Monthly Archives: September 2014

The pope is waving at me!

Trigger-happy with a lasergun
I’m driving through southern Tanzania, and it’s pretty relaxed. Apart from the odd unexpected pothole to keep you alert, the road is reasonable to good. There’s a speed limit of 50 for the villages, and there are signs, speed bumps, speed humps and speed rubbles to remind you. And too many policemen and –women with laserguns to enforce it. I know that speeding – even with 1 km – will cost you. So I stay well below 50 untill I reach the end of a village, when a policeman stops me waving with his toy gun. With a big “Gotcha!” smile he shows me the 63 on the small screen. “Why were you speeding?” he wants to know. “I was sure that I had the village well behind me.” And I really thought I had. But they put the ‘end of speed limit’ signs at least a few kilometers outside a village to create a speed trap. You think you must have missed the sign, or that it’s been run over by a truck or stolen. I end up paying 60.000 shilling (24 euro, with a receipt) or 30.000 without one, and opt for the latter. Old trick, and it works. When I drive away I see that his cap is still on the bonnet. I stop to give it back: “30.000 for your cap?” We both laugh. Driving through Mikumi Wildlife Park can be much more expensive when you hit one of the bigger mammals. This antelope is a cheapie, though. A giraffe will set you back USD 2.500!

All animals are equal, bur some are more equal than others

All animals are equal, bur some are more equal than others

The pope is waving at me!
Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined being waved at by the pope. Yet there he is, lifesize, waving at me in a way only popes can, the hand at shoulder height, smiling without laughing, subdued. Do they get a special training for this, I wonder. My concentrated driving doesn’t allow me to take a picture of him on the back of the the bus in front of me. In Tanzania they certainly know how to wield a spray paint gun to customize their vehicles. Shortly after the pope I see one with a devoutly looking (always slightly up) black Jesus and the words: “God is my boss!” These little works of art must cost a lot of time and money so you want an image that lasts. The driver with the US flag and Osama Bin Laden and the text: “Still wanted!” probably wished he had opted for something more timeless.

Osama Bin Laden: still wanted!

Osama Bin Laden: still wanted!

The Afrikaners are decent people who have been mislead by their leaders (Nelson Mandela)
From far away you can recognize us as the bearers of God’s light in Africa (Eugene Terre’ Blanche, AWB leader)
I don’t think our roots as Afrikaners in Africa are planted in the soil of justice (Wilhelm Verwoerd, grandson of Hendrik Verwoerd and ANC member)

I should catch up on my reading. Although I left South Africa several weeks ago I am still in the middle of its recent post-apartheid situation. I’m reading Dervla Murphy’s South from the Limpopo.

Dervla Murphy

Dervla Murphy

She’s some Irish woman! Cycled all over the world in the most inhospitable countries and made this solo trip through South-Africa in the early nineties as a sextagenarian. At the time when Chris Hani, the charismatic leader of the ANC, was murdered by an assassin of the AWB (Afrikaner Weerstands Beweging) and the country was in great turmoil, with killings from both sides as a daily news event. This is all less than a generation ago. As an atheist Murphy describes how apartheid is firmly founded on the bible. She meets dominee Snyman, the AWB’s second in command. After coffee and biscuits the dominee opens his bible:

Strips of parchments marked the passages justifying – nay exhorting – apartheid. Having been cursed by the Lord, explained dominee Snyman, the sons of Ham turned black and became irredeemably degenerate – subhuman. The Afrikaans language, as it evolved, took care of the distinction between mense (meaning people, who are white) and skepsels (meaning creatures, who are non-white). Every right-wing thought, word and deed is inspired from On High; the AWB are only doing what they have to do, as men and women who heed the word of the Lord.
Afrikaner Weerstands Beweging

Afrikaner Weerstands Beweging

In one of my posts from Namibia I made some critical observations about the continuing strong German and South-African presence there. As one Afrikaner explained to me: “We still see Namibia as part of our country.” My post illicited some fierce and agressive reactions on a South-African 4×4 forum. Here’s a typical example:

(…) is jy die onnosel kort klein wat n foto van my in eastwoods wou neem waar ek met n bier in die hand gestaan het? As dit jy is, onthou mooi wat daai aand gebeur het. As ek jou hier kry vreet jy die keer jou kamera se lens. Onnosel stront.

