Thursday, January 31, 2008

Kinigi village, Rwanda...

There's gorillas in them hills. Just ask Dian Fossey...

[ed. notes: well, i made it out of Kigali, west to Ruhengeri and then to Kinigi, a tiny village at the foot of Parc National des Volcans, home to the few mountain gorillas that still exist on this planet. i was traveling with a small group of travelers, including Lee, an American who a software guy for his country's star wars program and Jennifer, an annoying Canadian girl who kept reminding me that I could wipe out the gorillas if I set foot on mountain trails. Thanks alot.

I managed to get to the Parks office. In the mist, the wardens divided the large group of approx. 40 people into smaller groups to view the different groups of gorillas. I decided afterwards to turn myself in as a diseased person. They assured me that I'd have my day...]

Gorillas postponed. Sick of being sick. This is the most inopportune time. Very clumsy of me. Not sure when I'll be ready. Wicked cough. Using all drugs on hand.

[ed. note: with that I retired to the guesthouse where I would lie immobilized in bed for the next few days.]

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Kigali, Rwanda

[ed. notes: next few posts maybe a little confusing but you may want to review by reading the "real time" posts for January 28th (rwanda, rwanda), 30th (hotel rwanda), February 14th (where's the king of scotland?), and 15th (hey look, some pix).

Since my stay in Bujumbura, my friends Samuel and Jack headed off to the DRC (the true heart of darkness, war torn as it was). I grabbed a 12 hour minibus ride (on the New Yahoo Express) to the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

Burundi is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Tonnes of people on the road. Very mountainous terrain. Lots of deforestation. Wish I had some photos but I was unfortunately crammed into the middle of the bus. Suffice to say, it was a safe journey. No signs of civil war or flooding. however, because of the snake-like mountain roads, a fellow passenger did hurled out the window, leaving an unsightly streak of vomit the length of the bus. I think the key to traveling in places such as Burundi is to listen to local advice and ignore the Embassy (any diplomatic warning).

Rwanda turned out to be mountainous as well. Not as many people walking the roads though. Perhaps the most noticeable thing was the lack of garbage. The country is immaculately clean. I found out later that the government decreed that every Saturday be a national beautification day. This decree was instituted after the horrible genocide of 1994 to help instill a feeling of nationhood among an obviously traumatized, and divided population.

So, as I wait for more journal entries to reach their first birthdays, I've got a few photos to post of Kigali.]

the kigali genocide memorial. beautiful place for a very sad event in the history of mankind. the exhibits are very informative and top notch in quality (rivaling anything in the West and the apartheid museum in soweto, johannesburg). very thorough in presenting the history before, during, and after the horrific genocide of 1994. i thought the video clips of individual accounts of the event were particularly touching. the top floor is the genocide hall of infamy that memorializes such occurrences through out history. suffice to say, human beings do not seem to have learned from the lessons of the past. if you plan to go, entrance is free. they do have a big box for donations though. photography is prohibited inside the memorial.

photo's taken at one of the big roundabouts downtown. the biker in the photo is one of the ubiquitous boda bodas (motocycle taxis) on the streets of kigali. really cheap. really fast. really fun (i can see why people like biking). my advice is to put on that extra helmet. i saw a couple of really nasty accidents. other than the boda bodas being scary, i found kigali to be one of safest capital cities in africa.

walking around kigali is really strange, particularly after attending the genocide museum. you think just a decade ago these folks were killing each other lock stock and barrel. funny thing is, as an outsider, you can't tell who's a tutsi and who's a hutu. no one talks about the past. perhaps the most frustrating thing for a traveler is that you're never around long enough to sense if there's any underlying tension in the population. i mean there's got to be remnants of bad feelings... anyway, the photo is of me walking back to the hotel, Auberge Caverne. at 16 USD, it was the most expensive room on the trip. good value for the money though. showers... little luxuries that we take for granted in Canada. the Auberge can be found at 1°56'21.77"S 30° 3'40.85"E.

look bubba's standing in front of the real Hotel Rwanda (ha! bet you were expecting the real Don Cheadle). ok, its real name is the Hotel Des Mille Collines. i should have went in to take a look at the swimming pool. shortly after this photo was taken i went to chow down on shanghai cuisine and caught a vicious cold for dessert.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bujumbura, Burundi

Ok kids, move along, nothing to see here...
For the first time I discovered the amazement that totally foreign tourists can create in small town Africa.

