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Thursday, October 23, 2014

RETHINKING AFRICA

SHOT OF TUNISIA

Here's a fun little slice of Logan's life which illustrates his views on Tunisia.

After awaking to the sound of a sledge hammer working on demolishing part of the building, it was time for coffee.  Headed downstairs to the expensive hotel restaurant.

Normally, you get breakfast with the room but as every breakfast I've ever had thrown in with a room (aside from Dani's Homestay, Indonesia) was absolutely shit, I asked that I just get a big cup of Nescafe.

They complied.  In fact, I even have a special brown colored cup assigned to me.

After a 'is she trying to grow coffee beans?' wait, the girl eventually returned with the cup half full of coffee.  I explained to her the reason I was assigned this cup is so that it can be full of coffee.  She said she would go to get another.  Sadly, nothing distracted her on the way but she seemed to forget anyway.

So I'm sitting down to my half coffee halfheartedly swatting the ever present flies away and blinking in the blowing dust and grit when something the size of my middle finger rushes my leg, climbs it and disappears on my back before I even have time to say "What the hell is that?"

I jump up out of my chair which annoys the flies and begin the ritual "Help, I'm on fire" dance.  This dislodges a very large cockroach which falls onto my chair.  I step on it.  Why didn't I get a picture?  Possibly because my heart was trying to decide if it was time to abandon ship or if it wanted another cigarette.

The manager wanders by and I mention it to him.  "Oh, it is the construction.  Come see."

Sure enough, where the guys are banging away with sledge hammers, several cockroaches are scurrying around.

This is super.

Needless to say, construction started after I'd checked in and paid.  It's stupid to get a hotel within a block of any construction if you can avoid it.

So now I'm on the teeter-totter.  I'm paid up through the 30th here.  Additionally, I need to do more studying on the southern tip of Africa to make sure not only can I find affordable (non-sucky) places but I can travel between the three countries I've selected.  Without hassle.

So the need to stay to do research AND try to save money for the plane ticket which will be about a month of saving.  I suspect once I get to the southern part of Africa it will be a bit more expensive and I won't get to save as much.

Purely from a monetary point of view, staying in this town (apparently the best Tunisia has to offer) for three months would be a good idea, but I've really come to dislike this town.
Some decent buildings and what I call 'artistic flourishes' here and there but mostly it is open trash, reeking sewers, swarms of flies and blowing dust.  Aside from the taxi drivers and beggars the people are pretty friendly though.  Add in the sewer smell and more flies for the full effect in this photo.

Later, I had this rammed into my ass, just to round out the day.


BACK TO WORK ON THE 'AFRICAN THING'

Preamble:  This is all research on traveling around in the southern part of Africa.  If you want to skip to the conclusion, scroll down to Rodin's 'The Thinker'.  (For Americans unfamiliar with art, look for the 'dude who might be takin' a dump').

A new friend in South Africa told me the trains were dangerous.  This is very saddening as travel by train has always been something I've enjoyed.  It brings back a bit of the romance unlike bus which has always felt a bit sterile and modern.  Reading up on the various reviews of train rides, it seems they are still using the stuff the British left there and aside from the crisp sheets everyone talks about the maintenance seems to have gone sharply downhill.

I did check on the trains and they have various luxury '4 day' trains which go from Pretoria, South Africa up to Livingston, Zambia (cutting through Zimbabwe which my research has shown is a bit expensive for me though the locals seem to be dirt poor).  These train sites have something in common.  They don't quote the prices.  Instead, they say "Contact us for pricing!"  This sort of thing has always said to me "We are sleazy operators.  Were we to tell you the price there is no chance you would ever ever contact us."

According to my earlier research the Zambia single entry visa should be about $30 and the Zimbabwe multiple entry it's the only kind you can buy if you're from the USA is $50.  This tells me I'll be dropping $80 plus the tickets of the bus to go from Pretoria to Livingstone.

While I'm sure this is a popular bus route, it seems that finding out how much the tickets cost and who sells them could be a problem.  The bus webpages I've checked thus far say "Oh, we don't have that route" but don't tell me what instead is possible.  Just they travel that direction and are utterly baffled by it.  This fails to instill confidence.

