August 09, 2012. Here on the other side of the Mediterranean things seem suddenly very easy.
The overnight bus from Mersin to Izmir left on time and with more than generous seats for everyone on board. Even I can understand the customs procedures in Kusadasi port. And after enjoying all the culinary pleasures Samos has to offer (proper coffee, fresh yoghurt with honey and fruits, feta cheese with olives, tomatoes and peppers and the local dessert wine, duh) I’m getting ready for two more ferries to Italy and two more trains to Germany. Easy.
August 02, 2012. Arriving in Alexandria I have returned to the Mediterranean almost 300 days after crossing the Strait of Gibraltar. Three days of running around and trying to find passage into Europe have eaten up all but a faint memory of my vacation in Dahab. In the end I settled for a RoPax* ship that sails on Saturday from Port Said to Mersin.
That little excursion into Asia means I have to cobble together a plan of how to make it home from the Southeastern corner of Turkey.
The preliminary plan is to go as fast as possible (on overnight trains, busses and ferries) from Mersin to Kusadasi near Izmir, on to Greece via Samos, Pireas and Patras, and finally to Venice, Italy. From there I haven’t quite figured it our, yet.
*RoPax = roll on / roll off + passenger ferry
July 25, 2012. The contrast between Sudan and Egypt couldn’t have been more stark: while tourism is virtually unheard of in the former, the later’s economy is – at least in the cities along the Nile from Aswan to Luxor to Cairo – largely built on tourism. Sudan is beautiful with ancient history subtly scattered along the desert roads. And still the sights in Egypt are nothing short of breathtaking.
I am now in Cairo. Cape Town to Cairo is one of those mythical journeys in travelers’ dreams. I did it without even planning to. And I did it overland, on public transport. Yes, I am proud of that.
It is now time to think about returning home, to Berlin. Surprisingly there is no direct ferry connection between Egypt and Italy or Greece. The choice is this: very expensive cruise ship, freighter to Turkey or airplane. But before I make that call I am taking a few days off to go to Dahab at the Red Sea.
July 06, 2012. The river Nile has crossed my path a couple of times already on this journey. – Or should I say ‘I’ve crossed the Nile a couple of times already?’
I crossed the Victoria Lake which is source to the Nile, the Victoria Nile. I saw it again in Murchison Falls. And a little later as Albert Nile heading back to Kampala.
In Ethiopia I went through Blue Nile Gorge, saw the Blue Nile flow out of Lake Tana, and visited the Blue Nile Falls a few kilometers down in Tis Isat.
The Nile and I lost touch for the past few weeks. But that’s all forgotten now: With my arrival in Khartoum (or even a few hours South of town in Wadi Madani where the road crosses the White Nile) we met again and we won’t part again for at least two or three weeks.
On the journey from Khartoum to Wadi Halfa I will stop in Bagrawiya and Karima to see pyramids that might just outshine their famous siblings in Egypt. And after crossing Lake Nasser into Egypt on a ferry I will see whether that theory holds true when I visit Aswan, Luxor and finally Cairo.
The Nile and I shall only part when it joins the Mediterranean in Alexandria. Inshallah!
June 29, 2012. Having almost finished the Northern Ethiopia circle and not quite ready to move on to my second last country on this Africa trip I decided to give you an update of a different kind today.
Travelling via public transport is not only cheaper it also allows the traveler to learn much more about a country’s culture and daily life. But it can also have serious side effects: like deafness or – sometimes even worse – a melody that haunts you for days.
Ethiopian bus drivers love their music. And right now the hottest thing in the country is Teddy Afro’s new album. Teddy is to most a national hero ever since he spoke out against the government following irregularities in the 2005 elections.
‘Tikur Sew’ isn’t only on every bus and minibus. It’s also in every restaurant and internet café. And last night a rare concert shown on (not national) TV even let some places to skip the football (soccer) game Italy vs. Germany. – Unheard of as football might be the only thing Ethiopians like as much as music.
Here’s the album’s title song ‘Tikur Sew’ which I think has special haunting qualities. Listen at your own risk!:
June 17, 2012. After 20 gruesome hours we made it to Ethiopia last Friday. We spent the first two nights in Moyale and then with an overnight stop in Hawassa headed for the capital.