We walked across the border this morning. I thought it was a short little jaunt to the "main" road linking us to Bujumbura. As it turned out it must have been a 10 Km walk that included the fording of a river, and a long bicycle taxi ride (harrowing to say the least). The only annoying thing was the idiot Burundian soldier who had me empty my entire backpack for "security" purposes.

We arrived at the first sizable cross-border village only to find out that it wasn't serviced by public transportation because it wasn't market day.

We sat on a shaded bench as Jack set off to arrange for transport. A crowd (15-20) of kids would surround us. All they did was stare at us. That's kind of cute, I thought. School would be dismissed and a second wave of kids would come and stare. Occasionally, an adult would come by and beat the crowd back. It wouldn't take long for the mob to reassemble though. Each time this happened they gave us less and less space. They started to prod the luggage and take water bottles. There was no personal contact, but you could sense the tension building between the mob and us. For a while I thought a fight would breakout.

After 3 hours of this charade it became exhausting. A taxi finally arrived. What a relief that was. We made a dash for the taxi. The mob would follow us and surround the cab. The shoddy dirt road would give way to shoddy tarmac all the way to Njanza Lac where I got my entry visa...from there it was a relatively good road. It was raining on and off. I didn't see the mass destruction due to flooding that I had read about.

We rolled into Buj early in the evening. A chaotic place, Buj reminded me of Nairobi. A little bit dangerous. To top it off we checked into a really dump of a hotel for 10 USD. I swear it was brothel.

Observations: 1) there are alot of people in Burundi (I gauge population density by the number of people walking along the roadside); 2) They seem very very poor (I think Malawiians are better off); 3) palm oil trees and bananas seem to be the choice of plantation crops (the first plantations I've seen in Africa).

Friday, January 25, 2008

Kagunga, Tanzania

Amistad, Part 25. "excuse me but did you see a pile of PFD's anywhere?"
I can't believe where I am. This morning I was fretting about whether I was going to attempt Burundi or not. Then I met these 2 guys at the Hotel Martha after coming back from a useless trip to the UNHCR. I had seen them earlier in the day at Burundi Consulate.

First, I met the crazy [term of endearment] Swiss guy, Samuel. He's a gardener back home. He's here to check on his "project", Jack, a Tanzanian, whom he "sponsors". Putting it simply, Samuel met Jack on an earlier trip and now helps out with some funding. They're off to see the plot of land just across that Jack has bought with the money. Then they plan on traveling into the DRC.

We talked about what he knew about Burundi. He wasn't much help. Then Jack showed up. He turned out to be a really friendly guy. He said traveling there was no problem.

It may have been a coincidence but they were going to Burundi that very day.

Jack asked, "why don't you come along with us?"

I was completely unprepared. My stuff was strewn across my room.

"Could you pack in 20 minutes? We're in a hurry."

To which i replied, "yep".

l to r: Jack, Samuel. Jack's a pretty funny guy. I told him alot of Canadians are scared to come to Africa 'cause they're scared they'll die or get mugged. His solution was for Canadians declare to any bad Africans, "I have a nuclear weapon in my pants"... he pronounced nuclear correctly not like some jackass President we all know.

So, I'm on my way to Bujumbura [capital of Burundi] of all places. So much for fretting. Take the plunge. I'm beginning to like this travel business. I packed like a mad man and headed down to the dock to catch the next boat. I had only time to load up on a few bottles of water then jumped aboard a 40 foot creaky motor driven dorry with at least 50 other passengers. We'd sit on the rim while the burgeoning load sat on the bottom of the boat.

We left at 1420. I slathered on the sunscreen. The boat was uncovered and the sun was just blazed away. As Kigoma port slid out of sight, I texted my brother about my "plans" for what may have been the last time.

Before: pristine old growth rainforest of Gombi. No, Jane Goodall didn't come out to greet us and we didn't see any chimps either.

After: where are the trees? Instead, we saw alot of erosion.

Slowly, we chugged along the shore. Close enough to enjoy the hills that came all the way down to the turquoise waters of Tanganyika. Most of the them were denuded of trees unfortunately. Farmers have cultivated fields that appeared nearly vertical along the contours of the land. I could see the massive erosion (slumped soil) caused by the summer rains from hill to hill. The only "wilderness" area I saw were the dense rainforests of Gombi National Park. That only lasted 30 minutes on the cruise.

Kagunga English School...

Took us nearly four hours to reach here, Kagunga. It appears to be a tiny village clinging to the slopes above the lake. Any time past 6 PM and it gets dark. There was time to hold an English class for a small group of kids that congregated around us. [ed. note: can't believe I taught these kids how to say "i have a nuclear weapon in my pants"].