The midpoint of this rather long bus ride is Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.  According to h/h, there is all of one place to stay which is poorly rated.  While I'm sure there are more, they don't seem to have heard of the internet yet.

OR

If it is possible to take a really long bus ride from Pretoria, SA to Livingstone, Zambia I could pass through Botswana.  While it looks to be too expensive to stay there, the visa is free.  This would save me $30.  And I've done bus rides significantly longer than the 16+ hours google maps shows.  Note, I realize it is Africa so it could be significantly longer.

Here is how creepy some of the buses are.  One of the most popular is Intercape.  On their site:
So - would you like the praying or non-praying section...sinner?

To me, this sort of thing falls under the 'are you fucking kidding me'?  I just want to give them money and get a ride somewhere.  I don't need to be told about Jesus.  Again.

However clicking on the link told me "Please note that Intercape broadcasts family friendly video material on all coaches, promoting the Christian faith."  It is my experience that nearly all buses seek to annoy the shit out of you with loud music.  Apparently on this bus it will be loud messages from the local god-botherers.  There was only one bus I took somewhere that I can't remember that demanded absolute silence and I came just a bit when told that.  Wish I could remember where.

On a different message board it said: "I took Intercape within South Africa it was quite comfortable. It is a Christain busline so as long as a prayer before and after your trip is okay with you, then I would recommend them."

I'm thinking they might be praying the bus makes it and perhaps a thankful prayer it did make it, but I could be cynical.  I'm also thinking asking an all powerful being to alter his mysterious plans to suit you ("please let me survive even though it is your will I die in a fire") is just so 'needy'.

Also, I would like to point out the only reason they now have 'requirements for travelling cross-border with children' is they are afraid Angela Jolie will come in and snatch up some black children and babies.  OK.  I can see that.

"Yes.  Get Logan on the phone.  Tell him I want to know exactly what kind of 'requirements' they need.  Take care of it."

It would probably be very easy to simply hop onto the Facebook page and ask the folks in the South African NERO chapter "Hey, how do you go from here to there easily on a bus, preferably without Jesus?"  However, in Tunisia Facebook only works 'sometimes'.  No exaggeration.  No idea why.  Just how it is here.  Other pages work fine.  [Note I'm glad I didn't ask them because it would have been the easy way out and my research turned up some interesting wtf's.]

So, I spent the day researching connections.  This sort of research is frustrating and draining.  It seems like a lot of the companies have gone out of business or failed to figure out how the whole 'internet' thing works.  For example,  CR Holdings.  The page I found this bus company on only had a shifty 'send us an e-mail to inquire about stuff'.  When I eventually dug up their webpage a message informed me it didn't exist and the domain might be for sale.  What the hell.

Different page I found states that "All the below tour companies travel at least once a week from Johannesburg / Pretoria to Nata (overnight) and then on to Kasane. One or two companies will go straight to Livingstone."  Dealing with the 'tour companies' is a bit shady because they won't tell you their price upfront.  If you have to ask, you can't afford it.

Other pages claim 'you can't get to there from here' and have to go through Zimbabwe because Botswana roads either suck ass or don't exist.  Still other people claim you have to fly.

An enlightening post I read here states:  "For many reasons, there is not a bridge at the border crossing between Botswana and Zambia, only a small ferry. This route serves as a major supply route between ports in South Africa and the interior of Africa and the road coming into the border was lined with trucks. The ferry can only accommodate one 18-wheeler and maybe one other small truck at a time. I have heard truckers can sometimes wait for a week or longer to get across. Luckily, we were able to walk right on. We cleared customs and hired a combi to take us to Livingstone, which is about 60km from the border."

This means I will end up paying the $30 for the visa into Zimbabwe.  No clue what the 'reasons' could be for 'no bridge'.  Smuggling?  Insufficient funds to build a needed bridge?  Incompetence?

It appears it is possible to go from Pretoria to Bulawayo (Zimbabwe).  Found that Greyhound can do that for about $41 (455 rand).  Leave at 9am, arrive at 8pm.

