Mzungu’s crossing through East Africa

One of the highlights of my stay here is a visit from a friend from the Netherlands I studied with. On the left a map of our itinerary and below a story about all the craziness we have been through crossing through Eastern Africa.

Bas entry into Africa was a rough one. Our first night in Uganda (were Bas arrived) we decided to explore Kampala’s nightlife. Soon after we arrived in our first bar Bas got pocket lifted and I decided to follow a suspicious looking guy who was quickly making its way out. Standing next to him at the toilet block I thought to myself ‘OK, now what?!…’ after some thought I came up with the line ‘Do you have something for me? He looked up surprised and said ‘what do you mean’ ‘I mean do you have something for me?’ looking him a bit more intruding in the eyes. ‘How much?’ and after I named my price (never seriously considering to pay him), next thing you know he draw a wallet from his back pocket. Happily surprised with this lucky draw I told him to follow me and I headed back to Bas to check if it was the right one. ‘No that’s not mine’ Bas responded disappointingly, leaving me in the strange situation of having someone else’s wallet and having this guy next to me who was visible getting annoyed. I handed back the wallet, and quickly after police guys alarmed by our Ugandan friend came in and starting beating down him and his friends who supposedly formed a gang that was picket pocketing that night. This marked Bas’ warm welcome to a continent avoided by most exactly for this reason. I felt bad, but figured things could only get better hereafter. And so it did. Early morning we set off to the beginning of the Nile river and did an amazing 6 hours of wild-water rafting.

Our next treat was visiting Queen Elisabeth Parc, a wildlife parc tucked away in Western Uganda. Dropping with public transport (after some breakdown and hick-ups along the way) at the parc’s gate, we meet Adolf. A friendly young lad who could explain as much about wildlife as I can about China’s educational system, but who was kind enough to drive us around the Parc and afterwards we camped in the middle of it. I have to say there is something profoundly exhilarating about getting back in touch with nature by sitting in the middle of a wildlife Parc with Impala’s and warthogs walking around us, grilling sausages on a stick over a self-made campfire. To add to our wildlife experience we decided to get a beer from a little shop at a 10 minutes walking distances. That was the longest 10 minutes walk I can remember.. With the doubtful help of the little light of my phone we just could see pairs of reflecting eyes staring at us as we walked by. Each time we would discuss weren’t those two eyes belonged to an impala, warthog, hippo or maybe a lion… In the end we took comfort in the thought that if a lion was behind these two eyes, I would probably have long eaten us. On our way we did bump into two hippos grazing at a two meter distance from us. While it took quite a lot of nerve getting there (with an elephant waiting for us on our way back) the beer tasted all the better once we arrived.

Leaving behind Uganda, we got back to my current home town, Kigali. After some days of work, we decided to do a road trip by bike over the weekend. We went to Lake Kivu, passing by tons of villages along the way. Cruising around as two whites on a bike we soon felt we had reached stardom status, with kids running towards the road smiling and screaming ‘Mzungu, mzungu!’. At the lake shores we set up camp at Paradise something, which truly lifted up its name with a nice little beach and lush garden. At night we decided to find out where the nearby beat was coming from and we ended up at a Congolese party were we learned some brilliant Ivorian coast dancing and historically Bas had his first marriage proposal.

Next on our things to do list was visiting Tanzania. This was somehow a nostalgic experience, it being fours ago that I first set foot on African soil in that very country, offering me some of the best three months in my life. We were soon reminded of the warm and welcoming nature of Tanzanians talking to whoever was standing close to us. However, this openness reached its boiling point when a guy in front of us in the bus handed me his phone and said ‘number’. A bit surprised by this frank request I entered my 10 digits and gave it back to him. After that he just sat backwards on his seat facing us and for the lack of English vocabulary just bended over and kept staring at us, making for a very uncomfortable hours of reading, and eventually the phrase ‘I read your book’. ‘No I am reading it’ for a change of tactic he started to dial friends and then hand over the phone to me ‘this is peter’. Also Peter on the other side of the line did not know any English and to my rescue the phone was soon out of credit.