Samuel and Jack: hunkering down at the Kagunga Hilton. I was a little worried about where we'd stay that night. Kagunga's pretty small.

Tomorrow: Bujumbura!!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Kigoma, Tanzania

Finally reached the port city of Kigoma after 4 days. [the geek inside me yells out S04 52.407 E29 37.898]. I need some zzzz's. Sometimes it's difficult to understand how exactly taxed your body is until a long stretch of travel comes to and end...

...Oguda, my roomie on the Liemba is quite the man about town. He had his car stowed down by the docks and was nice enough to drive me about town to find accommodation. Good thing he did. Kigoma is set amongst the hills and seems to go on for ever. Reminds me of the urban sprawl of Calgary.

I'm staying in a really nice, safe spot called St. Martha's Hostel run by the Kigoma Catholic Diocese. I've never stayed in a nunnery before but just my luck, eh?

I bought Oguda dinner at the Sun City Restaurant. Nice chicken dishes. Quite a few ex-pats dining as well. Kigoma seems to be NGO central. None of the ex-pats seem to want to interact. What's wrong? I'm a fellow white guy, eh? Anyways, so much for payin' for dinner. I forgot my cash back at the hostel. Oguda had to pay. So much for being a fat cat mzungu. We went back to the hostel. I paid him back plus a little bit for showing me around. I sensed be wanted more then I gave him. I didn't what to usual.

for January 23, click here...
for January 24, click here...

SS Liemba - Day 4

Mid-Lake rendezvous...
It's pissing down rain right now. Came down really hard last night as well, coupled with a pretty impressive light show. More stops for passengers and cargo. I hope this sucker doesn't sink. The ship is being buffeted by some pretty big waves.

We got word that the end is near. I've really enjoyed the voyage. The crew and fellow passengers have been really nice to me.

If it weren't for Oguda's computer, I think I would have went nuts. Just kidding.

Monday, January 21, 2008

SS Liemba - Day 3

Life, particularly in Africa, seems to hang on a thread. A delicate thread. Traveling the way I am, I can see up front sometimes the daily struggle to survive. It's probably beyond my scope of reality to fully comprehend how poor most of these folks are. But, getting back to the reality of the struggle, we got a dose of it today on the boat. The Liemba came across a partially submerged dhow (sail boat of questionable integrity). I was having lunch when the Liemba made a donut, and most of my fellow passengers piled onto the port side.

Clinging to the bottom of the dhow was a group of 3 adult men and 2 women. Floating nearby was the body of a young child. It was dead.

I made it to the deck late, but I saw quite a few rescuers floating about. News had it that they'd been in the water for 2 days before being found. A fourth adult male perished we encountered them. A sad day on the lake. Lots of people were crying.

I saw Saving Private Ryan and Platoon on Oguda's laptop today. It helps pass the time. The ship's progress is slow. The ship's hold is loaded but it's made numerous stops at tiny villages to pick up passengers and small loads. This happens at all hours of the day. The Liemba stops about 500 metres off shore and what seems like the entire village heads out to meet her in tiny boats.

I'm not in a hurry, but there's talk that we'll be arriving in Kigoma tomorrow night. That wouldn't be very good. I've adjusted to the rhythm of life on board. I've made alot of friends. I love it on board.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

SS Liemba - Day 2

Spent the night with the boat docked. Finally got out of Mpulung at 1030.

First class cabins consist of a couple of bunks, loset, a table/chair, a sink and mirror, plus a couple of cockroaches here and there. Very basic... worth 50 bucks? considering the alternative (a spot on a wooden bench and/or deck), it's a damn good deal.

the night went ok. The old hags camping outside the door wouldn't shut up for the longest time [ed. note: can't believe i wrote that. but Africans are really good communicators. they love talking. i swear if mzungus didn't have TV or video games they'd be good talkers as well. wow, talking to one another. that'd be a shocker]. However, the mellow tunes played by my roomie's laptop helped sooth the situation.

D-day on the Liemba. Ironic that the Liemba was orginally a german ship. that's my pal Oguda with his wondrous Dell puter.

My roomie's name is Oguda Joshua Robert. He's Zambian [actually he turned out to be Tanzanian, my bad] on his way to Kigoma (like the rest of us). He's working on his master's degree in environmental health administration in Lusaka via correspondence with the University of Leeds. He's a really nice guy. Loves his eighties musak. I made him change rooms today for no apparent reason. according to "gopher", the ship's purser, we're in a room with better air circulation now.

