Surfing Baptism

February 26, 2006

Surfing BaptismThis morning we headed to Victoria market in search of Indian hawkers and Indian food. We found the market virtually empty on a Sunday morning, and once again, failed to eat Indian food.

We did however enjoy a walk along the beach after lunch. Along the way we stopped to watch surfers from the concrete walk way. As we were watching them, I noticed a group of middle aged black woman and and children watching the surfers from the waters edge. On closer inspection, one woman was carrying a drum. A man and a woman from the group seemed to be wading out chest deep in the water, and he was dunking her.

Soyan realized that they weren’t watching the surfers at all. They were conducting a baptism.

With god as my witness, and in case he is busy a bunch of surfers, you are now born again.

Vindaloo Peek-A-Boo

Indian Food I was delighted to learn that Durban has the largest Indian community outside of India. While this is an interesting fact to share with unsuspecting family and friends, I was excited because I love Indian food. We had excellent Indian food in Tanzania, but that was more than a month ago and we were ready for some more.

We picked up recent Frommer’s Guide to Southern Africa from a book exchange in Zambia, and decided to try the 2 “must visit” Indian restaurants in Durban. When I called to make a reservation at Gulpur, I go an error about the number being invalid, but I attributed this to my lack of prowess at navigating the South African phone system.

When we arrived at the specified address last night, we found a new restaurant in place of the one we were looking for. I guess I should have been more confident my ability to use a phone. Instead, we settled for dinner on the patio of Tribeca restaurant, surround by several tables of trendy young Indians drinking martinis and eating pizzas and burgers.

Tonight we once again set out to try the other mustn’t miss Indian restaurant: Jaipur Palace, and found we were a week too late for its closing party. I guess Indian food isn’t as popular with Indians as it is with us.

Determined, we went to Little India a restaurant passed on our trip to the Musgrave Center. The Mutton Vindaloo was excellent, the Aloo Mutter and the Chicken Sagwala were pretty good, but we were delighted none the less.

Little India is located at: 155 Musgrave Road, Durban. (031) 201-1121

Indian food photo by Miss Domestic used under Creative Commons license.

Food Fusion Confusion!

February 25, 2006

Mugg and Bean Oriental Chicken Burger Mugg and bean is a South African chain that purports to serve American food. I found this item on their menu and I really don’t know what to say! This is one confused food item!

An oriental chicken burger that has guacamole on it and is served on a bagel?!

Yes it has teriyaki sauce, but does that really justify calling it “oriental”? Why not call it “mexican”, I mean it has guacamole. Or deli style, it is served on a bagel.

Don’t be a “Stick in the Mud”

February 17, 2006

Map to Jungle JunctionI met Gremlin at breakfast in the backpacker hostel we were staying at in Livingstone. He explained that he ran Jungle Junction, a jungle camp on an island in the middle of the Zambezi river. We chatted about how he ended up in Zambia and how long he had been running the place. Eventually I asked him to pitch me on why I might want to go.

“Why the hell would you want to stay in the hot, noisy city with people hassling you to buy crap all day when you could be in the jungle?”, he practically yelled at me.

I pointed out that there were some lovely falls near by. He snorted, “Fifteen minutes, how pretty, now what?”
Without accepting his summary of the magnificent Victoria Falls, the chance to escape the heat and hassle of the city did seem appealing. Gremlin eventually offered a few more details about how I might spend my time on the island. I could visit a local village where there were few tourists and nobody would ask me for money. (This is more unusual in Zambia than you might imagine.) I could hike, learn African drumming, take a sunset cruise or simply read from “the best English language library in Zambia.”

A view of the Zambezi from our room
We decided to head to the booking office and see we what could learn. We met a friendly older American couple that had run schools in Switzerland for twenty years. After selling the schools, they had come to Zambia to visit their son, a doctor working in Zambia, and decided to stay and open a school for expat children.

They had just returned from three days at Jungle Junction and they had loved it. They seemed quite respectable and discerning. This provided the necessary reassurance to venture to a place in the jungle whose flier featured a crocodile lying in a hammock smoking a joint.