From this (written in 2014!) I learned that: "My husband and I are planning to travel in September, Johannesburg - Bulawayo by Greyhound bus (a little apprehensive as reviews are terrible but there doesn't seem to be another overland option) and then from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls on the overland train."

And from this: "We reached the Zimbabwean border at around 5am and were in for a wait of anywhere between two and six hours to get through, as the Zimbabwe/South Africa border is the busiest in the country. Not simply for refugees fleeing Zimbabwe, but for trucks bringing goods and buses with families bringing remittances trying to get back over to Zimbabwe."

"Hey, you will be passing through a country people are FLEEING from.  Super, huh?"


This is like putting together some sort of fucked up jigsaw puzzle, I swear to Thor.
Except I am no where near as happy as this crazy lady.  In fact, I've never seen anyone even smile when putting together a jigsaw puzzle.  I'm not sure if I've ever been that delighted with an inanimate object.


Note:  According to this Zimbabwe no longer uses their old currency, they use USD.  Good news there.

Train schedule and reviews.  It appears I can get from Bulawayo to Victoria Falls by train, first class for $15, $30 if  I want to rent the entire 'coupe' (two berth cabin).  Very affordable for overnight transportation.  Note:  Get food ahead of time, there is no dining car and/or the food sucks, depending on who you listen to.  Also, you must chase the people down for the $4 bedding.  Everyone has commented things like 'crisp' and 'clean'.  Train reviews here.

Once I am in Victoria Falls, that still puts me 10 KM from Livingstone.  Too much to for me, especially with my stuff.  Yes, I will get to see the falls I suppose from there but my main objective is to cross the border into Livingstone.  After I rest up I can probably get a free shuttle (read somewhere they leave at 10AM) out to look at the biggest waterfall in the world I will probably ever see, say 'neat' and wonder about wifi reception.  By seeing this waterfall, it will excuse me from not seeing other, lesser waterfalls.  Which everyone seems to have.

From this post it also mentions that I will get hit with an extra $30 charge for entering the waterfalls area in Zimbabwe.   It also mentions the visa ends as soon as you leave Zimbabwe.  Fair enough.

Here is a map of the Victoria Falls/Livingstone area.  For some reason, there don't seem to be any places to stay in Victoria Falls.  The only ones I've seen discussed are several hundred dollars per night.  On the other side of the border, Livingstone has a bunch.

This post has the best picture I've seen thus far of the Livingstone Bridge, and it also mentions that taxis are a dollar or two if needed.  They do suggest walking but we'll see what it looks like and how I feel when I get there.

From my research, it seems that Livingstone would possibly be an affordable city to hang out in for a bit and even see the famous 'Victoria Falls'.  Note to self, check out Jollyboys Hostel and find out about 'booze cruises' (near sunset, last for two hours, free alcohol) when there.

From wikitravel, this map seems to indicate a pretty clear course to go from Livingstone to Tanzania.  Next, we'll research to find out if a road actually exists and if so is it serviced by buses and things.

Lusaka - the capital.  At first blush it looks OK.

Kabwe - One of the five most polluted places on this planet!  Lets avoid it.

...And that's about it.  The capital (Lusaka) doesn't look like it has much to recommend it as far as accommodations.  Most seem to be low rated and discuss lack of cleanliness and theft.

If I am stuck staying in Lusaka, this might be a decent place:  Lusaka Backpackers, Mulombwa Close, 31300, Lusaka, Zambia.

Getting to the capital: Mazhandu Family Bus Services is talked about on a couple different sites.  Naturally, their site is down (look shocked!) but wikitravel says it is generally between $13 and $20 (and 7-8 hours) to reach the capital.

From here:  The Zambezi Express: "There is also an express train (The Zambezi Express) leaving Livingstone on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 14h30, arriving in Lusaka at 11h00 the next morning! Yes, 18 hours to travel 570kms – but although this sounds like wasted time – it’s actually a great option because everyone else will be catching the bus so you’ll probably have the whole of first class to yourself and for around $10 you have a bed for the night and can see a bit of real Zambia along the way. It leaves Lusaka on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 19h30 and arrives in Livingstone at 6h10."  [Logan note:  If I wanted to avoid needing to stay in the capital, or was short on time, this would be a cheap option that would include lodging.]