As you can see I needed some time to recuperate – and Addis Ababa proved a wonderful place to do so.
Tomorrow we’ll get back on the bus for the classic Northern Ethiopia route: Bahir Dar (and the monasteries of Lake Tana), Lalibela, Mek’ele, Axum, Debark, Gonder.
June 07, 2012. Today this Africa trip is bound to take a turn for the more adventurous again. After getting used to have lots of choice when it came to bus services in Southern and Eastern Africa there is only one company that offers a bus to the Kenya – Ethiopia border town of Moyale. And the lack of competition is reflected in the vehicles used. So I embark on a 24h journey to the border followed by another almost 24h on the bus to Addis Ababa.
I have not only been able to secure the Sudan visa in Kampala, I also received my Ethiopia visa from the embassy here in Nairobi yesterday. The head of the consular section at the Egyptian embassy in Kampala furthermore guaranteed that I would receive a visa for his country at any border crossing. So that makes it official: Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt and after that it’s back to Good Ol’ Europe.
May 28, 2012. Uganda had a lot to offer: the graceful gorillas of Bwindi, the majestic Rwenzori Mountains, mad boda-boda rides through Murchisan Falls and the traffic chaos of Kampala were just some of the highlights I got to enjoy.
Kenya promises to be a lot more touristic again. But rather than more safaris I am looking forward to a last visit to the Indian Ocean and some more Swahili culture before I move on to the last three African countries on this trip.
May 20, 2012. As they say: Some girls have all the luck. Today I had the rare opportunity to see some of the last remaining 800 Mountain Gorillas. Mountain Gorillas can’t be kept in captivity and their natural habitat lies in the mountain ranges of Rwanda, DR Congo and Uganda. Out of these Uganda and the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest have the most successful gorilla conservation project with numbers actually going up.
But not only was I lucky being in Bwindi I also found a travel companion whose travel karma should be a very, very good one: he offered to lend me the 500 USD required to visit. Some girls have all the luck.
Next I’ll circle via the Rwenzori Mountains and Murchison Falls back to Kampala. If I’m even more lucky a Sudanese visa will be waiting there for me.
May 12, 2012. As a traveler it is always good to see that even the seemingly most impossible places can be done without a tour operator – and at a lower price. It was like that when we decided to visit Mount Kilimanjaro and today when we went to see one of Tanzania’s favorite National Parks, Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The Cradle of Mankind, Olduvai (Oldupai) Gorge, is one of the lesser know but still worthwhile attractions of the park. Most people come here for the incredible wealth of fauna in a very small space. I had visited once before on my first Africa visit but was nevertheless impressed all over again.
This time we made our way on public transport to Karatu just outside the park, found a driver / guide (mandatory) and some more travel companions to share the cost. End ended up spending less that 150 USD per head for the park. Feel free to compare this to any tour operator…
Next up is a big bit of driving: I’ll take another boat. This time the ferry will take me from Mwanza across Lake Victoria almost to the border of Uganda.
May 04, 2012. Much has been said about this old Swahili and later colonial trade post. It’s also called the Spice Island. And while going to the market all kinds of spices – cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, pepper,… – much of the original culture seems to have been turned into tourist attractions: The buildings in Stone Town mostly show signs of their age and the constant sea breeze. Where they don’t they have been turned into hotels. The spices are mostly sold in small, neat colorful packages.
I visited the island during low season, used the matatus to visit Paje on the Eastern side, found some truly local eating places, and bargained hard to bring the guest house prices anywhere close to what they are in other parts of Tanzania. That made it for me a truly Zanzibari experience.
Tonight it’s back to the Flying Horse and to Dar es Salaam to move via the Amboni Caves in Tanga to Moshi and Mount Kilimanjaro.
April 27, 2012. Yesterday was Independence Day in Tanzania and I learnt an important word: uhuru. Uhuru means independence.
