Friday, April 15, 2011

From Asia to Africa

Now that I've left Indonesia, I've decided that the experience was mixed. I felt Bali was a bit of a let down. I might be the only person in the world that didn't like Ubud all that much. Sure it was pretty. . .But all the hype, all the 'eat, pray, love' images. . . It didn't live up. I rented a bike and tried to find the famous Ubud rice terraces that everyone raves about. I rode for hours and just got lost in a maze of urban sprawl. Maybe I should have done the actual organized tour you pay money for and they bring you to the terraces. But after they informed me they drop you at the top of the hill so all you have to do is coast down I didn't do it. I could not bring myself to pay $30 for something so un-extreme. So instead I spent way too much money on massages and wandered around bored.

Kuta Beach on my last night in Indonesia
Kuta is definitely no paradise, with sleazy hawkers at every turn and little boy pickpocketers that get close to you under the guise of selling bracelets and then before you know it half your life is missing. I know more than one person that got robbed at or after the clubs. The beach is busy and trashy. There's an over abundance of young drunk Australians and fake tanned Europeans. . .Actually, I think they may outnumber the Balinese. Sound like a tropical dream to you? Meh it is what it is. Cheap, tasty food and drinks and all the low price merchandise you can buy. Well, 'low price' as long as your bargaining skills are well practiced. If not they'll take you for all your worth and won't bat an eyelash over it.

I liked Lombok and wish I could have spent more time there. I would like to go to some of the more remote islands as well, to find that real tropical paradise. I think the key to Indonesia is to get off the severely beaten (and in some cases ruined) track. I guess if you are just on a short holiday and want to get hammered and have a massage and buy some cheap shit, Bali may just be for you. If you detect a hint of cynicism, you're probably correct. Coming from India and Nepal where the culture is so raw and intact to Indonesia where they've bent over backwards to do everything our way was great for about 3 days. Then it got old, fast. For me anyway.

Zambezi River from the plane with Vic Falls
And now I'm going to Africa, first stop Livingtstone, Zambia. As I was flying over the African plains I wondered what to expect from these lands below. I honestly had completely no idea. The difference between now and when I arrived in India is that I feel so much more empowered. My confidence in my ability to go into a new and foreign place, totally alone, and handle myself is tenfold what it was. I'm not panicking this time, I'm looking calmly at the unknown continent below thinking I can handle whatever presents itself.

I arrive at the Livingstone airport and pay for my visa and gather my belongings. I follow the crowd of middle aged and retired tourists into Zambia. I am the only backpacker type. . . .God I'm the only one under the age of 50. . . is this a bad coincidence? We wander out into the tiny airport. There's a row of drivers and tour organizers waiting with signs for their clients. Of course, none of them say my name. I watch as every single person on my flight  meets their pre-arranged pick-up. Oh. . . .Maybe I should have booked something? That's ok, I'll just take a taxi. I walk confidently outside into the warm Zambian sun and. . . .There's no one! There's a field with some trees to one side, some birds chirping from the other, an empty parking lot. Maybe this is a first hint that Africa will be nothing at all like Asia. Where are all the people fighting for my business? Where are all the rickshaws, the tuk-tuks, the scooters, anyone?!?! Hmmm. I wander back inside looking and feeling a bit lost. In the tiny airport an official notices and approaches.
   "Is your ride not here, miss" he asks in a deep African accent.
   "I don't have a ride," I said "do you know where I can get a taxi?"
   "Well yes, I can get you one," he motions to another man and says something in a language I don't understand. We stand quietly for a moment and he seems to sum me up. I wonder what he is thinking about me.
   "Where are you from?" He asks.
   "Canada," I reply. His eyes light up with my response.
   "Ahhh!" He say, "Zambians like Canadians.Very nice! Welcome to Zambia!" and he outstretched a slim, dark hand in my direction. I shook it and smiled. Ok I thought, I'm making friends already! This is good.