Docking in Kasanga, Tanzania

whole lotta cargo. get to work boys...while i go get some toilet paper...

tough, tough, tough job...

fit for the pit...
We're in Kasanga taking on a load right now. Kasanga is the first stop in Tanzania. It's been 6 hrs so far. People are mesmerized by the loading process. Most of it are bags of corn kernels. Except for the trucks and crane, it's all done by brute force. 90 kg Bag by 90 kg bag. These "cargo handlers" are built tough, working hour after hour, building neatly stacked piles for the crane to load into the cargo hold using a net.

Life as the lone mzungu took a turn for the worse today. I've noticed that the loo doesn't provide TP. It'd been 2 days since I've gone. I asked the ticket guy, Faust, where I can get some toilet paper. I know. That's weak. In all my travels, I just cannot do the left hand assist. I dunno why. There's no shop on board. Before I knew, Faust starts asking the deck on how the mzungu can get some TP. Really embarassing... Lots o laughs at my expense later, I hopped onto a motor bike and was taken, along a bumpy dirt road, to the closest village with a TP dispensary. I bought the biker a litre of gas and called it even.

Got to go use it before I suffer some kind of toxic septic explosion.

Weak, my friends.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Mpulungu, Zambia/SS Liemba

dude on the deck of the SS Liemba
Wahoo! I'm sitting here in the mess or dining hall of the "venerable" SS Liemba, the legendary ferry (appearing in Bogie's African Queen) that cruises the length of Lake Tanganyika (from Mpulungu, in the south, to Kigoma, Tanzania). They've got a dvd player blasting a concert collection of Bob Marley. That guy's ubiquitous.

I'm the only mzungu on board... that's good.

I don't think we're going anytime soon. The Liemba got in at around noon and they're still emptying the cargo hold at the front of the boat (bag by bag). It's 7 pm now. If we're lucky we'll be outta here at midnight. not holding my breath.

Alas, it's been a long day. I'm glad to be leaving Zambia. It's the most intolerant country so far. I'm not sure where all the anger stems from. Good grief, it's suppose to be a "Christian" country. What the hell happened. Today some guy at the motel, in Mpulungu, came right up to my face and said, "mzungu, where are your from?" The restaurant lady held him off. First time I've been addressed like that... It might get better in Tanzania. Can't get worse than this.

I was thinking back to what my friend Tulya, a Finnish aid worker in Mozambique, said about the African trait of being really jealous of those who are fortunate enough to have [something]. That must have a bit to do with the behaviour I've been observing lately...

Well, I better finish up writing. Some illiterate might see me writing and break my pen in half... [ed. note: I can't believe I wrote that. I apologize.]

Friday, January 18, 2008

Mpulungu, Zambia

for January 16th, click here...

What an awful name for an awful place I should have stayed in Lusaka [ed. note: i arrived early to ensure that i would catch the SS Liemba]. There's absolutely nothing here. Lk. Malawi was much nicer. At least there was something going on [there] - fisherman/beach.

I heard from the restaurant lady at the hotel that the Liemba has overstayed in Mpulungu an extra day for the last few trip. I hope not this time.

I'm really not enjoying myself. I went to a local eatery today just down the road. As usual, i was the only white guy (mzungu) there. I'm quite use to being stared at by now. It's the constant "mzungu", Nihon, Japanese references that are beginning to wear thin. Hell, I'm not even past the quarter way point of the trip. Relax, relax...

On the positive side of things, I got a call from LB/LG and their dad today! I spoke with my sis yesterday on the bus!! I love this phone...

Monday, January 14, 2008

lusaka, zambia

For January 15th, click here...

...I had another dead end conversation with a Zambian guy [at the guesthouse last night]. This time it was with an off duty cop at the guesthouse bar. Usually starts off with the same old pleasantries. Then he starts naming off a list of Zambian places where I should go visit (expensive places). He names Livingstone [town by victoria falls]. [then] i suggested that he should visit Vic Falls as well and partake in rafting. I said not to worry because there are "Zambian prices". He's clearly pissed off. He says he can't even afford the bus ticket. Ok, man, i get the point. Well, things deteriorated after that little terse comment. We go over my African itinerary once again. He sat there shaking his head at how "rich" I was. Totally pissed off, he turned his back to me and I don't hear another peep out of him. oh well, what was I supposed to do.

