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.)