17 April 2011

Year of the Beard

One year of growing a beard. 2011. Quite possibly one of the top 5 best decisions of my life. I mean, seriously, what's better than combing food crumbs out of your beard after a good meal. I've been at this for 107 days. I thought maybe after a couple months I'd grow fond of it, but in actuality, I have to resist the urge to grab every sharp object I see so I don't hack it all off in one fell swoop. I'd like to say that large beards are common and my struggle is internal. But no. The external forces are powerful, especially those from the Congolese. Apparently these vocal inhabitants of Congo have a great appreciation of history of Christianity, including the western image of Jesus Christ. My swahili knowledge is not extensive, but there are a few words I can understand as I walk down the street: Mzungu (white person) and Jesu (Jesus). If I hear those words mixed in a sentence followed by some laughing, giggling, and pointing I am pretty sure I'm the center of the conversation. Fortunately I'm the most talked about person in every 50ft radius I'm in.

One year of my life and for what? I guess because I can. A way to make small group of people (not including the entire country of Congo) smile and laugh. A way to practice self-control. A story to tell when it's all over. I still have 258 more days to think of some other benefits. Cheers to the year I will not attract the ladies with the overgrowth of hair on my face.

11 April 2011


Ok. So. Last month I did the vacation thing here in the Africa. I'm not really sure what people think of when they think about "vacation in Africa". Probably safaris, pyramids, or swimming with great white sharks. Whatever, not the point of this blog post. For me, I'm usually on the budget program when it comes to vacation. I don't like to spend money, I like to go somewhere where I can swim a lot, and throw in something adventurous.

So after considering my options I decided on Zanzibar! If you don't know where that is, it is a little island just off the coast of Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania in the Indian Ocean. It is a touristy place with a lot of history because it used to be the hub of the East Africa slave trade. It is where all the african slaves would get sent to board ships to India and other countries back in the day. It also has beautiful pristine white sandy beaches and warm ocean water to swim in. It is also relatively cheap place to vacation. So I've got all my criteria. Ocean to swim in, cheap vacation spot, and for adventure I decided I was going to ride my motorcycle there! Just a nice 2600 mile roundtrip through Africa wilderness. I was a little nervous about the trip but I was all geared up and ready to go until a week before when I had some bike problems riding in some back roads of Congo. So it was a no-go for the motorcycle, but I had the backup plan of taking the bus, which turned out to be an adventure in itself.

The day came for departure. Bus is supposed to leave at noon. We get there at 11. Oh yeah, I'm doing this trip with my friend Pierre, who is from Belgian and is teaching here in Lubumbashi. So yeah, we get there at 11 and sign in and sit and wait. Noon comes around and they announce we are not leaving today because the border is closed. We will leave tomorrow they say. Apparently there was some new facility at the border that just opened and the Zambian and DRC president were there that day to have a commissioning for the facility so they had the close the whole border down. Just a perfect example of African silliness. So we show up the next morning ready to go and of course we wait around until the bus finally departs 2 hours late. The president was having a political rally downtown that day so we drove through crowds of people as we were leaving the city. It was a crazy site with the streets packed with people, marching bands, and people carrying banners and what not. I could already tell this trip was going to be crazy.

So I'll spoil the ending and say that Zanzibar was an amazing place and I had a great time there. The only downfall of the vacation was the bus ride. I took the bus because it was 1/6th the cost of flying. They said it would be a 2 day trip on the bus. I can handle that. What they forgot to mention that the bus a dumpster on wheels that somehow what at amazing ridiculous speeds and hardly ever stopped for pee breaks or food. No A/C, no toilet, no clean comfy seat, no food, no English. I guess that is why it was cheap. Anyways, we left Lubumbashi at 10:30am. It took us a couple hours to cross the border into Zambia. Drove through the night through Zambia. Got to the Tanzanian border at dawn. Spent a couple hours at that border. Drove through Tanzania all day and arrived around midnight or 1am. Total time: 37 hours on the bus. The ride had a lot of low points, but there were a few highs like driving through this beautiful mountain road in Tanzania with beautiful terrain. Only to have it spoiled by the lady sitting next to me lean across me to throw her trash out the widow like everyone else on the bus. I couldn't understand these people being surrounded by such beauty and just throwing trash at it. Oh Africa.

