Monday, April 4, 2011

Day 166 - Home

Now that the journey is over it's amazing how quickly it has become a distant memory.  RobC and I have had many conversations with fellow travelers about the type of traveling all of us have done and how few people actually do it.  Most people are afraid of the unknown, they don’t like to venture out of their comfort zones.  They hear stories about getting robbed, mugged or even killed, about how hard it is to do, catching one of the many strange and exotic diseases, how unsafe places are and the list goes on.  Of course there is a certain amount of risk involved in traveling by bike or car through many countries but it is minimal as long as you don’t hang your common sense on a hook at home.  Most of the time you deal with friendly people and frustrating bureaucracy.  You also have the day to day activities of finding food, lodging and fuel but this forces you to meet the local people, get a feel of their day to day living. None of these are life threatening.

This journey has been one of the best things I have ever done.  I’m sure RobC would agree.  It has taught me that traveling by motorcycle through 25 different countries, crossing many borders, dealing with the different languages and currencies, questionable roads, stunning scenery, interesting cultures and foods, variety of climates and amazing people does give you a new level of appreciation for the people and places that make up this world.  You learn about the ancient world of the Maya in Uxmal, Mexico and Tikal, Guatemala, see what people deal with in the aftermath of Hurricane Richard in Belize, muddle your way through the annoying and convoluted border crossing bureaucracy in Central America, experience the incredible hospitality of the Columbian people, learn the horrible past of the Shining Path movement in and around Ayacucho, Peru during the 1980s, ride the notorious Death Road in Bolivia, taste a world famous bife de chorizo in Argentina, see the Big 5 in their natural habitat in Kruger Park, South Africa, climb the world’s tallest sand dune in Namibia, know what a Pula can buy in Botswana, experience the unbelievable generosity of impoverished Zimbabwean people, talk to an extremely grateful school head master in Senga Bay, Malawi, feel the overwhelming aura of the old slave market in Zanzibar, gaze at vast beauty of the Serengeti and find out the interesting history and lifestyle of the Masaai.  This is just a taste of what we experienced along the way.

A trip like this breaks down all your preconceived images and stereotypes.  Fear of the unknown and ignorance is replaced with fond memories of distant lands and interesting people coming together to create incredible experiences.  Incredible, meaning both the positive and the negative but the two together make up the adventure, the experience.  It’s not an adventure if everything goes as planned.  Matter of fact, it’s quite boring.

So .... toss aside the garbage you hear from the media, do your own  research and GO!  People complain about not having the time or the money or their job won’t allow it or they have kids ... the justifications pile up quickly.  If you REALLY want to do it, you can, but it takes some determination and sacrifice.  We have met people that are retired and are in their 80s driving a camper, some that have sold everything and are backpacking, others that have quit their jobs, some just out of school or in between programs, people that have saved up and still manage a life back home and even people that have brought their kids along, but they are all doing it.  The only downside I have seen is that you can’t remember everything you see and learn along the way.

I have always told myself that if I can help it, I will not end up at the end of my life with regrets, wishing I had done things that I always wanted to do or try.  No way.  We all make excuses why we can’t do what we want.  Everything from money, school, kids, time, work ... all of it.  I’m guilty of that myself.  We can all relate to how quickly time manages to pass us by.  When you think of it, we don’t have much time in the grand scheme of things so the onus is on us to make things happen.  Actively engage life, chase after it and what it has to offer.  After all, tomorrow may never come and then it’s too late.  No “do overs”.  No second chances.

You know what the real kicker is? ....  It’s not that hard to do.  So why don’t more people do it?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Day 158 to 165 - Nairobi, Kenya

Spent the last week in Nairobi at a place called Jungle Junction,where adventure travellers on motorcycles, 4x4s or caravans come to rest, relax, fix their vehicles and restock on supplies.  You can camp or get a room at a good price. Chris, the owner, has catered to the weary traveller for the past 7 years.  Quite the place, tucked into a side street only a few kilometres from downtown Nairobi.

Jungle Junction

Met some real interesting characters.   Michnus and Elsebie from South Africa traveling on a couple of BMW Dakars, Martin and Wibien from Holland in a VW truck, a guy from Germany with a Fiat camper van, Mark and Brigitte from Holland in a Toyota Landcruiser and Andrew and Tina from France with their 2 young daughters.  Everyone with their own stories to tell and their own experiences to share. It was a lot of fun getting to know these people.

 One of the several braais we had.