In the spirit of that I decided to change plans. Initially I was on my way to Kigoma to follow in the footsteps of one of the most famous meetings in history: It was on the shores of Lake Tanganyika near the ancient trading town Ujiji where H.M. Stanley uttered the words “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.” upon meeting a ragged and clearly sick mzungu figure – the explorer and missionary Dr. Livingstone who’d been missing for months.
After Kigoma I had planned to circle back to Dar via Bukoba, Lake Victoria, Mwanza, Arusha and Tanga, and finish my Tanzania adventure with a couple of days on Zanzibar.
Well, I stepped off the train in Kigoma, saw the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Ujiji, and bought a bus ticket straight back to Dar from where I’ll go to Zanzibar. Why? Because travelling is what happens when you make other plans.
April 21, 2012. I’m on my way to Kilwa Masoko to see the ancient ruins of Kilwa Kisani. Our bus has broken down. So I’m enjoying what might now be my favorite pastime: waiting.
And while I’m waiting I’m beginning to wonder about Tanzanians. Throughout my trip I’ve always liked to chat with the locals – on the bus, in the shops, waiting whereever. But here every youngish man I exchange more than five sentences with seems compelled to ask whether I’d like to have sex with him and is very surprised that the answer is No.
Why? My friend Luke would probably rave about how wonderfully open Africans [sic] are in their sexuality. I find it disconcerting; disgusting if those guys want to jump me just because I’m a single white female. Whatever happened to chemistry?
So now I’m not only waiting for the bus but also to get back to Dar where – as far as youngish Tanzanian men are concerned – my fiance is.
April 17, 2012. Zimbabwe is an amazing country full of beauty, hope and wonder. And after a serene cruise on Lake Kariba followed by all the luck a hitchhiker can have, my four days in Victoria Falls proved to be an impressive finale.
While before seeing a foreign traveller, a backpacker even, raised many eyebrows Vic Falls breathes tourism. Prices are higher and at every corner someone is trying to sell you a romantic – citche – version of ‘the Africa of your dreams’. Still that doesn’t take away from feeling small and humble in the mists of the ‘Smoke that thunders’.
On Saturday I crossed over the bridge into Zambia, spending two nights in the capital Lusaka – again a surprise with big shiny malls and a cosmopolitan population.
Now it’s back on the bus and off to Kapiri Mposhi for the two days’ ride on the TaZaRa (Tanzania Zambia Railway) to Dar Es Salaam. Goodbye Mighty Zambezi – I will be back!
April 05, 2012. There’s not much to do in Harare – the Small World is a lovely hostel, but really the only reason to spend 3 nights there was to get my Tanzania visa (mandatory if you want to enter the country via train I am told).
On Wednesday we left for Chinhoyi to see the magnificent caves there.
At the Small World I’ve met a fellow backpacker (though he prides himself in the fact that he’s travelling with a trolley) who happened to go in my direction. So after the caves we conquered Easter traffic on the minibusses to Kariba together: less than 200k in 6 hours.
Kariba is an African paradise. As I’m writing this an elephant is roaming behind the hut at Warthogs Lodge. And last night – which we spent just for a change in the old familiar 2x2m tent – hippos were grasing outside the door. Why did I ever bother to go on game drives in famous National Parks?
If all goes well I’ll jump on the Kariba ferry towards Vic Falls on Monday. But until my birthday I’ll enjoy a little more of paradise.
April 1, 2012. Yesterday I went to see the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe. The ruins are one more astonishing proof of African high culture.
So far Zim has delivered what it promised to be: beautiful landscapes, open and friendly people proud of their country and striving to use its vast potential but also a rundown infrastructure with frequent powercuts and water shortages.
I’m now sitting on another minibus, waiting to go to Harare. Let’s see what the capital has to offer…
March 29, 2012. Sometime after midnight I crossed into Zimbabwe. The first border without the safety of the truck was a smooth but lengthy affair.
On my arrival in Bulawayo – not typical of my experience with African busses almost on time – I discovered that there are in fact female cab drivers in Africa. Good news!
However, after I also discovered that any excursion outside the city – Khami Ruins, Matopos… – would be a very costly affair I decided to leave for Masvingo and the Great Zimbabwean Ruins tomorrow and to use today to wander the wide avenues of Bulawayo.