All conversations lately seem to tend this way. They usually ask for employment or a way out of the country. I hate it.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

sunday morning theatre...

a bunch of thoughts come to mind, including these:

1) someone's asking for a taaaaserrring...
2) if you can't beat them (bicyclists vs. car drivers), join 'em.
3) yellow jacketed bicyclists: move along people, nothing to see here.
4) yaabaa da ba dooooooo...

billary should be taking notes on how to handle hecklers in the crowd after watching lil' sadie in action. man, it's unbelievable she's getting flak from her classmate. if i was teaching, the heckler would have been warming hallway linoleum with his backside, pronto.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

year of the rat, part 2..

hmmm... abandoned bicycle... backpack contents strewn... must be a missing chinese guy.

despite what it looks like, there were only a few patches of snow/ice along the way. for BTOG overseas fans, that's the WID (western irrigation district) canal on the right. it provides water for dem farmers to the east of calgary. yes, there is a EID. note: should have brought my skates along.

at "the park". chestemere lake is just the WID dammed up. talk about dams, damn it was noisy out there with them redneck ATVers and skidooers. anywho, the "lake" is bedroom community. most inhabitants either commute to the city for work or tend to their basement grow-ops. ah, gotta love livin' in the country, eh.

the WID path was sparsely populated that day, until the paparazzi showed up.

dang it's lonely out on the lone you can see the path was mostly clear of snow.

alright, i had a chance to rock out with my girlfren jessica simpson this past weekend. a quickie vay cay out in strathmore to be specific.

instead i chose to spend time with my friends at bikeclub and head out to chestemere. i could not let the team down.

my impression of the trip: dang, it da tundra out there in january. i figured if i couldn't hack blizzard like conditions or permafrost i didn't deserve to be a canadian.

ok, it was a beauty day out there. a handful of degrees above freezing. dead calm. the only wind going through my luxuriant locks o' hair was the one created by slick moves of my bike.

seriously, it was a really good time. winter biking? bring it on...

dunno if the cold numbed our brains or it was just mine, but we came up with this idea of converting the WID canal into the world's longest skating rink.

all we need are couple of zambonies and a load of smart investors.

Monday, January 07, 2008

year of the rat, part 1...

bikeclub in front of "the chief"...



sunset over the frozen water supply...

had alot of fun last weekend, eh.

managed to go biking with soapydave and gina, eh. felt a bit nippy outside but, dressed appropriately, it felt like hawaii out on the tundra.

made it out to the new native american, aboriginal, first nations, indigenous peoples casino located on the western outskirts of town.

i went in and had a look around the premises.

very, very, very nice interior. lots of blinking lights. lots of happy and sad customers. lots of old folks playing the one armed bandits, eh. lots of cigarette smoke wafting in the air.

and how about those washrooms? immaculate.

one con though. no bike racks. i spoke to the armed guard/manager outside about that. i told him, 'dude, bicyclists are big-time gamblers'. they're gonna think about getting racks. maybe in the spring. wahoo...chalk one up for bicyclists!!

one more tip: build a singin' palace for celine. i'll be first in line for tix.

had to bug out fast 'cause it the sun was settin'. man, it was only 3 PM or so. i thought the days were getting longer, eh?

movie review: brick (2005).

not to be confused with the brick furniture store, brick (2005) was perhaps the best film noire i've seen in years. simply delicious. a masterpiece. humour was sardonic as it gets.

dudes, who the hell am i kidding? i felt like a mouth-breathing Luddite after the viewing.

i dunno get it.

i'm sorry.

do i recommend? yes, with 2 caveats.

1) before watching, get a good night sleep, avoid rigorous exercise and eating a heavy but delicious meal (thanx soapydave/gina).

2) have available a star trek-type universal translating device that converts mumbling, jive, detective lingo, and metaphors to plain english.

if the above don't help out, fforward to the last 5 minutes of the film.

bonus review: bridge on the river kwai (1957).

obi wan kenobi goes off deep end. you know. obi wan goes for a walk on the dark side.

whoops. too much detail.

bridge at first glance was pretty slow for a war movie. i almost drifted off but hung in there. my frail attention span was rewarded with a spine tingling, barn burner of an end to the film.

the brilliant alec guiness, played a washed up british colonel WWII POW, leading his fellow POW's in constructing the bridge for their nasty japanese taskmasters. his character was soooo weak, succumbing to old school pride and prejudice in the building process, it made me sick.

william holden held his own as the token smart ass american. there's one in every crowd, eh. ha!

definitely give this one a chance. it's a freebie dvd rental at the local liberry.