So we arrive in Dar Es Salaam late and take a taxi to our hostel, which is cheap. I am amazed by Dar Es Salaam already at this point because it is huge with tall buildings and feels like a big city in America. We go find a burger stand that is open late and get some food after a grueling bus trip. Even that late at night I was already getting the Islamic vibe, which was interesting because I had been in a city that was dominantly Islamic, which is the case with Dar Es Salaam. Next morning we wake up for a second time (1st time for the blaring Call to Prayer outside hostel) and find our way to the docks to take a ferry to our final destination. Zanzibar! The ferry ride is a 2 hour trip to the island. It felt so good to be on a boat out in the ocean. The water was just an amazing blue.

Then we finally arrive on Zanzibar. It is basically Africa's version of Hawaii. It was pretty sweet. The main town on the island is called Stonetown. It is a sweet city because it has these narrow alleyways through 3 or 4-story buildings that look ancient. The only way to get through most of the town is by foot or moped so you feel like you are in Italy or somewhere like that. Stonetown also included cheap hotels, great restaurants, nice beach, great juice,and the local fishermen do nightly seafood bbq at dusk by the beach. Delicious. Zanzibar is also known for it's spices. So I did a spice tour like a good little tourist. But it was definitely worth my time walking through all the spice farms and seeing some of the historical points of the slave trade.

After a couple days in Stonetown we headed to the North of the island. The entire island is basically pristine beaches, but we heard the beaches in the north had better swimming. Found a nice cheap hotel/resort on the beach. Amazing beach with turquoise blue water and white sandy beaches. Basically just lounged on the beach for a few days and had good food and drinks at the restaurant 20 feet from the water. We decided to do a snorkeling trip one day, which was maybe the best decision of the trip. Took a boat trip on this sweet old wooden dhow out to some reefs offshore. Some some dolphins along the way and the snorkeling was amazing. I think I saw every fish from "Finding Nemo" except the shark. Came back and had a nice hour long body massage on the beach. Paradise.

Spent a week on the island before deciding to head home. Pierre had to get back for classes so he elected to fly home, so I decided to brave the bus home on my own. Met up with some friends of friends in Dar Es Salaam that let me stay with them for one night and figured out the bus schedule for me. That was super helpful to not have to stress about that and get a good rest before a long long trip.

So got on the bus and left Dar Es Salaam at 6am. The beginning of the trip was awesome because we drove through a couple national parks in Tanzania and I got to see my first wildlife. I saw giraffes, elephants, zebra, gazelle, and baboons. We were flying by on a bus though so we didn't get to stop and have a proper look. We were hoping to get to the Zambian border before dark because the border is closed at night but we didn't make it so we had to sleep at the border. I decided to sleep on the bus rather than trying to find a hotel, which would probably have been the same quality as the bus. Probably got bitten by 100 mosquitoes, but thankfully no malaria. They told me we'd leave at 9 the next morning. Like an idiot, I believed them. 9am turned into 12pm. 12pm turned into 2pm. 2pm turned into "stop asking". The bus didn't have very many passengers going the rest of the way so the whole next day they were cramming the bus full of goods to take back to DRC. They spent all day doing this. Literally shoving things into any little space they could. By the time they told the passengers to get on board there was no room for our luggage. We had to hold our bags on our laps and there was absolutely no leg room because the bus crew was all spread out in the aisles. Typical African bus filled to the max. So we let off into Zambia at 5pm after spending over 20 hours at the border.

We drove through the night through Zambia and I wasn't able to move a muscle the entire time. Finally we came to the DRC border, which I though would never come. Spent a few hours there because the bus didn't have all it's proper paperwork. Despite being sleep deprived I was in good spirits though because I was able to get food and the end of the trip was in sight. An hour and a half after leaving the border I arrived home in Lubumbashi. 55 hours after leaving Dar Es Salaam. 55 hours on that wonderful bus! Honestly though, I was happy I took the bus as horrible as it was. It is just a great memory and story to tell. It was the adventure I was looking for in my vacation. Great great vacation.