Thursday, January 28, 2010

...Traveling Continued

Rebekah came to visit me for about a month in Rwanda. The first trip we took was to a town called Gisenyi on the northern coast of Lake Kivu in Rwanda. I brought her there to show her an acrobat troupe that I had seen there before. We spent the day juggling with them and swimming in lake Kivu. Rebekah taught them a bunch of juggling tricks and they showed us their incredible acrobats. I also showed her around Rwamagana of course. 
Second, we went to Uganda. After a 13 hour sleepless BuMpY bus ride we arrived in the capital of Uganda, Kampala. We walked around town for a couple days exploring the large sleepless city and feasting on cheap delicious indian and ethiopian food. We stumbled on a beautiful hindu temple that was decorated for the Hanuman (Hindu monkey god) feast day. We took our shoes off and wondered around the beautiful temple adorned with statues of gods, elephants and buddhas. After our quiet walk through the temple, we walked through the largest thatch structure in the world where 4 Ugandan kings are buried. Our tranquil  tour guide walked us through the history of the site, Kasubi tombs, slowly and allowing time to explain everything in detail. After a couple nights, we went to another city called Jinja which sits at the mouth of the Nile as it flows out of Lake Victoria, away from the equator and eventually through Egypt. The moment I touched the Nile was one of the most memorable moments of my life, in part because I was on the end of a 145 ft bungee cord elbow deep in the water. Soon enough, I was completely submerged in its massive rushing rapids holding tight to my raft and paddle. We managed to do an extremely difficult complete backflip the first time we flipped our raft. The second, third and fourth times were relatively unexceptional... except for the second flip which happened at the bottom of a class 5 rapid where I, along with all but two passengers (one of them Rebekah, an ingrained childhood circus skill I imagine) became detached from the boat and had to swim my way back to it. After lunch on a private island we continued on with only four passengers, we lost three in part due to an injury. We continued on, down more high class rapids including a waterfall that dropped probably about 15ft. About this time it started raining. The waters were calm at this point but the sky was all but calm. Soon the rains and winds had drastically dropped the temperature and we all jumped out of the raft seeking the warmth of the Nile and hoping nor crocodile would disturb us. Lighting was striking all around us... and very close I might add. For a minute I thought to myself, “so this is how I go, huh” and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. The rain caused visibility to drop just as drastically as the temperature leaving us seemingly alone and our safety boat and kayakers and the other raft were completely out of site. As we floated down the river holding on to our raft, we started swimming as hard as we could perpendicular to the river trying to reach land that we knew was somewhere beyond the thick cloud of mist but could not be seen. Our progress couldn't be known but what we did know is that a 6 class (the highest of all classes) rapid lay somewhere downstream. With no idea of how close it was, we jumped back into the freezing raft and paddled as hard as we could toward land. After a while we reached our destination point where we walked around the class 6 rapid only to get back in for a class 3 and 4. Then we finished... exhausted, shivering, adrenaline pumping and smiles of two kinds... of relief and of satisfaction.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Adventures, Adventures and… Adventures

This last month and a half has been one of vacations. In late December, I decided at the last minute to go to Zanzibar (an Indian ocean island off the coast of Tanzania) with a group of friends for Christmas.
We (PC friends and I) took a bus from Kigali (capital of Rwanda) to Dar es Salaam (capital of Tanzania) at 6:00 a.m. on Dec. 19th. But we weren’t to arrive until about 3:30 p.m. the next day. At around 10 p.m. “sleepy time”, the road became a bumpy dirt road making it very difficult to sleep. The landscape was beautiful and very African looking. After arriving in Dar, we took a boat that evening to Zanzibar (2 hrs). We arrived in the Stone Town, a beautiful city that I’ll describe later.
The electricity was out on the entire island due to the explosion of a transformer (or something). I found a cheap hotel with a generator and unloaded. I met with two friends that night for dinner. We walked aimlessly along the ancient winding streets only to come across a park on the sea lined with dozens of tables lit by lanterns and manned by men in chefs hats. Big eyed and curious we walked up to the first table. “Welcome, please take a look”, the short charismatic chef said in his charming African accent, “as you can see we have the freshest shark that is cooked by our amazing chef, and octopus, crab...” he continued to list the types of seafood that lay on the table for a couple minutes (there must have been 20+ varieties to choose from). We ate like kings and sipped on delicious fresh squeezed sugar cane juice.
The next day we stumbled upon the ruins of an ancient palace. Went to a beautiful beach and walked out to sea only to get our feet scratched. We came back bleeding a little but still satisfied. We also got to see a Taarab band (traditional Zanzibar music that basically sounds middle eastern except the lyrics are in Swahili). We wandered around the streets of stone town admiring the elaborate doors that had been carved out of wood with large elephant stopper spikes sticking out. The streets were tiny and dark. The electricity was supposed to come back before christmas but it never happened but we had a great time still. Our group did a secret santa gift exchange for christmas which we spent at a friends house in Zanzibar and on the most beautiful white beach I’ve ever seen. I guess we had a white christmas after all! This time we walked in the water again past the seaweed farms trying to get to the tide which was hundreds of feet out. We didn’t make it before a friend was stabbed by a sea urchin and then stung by a jelly fish almost simultaneously… so we went back satisfied just to eat mangos on the beach.
I left the group to return to Rwanda a little early to begin my next journey. The bus ride back was pretty rough though. Conclusion… Zanzibar is incredible. It is literally a mix of Africa, the Middle East and India all in one. By far, it was the most unique place I have ever seen.

Cultural Notes

1. The only day that people have weddings is on Saturdays. It’s a common sight to see caravans for weddings, but only on Saturdays.
2. Due to the fact that 90+% of Rwandese are farmers, one of their first questions to me about America is “do you have cows at your house?”, “what do you grow?”, “are there many farmers in America?” and “do you grow this [pointing] in America?”
3. Many women tend to wear headgear of two types: a.) a tight head scarf around the head can signify that she is muslim whereas b.) a larger more decorative headdress signifies that the woman is married.
4. Women tend to wear traditional African dresses whereas men almost always wear modern style clothing.