one fiasco after another

so far in this trip, we’ve been pretty lucky w/ flights. we haven’t missed a flight (yet) and everything has gone pretty much according to plan. but, when you plan on taking 4 flights in just 3 days, something is bound to go wrong along the way. I knew that the 3 day ordeal we’d be going through wouldn’t be easy, and I knew that we’d be exhausted by the end of it, but I didn’t expect that there would be crazy problems at every single turn. I don’t know if I just had bad luck or what…


the plan was to get from Africa to south America for the least amount of money. after spending hours and hours and hours comparing flight prices etc online, we bought tickets and had a plan that should work. as I mentioned before, here was the plan:

fly Mombassa, Kenya to Frankfurt, Germany: 8 hours
sleep in Frankfurt airport
fly Frankfurt, Germany to fort Myers, Florida: 10 hours
rent car. drive from fort Myers to Miami, sleep in Miami
fly Miami, Florida to panama city: 3 hours
fly panama city to Buenos Aires, Argentina: 7 hours

it seemed like it might be a pain, but doable. unfortunately though, our problems started before we even started the journey.

the credit card fiasco

when I booked the last set of tickets, I got an ominous message. it said that my reservation was confirmed, but my credit card had declined the transaction due to insufficient funds and so they would have to try my card again. uh-oh. quickly I checked my bank account. plenty of funds. what the hell? something wasn’t right here but I couldn’t tell what it was. the only option was to call my bank, but calls to the US cost $2 a minute! by the time I got stuff resolved, I’d be broke. so I thought of a plan, I’d instant message my parents at home and have them call the bank for me to fix things. perfect! the one problem was that it was still 5am in California and my parents wouldn’t be awake yet. so, i decided to get a shave while i waited.

the haircut fiasco

Joey hadn’t ever gotten a shave at a barbershop, and i had told him he’s gotta try it at least once. so, neither of us shaved for a few days, and we went down to the barber that cut Joey’s hair last week. i went first. as i sat down in the chair, he asked me if i wanted a haircut vas well. i thought about it, and remembering that joey´s hair looked really good, i decided to just go for it. bad mistake. this guy had no clue how to cut hair. no clue at all. he gets out the clippers, and just starts going crazy with them. seriously, he used the clippers for like 20 minutes straight. i was beginning to wonder if he would even use the scissors at all. he even used the clippers *on the top of my head*!! who the hell does that?! unless you want a damn buzzcut, there is no reason to use clippers on the top and front of someone’s hair.

about 5 minutes into it, i realized that i had made a huge mistake. but what could i do? i couldn’t just leave after half a haircut. i just had to sit there and endure the rest of it. i watched in horror as more and more of my hair was gone. meanwhile, Joey and Caryn were making shocked faces at me in the mirror. finally, the guy started actually using scissors, but by then it was too late, my hair looked like crap. obviously this guy only had experience cutting Kenyans´ hair, which is completely different than cutting mine. ugh.

the shaving fiasco

when he was finally done w/ my hair, it was time for the shave. well, this part he wouldn’t mess up right?? wrong. he started shaving me… WITH THE CLIPPERS!! i was totally in shock. what the hell was this guy doing?! it was hurting and my neck and chin were not doing so good. i thought all barbers used straight razors? so, i turn to him and ask if he’s going to use the clippers for the whole shave. he assures me that he’s only starting w/ the clippers, and that he will change to something else after that.

i didn’t know what to do. part of me wanted to just tell him to stop and then get up and leave. but i felt bad. i decided to wait and see what happened. bad idea. once he finished w/ the clippers, he brought out… an electric shaver. what! dude, if i wanted to shave w/ an electric shaver i could just do it myself. i sure as hell don’t need a barber for that. ugh. plus, i hate using electric razors, they totally irritate my skin. so i tell him no. no thanks, I’ll just shave by myself later. he cant seem to understand why, so i tell him that i didn’t realize he’d be using an electric razor. so he says no problem, opens the drawer… and pulls out a plastic bic razor. sheeez. i tell him no. i don’t need to be shaved w/ a plastic bic.

i was getting out of the chair, when he finally understood what i wanted. he went in the back and got a straight razor. but by this time i was worried. this guy obviously doesn’t usually use this thing. does he even know how to do it? is it a good idea to let this guy attack my neck with a sharp utensil that he doesn’t know how to operate? i had major doubts, but he assured me that he knew how to use it… although i wasn’t sure if he was saying that he “has used it for 5 years” or “hasn’t used it in 5 years”. yikes. but, once again, i was stupid, and didn’t want to offend him by saying i didn’t trust him, and i said ok.

from the moment he started, i could tell he had no clue what he was doing. I’ve gotten a shave at a barbershop a few times now, and this guy was absolutely incompetent compared to the others. he went really slowly and it was obvious he was nervous. he didn’t even stretch the skin on my face like is required. oh god… what had i done. a while later, he was finished and shockingly he hadn’t cut me and i had no major wounds. amazing. i thought that maybe after all he wasn’t so bad… until i looked in the mirror. OMG! really, it looked like i hadn’t shaved in 2 or 3 days. a total mess. ugh.

after the haircut, we go once again to have dinner at the splendid view restaurant. damn… the chicken is just too good!

the plane ticket fiasco

after the haircut, i ran to the internet to contact my parents. the connection was so bad that i could barely talk on messenger. it took ages between messages, and i couldn’t tell if my parents were saying anything. so i ran to a different internet cafe. unfortunately, this one wasn’t any better. my dad called the bank for me and it turned out that for some reason, there was a limit on my debit card that i never knew i had. why would there be a limit on how much money i can withdraw from my own account?! isn’t that the point of a debit card, that it’s from your own account? anyways, they raised my limit so that i could buy the tickets.

i now asked my dad to call the airline company and tell them my card is fine. but, when he called, they told him that my reservation was canceled and to just start over. so, i went online, found some other tickets, and was just about to purchase them… when Caryn said i should get a written confirmation from them that my ticket was cancelled. so, i ask my dad, and to my total shock, he’s on the phone w/ the airline, and they are re-issuing my tickets!! what?! well, good thing i hadn’t already bought the tickets i was buying online or i would now have *2* sets of tickets to the same place.

while I’m waiting, i decide to check the online page for the reservation they are issuing. for some insane reason, the time on my reservation changes to 7am!! what??! the lady at the agency is changing my flight time without letting me know!! i frantically try to reach my dad on messenger to tell him to not let the lady do this. but, the internet connection is so horrible, that after typing a bunch of messages, it turns out yahoo messenger disconnected. OMG!! i frantically try to reconnect over and over, and finally get through to my dad. t his back and forth goes on for almost 45 minutes, due to the painfully slow connection. but finally, it looks like everything is taken care of and my dad has saved the day. the tickets are now fine.

the last night with Joey

sadly enough, this was the last night we’d see Joey. it sucked that we couldn’t spend more time with him by staying, but in the end, he’s probably better off to get to venture out into Africa alone and have some crazy solo adventures. the next day was going to be spent getting up early and stuff, but there was no way i wasn’t going to kick it w/ Joey on our last night here. we spent the night going to bar after bar after bar. the first bar was kind of cool but *insanely* loud to the point where you couldn’t hear yourself talk whatsoever.

so, we then went to the bar across the way. there we were bothered by the usual amount of hookers. one particularly angry somalian one, would talk to us all nice, and then all of a sudden get pissed off and start swearing at us. it was like dr jeckyll and mr hyde. nice, angry, nice, angry. at one point she says “look at this” and whips out one boob. omg! Joey frantically started telling he to put it away. this was our cue to leave, so we finished our beers and went.

next we hit up the jambo casino, where this local guy talked to us for a long time. he was a bit drunk, so he just went on and on, but what he was saying was actually interesting, so we were glad. in the end, like many other people we’ve talked to, he begged us to go back to America and tell people about his country. his country needed help badly he said. i never know what to say to people when they tell me this. what can i do? I’m just Vlad. no one in my government is going to listen to me. what, am i gonna call up George bush and tell him my thoughts about Kenya? to so many people, I’m like an emissary from the USA. i wish i could do something for them. i really do.

after the bar closed, we went top one last bar, this one several floors up and overlooking the city. it was a really nice place, though empty, and was a good way to end the evening. we talked a bunch about the trip, how it had been, what Joey thought about Africa, etc etc. eventually, the bartender started chatting w/ us too. he had the same message… go back, tell your people about Kenya. tell them how we live. please.

eventually, we stumbled back to the hotel and went to sleep.