My Afrikaans is good enough to understand that he’s not exactly inviting me over for a beer! Let’s just say that if you have to resort to such language you are simply confirming my observations.

An illegal in Zambia

With sweat on my forehead I wake up in the middle of the night. I dreamt that I was in Zambia without a visa. Oh well, dreams, you know. In the morning I check my passport, just to make sure. No visa. I check my other passport. Same result: I am illegally in an African country! The day before I crossed the Botswana – Zambian border with a small (takes one truck and a 4×4) ferry at Kasungula. On the Botswana side things went pretty smoothly, untill a customs officer wanted my carnet. I told him it wasn’t stamped at entering Botswana, so it cannot be stamped exiting. He is a surly man, doesn’t look me in the eyes but communicates with my crotch. I want to ask him if he’s always in such a good mood, or is he just having a great day, but don’t want to make things worse. “Sir, I am just doing what I have to do, and I have to stamp your carnet,” he says, and is about to tear out one complete page. “Don’t do that, it will just waste a page of my precious carnet!” But he stamps, signs, and tears the page, hands it back to me and wishes me a safe journey. “Have a nice day,” I can barely manage.

The Zambian side at Kasungula is chaos, a beautiful example of African inefficiency, and feels strangely familiar after crossing West and Central Africa. Lots of hassle and fixers. One of them, Elvin, a young man smartly dressed, offers his services. I decline politely, but he follows me like a young puppy. I go from the Health desk (to have my body temperature taken for signs of Ebola), to the Road Transport and Safety desk ($20, with receipt), to the Carbon Emissions desk (150 Kwatcha, with receipt), to the Customs desk to have my carnet stamped (no costs). The officials all wear mouth masks and white surgical gloves. Ebola is everywhere. Elvin explains that the first case has been reported in Congo Kinshasa, Zambia’s neighbour, and that the Zambian government is actively taking precautions. To my left and right are groups of people waiting to be vaccinated before being allowed to enter the country (vaccinated against what? There’s no cure for Ebola), and posters explaining the disease are everywhere. Elvin gets a commission for every insurance, so I finally follow him to a row of sea containers. One of them is the “office”, and is completely empty apart from a tabble and one chair. The price is reasonable (260 Kwatcha, which is about € 30). I then drive to the last barrier, guarded by “the big man” as Elvin calls him, a big military with a big smile and an even bigger automatic weapon. “You show him all the receipts, and that’s it,” Elvin explains. When I drive up to the “big man”, I am stopped by another official (how many people do you need to run a border post?), who wants me to go back and show the papers for Thimba. No problem (I think). I need a stamp. The stamp is in a closed office. The only one who can give me the stamp is an official of the Ministry of Health who happens to be in “in a meeting”. Elvin suggests that we go and look for him. We walk to the local market and hear a metallic voice over a loudspeaker. “That’s him,” Elvin says, “I recognize his voice.” People are gathered around a couple of white Red Cross Toyota’s, listening to a lecture about the dangers of Ebola. It’s in the local language, but I recognize English words such as ‘contact’, ‘seamen’, ‘fever’, and ‘vomiting’. We just stand there, listening to something I know what it’s about but can’t understand, being watched by people who wonder why a white man should listen to all of this. After half an hour, Elvin suggests we go back to the border post and try our luck with the official who stopped us, whatever that means. The ‘stamp’ man is continuing his tour for the rest of the day and might not even be back until tomorrow, so I readily agree. Elvin advises me to drive the car right to the barrier, as a sort of statement. It appears that I can now pass the border without a stamp when I pay $60. And I do. And during all that hassle and inefficency I did not get the most important document: a visa! So the next day I decide to drive the 10 km to the Zambia-Zimbabwe border crossing at Victoria Falls. A couple of beautiful immigration ladies help me out, and I have my visa within half an hour.

 

They call this "no season."

They call this “no season.”