We signed up to head there the next day. They were to pick us up at our hostel at 2 pm. When nobody had arrived by 3pm I wandered to the office to see what was up. I found Gremlin covered from head to toe in mud. He explained that the truck had gotten stuck on the way out because of all the recent rain. They’d be by to get us in just a minute, but he was headed home to Scotland for a visit, so I’d meet his partner, Brett.

Dugout canoesBrett picked us up in a Land Cruiser pickup truck that had another couple sitting in the back with the luggage, so Soyan and I shared the tiny cab with Brett. We made one more stop to pick up food and supplies for the camp as well as Lulu the manager. All this was piled in the back with the luggage and the other guests as we hit the road.

We left the tar road after 20 minutes for the 10 kilometers of dirt track that would get us to the Zambezi. It was a muddy and bumpy ride, but Brett drove like a champ. After just twenty more minutes we arrived at the shore and climbed in to a pair of dug out canoes. A pair of paddlers took us a short way downstream to camp.

Camp was a primitive paradise! There were central bathrooms and showers up to western standards but open to the air in pole and reed huts. Our huge airy room had an ample porch with a fantastic view of the Zambezi. A pair of oil lanterns provided light at night and under our mosquito net and duvet we felt and safe and snug as at any Four Seasons.

Soyan readingThe only electricity came from solar power and it was dedicated to the stereo in the bar. Our excellent meals were all prepared over wood fires and lit by candles. The library did not rival any of the 11 University of Chicago libraries, but was indeed the best we had seen in Zambia. I enjoyed Bill Bryson’s thin African Diary and we borrowed the Southern Africa Lonely Planet to do some planning.

Lizazi Village, a sister makes breakfast for her brother.The next morning we went on a village walk and got a feel for the local village. It is a subsistence community of farming and fishing. We met the village head man and a few locals. We met a young girl cooking impossibly small fish for breakfast for her and her brother. We saw the crops, the church and the homes of both of our guide’s wives. It was a fascinating peek in to local life.

Brett and Evelyn in funny hats.Most of the remainder of our time at Jungle Junction it was raining, but we could not have cared less. We loved the jungle scenery, the cool (if somewhat humid) weather for sleeping, and the chance to read and relax. Our evenings were spent hanging out in the bar chatting with the handful of other guests, that quickly became like family as we all shared a small island. Brett told me about the struggle of running the business and Evelyn, his botanist girlfriend kissed me when I shared our red wine. We all wore funny hats from the large collection behind the bar and felt like we were in a special place.

A dugout canoe on the ZambeziWhen it was time to leave, we loaded all our gear back in to shallow dug out canoes and crossed back to the main land with only a little fear that if the crocs came after us we’d probably get away with the loss of only one limb, but that the luggage would be lost forever. We piled back in to the Land Cruiser, and this time we decided to take the back, sharing it with Evelyn and leaving the other couple in the cab. The extra room and air more than made up for the lack of a seat, and the sun was finally shining after the almost unending rain.

Almost as soon as we left camp I realized that all that rain meant mud, and not a little bit either. This was the most rain Livingstone had gotten in at least a decade. We were about to see just what a four wheel drive vehicle was capable of… and what would stop it in its tracks.

View of the mudNot even 300 meters from camp we came to a long muddy stretch and eased up to the edge. Our driver paused and performed a careful study like a kayaker picking his line. He then backed up and prepared to enter the mud with the benefit of substantial speed. As soon as we hit the mud I realized that the comparison to a kayaker would prove to be a more apt than I had imagined. With the engine gunning we took the bumps and dips just like we were running rapids and with a remarkably similar amount of splashing. Our driver was once again masterful in his ability to keep the Land Cruiser moving, but eventually the mud sucked us down like a mammoth in a tar pit.

After a few minutes of gunning the engine and trying to rock ourselves free, the driver walked back to camp to summon a Grant, a guest who had arrived in his own four wheel drive vehicle, hoping he could pull us out of the muck. We waited patiently in the back of the truck, but of course we were not alone.