Day 1

the next morning, i woke up totally exhausted, threw my stuff together, and headed out. Joey walked us to a cab where we said goodbye. it was sad to be splitting up. spending a lot of time together, definitely brings you closer together. having crazy experiences w/ someone definitely brings you closer together. and drinking copious amounts of alcohol does too. put all three of those together, over a period of a whole month on the road, and it was sucky to know that the next time we saw Joey wouldn’t be for a few months. oh well… that’s life when you travel.

the glasses fiasco

the previous day, when i got my haircut, i accidentally forgot my glasses at the barber shop. doh! when we swung by there later that evening, the place was shut, so my only option was to try to swing by there today on the way to the airport and pray that they were open. to my total shock, i was in luck, the place was open. i ran inside, and asked the barber about my glasses. the barber, moving at a bit slower than snail’s pace, wandered around the shop, opening drawers etc, trying to find the glasses. i was frantic, since we were in a huge hurry, the cab was waiting outside, and if i didn’t get my glasses now, i would not have them for the next 2 months while traveling. i had already lost one pair of glasses on the trip, and i couldn’t afford to spend another few hundred bucks for more.

the barber obviously didn’t share my desire to hurry, and searched as slowly as humanly possible, until finally saying that he couldn’t find them and that possibly they were locked in a desk drawer. he slowly and cautiously dialed his phone to try to reach someone who had a key to the desk. then he even slower informs me that his phone wasn’t working. i wanted to strangle the guy. first he ruins my hair, messes up my shave, and now he is being useless trying to recover my glasses. finally, i tell him that i have to leave. I tell him that my friend Joey is coming in 30 minutes to pick up the glasses, and he better have someone down here to open the drawer by then. and then i rush to the cab and off to the airport.

the missing ticket fiasco

we arrive at the airport, go through security, and rush to the airline desk to check in. they look at our passports. there was a bunch of talking back and forth in Swahili. we are asked to wait. the guy goes into the back office. he returns. “i am sorry, there are no tickets here under your names”. WHAT!!! you gotta be kidding. i tell him there must be a mistake. we bought the tickets online. we even got email confirmation from them saying the tickets would be waiting for us here in the airport. he insists we are not on any lists he has. I tell him that maybe he missed something and ask if I can check the list. he is insulted. “i work here. i check these lists daily. i *know* how to check the lists. don’t tell me you know better than me how to check”. great. what can we do now. they say we cant board the flight.

we start totally panicking. now normally, if we missed a flight, it would suck… but it would be bearable. we’d probably just work it out w/ the airline afterwards and book a flight for the next day. but this time, we were connecting to a flight from Frankfurt and then connecting to a flight from Miami. if we missed this flight, all of our other tickets would be ruined as well. this was unbelievable. how could the airline do this to us. we told the guy to call the airline. he said that no one would be there at 9am on a Saturday morning, but reluctantly he agreed to try. after stressing like crazy for another 15 minutes, he finally came out to tell us that the airline confirmed that we should indeed be on this flight. for some reason they just hadn’t sent our names in to the airport. phew. crisis averted.

a few minutes later, Joey arrived at the airport w/ my glasses. i was totally shocked, since i really hadn’t expected the barbershop to actually get the drawer open on time. so lucky!!

the postcard fiasco

i had some postcards that i had bought and needed to send off. it wouldn’t be a big deal except that I had like 6$ in Kenyan stamps that would be worthless as soon as I left the country. i had planned to have these written earlier, so i could send them off in town, but i didn’t end up doing it. i was surprised to find a post office in the airport, so i frantically started writing postcards as fast as i could. the whole time I’m running back and forth from the ticket desk to the condor office and back and running outside to meet joy, and I’m scribbling these damn postcards as fast as possible. I’m sure everything i wrote was crap, but hey, at least i got it done.

the second missing ticket fiasco

after 8 hours on the plane, we arrived in Frankfurt. we decided to go and get our boarding cards for tomorrow’s flight so that we wouldn’t get any early morning surprises like last time. well, surprise, they didn’t have our names in the computer. again. seriously, i don’t know what is wrong with his damn airline. how could they mess up our tickets *twice*. after the guy left for a while to go check w/ the office, he came back to say that we were in the computer, just our first and last names were reversed so he couldn’t find them. he issued our boarding cards.

the Frankfurt airport fiasco

at this point we had a dilemma to figure out. Frankfurt is not a cheap city. it would cost like 20$ for us to take the train into town, and then another 60 to 70$ to get a room. that seemed like a bit much to pay for this stopover. so we decided that we would just stay in the airport till the next day when our flight left. i had always kind of wanted to sleep in an airport just to see what it was like, so here was our chance. we had some McDonalds, got on the internet to take care of some reservations for Miami, and then went to look for a place to sleep. Caryn had done some research on the web for good places to sleep, and we followed the directions to a long and fairly deserted hallway. nice cushy seats with no armrests so you could just lay across the whole thing. i usually have trouble sleeping, even in comfy beds, so i worried that i might not get a good night’s sleep. but i just shoved earplugs in my ears as far as they could go, and with the blaring airport announcements sufficiently blocked out, i put on my sleeping mask and passed out.

i while later, i woke up from the cold. do i wear my pillow (sweatshirt)? would i rather be warm or comfortable? luckily though, Caryn found some airline blankets and pillows, and soon i was asleep again. other than being awakened once by the cleaning zamboni, i slept really well. surprisingly well. i finally woke up in the morning, and discovered that our deserted hallway was full of rushing people, walking to catch their flights. I’m surprised I slept through it all. i got up and walked through the airport to go wash my face. i started thinking how weird it would be to run into someone i know here by accident. ” oh hi! how’s it going. sorry i look so disheveled, I’ve been sleeping here on the airport. yeah, I’ve been on the road for a year and I’m taking off for Buenos Aires in a few hours…”. what a life!

Day 2

the guidebook fiasco

we still didn’t have a guidebook for south America. actually, we still had no clue what we wanted to do in south America at all. we had been hoping to get a guidebook to read on the plane, but no luck. we tried 4 or 5 different bookstores in the airport (yes, the airport is HUGE), but although they all had *tons* of lonelyplanets, none of them had one for south America. it really sucked that we would be arriving in Buenos Aires totally clueless. then, I noticed this little machine thing that had an electronic listing of all the shops in the airport… and it had a phone!! so, we picked up the phone and started calling all of the bookshops here (there were at least 25) one at a time. sweet! one of them had the book we needed. so, i rush off to go get it. of course, I get totally lost, it takes me forever to get the book and then the security line is long as hell to get back in. for some reason, we have to go through security *3* times to get to our flight. by this point we’re running really late, and freaking out a bit.

the wheel fiasco

we breathlessly run up to our gate, only to find out that our flight is delayed. there is some issue w/ one of the wheels. half an hour later, they announce that our flight will be delayed even further. arrghh! eventually though, we finally board, and we’re off. the flight was 10 hours. even normally that would be a really sucky flight, but having it the very next day after an 8 hour flight, made it all the more crappy. humans just aren’t meant to sit still for that long.

the Fort Myers airport fiasco

we stepped off the plane in Fort Myers, and it felt really crazy to be there. wow. after a whole year abroad, here we were, back in America. first we had to get through immigration. I’ve crossed a lot of borders during this trip. I’ve entered at least 25 countries by now. but I’ve *never* seen he kind of measures they have here. fingerprinting and photographing?! sure, i mean, i understand the reasoning for this etc, but it was still so weird to see. no other country does this kind of thing. if i was a foreigner coming into America and had to deal w/ this, i gotta say I’d probably be annoyed. the immigrations official asked me if i was carrying over $10,000 on me. ha!! yeah, right. i wish.

next step, baggage claim. we wait for our luggage. and wait. and wait. 30 minutes later, we’re still sitting there. there is no more new luggage on the belt. what the hell happened to our bags??! eventually the conveyor belt stops. that’s it. 20 or more people, including us, are still standing around looking confused. where the hell are our bags?! people are throwing tantrums and yelling at the airport workers. finally, it turns out that there is a whole other pallet full of luggage on our plane that they just happened to not notice. a huge thing full of at least 30 suitcases?!! and they just didn’t notice it?! finally, later we get our bags and go.

the driving to Miami fiasco

we picked up our car, and moments later, we were rushing down the freeway on the way to Miami. wow, this was so weird. first off, it was weird to be traveling like normal people, i.e. renting a car, having a real hotel with a reservation and everything. second off, it was SO WEIRD to be back in America. all the things that had been so familiar before, now seemed foreign and bizarre. where were the dirt roads, the cows, and everything else we had been used to for the last year. what was this bizarre and strange country we were in? everything looked so clean. huge 6 lane freeways. everywhere we looked there were strip malls, Target, outlet sores, Bank of America, etc etc. honestly, i gotta say that being here was very surreal. it was strange to be driving around and seeing lots of cars… but no people. in any other country, if you are on a major road, there will be people everywhere. not here though. the only people around were isolated and hidden i their cars. and the cars themselves! so *new* looking and shiny! nothing like the dirty rust buckets we’ve been looking at all year. all year, most cars we’ve seen were all banged up, unwashed and old. here they were all so spotless. and so huge! SUVs everywhere.

all of this was just too weird. all these things that had been apart of my life for so long when i lived here, just seemed strange and foreign to me now. i had almost forgotten that this was how my country is. even just driving around in a car seemed weird to me. somewhere, in the back of my memory, it seemed like this should all be familiar.. but it really didn’t feel like it was. i felt like i was leading someone else’s life.. but that someone else was just a past version of me… a past version that i was no longer completely in touch with. driving up to gas stations, asking people for directions, or asking to get change to use the phone, all these things that I’ve done a million times before, now seemed weird to me. i was nervous and apprehensive. i was a bit afraid of talking to people. who are these people? and, believe it or not, after feeling perfectly calm and ok in nairobbery and other crazy 3rd world towns, for the first time in a long time i thought “is it safe here? am i in a sketchy part of town?”.

we drove through Florida as fast as the speed limit would allow towards Miami. the highway we were on was called “alligator alley”, yet there were no gators to be seen. we were tired. no, not tired, exhausted, and overwhelmed too. it had been a long two days. we just wanted some food and sleep. yet, the 2 hour drive to Miami seemed to take ages. another problem was we didn’t really have a map. the sorry excuse for a map the rental agency had given us didn’t have most of the highways marked. eventually we made it to Miami, and then stopped and got directions to Miami beach where we would be staying.

if i thought being back in Florida was weird… Miami beach was a million times weirder. it is such a *scene* down there. everyone wandering around and strutting their stuff. it seemed almost comical and a bit bizarre. this was no where i would like to spend my one and only day back home. but we had no choice. we checked into our hotel, which conveniently had no parking so we had to feed a meter quarters till midnight. we got some food at jerry’s deli although we were too tired to enjoy it. well, almost top tired to enjoy it, i still was really glad to have a Monte Cristo sandwich, although the super chipper and chatty waiter was driving me crazy and i could barely follow what he was saying. finally, we went back to our room. wow! we actually had a room w/ cable TV and everything… but we were just too exhausted. we passed out w/out even turning the TV on.