The "German Guy" (never did get his name)

Brigitte, Mark and the "German Guy"

Martin, Elsebie and Michnus

Wibien and Martin
Nairobi has been somewhat sedate aside for the couple of times I headed out for a ride into the chaos which is the traffic in Nairobi.  Organized shipment of the bike as well as myself.  Chose to ship by air as it was only 200USD more and I figured if it went by boat the bike wouldn't make it past Somalia where the pirates would find it and use it as their new road gunship.  Went to the Giraffe Sanctuary, Karen Blixen house for lunch (she wrote Out of Africa), some local markets and a few other places. Other than that, Nairobi is just another big city.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Day 157 - Moshi, Tanzania to Nairobi, Kenya

Well,  the last leg of the journey and one final border crossing.  I keyed-in a place called Jungle Junction in Nairobi into the GPS and off I went.  The route took me through Arusha and then north to the border.  Most of the road was paved, except for areas of road construction.  The Chinese are hard at work paving a lot of the major roads in Africa, including this one.  They say that there is only one section of unpaved road between Cairo, Egypt and Cape Town, South Africa and that lies north of Nairobi and continues on to Moyale at the Ethiopian border.  This 500 km stretch is known as one of the worst; lots of rocks, sand, gravel and corrugations.  I had spoken to several travelers who had just come down from there.  It takes two to three days to travel that stretch.  Maybe next time.

 One of the many detour routes north to the border

The border crossing, as has become the norm here in Africa, as far as ease and the typical ghetto feel (more so the further north you go), was a snap.  They even had a proper booth for money changing with all the daily exchange rates posted on a board.  Another 40 USD for third-party insurance, which I believe goes directly into the pockets of these agents, as they always seem to be the best dressed individuals at the border. 
160 km to go to Nairobi and I’m thinking, wow, no flats the entire 35000 km.  100 km outside of Nairobi I noticed the bike behaving strangely, the back end felt very loose.  I dismissed it for a second thinking it was the grooves in the road but thought it was not right so I decided to pull over and have a look.  A flat!!  It just so happens that I had pulled over in a small village with a road side tire changer about 50 feet down the road.  Instantly a crowd of 20 people gathered around the bike, curiously inspecting the machine and some even trying to help with the flat.  I unloaded all the gear and opened the panniers to get the tools and a spare tube out.  The first thing that came to mind was all the stories you hear about things getting pinched off the bike or out of a car and I figured there was no way to control this or even keep an eye on my things.

I went to work on removing the tire and took it to the tire changer, all my tools and gear lying around the bike.  Oh well, if something gets stolen it wouldn't be the end of the world.  I asked about the cost and he only wanted 200 schillings (3USD) to fix the flat.  There’s no way I’m spending an hour doing this myself.  15 minutes later it was done.  I put everything back together and all the tools and gear away without a single item missing.  Even had a Maasai man point with his stick to an item half buried in the sand.  I have come to the conclusion that there are a few travelers out there spreading urban myths via the Internet and chat rooms like on Lonely Planet and these are the things that people read and get scared out of doing adventure travel.  Too bad.  Granted, there are situations that happen, but for the most part it’s a temporary lag in common sense that has landed you in that predicament. 

The crowd gathering around the bike.

Arrived at the Jungle Junction destination in a somewhat somber mood.  Sigh.

Day 156 - Tingatinga Village, Maasai Tribe, Tanzania

The last 25km of the road to the Maasai Village of Tingatinga was a true off-roader's dream.  Wish I had my motorcycle.  It eventually disappeared  and we were left riding through low scrub-brush land to find this place.  We got there and I was greeted by 6 Maasai villagers doing a traditional welcome dance.  The village itself was set up for tourists, which I later found out was a replica.  They didn’t want to disturb the day to day living routines of the Maasai people.  Little disappointing, but as RobC once said when we had visited the Bushman village on the border of Namibia and Botswana, "it’s probably only 10% real, but 10% more than I ever expected to see."  The guide explained the history of the Maasai and how they migrated down to this area.  Originally, they were semi-nomadic cattle breeders and agriculturalists from the Nile area in Sudan. They were feared as “wild barbarians” by the Arabs.  They now lead established lives and only roam in search of better pastures for their cattle, then return to the villages as much as 3 months later.

The "road" to Tingatinga

The Maasai speak a Maa language which pertains to the Nilotic language family (originating from the Nile area).  They are adamant about retaining their culture and only adapt new ways if they see a benefit to their way of life that does not change their traditions. Their diet is primarily beef, cow’s milk and cow’s blood. 
The Boma (huts) are made by the women (except for the central structural support) and is made from cow’s dung, termite mound clay and hundreds of branches.  The tour also included an explanation of the different artifacts the Maasai use in their day to day living, such as the circumcision tool.  That one gave me the heebie-jeebies.  Circumcision takes about 3 to 4 minutes for either male or female between the ages of 8 and 18 and the “initiate” is not allowed to wince, move or if they had chosen to keep their eyes closed, they were not allowed to open them.  Any sign of pain, a sign of weakness, would bring disgrace to the whole family.  They would also not be given the prestigious black walking stick which is only given to those that have progressed from youth to adulthood. 