Victoria Falls
Shortly after I was passed off the a taxi driver. And here comes the part that I hate the most about arriving somewhere new: The first drive. When everything is unknown to you, you have no reference for how much things should cost, whether to barter, or how honest the drivers are. This is when there is a 99% chance you will get ripped off. It's basically inevitable and you should just accept it as a extra travel cost until you get your bearings.
   "How much to town? And please, just give me the honest price," I said.
   "Well that depends," he replied, "whether you are kind and would like to give me a little extra so that I can have a drink tonight." I sighed. He launched into a sob story about how much gas costs, and the airport charges him, yadda, yadda, yadda. So this is how it's going to be. I'm not getting an honest answer out of him. We settled on $15, which I'm pretty sure it should have been about $5. But what can I do? He is my only ride. Like I said, extra travel cost. He took me to my hostel safely without hassle, so it was worth it, I GUESS.

I checked in and gazed out the hostel window. It's not what I expected at all. I thought I would see dusty roads and shabby, decaying buildings and ratty looking children running about. There are none of these things. In fact, there's a modern looking strip mall across the street. Slim, tall, and well dressed Africans walk the evenly paved sidewalk. I gather some courage and push myself out into the world. I wander over to the grocery store and enter while trying to keep my mouth from gaping open. It's exactly like home! Well almost, except my pale skin is the minority. But there they were, normal people buying normal food at a normal grocery store. Of all the images fed to us about Africa, good or bad, none of them ever showed anything like this!

But I can't pretend to understand how everything works yet. How white and black people view each other here, I have no idea. Everything seems peaceful on the surface, but I sense and undercurrent of something that I can't yet describe. Is it hostility or resentment? Or maybe it's the whisper of the HIV epidemic that hides in 1 of every 7 adult Zambians. You can't see it in their faces, in their smiles, in their smooth, dark skin. If someone hadn't told you, you wouldn't even know it's residing there amongst these normal people doing normal things, just like home. The setting is the familiar, but maybe the difference is they have to live with a disease that has in some way touched every one of their lives. It's scary to think.

And so am here, adjusting. I knew Africa would not be like Asia and it's not. It's extremely difficult and expensive to get from A to B. Food is expensive. Activities are expensive. Accommodation is expensive. Everything is expensive! You can throw your $30/day budget out the window! So for this leg of my trip I'm joining a tour to keep the trip feasible, safe, and my budget in check. But until I start that, I'm out and about exploring on my own. I've made it to Victoria Falls, the biggest falls in the world! You can tell. It's just after the rainy season here and the water thunders over the ridge and ricochets up and fills the entire view with mist. At some points it's literally like getting hit with a monsoon rainstorm! I got soaked! I managed to get some pictures from off to the side, but I'm not sure the pictures do the sheer volume of these falls justice. I would have loved to be able to afford one of those fancy flights to see the whole thing from the air...But it cost $200 for 15 minutes. I think I'll spend my money on safaris instead! I did see some baboons at the falls, and they were scary! They were quite large and they would walk really close to you and glare you down. Some of them were fighting and I didn't want to find out what one could do to me if they wanted! 

So tomorrow I head off with my group to Chobe National Park in Botswana. This park has one of the largest animal concentrations in all of Africa. I'm super excited and hope I can get my broken camera lens to work good enough to capture some wildlife! Wish me luck!


  1. Funny how much scarier wild animals look without the iron bars between you and them! Cripes! Now I have to worry about you being dragged home for dinner...not as a guest, but as the main entree! Hope you have a wonderful time Jordan - can't wait to hear about your African adventures. Love you and miss you. Mum

  2. Super excited for you! Africa! Animals! The photos of the baboons look scary.. they're mean animals. And Im super jealous you saw victoria falls, and on such a beautiful day! Waterfalls are my favorite. I know how you feel about the expensive flight. I had to turn it down as well at Iguazu falls... I wish you luck with your camera lens. Can't wait to see all the photos of the critters! Be safe!
    Charla xoxo

  3. Always a pleasure to read! You have a great way with words and describing things! Stay safe and like your mother said try not to be the main entree! hahaha xoxo