Day 3

the resort fee fiasco

we had to wake up at 9am to feed the meter. well, it was actually a good idea to wake up early anyway since we had stuff to do. the guy at the hotel desk tried to charge us a resort fee of 5$, even though we had paid a 10$ resort fee when we made our reservation online. what the hell? why is it that every single thing we had bought online had issues?!

the errands fiasco

our flight was at 2pm and we had tons to do. we needed to mail a ton of junk home since shipping should be cheaper from Miami than from a foreign country, we needed to eat, and we still needed one more guidebook. first stop, Taco Bell. ok, i find it a bit bizarre and distressing just how utterly excited we were to go to taco bell. no normal human should be this excited about taco bell of all things. and yet we were overjoyed. we couldn’t wait. we got directions online, and drove there, talking the whole time about how excited we were. we agonized over what we would order since this would be the only time we get taco bell in a year. we got our food. my first thought was that this would be a huge disappointment. after all, this was *just* taco bell. how good could it be? I’m sure we must have somehow hyped it up in our minds a lot during our one year’s absence. but you know what, we weren’t disappointed at all. it was DAMN good. it must be the hot sauce. they must put crack or some other addictive substance in the hot sauce, cause it just aint right to crave this stuff so much.

next we hit the post office. they didn’t have any normal boxes, so we had to buy a gift box, and we quickly tried to pack things as fast as we could. ion the end, it turned out that it’s really damn expensive to send stuff from the US. and, bizarrely enough, it would be cheaper for us to send this priority mail than regular. w/ priority mail you get a free box, but since we had already used their box, we still had to pay for their damn gift box. after spending too much $$, we went to the bookstore to buy some guidebooks. eventually, we were ready to set off for the airport.

the “Miami just went insane” fiasco

the last thing we needed to do was get gas for our rental car before dropping it off. we drove to the gas station. holy crap!! there was HUGE line to buy gas. the next gas station also had one, and the next did too. everyone was frantically trying to buy gas. huh? I’m still not sure why. the news had announced that gas prices had dropped 8 cents. were people really that desperate to save the 80 cents that they all needed to stand in line for a long time?! after waiting forever, we got gas, but to leave the station, we had to drive through a grocery store parking lot. the place was totally gridlocked. everyone was buying groceries. it was the middle of the day on a Monday. what the hell?? was everyone preparing for the hurricane that might be headed to Florida? I don’t know, but it was crazy. the parking lot had become… well a parking lot. you couldn’t drive through it. too many shoppers and too many cars. arggghhh! get us the hell out of here!! finally, we escaped and drove to the airport.

yet another airport fiasco

our airport woes were not over of course. we tried to check in at copa airlines. the check in area seemed to be a mess and it took forever to get to the front as all the working people seemed to be on the phone or not helping customers. when we checked in, it turned out that for some reason, even though we had chosen seats online, the airline had no record of it. and, they did not have anymore seats together, so Caryn and I would be sitting separately. grrrrrr! this was for the first leg. on the second leg, we could sit together, but couldn’t have the window seat we asked for. sheez. so we finished checking in, and our baggage was hauled off to security.

we proceeded to security, where the chick marked us both for the “random” inspection. how is it random, if we both got sent there? sounds like we were flagged to be searched for some reason, but i don’t know why. i haven’t flown through an American airport in a while, but the searches were crazy! the girls had to spread their legs and then get felt up everywhere including around their breasts and then the guard asks them to pull their pants out so she can peek inside. really, it was like some lesbian prison movie or something. crazy.

we get on the next flight. it’s just 3 hours to panama. we disembark. we wait around for another hour. we get on our last flight. this one is another 7 hours. by this point, i just cant take it. I’m completely spent. absolutely exhausted. 28 hours on planes in the last 3 days. i couldn’t sleep cause i wasn’t comfortable, but i couldn’t coherently stay awake either. i was miserable. i was beat. i just wanted off this damn plane. would this never end?! what were we thinking when we decided on this route. argggghhhhh!

our final airport fiasco

we finally landed. i was so happy to get off the plane. but tired. oh, so tired. we got our bags. huh? our locks were jacked. apparently, our luggage had also been marked for a “random” check. they had opened our locks, mangled Caryn´s lock, and being unable to open one of mine, had been kind enough to just completely chop off the zipper on my small backpack. now there would be no way of locking it for the next 2 months. thanks USA! thanks A LOT!

so, it’s 5am, and we’re in Buenos Aires. it’s still too early to go into town. so we go to the airport cafe to kill some time for an hour. so tired, but we somehow manage to wait the hour. then we call, reserve a room, take the 45 minute shuttle into town, and collapse on our new bed. oh my god…. it was SO nice to have finally arrived. what an ordeal. i couldn’t believe we were actually here….


africa in review…

all in all I ended up spending about one and a half months in Africa. initially I had planned on seeing Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania, but in the end I never got to Uganda, although I did add Ethiopia in there. I had great expectations for Africa. for me, in so many ways, it seemed like it would be the final frontier. I though it would be the most hardcore part of the journey and that I would see things there like I had never seen before. in some ways that is true, the safaris I went on were absolutely incredible and I saw an unbelievable amount of animals etc. this was definitely the highlight of east Africa.

I’ll have to admit though, that other than the safaris that I went on, I was a bit disappointed in Africa. I mean, yeah, I still had a good time of course, it did have a lot to offer, but I cant say that I felt as excited or passionate about it as I had Asia, India, or the middle east. it definitely wasn’t as crazy of an adventure as I hoped it would be. Africa was good… but it wasn’t spectacular. for one thing, I think maybe part of the problem was that it was expensive. it wasn’t nearly as expensive as Europe or Japan, but it was much more expensive than Asia, and I don’t really think that this high cost was warranted. honestly, the hotels, restaurants, etc were not any better than Asia (if not actually worse) yet they were often 4 or 5 times the cost. because of this high expense, I wasn’t able to do quite as much stuff here as I hoped. safaris were crazy expensive, climbing Kilimanjaro was crazy expensive, diving was crazy expensive. in the end, I had to avoid all these activities because of the price tag, whereas in Asia I did as much as I pleased. plus, in Asia I often felt like I could get a lot out of it without even doing any activities, whereas here I felt like unless I was on safari or whatnot, I wasn’t sure what to do.

I don’t know why this is so. how can Africa get away with charging so much for everything? Africa is less developed than say Thailand, yet they charge way more. I think maybe part of the problem is that Africa is far. it’s far to travel to, and flights to get there are expensive. this keeps a lot of budget travelers away. most of the people that come here are probably rather well off if they can afford the expensive tickets and can afford the expensive safaris, so the hotels feel like they can easily charge huge prices since their customers can afford it.

and in other ways… often I got the feeling like these places just didn’t care about business. I’m not sure why. waiters at restaurants would do a crappy job, or mess up your order w/ no apology. hotels would screw you over, and when you tell them you’re leaving and wouldn’t give them business, they just shrug. it really seemed like they didn’t care whether you came or went. the prices would be huge, the hotel would be empty, but they would still rather you just walk away than give you a discount. it’s very bizarre.

plus, the food there was not very good. in some ways, food might not be the most important part of visiting a place, but still, I love good food and I love trying new kinds of food as I travel. when you spend day after day of eating stuff that’s boring, it gets to you after a while.

the exception to my Africa experience was Ethiopia. Ethiopia was like it’s own world, and completely different than east Africa. I had decided to add Ethiopia in at the last minute, and I’m so glad I did. out of the 3 African countries, this is where I felt like I was really living an adventure. here I was really traveling off the beaten path and seeing things that were really uncommon. seeing all the different tribes and how they lived was incredibly fascinating.

through my trip, I’ve seen a lot of villages. most countries have tours where they take you to a village to see “village life”, but unfortunately often you kind of feel like this little village was practically set up just to be shown to tourists. it was hard to see if this was how the people really lived. not in Ethiopia. there I *really* felt like I was out in the middle of nowhere. people out there really lived a completely different life, and it was hardly influenced or even touched by the outside world. these people still followed traditions that have been handed down for centuries, still lived in their tribal ways, and were still often surprised to see foreigners.

the people of Ethiopia were really friendly and interesting, and I really enjoyed interacting with them. all the children that would come running out while screaming “you!you!you!” were so cute and funny. yeah, almost everyone we met asked us for money… but I really never got the feeling like this was all they wanted. I think they just figured they may as well ask since lots of foreigners might give them a handout. but once they asked, and we said no, they would still continue to talk with us and were genuinely interested in interacting.