Our audienceOne funny thing about Africa is that, despite having a much lower population density than the the US, you are never alone when your car gets stuck. It doesn’t matter if you have been driving through the bush for two hours without having seen a soul. If your car breaks down or gets stuck in the mud, a village emissary, generally an 11 year old boy with no shoes, will appear almost instantly. This happens so quickly you are force to wonder if he has been following you the whole drive, knowing this would happen. Like an army sentinel, his job is to summon as many other people (almost always more little boys) that will form the audience for the show you are about to put on. Without television, a car stuck in the mud gets excellent ratings.

Grant with his truck and a boy dragging a branch
Of course the upside to an audience in Africa is that when things get complicated, there is usually some audience participation. Grant arrived and tied his truck to ours. Several of the nearby children helped to haul branches to stick behind the wheels to provide traction. We watched all this comfortably from the back of the truck and never even needed to get out. After a few minutes we were back where we started ready to take another run at the river, err road. This time we made it!

We were on the road again only 40 minutes behind schedule, but now the sun that had been such a blessing was getting warm so I wasn’t so excited when we got stuck again 2 kilometers later. This time we’d be on our own because Grant could not risk driving through the mud to help lest he get stuck too. After a 15 minutes of vain stuffing grass near the wheels and gunning the engine nothing the car no longer moved at all. The car was in exactly the same position if the pedal was to the floor or if the car was off. Now this is stuck!

Land Cruiser on a jack in the mudThis was my first lesson in what it really takes to drive in the mud in Africa. What it takes is a willingness to get muddy, a big block of wood, an enormous jack, and the nerve to stuff branches under one tire at a time while the car is jacked up two feet in the air on top of mud. This time we would definitely be getting out of the truck. After about an hour we were finally free and hoping once again to avoid the mud. Thankfully we manged to make it through the remaining mud without getting stuck again. We all breathed a sigh of relief when we got back to the tar road.

It took almost three hours to go 10 kilometers, but I was so relaxed after my time at Jungle Junction, I hardly cared. After all, 3 hours is not a long delay in Africa.

Go jump off a cliff…

Jonathan jumping off a cliff.As I continue catching up on my backlog of adventures I return you to Zambia…

We had a great time in Livingstone, Zambia. It is the adventure capital of Zambia and possibly Africa as a whole. There is everything from micro lights to Bungee jumping. We had a blast white water rafting on the Zambezi (a category five river) and then spending a few days chilling out at Jungle Junction (an island in the Zambezi 30 miles from Livingstone) and finally doing the “Gorge Swing”.

The Gorge Swing is an alternative to the famous bungee jump from the bridge across the gorge that divides Zambia from Zimbabwe. Calling it the gorge swing is about as accurate as referring to a bungee bounce. While you bounce when you bungee and you do swing on the gorge swing, neither is really the point. What you really do is free fall for 4 seconds off the edge of a cliff and then “swing” to stop you from hitting the river bed below. It is quite a thrill.

For the same price as the Bungee we booked a full day of rapelling, zip lines and “swinging”. It was a lot of fun and great exercise too, because what they don’t tell you in the ads is that after you get down, it is a 15 minute walk and 90 meter climb back up. The video was too good to pass up so we ponied up for the DVD as well, but as part of the deal I made the guy pull out some clips for the web site. The clip below shows me and then Soyan and me jumping together.

Watch my mouth as I fall and you can clearly see me say: “How fun!”

If you can’t see the video try downloading it here:
Gorge Swing Video (requires Quicktime. Or check out the photos below.)

Here are photos from the day: The Zambezi Gorge Swing

A pair of queer birds

February 16, 2006

Birders (that’s bird watchers for those of you not hip to the birding scene) are normally passionate and obsessive people. While I enjoy snapping a few shots of birds, I don’t share their obsession. Nonetheless, I usually like people who are a little bit obsessive. If someone doesn’t care deeply about anything, he isn’t usually very interesting.