The Tazara Line: "The Tazara Line from Kapiri Mposhi to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania leaves every Tuesday and Friday at 16:00 and takes 2 days. On Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, a train leaves from Kapiri Mposhi to the border town of Nakonde and back, stopping at all main towns along the way. Bookings for the Tazara line must be done a week in advance at Tazara house, opposite the market in Independence Ave on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Tel: +260 1 220646. To be safe, ask the station police to escort you to a taxi."  [Logan note:  Apparently the area is so dangerous I need the station police to escort me to a cab.  This does not sound grand.  Also, since the websites for things usually seem to be down (or non existent or sold for magic beans) I have no idea how I would get my ticket 'a week in advance' without staying at the 'we have nothing here' town of Kapiri Mposhi.  According to the TAZARA website, you should book two weeks or possibly a month in advance.  This is a huge deal (built by the Chinese) and there just aren't enough trains for the usage.  For an added cock in the mouth experience, you can't just book online - you have to talk to a specific person via telephone.]


It is upsetting that everything seems to be in Livingstone.  It looks like the capital will just be a one night stop unless the place strikes my fancy.

I wanted to look into train travel because after six hours, buses begin to suck.

Hum.  If I go there, I will probably need a yellow fever injection certificate as well - which will drop another $80 to $100.

Although this is NOT a statue of a 'dude taking a dump' if that is what you are looking for it is 'close enough'.

Conclusions after a day spent going through the countries in detail:

Honestly, I'm not finding a lot of shit I'm interested in.  Going to see a giant waterfall, maybe getting drunk on the boat, check - neat - however sleeping under mosquito netting, not really digging that as much.  It seems the transportation - if it exists - is going to be extremely primitive and such.  This wouldn't be a huge problem but they are charging Eastern European (or much higher!) prices for this shit.

Hence that leaves probably just disease free (well, no shots required so far as I know) South Africa.

Which I'd still like to go to.  Now, I've just got to figure out a way to make that work financially.  Sure, I'm Logan and stuff might change radically once I get into South Africa.  I might meet up with some other travelers who persuade me to come with them on a huge odyssey across the southern part of that massive wild continent.  That could indeed happen.

However...

My body had begun to break down.  My right foot now has a fairly substantial amount of pain when I walk, sporting a limp and moving slower.  My legs are sometimes sporting open wounds from who knows what (though the penicillin seems to be helping clear that up) and I don't know if physically I can do it.

Ah, to be twenty years younger.  Reminds me of a quote Hot Shots. (From Adm. Thomas 'Tug' Benson) "When I look out at you great guys and I say to myself "What I wouldn't give to be 20 years younger... and a woman".

What a great commander.

So, my new new plan is this.  I'm going to do more research on Tunisia and see if there is anywhere here I'd like to visit.  Yes, that does fit in with my mentor's "Stop wasting your visa" advice.

Starting to think if I can tough it out here with rotten food and infested lodging for a couple months (and not drinking other than orange soda with a very infrequent wine bender) then this will allow me to save up the money to fly to South Africa.  From South Africa after I've gotten done visiting with the NERO people there, I can go to somewhere the hell else.  Maybe back to SE Asia.  I've been missing it terribly.



HOW TO EAT MEAT IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY

Though you need not do this with chicken or if you are in an upper class restaurant that serves you a nice steak I'd suggest it within the lower class restaurants.

Use your hands.  Before biting into anything, massage the meat and look for hidden bone chips.

Swallowing one of these is no joke.

Despite having slaughtered and prepared animals for millennia, it seems the locals beat the animals to death with hammers and separate the pieces with a machete from the cuts of meat you are given.


Some penicillin injected into my butt, $2
Fairly bland food, generally $4-7
Uninspiring place to stay, $11
Two bottles of 'attitude adjustment to the positive', $9 

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PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan | Portugal: Faro

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