Ethiopia was definitely difficult travel. the hardest so far I’d say. horrible roads, dirty hotels, no running water, etc etc… but all these adversities actually made it all that more interesting. I don’t like taking the easy route. it´s always the difficult path that is most rewarding.

so that’s it for Africa. too bad I only saw 3 countries. I still really want to go to Uganda, and see the gorillas. I would love to go to Zimbabwe and Sudan, two countries that, the more I hear about them, the more interesting they sound. I guess there’s always a next time.

now let’s see what South America has in store for me…


our last weeks in africa

I never got to post about our last week in Africa so, picking up from where I left off in Mombassa…


after the long night at Casablanca, Joey and I were too exhausted the next day to leave Mombassa. we decided to stay an extra day and take it easy. al of us had some errands to run, so we split up. I spent my time in an internet cafe cursing at the mind-bogglingly slow connection, while I helped put together a website for someone. Joey got a haircut, which is something he had been wanting to do for a while. the night before, at the club Casablanca, he had met a prostitute who said that she worked in a “saloon” cutting hair. he told her that he needed a haircut, got her number, and called her the following day. unfortunately, after waiting for 2 hours, the girl never showed, and Joey went to a regular hair salon. I wonder what kind of crazy story he would have had if the girl had really taken him back to her “saloon”.

that night we went to the movies and saw “hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy”. I cant say I really liked it. before the movie started, they played the usual film strip of a flag and everyone had to stand for the national anthem. it really shocks me how horrible this filmstrip is. it was obviously shot ages ago, and the screen flickers, part of the flag is off of the screen, and the whole thing just looks awful. you’d think they could make a replacement movie with decent sound and picture quality. how hard is it to shoot a movie of a waving flag?! before the movie started, some people behind us were marveling about what a nice theater we were in. they were totally impressed. I looked around. this was considered one of the best theaters in Kenya, but really it wasn’t anything special. not a huge screen. seats weren’t anything special. sound wasn’t anything special. yet, this place was really impressive to people here. it really makes me think how spoiled we are back home. abroad, so many people marvel about things that for us are just common place. often, we don’t even realize how good we have it.

later, we went back to the splendid view restaurant even though we had just eaten there the day before. the tandoori chicken there was just too good.

the next several days we spent in Malindi, a small town up the coast. we spent the week doing pretty much nothing… but to be honest, it was actually really nice doing just that. the town is near the beach, but we only saw the beach once, and even that was just a for a few minutes and we didn’t go in the water. the only water we went into was the pool at our hotel. we were staying at this place which was really nice, much nicer than what we’d been staying at recently, but tourism was not doing so good here, and they had given us rooms for half off. we spent some of our days lounging by the pool, reading and swimming, and other days just walking through town. actually, the first day in town, we ended up staying at this Lutheran hotel and we felt really awkward the whole time, afraid to talk loudly or drink alcohol, so we moved the next day. one night, inexplicably, we heard all these explosions, and came outside to see some fireworks.

food in town was pretty decent, although a bit expensive. there is a huge Italian influence here, and most of the people we saw vacationing here were Italians. most resorts and restaurants too are owned by Italians. I think I tried 5 or 6 different lasagnas in as many restaurants. one night I got a whole crab at this nice seafood place. this monster was SO difficult to eat. it took me ages, and Joey and caryn stared at me laughing at my problems. we drank tons of passion fruit juice, and I’ve realized that this is one of the best kinds of juice ever. the one thing we pretty much never ate here, or anywhere in east Africa, was local food. I don’t know why. we just couldn’t be bothered to actually get it, and the few times that we did, it really wasn’t that good. one time I got Nyoma Choma, which is barbecued meat. it was *terrible*. literally inedible. I would put a piece in my mouth, chew, chew more, keep chewing, but there was no way to get through it, and each bite I would have to spit out. it was disgusting.

I definitely got the feeling that tourism here had taken a really big dive. people on the streets seemed desperate to sell safaris, bracelets, or anything else they thought people might want to buy. shops were empty. restaurants were empty. bars were empty. empty, empty, empty. in addition to taxis, there are tuk-tuks here which was kind of fun and exciting, but these too seemed desperate and hurting for business.

we did end up taking one excursion from town. we went to the gedi ruins. these are these old ruins about an hour out of town. to be honest, none of us were really all that thrilled by the ruins. they were cool, but nothing all that special. or maybe it was just so hot that we weren’t up to being excited. we did see some really cool monkeys there though, some new species that I have never seen before. we spent some time wandering around and then left.

we took a Matatu both from and to the ruins. heh, riding these matatus is so crazy. they really have no respect for the rules of the road, safety, or anything else. it would be totally hilarious if the consequences weren’t so serious. we’re blazing down the road, narrowly avoiding other vehicles, swerving around vans, passing cars while going around blind turns uphill, swerving off the road to avoid potholes, etc etc. during this whole time, the driver and others in the front are chewing chaat (the plant that is like a mild version of speed), playing blaring reggae, and going as fast as they can. all of a sudden, there’s a `police check ahead. music is turned off. the chaat gets hidden under the seat. the driver yells at everyone to put their seatbelts on. we pull off the road, looking the epitome of innocent law abiding citizens. the policeman waves us on. 30 seconds later, the driver throws his seat belt off, cranks up the music, pulls out the chaat and it’s like the party has started again. too funny.

there is an area of town where there are tons of souvenir shops. Joey had been wanting to buy souvenirs for days, and we wanted some too, so we all went down there. the situation down there was insane. since everyone was desperate for business, once you stepped inside a shop, you could barely leave. people would literally grab your hand and try to not let you go. everyone kept trying to force us into their shops, begging and pleading. it was mentally exhausting. we didn’t want to offend people, and there were some shops that honestly looked crappy from the outside, but we went inside anyways, just to be polite. it was rough.

these people know how to bargain, and we had to battle hard to get good prices. it’s funny, when I went to Thailand a few years back, I had never bargained before. bargaining scared me, and I was shy about it. I didn’t want to offend people by offering a price to low. I wanted to be “fair”. I remember being impressed how Tom seemed to be so good at it and could get some really damn low prices, while I never got hardly any discount. well, I’ve gotten much better at it. this time, I was able to swing some pretty good deals. the thing is, there’s no reason to feel bad at offering a low price. the seller doesn’t feel bad about offering you a high price, so why should you feel bad? the thing is, no one would sell you something unless they are making money. they just wouldn’t, so no matter how low of a price you offer, if the vendor accepts it, that means he is profiting, and so there’s no need to feel bad.

it is pretty crazy what kind of prices they like to throw out though. for instance, I was shopping for statues. the guy started at 800 shillings which was way too much. in the end, I got him down to 650 shillings for *2*. later I decided I wanted some more statues, so I came back the next day to get more. this time, not recognizing me, his initial offering was *1400* shillings!! the other day I had paid 650 for 2, and now he was offering just one for 1400. crazy. the thing is, I bet there are people out there that would pay it. they probably wouldn’t even know to bargain at all and would just shell out the cash.

one night when we were staying at the nice hotel, we decided to be helpful and patronize their bar. they had given us a huge discount on our rooms, so we thought we’d do our part and spend money in their establishment. of course, due to lack of tourism, their bar was empty. it was just us and the bartender. we had been drinking beer for the last several weeks, when we realized that this place sold the hard stuff for cheap. we started off w/ something called “Kenya cane”, a local alcohol made out of sugar cane which had some bite to it. then we moved on to vodka. the small flask-sized bottles were only $2.50. at first we mixed them w/ the only available mixer: fanta, but hen we realized we could make an even better beverage: vodka mixed w/ Smirnoff ice. needless to say, a while later we were totally drunk. it was quite a fun night, reminiscing about old times, telling stories, and being stupid. the next morning on the other hand, wasn’t so pleasant.

so that was it. our week in Malindi. we didn’t swim at the beach. we didn’t go to the marine park. we didn’t snorkel. we didn’t go on safari. we really didn’t do any of the things that Malindi is famous for. but you know what? it was a great week nonetheless. just a week hanging out w/ people, and enjoying the fact that we were in another country. it really goes to show that you don’t have to be always *doing something* out here to have a good time. sometimes you need to just take it easy…




the most famous thing to see in Mombassa is fort Jesus, a huge old fort built by the Portuguese on the coast. we hadn’t seen all that much of town yet, so we headed out to the fort by foot as to see all the random stuff along the way. we had been wanting to see a movie for a while now, so when we came across an old movie theater, we decided to step inside to see what was playing. to our surprise, we heard music coming form inside the theater and an excited lady motioned us to go on inside. inside the theater, we saw a large group of people all standing in front of their seats with a woman on stage singing. it turned out to be a church service held in a movie theater! everyone in the audience was super into it and waving their arms, swaying back and forth, clapping to the beat, and singing as loud as they could. this was totally not something we had been expecting to see, but we were really glad that we saw it. it was really cool to see just how much fun these people were having and how excited they were. after a bit of singing, it was time to pray, so we quickly made our exit.

by the time we got to fort Jesus, the three of us were sweating like crazy. it was a ridiculously hot day, and if this was the “cool season” here, I cant imagine what the hot season must be like. yikes! when we paid for the fort, we bought a pamphlet so we could learn a bit about the fort’s history, but the pamphlet turned out to be excruciatingly boring. it was so painful just to read this thing. we ended up giving up and just wandering around the fort. I still don’t know any of the history of the fort, but oh well. the fort ended up being pretty interesting to walk around though. we climbed the ramparts, descended random concrete staircases, and checked out old canons.