Some rerouting
When there’s a fork in the road, take it.”
(Zen saying)

Thimba’s wellbeing made me change my initial plans, that’s why they’re plans. I didn’t cross DRC from Kinshasa to Lubumbashi and skipped a few countries here and there. That’s fine, I’m not travelling around Africa to tick as many country boxes as possible. And there’s my right shoulder which is giving me a lot of pain driving. My carnet is running out of pages: with the countries I crossed sofar I’ve only got 5 pages left. With Tanzania, Kenia, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt ahead of me the carnet is full. Getting a new one is possible but not easy. And last but not least – on a personal note – in Holland Autumn is setting in, the evenings are getting longer, and Eljen is very much longing for my return home. I had been looking forward to Burundi and Rwanda. But that would mean taking the western Tanzanian route with some very bad roads and reports about armed robberies. So from Malawi (where I am now, enjoying a very relaxed time on the shores of Lake Malawi) I’ll go straight up through Tanzania, crossing into Kenia from Arusha. In Nairobi (the famous overlanders hotspot Jungle Junction) I’ll be looking for fellow travellers north to team up for the Moyale – Marsabit road in northern Kenya.

Too many baboons!
My first stop in Malawi is Senga Bay, and I find a beautiful campsite at the Safari Beach Resort. With Thimba still in the car, her head through the window in eager anticipation, the baboons gather around us. Up in the trees, left and right, there must be tens of them, dog like, big, making agressive noises, getting closer and closer, eying Thimba. I walk back to the reception, leaving Thimba in the car. “Will the attack my dog when I let her out?”, I want to know. “It’s their territory, and they see the dog as an enemy and can become very agressive,” the man at the desk explains. “Are there any campsites here without so many monkeys?” “Your best bet is Mufasa Backpackers.” I get there driving through narrow alleys, passing huts very closely. Unfriendly faces; my smile is not returned. A young man runs towards me, waving his hands, shouting. Maybe I missed a turn, so I stop. He keeps shouting at me through the window. I can’t understand a word he’s saying, he’s clearly drunk, drugged, or both. So I drive on, he gets even more angry and holds on to the door. I accellerate and see him wildly gesticulating in the mirror. What an entrance! The lodge is basically a local hangout: a well-stocked bar, a couple of rooms and a toilet. The only place to put the car is in the car park, big enough for two cars. But with a great view of rows and rows of tables where villagers are selecting and drying sardines. I ask James, a local fisherman and selfproclaimed guide, to show me around. We walk for two hours with the light of the setting sun. Each time when I want to take a photograph I ask James to introduce me and get permission. This is never a problem. Just once he says: “O.k., but quickly!” It appears that he offered his services to an American recently, who declined and walked around the boats and the people taking photographs. His camera was taken from him and smashed. Could be just another story. However I’m glad that I have James and two of his mates to accompany me. It makes things a lot easier.

James, at a table of drying sardines

James, at a table of drying sardines

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Boiling the sardines for export to Zimbabwe and SA

Fresh and dried sardines

Fresh and dried sardines

Boys repairing nets

Boys repairing nets

Bringing in the catch of the day

Bringing in the catch of the day

Interviewed by South-Korean television!
At Kanda Beach Resort I meet Jung, a documentary maker from South-Korea. With his two colleagues he’s making a documentary about Malawi for a national television network. He asks about my travels and gets more and more enthusiastic, frequently bowing his head while shaking hands (with both hands). Indepent overland travel is virtually unknown in his country, and he suggests doing an interview with me as part of their documentary. An hour later he reappears with his cameraman and the presenter of the programme and they shoot video for three quarters of an hour, Jung directing his crew, me, and Thimba. They climb into the rooftop tent, drink water from the filter, walk with Thimba, sit behind the steering wheel. Hiddink can’t be left out: he’s a big hero in South-Korea after he coached the national football team to unknown heights. “It creates a strong bond between the two countries!”, Jung believes. And I think he really does. He promises to send me the video when it’s finished in October. Can’t wait!

Jung (middle) and his crew

Jung (middle) and his crew

Jung and his crew at an early morning shoot at Laker Malawi

Jung and his crew at an early morning shoot at Lake Malawi