The village

The welcome party

 This shows the layered wall construction of a Boma

I was also shown various trees and bushes with explanations on what they are used for, for example, a small branch was taken from a particular tree, cleaned, and the end chewed until it had been broken down into fine fibres and then used as a toothbrush.  The liquid from the plant is said to have antibacterial properties.

The liquid of this plant is as strong as hydrochloric acid and is used for facial tattooing.

Making a fire with 2 sticks and dried cow dung.


Kokoya, a 94-year old woman no issues with any sort of ailments.  If she feels sick, she goes to the bush in search of the proper plant and cures herself.  She made a traditional Maasai tea for me, a concoction of milk, water, and various spices brought to a boil over an open flame in one of the Bomas.  (Edit by RobC: Didn't they have you try the supposed main staple of cow's milk and blood, fermented in urine? You must have been on the sanitized tour!)
We left the village in a down pour.  Good thing I didn’t bring the bike.  The roads became almost impassable even in the 4x4 vehicle, but it was great fun.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Day 155 - Serengeti to Moshi, Tanzania

On the way out of the park at the gates to the Serengeti National Park are washrooms, rest area and snack bar.  A friend I had met, Jackson (who was on safari with Chad and Wendy), was coming out of the washroom and stood face to face with an elephant.  I guess that spooked the elephant and it charged Jackson who bolted back into the bathroom.  LOL.  Too funny.  These animals are very dangerous if they charge.

The Serengeti
Wildebeest in the early morning light

I want one as a pet!!

We then arrived at the gates to the Ngorogoro National Park where we saw several baboons running along the road.  I wanted to take a photo of one in particular so Felix stopped and backed the truck up.  We had our windows rolled down.  I turned around for some reason and there was a baboon hanging off the rear driver’s side window searching the inside of the vehicle for food.  They are known for snatch and run tactics out of unsuspecting safari goers vehicles.  We parked at the gates and got out, me to stretch and Felix to get the park permits.  No sooner was he gone there were two huge baboons running directly toward me! I dove into the truck as the passed within 5 feet, the one chasing the other up into a tree.  Wow, those animals can run and climb!!

Jim Fowler.  :)

Day 153/154 - Ngorogoro to Serengeti, Tanzania

The next day was a 3 hour rough ride to the Serengeti where we stayed in a lodge in the center of the park.  The following 2 days were spent driving around the vast openness of the Serengeti (which means endless land in Masai).  The herds and herds of zebras, water buffalo and wildebeest were staggering!  Thousands and thousands.  There were no shortage of lions either.  At one sighting there were 10 lounging under a tree in the midday heat. Saw a couple of cheetahs and leopards not to forget the hyena (which, by the way, do sound like they are laughing, incredible to hear)  warthogs, gazelles and impalas. Felt like Jim Fowler from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom bouncing around these rough Serengeti roads in a Toyota Landcruiser in search of the big 5. During the rainy season these roads are impassable even in a 4x4. Early mornings (on safari by 6am) and back by 5pm made for tiring days. My guide, Felix, was amazing.  He knew every inch of the massive national park and when asked an obscure question like, “How much meat does a male lion eat at one feeding?”. “40kg”, was the reply.  Then they drink water until the next kill about 4 days later.  Female eats roughly half that and only after the male eats yet they do all the hunting.  Saw two kills but only after the fact, one by lions and the other by a Leopard in one tree, its kill, a gazelle, high in the next tree away from scavengers.

The lodge was smack in the middle of the Serengeti with no fencing.  Zebras and warthogs were seen on the grounds and hippos and hyenas could be heard close by at night.  

Sunrise view of the crater

Growing a giraffe out of my shoulder

Serengeti National Park gate

One of the many "roads" in the park

I asked Felix what happens in the event of a flat tire?  Answer. If there is another vehicle around you park it between the lion, for example, and the disabled truck and change the tire.  If there are no other trucks you simply drive with a flat until you come across another vehicle.  There were times where we didn’t see another truck for an hour. 

She was no more than 10 feet from the truck.  We circled around her and not once did she look at us.

The elusive cheetha

Don't ask cause I don't know.

The leopard's kill in the next tree over

Thousands of zebras

An early morning balloon ride over the Serengeti.  Now that would have been cool!

Beautiful lodge designed on top of rock outcroppings which were an intricate part of the building structure.

Sunset on the Serengeti