after the fort we tried to find something called the “Leven steps”. the guidebook didn’t really tell us anything about these steps other than that they were an interesting thing to see. we wandered about the old town for a while, walking through the random streets, and being watched by curious locals. we had a tough time finding the steps though. at one point we turned sown a small alley and were told by an old man that we “didn’t belong there” and that we should leave. at another alley, a man walked up to us and told us we should avoid that area because there might be shady characters there who do might want to rob tourists. another man walked up to us and told us that nearby there might be a lot of drug users and to be careful. all these thing got us to thinking that the old town might be just a bit shady. maybe we really shouldn’t be exploring it on our own w/out a map?

we were just about to give up, when we saw a little alley that seemed to lead to the ocean. we followed it and then walked down a few old crumbling steps. we stood there looking up and down the coast. where the hell were these “Leven steps”?? we stood around trying to figure out what to do. we kind of didn’t want to continue searching around the old town any longer. so we decided to give up. we walked back up a few steps, and then asked a random man sitting at the top… and it turned out that the steps we were on *were* the Leven steps. honestly, I have no idea why the book would have even mentioned them because there wasn’t anything even slightly interesting about them. they were just boring old concrete steps. not ornamental in the least.

later on that afternoon, I decided to call home. it had been ages since I had talked to my parents and I had been wanting to call them for a long time now. it was the perfect time since they should both me home right before work. we went to a place where you could make international phone calls, but it turned out that we had to go to a different place many blocks away. as the lady led us to the other building, a large group of 6 or 7 street kids ran up to us and started begging for money. these kids were young. probably only 5 or 6 years old. they were ran after us and wouldn’t take no for an answer. whenever one of the kids would drop back, another would take the lead and ask us for money. around Africa, we had seen many posters warning people not to give money to street kids.. it just encourages begging and sadly enough apparently a lot of the money is used for the kids to buy glue to sniff. we were determined not to give any money. the kids were determined to break us down. only after several blocks did they finally give up.

my phone call was only partially successful. my parents weren’t home. i luckily did get to talk to my brother though. unbelievably, the phone call cost 50 cents per minute… and turned out to be over the internet. so, basically they were having me call for *free* and yet charging 50 cents per minute. the connection sucked and it was almost impossible to have a normal conversation.

for dinner, we went to a restaurant called the pleasant view. it was said that it has the best tandoori chicken on the coast. the waiter came and took our order without writing it down. that seemed a bit surprising seeing as it was a long order, and I was pretty impressed that he could remember it all. well, I wasn’t impressed for long. he ended up having to come back several times to ask us what we had ordered, and he got every single thing in our order wrong. I don’t think a single thing was correct. after the waiter went back and forth a million times, we finally did get our correct food… and it was sooo damn good. the tandoori chicken was excellent, perfectly cooked, juicy, and spicy. the prawns were good, and even the salad we had was simple but delicious. all of us were really excited about our meal, and decided that we had to come back here to eat again.

we ate our meal at an outside table, and while we ate, all sorts of random people marched past us trying to get us to buy their wares. people holding large stacks of cds and dvds; people selling shorts, pants, and football jerseys; people holding handfuls of mismatched shoes and sandals; and bizarrely enough, a guy with 2 huge wooden model boats, and a guy with a 2 foot by 3 foot painting. what the hell is this guy doing walking around town trying to sell a huge framed painting?! we shook our heads no to each of these people but as each one left, a new one would just take his place. as someone at a neighboring table said “even if you don’t go to the market, the market comes to you!”

in between these vendors, dirty alleycats would crawl up to us and beg for food. the bigger cats would attack the smaller ones and then sneak up to us, hoping to be fed. the cats weren’t the only ones who wanted something from us though. the gang of kids that we had seen earlier were back. they would come up to the table, one or two at a time and ask for money. we shook our heads no. once in a while they would run off laughing with their friends, but then they’d come back. if one of the waiters came out, the kids would run like hell… I’m sure they would get a beating if they were caught. I keep thinking to myself, what kind of life do these kids have?! they are literally like 5 or 6 years old. how many years have they been on the streets already? do they even know how to talk? were they taught to speak by the other street kids? what did they do with their time when they weren’t begging? in a lot of ways, these kids live just like the alleycats: a hectic life on the dirty streets, sleeping in alleys, begging for scraps, and getting beaten by others. or maybe life was nice? no homework, no school, no chores. no parents telling you what to do. walk around and play w/ your friends all day. get free spending money from strangers. have fun sniffing glue…

regardless of what the kids thought of their life now, what would become of them as they grew older? with no education whatsoever, and no skills, the chances of them ever getting a job, especially here where unemployment is already high, is very slim. they probably go from being streetkids, to grownup beggars, or worse yet, getting into crime and other bad situations. with no medical care of any kind, I cant imagine these kids living very long lives. in fact… it seems like nobody here is living a very long life. there are few old people in Africa. life expectancy here is short, and 50 years old is considered a long life. aids is rampant and killing people left and right. not too mention malaria, other diseases, and crime. I’m currently reading a book about life here and the situation is definitely grim… and everything I see around me on the streets definitely is as mentioned in the book. I feel so sorry for these kids on the streets… only 5 years old and their life is already ruined.

after dinner, we dropped caryn off sat the hotel, and then Joey and I went out. we decided to try out a casino here. we walk inside the small building, and being used to las vegas, my first thought is that this place is really small and really empty. we go up to a roulette table, and buy some chips. minimum buy in: 13$. I feel awkward here. since the place is empty, I feel like every employee there is staring at us. what will the foreigners do? we start making bets. I lose pretty much all my money right away, and then get some more chips. Joey does a little better. still, within 20 minutes, our money is gone. I contemplate buying more chips, but I have very little money in my pocket, so I decide against it. so hard to fight the urge to “win it all back”.

after the casino, we walk to a club called Casablanca. we’re nervous, cause we have a feeling of what the place will have in store for us: hookers. and lots of them. when going to clubs in east Africa, the hookers are unavoidable. they are everywhere. and if you don’t have a girl with you, then you will definitely be approached and not left alone. as we walked up to the club, a girl ran up to us, started chitchatting, and then asked if we wanted “company”. we said no. she kept asking us why not etc etc, but finally left us alone. we knew our troubles were only beginning.

inside the club, we found an empty table and sat down. looking around, the whole club was only prostitutes. prostitutes dancing, prostitutes sitting lazily at tables, prostitutes talking to each other, and here and there prostitutes with customers. the place was practically empty as far as non-prostitutes, but there were probably almost a hundred girls there. competition must be fierce. we ordered beers, and before they even arrived, we had two girls sit down next to us. *sigh*. they start talking about this and that, when all of a sudden the girl from outside walks up to us. “oh!!! I thought you said you didn’t want company!!” we just shrug and try to look innocent. she’s pissed off. after bitching for a while at us and at the other two girls, she leaves. the other two girls stay, and I’m feeling uncomfortable.

after a while though, I think to myself, who cares? why the hell should I let them make me feel uncomfortable? I didn’t ask them to sit with us. they’re imposing on me, and there’s really no need for me to be nice to them or polite. instead of spending the rest of the night sitting in my chair, squirming and afraid, I figure I’ll just entertain myself by wasting their time. the girls start asking for beers. I say no. why not? I just say I don’t want to. I tell them I lost all my money at the casino. I tell them my girlfriend knows karate and she would beat me up if I did. they keep pestering, but I just keep saying any random excuse that comes to mind. she says she really wants a beer and I say that she’s probably already drunk and probably doesn’t need anymore.

she still wont stop asking for beer. I say no, why should I buy you beer? she says for the company. I say that I don’t need or want the company. she says that I *have to have it*. “if I leave this chair. the second I leave, there will be another girl here.. or maybe 5 other girls. you have no choice”. it was true. what could I do? there was no way out. even as we talked, I saw other girls staring, ready to come in for their chance as well. eventually, she figures she’s not gonna get any beer from me, so then she asks if I want a “massage”, even being as explicit as pointing to the areas that would be massaged. I say no. she tries to put her arm around me and I say I have a sunburn. this goes on for a while, and finally she stops asking and starts talking about other stuff. these prostitutes are hella annoying… but they’re people too, and eventually I start feeling pretty bad for this girl. she works down at the dock, but that’s not enough money to get by, so she has to come here every night and compete against the other hundred girls just to earn a living. due to competition, she usually only manages to give 2 “massages” a night, making her a total of 40 bucks. what kind of life is that? earlier on, when she had countered my “I have a girlfriend” with the usual, “well your girlfriend isn’t here”, I asked her how she would feel if her boyfriend went to a club and cheated on her w/ a hooker. she told me that she used to have a boyfriend in Nairobi for years. one day she showed up for a surprise visit. she walked in on him having sex with someone else. she hasn’t dated anyone since then because she is too afraid of men, despite her parents urging her to get married.

this person is just some poor screwed up girl struggling to earn enough money to live. her, the streetkids, the touts, the beggars, everyone… all these people are annoying as hell. they bother you when you don’t want to be bothered. they infringe on your vacation time, and don’t leave you alone. they are constantly hounding you. sometimes you just want to turn around and start screaming at everyone to just GET THE HELL AWAY… and yet you don’t. cause from the other side, you see that they are just desperate people doing what they have to do. ruining your vacation *is their job*. and if they don’t do it, they wont have money for rent or food or whatever else they need.