I found the passion I read about in The Big Year, a recently published book about competitive birding, to be charming and I understood it perfectly.

So when I met the pair of British birding lawyers on my recent wilderness trail trip in Kruger National Park I expected to like them and maybe learn a little something about the local birds. I was surprised that I needed only spend an hour with them before I learned to identify the sound of the constant chattering of a pair of Snotty Nosed English Nit Pickers. Once I had heard it, I wasn’t able to escape it for the entire trip.

The right side is the wrong side.

February 9, 2006

We are in Johannesburg, South Africa. Wherever we go we try to soak up the local culture and seek out local adventure. Since Jo’burg is a city of mall culture and the car jacking capital of the world, we decided there was no better way to fit in than to rent a car and hit the malls.

It is, however, not the risk of car jacking that is scaring me- it is driving on the left side of the road. It takes complete concentration to make a right hand turn across a divided highway and go through a rotary without killing myself or anyone else. I must have turned on the windshield wipers twenty times trying to use the turn signal since everything is reversed.

Despite all this, after our 89 hour experience on the train (coming soon!) we decided to rent a car and tour South Africa without depending on public transit. Since the dangers of the center of Jo’burg have driven many people to the suburbs, we spent yesterday visiting a number of malls that comprise the social and recreational life of most white residents of the city. We were buying a tent, air mattress, cooking stove, pots, towels and the dozens of other things that we need to be semi self sufficient as we drive the country.

Today we are leaving Jo’burg and heading northeast toward Pilgrim’s Rest and then on to Kruger National Park. On Sunday we start a three day hike through the park, then we’ll head to Swaziland and along the coast toward Capetown.

We now have a South African cell phone with free incoming calls, so give us a buzz at [number deleted becasue it is no longer functional]. The 0 may not be necessary when calling from overseas, so if it doesn’t work try removing the 0. Please remember we are 7 hours ahead of the East Coast so please don’t call past 4pm ET unless it is an emergency.

Full moon in Zanzibar

Here is a little slice of Zanzibar from our time at the beach in Kendwa in the northern tip…

The full moon party at the Kendwa Rocks is gyrating at full speed. It is filled with local men looking for tourists to dance with, and tourists being wowed by the acrobatic show illuminated by the roaring beach fire. The party goes on late in to the night, but I turn in around midnight. This means I am one of the few folks on the beach to see why a full moon was a reason to party long before the tourists started coming.

The waters off the coast at the northern tip of the island are always shallow, but when there is a full moon the tides are so low you can walk at least a kilometer off shore and keep your head above water, which turns out to be perfect for hand held net fishing.

As I gaze northward there are at least a hundred and fifty women spread out thousands of feet from the shore across the blue zebra skin of seaweed darkened water and sand that shines from beneath. As the water becomes a solid blue far from shore, there are still scarf-covered heads dotting the water.

Close to shore there are 17 women wearing long dresses of impossibly bright and busy prints. The patterns are red and orange or yellow and blue. There is a multicolored tie dye of red, orange, green and white. A yellow and black checkerboard of cloth is hanging loosely on top of an explosive brown and orange patterned sheath underneath. Some wear matching head scarves, some favor solid black. All seem as though this is the most normal thing in the world to wear as they stand waist or chest deep in the ocean.

The women form a 60 foot semi circle and walk perpendicular to the beach, 30 feet off shore. They walk north along the coast, and even the farthest woman’s head is far above the gentle waves. They are quiet as they move steadily along the shore. Then they start smacking the water with sticks, splashing and talking occasionally. Then roaring with laughter as their boisterous shouting carries across the water and down the shore.

Four women hold a pair of nets in the center. As the group nears me the semi circle begins to close into a circle as the women act like a tightening noose, driving the fish toward the nets. Slowly the nets are drawn close and the women stand around talking and shouting as the net bearers attend to the nets, hopefully filled with fish.

Then at the same steady pace the women return to the south with their catch. There is lots more to do and the low tide won’t last for long.

A few Zanzibar (Kendwa) Photos