around 4am, breaks down the tents, eats breakfast at 5, and is on the road by 6. I'm beginning to find something satisfying about this, which eerily reminds me that I may be turning into my father.

He's the type of dad that gets up at 5am whether he wants to or not, and then goes about accomplishing things. Chores, mostly. Changing the oil on our cars, going shopping at the Chinese farmer's market underneath the freeway, mowing the lawn, etc etc. Lots of dad-type stuff.

As a teenager, I remember waking up most Sat/Sun mornings at 10am at the earliest, bleary-eyed and confused, and he'd exclaim with surprise that I was up so "early." And then, he'd tell me all the things he had already done that morning (in contrast to my sluglike laziness). My standard response would usually be to mumble something noncommittal before heading into the living room to mind-meld with the TV.

I began this post intending to talk about how I kinda like getting up early now. But actually, what I think I want to say is that I miss my dad. It'll be good to see him again.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Resort-a-Phobia in Malawi

There's such a thing as too much relaxing.

Although many of you will undoubtedly make sarcastic violin-playing motions when I say this, hanging out on the beach and relaxing has gotten somewhat tiresome. Let me elaborate:

It's all about expectations. Before getting on a plane to Africa, I envisioned going on long hikes through a wild and savagely beautiful countryside, gazing at wild animals, sitting down at local places to eat local food, etc etc. While these experiences may still occur, the clearest memories I have so far from Tanzania and Malawi - the "bad" ones as well as the good ones - are the following:

-Getting to know the other 12 people on our overland truck. The group includes Irish, English, Kiwis, and Australians. They're a great group of people, we hang out and talk and play cards and drink. Here's our truck. We spend a lot of time on it.

-Getting swindled by this guy in Zanzibar. I'm still mad about it b/c he, like, totally lied to me and then pretended he didn't. I was filled with righteous indignation, which was all out of proportion to the ~$1 that I lost.

-Getting eaten alive by mosquitos and hoping that I don't get malaria.

-Swimming in Lake Malawi and hoping I don't get bilharzia.

-Relaxing on the beach, which I wished we had done at the end of our trip rather than the beginning. (lthough we're camping, the places we're staying are hardly distinguishable from any resort-y place in any warm and sunny location.)

-Doing adventure-ish activities, such as:
  • Abseiling (where you rappel down the side of a cliff and pretend you're a Special Forces guy infiltrating the hideout of a Columbian drug lord).

  • Horseback riding (where you pretend you're a cowboy on the way to the OK Corral, Howdy-Ma'aming the ladies and being ready, at any moment, to yank your shotgun out of its leather holster and blast the living daylights out of a mustachioed villain).

Ok, that's it for now, hopefully my next post will contain some stories of animal-viewing and other assorted misadventures.

Saturday, September 1, 2007


Tried to sweet-talk the immigration lady in Dar Es Salaam into waiving my $50 Tanzania visa entry fee. No dice. I even tried using my pathetic 5 words of Swahili, which got the withering glance it deserved.

Ah well, at least this is where I'm headed:

Coconuts, white sand, warm water... I plan on heaving my pale, bloated body onto a lawn chair and not moving until someone comes and scrapes me off. Hmm, perhaps that someone will also come fan me with an oversized palm frond as I (without any sense of irony or self-awareness) listen to dire NPR podcasts about globalization, politics, poverty, etc etc.*

*The usual plethora of left-wing-but-totally-credible-and-important-anyway pieces of information about 1) current events and 2) how Shrub is ruining literally everything.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Last thoughts from Addis

Some final reflections on Ethiopia...

As an uncultured, gawking tourist doing really touristy things, I was struck by how the presentation of all this history was mixed with little bits of modernity. One example:

In this photo, you see an Ethiopian priest (most of Ethiopia is Christian, of the Coptic variety inherited from Egypt - or so my guidebook tells me) wearing sunglasses. Why? Well, because tourists love to take pictures of ancient crosses, and when the priest holds them up, the flash from the cameras hurts his eyes.

Another example:

In this scene, the guy on the left has written Bible verses - in old "Ge'ez" script, a precursor to Amharic - on a stretched-out piece of cured goat skin. This is in imitation of the handmade Bibles that Ethiopians used to use, but don't anymore. Presumably, this piece that he's making will end up in the hands of a tourist.

I'm not sure what my point is here, but it's strange to consider all the various butterfly-effect economic/social factors that may lead to a replica of an Ethiopian Bible page (made in the middle of a poverty-stricken village) being bought and then hung on a wall hanfway around the world.

So on the right of the picture: one kid, slightly taller than the rest, is leading the rest thru drills on the Amharic alphabet. Whenever any of them messes up, he takes this big stick-whip thing and gives the offender a hearty whack.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Tej and Kitfo

For me, Ethiopia was all about the honey wine ("tej") and raw beef ("kitfo"). Yum. I'm sure I now have 1000's of parasitic worms winding their way thru my intestines, but it was worth it.

Two pics this time: the first one is of these jaw-droppingly attractive dancers at this great restaurant where I ate tons of the aforementioned kitfo. And also rather too much tej, with unfortunate consequences.

The 2nd pic is of a brand of biscuit in Addis. (Andrew this photo is for you. I bought another pack of these after eating the first one, and I'll mail it to you when I get home. They're surprisingly tasty.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

another travel blog! oh boy!

Dear Mr. Blog,

I know, I know. I've been neglecting you. Well, no more.

I could say that poor internet connections here in Africa were at fault, but the truth is that I've been lazy. Forgive me. From this moment on, you shall receive a constant stream of brief, witty anecdotes and stories, which I promise will be at least partially true.


PS. This is a guy in Zanzibar beating the crap out of a dead octopus. He's lifting it up and flinging it mightily towards the ground, bashing it with this giant stick, etc. (This is how people around here tenderize octopi prior to grilling them.)