eventually, she gets up and walks away, but leaves her beer cup behind. seconds later, another girl is in her spot. sheez. and then yet another girl come up and sits down next to her. now I have two girls pestering me. but then… the first girl (who’s name is ironically Purity) comes back. she stares daggers at the other girls. she wants her seat back. it turns out that by leaving her beer cup, she hoped to have her place saved. furious, she points to the beer cup “that’s MY mug”. the other hooker glances at her with a wry smile, “then take it”. the girls start bitching at each other, but the new girl wont budge. Purity, then sits between the other girls and me by sitting on my armrest. the air at the table is tense as hell. the two new girls seemed arrogant and kept laughing to each other, and in a way, I kind of felt bad for “Purity”, who eventually finally gave up and stormed away. not that it really matters I guess… none of them was getting any money (or beers) from me anyway. eventually, we paid our bill and got the hell out of there. it had been an interesting night. funny in some ways, sad in others…


on the way to Mombasa

another day, another bus ride. today we were traveling from Dar Essalam in Tanzania to Mombasa in Kenya. as usual, we had to get up early, rush to the bus stop, only to get on the bus and have it then sit there for almost an hour at the main bus stop. grrrr, i cant even imagine how much extra sleep we could get if we weren’t always getting up so ear5ly for buses that didn’t leave on time. as we sat on the bus, a guy walked up to the front and put in a movie. nice! we would actually be entertained! and, lo and behold, it was actually a movie in English. of course, our luck only made it that far and not much further. they ended up playing the movie so quietly, that we were unable to hear anything at all. damn! *every* bus ride we’ve taken, they play the music or movies at a million decibels. so loud that your head is aching after a few minutes and you feel your brain start to ooze out of your skull. but the *one* time that they actually play an English movie happens to be the one time they turn the volume down to nothingness. *sigh*.

halfway through the trip, we stopped for a “toilet and lunch” stop. we walked back behind an old and decrepit soccer stadium, to find some concrete rooms that had little concrete partitions. between each partition was just a tiny little drain to pee into. only meant for those w/ good aim, i guess. we then searched for lunch. for some reason, the area we were in had no restaurants. the only thing resembling one, was a small building that had a table with a bunch of saran wrapped plates. in each plate was some sad looking fries, a slice of cucumber and tomato, and a piece of chicken that reminded me of some of the withered shriveled up mummies that we saw in Egypt. we were desperate enough to buy a plate each, and the attendant threw them one by one into a microwave that he had borrowed from next door. if the food was unappetizing before, now it was even more so. hot steamy microwaved cucumber slice?
as we were about to board the bus, we saw yet another guy selling cashews. i don’t know what it is about cashews, but here in Africa, there are hundreds of guys on the streets selling them. everyone is selling cashews left and right. i think we literally get asked if we want to buy cashews at least 30 times per day if not more. i don’t know if there is some huge monstrous warehouse somewhere filled to the brim with cashews and trying to get rid of it’s product or what. the one difference w/ this guy, is that alongside the regular cashews, he also sold spicy cashews. so, for the first time in the last month, we went ahead and actually bought some. they were actually pretty good.

the rest of the bus ride was fairly uneventful. we crossed the border, where everyone got out, had their passports stamped, bags searched, and got back on. we also exchanged some money with one of the random guys wandering around who had a huge wad of cash. surprisingly, he actually gave us the right rate. later, we go to this place where the bus had to get on a ferry to get across. everyone was supposed to get off and take a separate ferry, and then get back on the bus on the other side. well, we and the other tourists were all confused, and in the end, they told us to just stay on the bus. when we go to the other side, i totally wondered what the locals must think of us. here, they had to get off the bus, in their own country, while the rich pampered foreigners got to sit inside and relax the whole way. we must look like such bastards.

finally we go to Mombasa, one of Kenya’s largest cities. we walked though town trying to find a hotel, and looked around at the hustle and bustle. there were a lot of people out on the streets, some of them selling random clothing, others sitting on the sidewalk and frying little dried fish to sell. ever7y few minutes, someone would ask us if we wanted to buy some Cd’s.. probably the next most popular thing to sell next to cashews. as we walked, hundreds of Matatu’s raced by us, making everything even louder and more chaotic. Matatus are minivan taxis and are one of the most popular ways of getting around town here. people must take huge pride in their Matatus, cause they are almost always decorated in crazy neon colors, all glittery, with random slogans written on them or spray painted pictures. these vehicles look like they pulled out of “pimp my ride” on MTV. as they race by you at top speed (death by Matatu is a common occurrence here), one guy will be leaning out of the van and yelling incomprehensible words as loud and as fast as he can, hoping to get customers. we navigated through all the chaos, the people, and the rubbish, and finally made it to our hotel.

our hotel was named “the excellent hotel”, but it actually would more aptly be name the “so-so hotel” or maybe even the “not so great hotel”. the ro0m itself was nothing special, but the real “treat” was the bathroom. the tub looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since the 1500s, and had grayish blackish yellowish streaks *everywhere*. joey was afraid to even let his flip-flops touch it. the toilet had no lid, which wasn’t unusual, but it also had no seat either. funniest of all was that the hotel promised hot water, but later we found out that the hot water is turned on… from 6am to 7am. yes. we only get hot water for *1* hour, and it’s at a ridiculous hour. unbelievable. i always find myself wondering, why is Africa so expensive?? i traveled through tons of countries in Asia, and there a small room would go for 3$, maybe 5$. everything is cheap. yet here, we’re paying a whopping $25 for this room. yeah, yeah, i know that back home you couldn’t find *any* room for $25, but this is a developing country!! there aren’t any nice 1st world amenities.. like toilets that you can actually sit on. and yet, they charge like 5 times what we would be charged in Asia. *sigh*. as we sat talking about this, the power in our room went out. not surprising. ahh Africa!


in between safaris

when we returned from our safari, our first stop was Sana Travel. we talked to the agent there and she wrote out a paper that she signed stating that the $380 that was unused for our safari (for ending 2 days early) would be applied to a new safari of our choice. we would just have to pay the difference since most safaris are over $380. since now we had signed receipts, we really didn’t expect there to possibly be any problems. unfortunately, we were wrong. very wrong.


most people who are familiar w/ lonely planet, know that they have forums on their website called “the thorntree”. this is one of the most important parts of the lonely planet website, since this is where everyone goes to chat, get advice, and ask questions to other travelers. well, i never before knew this, but this messageboard is actually named after the thorntree cafe in Nairobi. this cafe is legendary in it’s own right, and is a very popular meeting place for travelers in Kenya. in the middle of the courtyard, stands a large thorntree planted over 50 years ago, and people can ping message cards to the tree… the tree is a message board of its own!

so, we were excited to go check out the cafe, and sadly, we weren’t impressed. the guidebook had said that the cafe had recently undergone a sterile renovation, and it really showed. there definitely wasn’t anything all that exciting about it. also, the 60 year old thorntree had been dug up, and instead of it there was a new one, which was quite small. a bit of a letdown.
our main goal for that day was to get all of our safari questions figured out. we wanted to do a safari to Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania, but we planned to do this one without the help of Sana tours. the only other big thing we wanted to do was to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa. this is actually a very serious and difficult undertaking, and it takes 6 days to do (at least). Sana does a trip up the mountain for $630, so we decided to book it through them. we went through all the arrangements, but then all of a sudden, at the last minute, the woman said that she wasn’t sure if we would be able to apply all the $380 due to our next trip. huh? she said that the park fees for Masai Mara, had already been paid for us, and that we can not have that part refunded.

we told her that that couldn’t be right. we had been told over the phone, that we would get all *380* back. if we hadn’t been told that, we wouldn’t have come back 2 days early. plus, their company had already signed documents that we would get $380 back. it was unfair for them to go back on their word. she said that maybe it was all a misunderstanding, and she would check on it. we then left, wondering what would happen in the end…
that night, we decided to go out and celebrate joey’s birthday. we went to this Italian place that was recommended to us and it was hella good. my parents had sent me money to get birthday champagne, and this seemed like the perfect night to go for it… but i didn’t have the cash on me, and it’s not a great idea to walk the dark streets of Nairobi at night to use an ATM. well, the armed security guard from the restaurant ended up walking with me all the way to the ATM, watching over me, and then walking me back. how’s that for safety? back at the restaurant, we had the champagne, and we toasted to joey’s bday and to my belated bday. it was cool to get to celebrate.

after the restaurant, Caryn was tired and went back to the room, but joey and i decided to check out this club called Florida 2000, apparently the hottest club in town and nicknamed “the madhouse”! although the club was only like 2 blocks fro the hotel, we had two security guards from the hotel walk us over, and then they told us that they’d come back to fetch us later. heh, it really makes you feel like some VIP to have armed guard escorting you everywhere.

when we walked into the club, i walked up the stairs first, and literally within seconds of reaching the top step, i had a hooker literally rubbing up against me. yikes!! only after repeatedly telling her that i was uninterested and had a girlfriend, did she finally leave. phew! but i wasn’t safe for long. from the moment joey and i walked into the bar area, we were attacked nonstop. seriously, it seemed like this place was 80-90% hookers, and only like 10% other people. and these girls used crazy tactics just like the touts on the streets.

the touts on the streets will tell you “aww, who me? nahh! i don’t wanna sell you anything! I’m just giving you free information!! just practicing my English!!”.. but then you talk to them a bit, and right when you’re not expecting it, bam!! you get a sales pitch! well, same thing pretty much here. the girl comes up, starts talking. i interrupt with “not interested, i have a girlfriend”. girl looks sad and offended.. “girlfriend!! i don’t want anything like that! i just want to talk! i like to talk to foreigners! tell me, what do you think of Kenya!”. so warily, i start to just chat.. and everything is chill.. for a bit and then they start trying to bump and grind and whatnot and say shit like “your girlfriend’s not here! who cares. she wont know!!” yikes!!! so yeah, the club actually had potential to be really cool. drinks weren’t all that expensive, the music was alright, and LOUD. the place looked nice too. all the makings of a good night… but seriously the hookers wouldn’t leave us alone.. and then we made our escape… quickly trying to leave while random girls would literally jump out at us and try to grab us and keep us there… and then from out of nowhere… we were rescued! out of the crowd, the tall form of the armed guard from the hotel appeared. we sighed w/ relief, and followed him back to the hotel. phew!

when we got back to the hotel, we were surprised to hear that Sana tours had called. 4 times! and this is after midnight. they wanted us to call back no matter how late. uh-oh. we tried to call, but got no answer, so we went to bed.


early in the morning, our phone rings. the clerk tells us that someone from Sana tours is there to see us. crap. this couldn’t be good. the woman pulls us into a cafe to talk. she says that basically, the way things work is that all the park fees are paid in advance, and that since Sana already made the payment, they couldn’t refund us that part of the money. not only that, but she says we would have to pay for the food that was allegedly preordered for us. sheez. now this was utter bullshit. honestly, i kind of doubt the park thing. i think that Sana sends people to that park every single day, if we came home early, Sana could have sent someone else in our place and still used the park entrance fees even if they were paid. and as far as the food? that’s bullshit, if we checked out of the camp early, there’s no way we should have to pay for the food that we never got. well, then the girl started going into this story how, since it was her mistake, if we didn’t pay for the park fees etc, it would be taken out of her salary or she would be fired. *sigh*. what the hell do you say to that? the thing is, if it’s true, i would totally feel bad for her, but honestly, i don’t really think it’s true. so we asked to speak to a manager.

a couple hours later, we’re in Sana’s office. now, not only do they not want to reimburse us in the amount of park fees and food, but they also want to not refund us for the lodging. each time we talk to them, they keep chipping away at our $380. this is unbelievable. basically, the way i see it is this: if we would not be reimbursed for these things, we should have been told this right away. if we knew that, we wouldn’t have canceled our safari. but, since two people had told us we would be reimbursed, not to mention that we had signed papers from them, it was absurd that we couldn’t get our $380 back!! and.. it’s not like we were even asking for the $380 back!! we were just asking for it to be applied towards Kilimanjaro which costs $1260 for the two of us!! we were giving them over a thousand dollars worth of more business, and they couldn’t just stick to their promise.

after arguing for a long time, the manager said that she would call her boss, and we said we’d come back later. so basically, we spent all afternoon walking back and forth to Sana tours. when we came back, we argued w Sana some more. in the end, they agreed to give us back 240$ cash. so basically they stole $140 from us. i was SO pissed. how could they do this?? when we had *signed* papers from the stating that they would refund us $380. unbelievable. well, at least we were able to get the money back in cash, without having to do another tour with them. the last thing i would want is to trust those bastards to take us up Kilimanjaro!!

by then it was midday and we caught a bus to Arusha. arusha is in Tanzania, so we had to cross the border which was straightforward and quick. the ride to arusha was only like 6 hours, but we were still tired when we arrived. we went to this Chinese restaurant which was really good, and then crashed out.


we’re on safari!

8/19/05 – 8/21/05

we had shopped around for a few days to choose a company to go on safari with. in the end, we chose Sana Tours, a choice that we would come to regret several days later, after the safari was over. but, more on that later. anyways, this morning we were bursting w/ excitement. our first safari!! we were heading to Masai Mara, which is the most famous of all the game parks in Kenya. it’s rather small park, but it’s on the Serengeti plains and is bursting w/ wildlife. we had booked a 5 day safari, giving us 4 days in the Masai Mara, and then one day in Lake Nakura. everything was provided for us by the safari company, so all we had to bring was water, toilet paper, and our clothes. we were picked up from our hotel around 9am, and after a bunch of shuffling back and forth to the company’s office etc, we finally left Nairobi around 10:30 with 6 other tourists in our van. the ride to the park wasn’t very eventful, other than stopping at a lookout point to see an unimpressive view and eating at a small restaurant.

eventually, we arrived at the park and went on our first game drive right away. holy crap!! i was so totally blown away by this place. despite having been told that the park is totally full of animals, i wasn’t prepared at all for how many of them there were. TONS. animals *everywhere*!! on just the very first 2 hour drive, we saw gazelle, wildebeest, zebras, ostriches, elephants, and lions. the other thing that i was not expecting was just how close all the animals were to each other. the wildebeest would be eating grass with the zebras, totally intermingled. just several hundred yards away, you’d see elephants, and near them there would be lions. i guess i somehow expected all the animals to totally keep to themselves very far apart, but they were actually all so very close to each other.

another thing i wasn’t prepared for was just how close you could get to the animals. the vans would drive on the roads and go basically right *through* herds of zebras or wildebeest. the animals would sometimes bolt, but other times, they would just stop chewing grass for a second to peer at the van, and the go back to eating. when we saw lions, the lions would walk by *right next to* the vans often.. like literally within a couple feet! if you wanted to (and were stupid) you could probably reach your hand out the window and grab one! the vans we were in had pop-up roofs, so that you can stand up in the van and have a 360 degree view in all directions, and yet be safe from any animals nearby.

the other cool thing was just ho big the herds were. when you’d see zebras, you’d see huge amounts of them… up to 100 or so, all gathered around. it would literally be a sea of black and white stripes. the same with the wildebeest, but even more so. we had come to the park at the perfect time, during the great migration. at this time, the wildebeest travel through here looking for water, and they travel in the *thousands*. you look out over the hills and they are completely covered w/ wildebeest. sometimes, a bunch of wildebeest would decide to cross the road, and then the rest of their herd would follow.. soon there would be this endless line of hundreds of wildebeest rushing across the road. the wildebeest look really funny when they run too, often they skip and prance around!

when going on safari in Africa, people always talk about the “big 5”. this is the main attraction, and everyone always is dying to see all of the big 5 which is: lions, buffalo, leopard, rhino, and elephants. it kind of seems like a rather arbitrary list doesn’t it? for instance, it kind of surprises me that buffalo is on the list, while something exciting like giraffe or cheetahs are not. weird. it was cool that after just the first day out, we had already seen 2 of the big 5. hopefully, we’d see the other 3 soon! one of the craziest things we saw that day though, was when we saw this lioness walking near a herd of elephants. we weren’t exactly sure if the lioness was actually trying to hunt the baby elephant, or if it just got too close, but all of a sudden, the mother elephant lets out this super loud trumpeting sound and then charges the lion!! the lion spun around and started running away as fast as it could, and the elephant chased it for a while till the lion was sufficiently far from the elephant herd. it was pretty crazy to see this intense animal interaction. you wouldn’t think there would be many animals a lion might be afraid of!

the camp we were staying at was actually a really pleasant surprise. i thought they would just throw us into tiny little two man tents and feed us some toast or other slop, but the campsite was really nice with large spacious tents with beds in them. the place even had hot showers to use! all of the food that we would be fed over the next few days was quite tasty as well. wow, i couldn’t believe we were getting all this for just 60$ a day, when so many other safaris were so much more expensive!

the next day we set out in the morning and drove all day. once again, there were tons of animals. one of the coolest things we saw right in the beginning of the day. we saw a lioness with 3 lion cubs. once again, the van we were in got within a few feet of them. these things were so damn adorable. the mother would wander around and the cubs would go explore, and then after a while run back to the mom and tumble around. we were so lucky to see such a thing! the only bad thing was that, although this park has more animals than any other park, there are also more tourists. so when you find something exciting, like lion cubs, next thing you know there are like 15 other vans all driving up and soon, instead of it being a tranquil outdoors setting, it becomes like an afternoon at a crash-em up derby. when the animals move away, the vans all sputter on and race after them, only to surround the animal again. it’s hard to tell whether the vans really bother the animals, or whether they are just an annoyance that the animals are used to and don’t care about, but it still bothers me to see so many damn vans. also, though the vans are supposed to stay on the roads, none of them follow the rules, and they all drive over the landscape, doing damage to the grass. *sigh*.

later in the day, we were lucky enough to see a cheetah, which it seems are much more rare than lions. at first we saw it from pretty far away, so without binoculars (which we didn’t have) it was a bit difficult to see, but later on we saw another one just chilling on this dirt mound.

in the middle of the day, we took a hike near a river that had hippos and crocodiles in it. we only got to see the hippos from a distance, but it was still cool. the crocs weren’t very thrilling though. one crazy thing thing that happened was that we stopped at this marker that marked the border between Kenya and Tanzania. people were just wandering about and getting their photos taken. i had to take a piss, and the guide just told me to go behind some bushes, which i did. then we all got back in the van and drove off, just like 60 yards away or so, we stopped next to some trees.. and there was a huge lion under them. whoa!! i cant believe there was this lion just chilling there, that close to people who were all wandering around outside their vans! what if there had been a lion behind the bush i peed at?! yikes! so yeah, there are lions all over this park. we’ve seen both males and females, and even at one point saw two lions mating (which lasted all of maybe 6 seconds!!). we also saw a large wildebeest carcass that a lion had killed with two sleepy lions relaxing near it. it’s crazy how the male lions really do nothing. the lionesses do the hunting, and when they bring back the kill, the male eats first. the lionesses raise the cubs. the males do *nothing*. just sleep and eat!

later on in the day, we drove by this huge herd of zebras and gazelle. the weird thing was that every single one of them was facing the same direction and holding perfectly still. it was really an eerie sight.. a huge animal army, all at attention. eventually, we saw the reason, a hundred yards away, there was a lioness slowly walking through the brush. from looking at her, we could tell she wasn’t really hunting, just wandering about, but just the scent had alerted the zebras, and so they all just stood and stared, not moving, all animals acknowledging the king of the jungle.

eventually, we had enough animal viewing for the day, and we headed back to camp. on the way back, we were lucky enough to have joey spot a group of giraffes walking off in the distance. i had been looking forward to seeing giraffe, and was psyched that we finally got to see them. the coollest thing about the giraffes was seeing them run. their legs are so long, that when they run, it looks like they are moving in slow motion. it’s a pretty spectacular sight.

eventually, we made it back to camp. it had started pouring (the rainy season is coming soon) but luckily we could hang out under a roof and it was fine. once again, the food was good, and we went to bed early since we needed to get up at 6am the next day.

the next day’s game drive wasn’t all that spectacular. because of the previous night’s rain, the animals were all hiding, and there wasn’t all that much wildlife to see. we spent 3 hours or so driving, and didn’t see much. oh well. by this point, we had decided that we wanted to end our safari early. the Masai Mara had been *spectacular*, but we had already done 4 game drives now, and any place we went in the park from now on would have been redundant. we figured it’d be better to end this safari now, and then book another safari elsewhere in a nother park, just for something different. also, joey had not been feeling well (he claims it was from the goat bolognaise!) so driving around in a safari van didn’t seem all that appealing to him. so, we called the main office and talked to a few people there who agreed that we could just come back now, and apply our two remaining days worth of money to another safari.

so we drove back to Nairobbery, tired, and yet still excited by everything we had seen. we had seen 3 of the big 5, now if we could just see the final two: leopards and rhinos!!

(a few other photos)

baby zebra


ostrich with eggs

these huge storks are meat eaters and they are *enormous*. about 3 feet tall and with a 6 or 7 foot wingspan!

vervet monkey w/ baby




after the difficult conditions, lack of showers, and dusty roads of Ethiopia, we were really excited to arrive in a much more modern country. we spent 4 days relaxing and recuperating in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Nairobi from everything we’ve heard, seems to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world, and because of this it’s earned itself the nickname “Nairobbery”. according to the guidebooks, other travelers, and the internet, this town should be avoided like the plague. crime is rampant, people get mugged, cars get carjacked, hotel rooms are broken into, etc etc. according to a recent survey, 37% of the people living in Nairobi say that they have been mugged in the last year! the guidebook warns to exercise extreme caution, even during the day, and says that under no circumstances should you walk around at night.. even if you are only going a few blocks.

any business in this town that is larger than a tiny convenience store, has armed security. every bank, mall, movie theater, hotel, office building, and even many cafes and restaurants have watchmen patrolling around. when leaving our hotel in the dark, the security would always offer to come with us… even if we were walking just across the street to catch a cab. with all of this, it’s pretty easy to be paranoid.. but to be honest, after a few days in the city, I really got the feeling that a lot of these warnings and precautions were a little over the top. of course, we spent all of our time in the center of town, and I’m sure the situation is completely different on the outskirts and in the shanty areas, but I never really felt in danger, and it didn’t seem like there were tons of sketchy characters about. overall, I definitely wasn’t ecstatic about Nairobi or anything, but I really would say it was horrible and I think that some of its bad reputation may be undeserved.

Nairobi is a really modern city. well, ok, I don’t mean really modern as in Tokyo or even London, but it is pretty modern compared to other cities in Africa and most of Asia. there are lots of skyscrapers, and most of the architecture in town seems fairly current. in some ways, just looking at the buildings, streets etc, it almost could be any medium sized town in America. after being in Ethiopia, it was really exciting to be in a town like this. we could get online! there was a variety of restaurants.. even with international cuisine! hot water ion the showers! and we were shocked to see that there was even a large supermarket! this was something super exciting and out of the ordinary for us. other than Japan, we really haven’t seen a modern supermarket since back home. even in Europe, people do most of their grocery shopping in small little corner stores, so to see a huge store w/ tons and tons of different groceries to choose from was exciting!

the one annoying thing about Nairobi was the touts. there are so many of them!! ugh. almost everyone who comes to Kenya is planning on taking a safari at some point, and safaris are big business here.. lots of profit to be made. because of this, every random guy on the street has a safari to sell. actually they have multiple safaris to sell, so if you turn down one, they will just try to sell you more. this makes it virtually impossible to walk through town. anywhere you go, you will be followed by people who badger you about safaris, and don’t leave you alone till you say no about 1 billion times. of course, as soon as they leave, another one will come up. it never ends. people literally just sit there and wait in front of your hotel, and then follow you from the instant you leave. sometimes, we’ve been followed, told the person to leave… and then after walking many blocks, and looking our shoulder to make sure the person is really gone, they’ll pop up later and you realize they’ve been stealthily following you. arrrggghhh!!

a couple of other things about town: traffic is insane and people drive like mad; it is much more expensive than we imagined it would be… not as pricey as Europe by any means, but definitely a step up from Asia; broiled chicken is *everywhere*; it seems like secretarial services are in high demand for some reason; English is the official language here, so it’s really easy to get by even if you don’t know any Swahili.

during our first day in Nairobi, I realized that my stomach was not yet fully ok. it would hurt on and off throughout the day and that night a had a fever. caryn also had been experiencing stomach issues since Ethiopia. so, our second day in Nairobi we saw a doctor. the visit was really quick. just a description of our symptoms, blood pressure and temperature check. that’s it. we were prescribed a bunch of medication that we had to take for 5 days, twice per day. the medication actually really sucked, and for the next several days, I felt all gross every time I took mine. ugh. at least it worked though, and five days later I felt good as new.

the best part of being in Nairobi though, was that on the 17th Joey arrived. Joey’s gonna be touring Africa with us for about a month which is a pretty good chunk of time! I actually was really surprised when he told us he’d be coming to Africa to visit. we’ve had a few people meet us on our trip, but I really didn’t think anyone would come meet us in Africa since it was fairly expensive to fly there from home. but he decided to come visit, and after spending a week in Egypt, he flew in to Nairobi. his flight arrived at 4:30 AM which really was the worst possible time to go pick someone up from the airport, but we were really psyched to be seeing him so we went down there. we hadn’t seen him in about 11 months by then, so it was really exciting and we spent a bunch of time catching up on what was going on back home and in each other’s lives.

another cool thing was that Joey brought me a bunch of cards and presents from home. it had been my birthday a few days before (aug 13th) and since we were in Moyale, a town with not all that much going for it, it was definitely an uneventful birthday. also, I didn’t have internet or phone access, so I couldn’t really talk to anyone from back home on my bday which sucked. well, several days later, when Joey arrived, he handed me a bunch of stuff that people from home had sent. it was *so* great to sit there and get to actually read birthday cards from people and open presents. it actually felt like a real birthday, and I was really really touched. also, all of it had been a total surprise… Jamie had told me that she was sending a care package, and I had been really looking forward to it, but I had no clue how elaborate and dope the package would be, nor that anyone else would be sending me anything, so when Joey dumped out a big pile of stuff on my bed, I was totally shocked. there’s something really cool about things that are handwritten, and although I’ve gotten emails from people while on the road, it was especially cool to get real cards, and see what people had written… and all of it definitely made me miss home… a lot.

after Joey arrived, we spent much of our time in Nairobi running errands and figuring out our safari situation. other than that, we went to the movies (Fantastic 4, which wasn’t all that). before the movie started , it said on the screen for everyone to stand while Kenya’s national anthem played… with large letters underneath saying that this “IS MANDATORY!”. I wonder if this kind of thing would go over in the US? also, we went out to Carnivore restaurant. this is supposed to be one of the highlights on Nairobi. it’s a huge restaurant, a little out of town, and their thing is that it’s all you can eat meat. we took a taxi to the restaurant, and it was guarded by tons of people with large guns… we began to wonder whether this place was likely to be attacked by terrorists.. or maybe by PETA. inside, you sit at your table, and after soup and salad, they just start bringing huge slabs of meat skewered on large swords to your table. they keep bringing it until you “surrender” and put down the little flag on your table. they had the usual suspects: beef, chicken, pork, lamb but also had more unusual things like ostrich, crocodile, and even camel! the crocodile wasn’t too good (tasted like fish), and the camel wasn’t great, but the ostrich was really delicious. surprisingly, despite the large variety, the beef was actually the best. go figure. although the food was pretty good, I cant say that it was the best meal ever. the sauces for the meats weren’t all that great… maybe that was my main issue. we had come there planning to eat until we were literally ready to explode, but ended up in the end only eating till we were full. all in all, it was good, but kinda pricey for what it was.

after 4 days in Nairobi, we were definitely ready to get a move on. the town wasn’t as bad as people said, but at the same time, it really didn’t have much to keep us wanting to be there either.