Our first stop in Tanzania was the Serengeti, the world’s most famous wildlife parc. It truly felt like being in a national geographic documentary and it is hard

Elephants fighting

to describe how mesmerizing it feels just to observe the endless plains of Serengeti jam-packed with the most diverse collection of wildlife. We had our own open-roofed safari jeep and guide ‘Ken’. Ken who had been doing this job for ten years knew everything there was to know and soon became our safari friend. The first day we spotted herds of buffalo’s, a group of Giraffes, an Elephant family and a countless number of Impala’s and the like.  Early morning of our second day in Serengeti we encountered all the Parc’s predators: Lions, hyena’s, jackals, a cheetah and a leopard.

Maasaii

Our safari ended by Ken dropping us at a small Maasaii village inside of the Parc. Seeing the dire conditions they live in, learning about their rich culture, and observes the diversity of colours and jewellery they wear surely was a treasured experience.

After the Parc I returned to the town I did my master research more than four years ago. Walking the streets and meeting old friends like the ever positive Franklin and our warm and welcoming host Miriam, who kept in touch ever since, brought back good memories. The road continued East were Zanzibar awaited us as the cherry on top of our holiday cake.

As on all postcards Zanzibar is truly picture-perfect; it is just hard to miss the beauty of its long stretches of white sanded beach, the romance of traditional fishing boats queued up at the coast, the clear light blue sea, and the warm breeze going through the gently waving palm trees. To further indulge in Zanzibar’s richness Bas and I went snorkelling; swimming among the most beautiful of under-water wildlife. During our stay on the overwhelmingly Islamic island of Zanzibar, the Ramadan was closing its end and each late afternoon people would be on the outlook of the moon to appear, marking the end of their month long fast. The moon only showed up the last day of our stay, making us miss the late evening celebrations. Because that day was spontaneously declared a national holiday, we found out that our ferry back to the capital where I would fly back to Kigali was cancelled. In an effort to still catch my flight I rushed to the airport where I was just on time for a late departing small ‘flying doctors kind of’ airplane where I sat just behind the pilot and had the most astonishing view of the island.

Did-you-know-that:

  • We have spent a good 58 hours on busses.
  • The crazy guy staring at us in the bus had stored the number of ‘God’, I still feel bad I haven’t got that number from his phone…
  • Maasaii drink blood from cows. It is a sign of manhood to drink it. I have I am glad that my manhood wasn’t put to the test when visiting the Maasaii village.
  • Under its surface lake Kivu holds world’s biggest bubble of methane gas. No-one knows exactly when the methane would bubble up and the potential explosive consequences. As the Lonely Planet notes, there is nothing one can do if this happens during your visit and the final scent one may expect in her life is ‘a horrible earthly fart.’
  • I jumped together with the Maasaii, I didn’t reach half as high as they though…
  • Maasaii make their shoes (flipflops rather) out of old car tires
  • We drove around in nightly Kampala for an hour tracking down the car of al picketpocketer, tightly squeezed between two police men with Kalashnikov’s.
  • During the spice tour on Zanzibar Bas and I tried some kurkuma (used in curry) root and we consequently walked around with irremovable yellow on our teeth all day
  • During a chimpanzee track I mixed up the image of a chimpanzee with an orang oetan (nowhere to be found in Africa) and was thus looking up in the trees for orange the whole trip, no wonder we did not see any…
  • I got a shirt with ‘Mzungu’, people just start laughing when I walk the streets with it.

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About Janno

A young development worker in Africa
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4 Responses to Mzungu’s crossing through East Africa

  1. Travis says:

    Dude, another great blog post! Love your stories. Did you seriously bump into two hippos? You know those can be more dangerous than lions right? 😉

  2. Willemijn Vlieg says:

    Wauw wauw wauw, wat een leven. Het lijkt me allemaal zo geweldig om mee te maken. Je wordt echt gezegend! Maar goed om te horen dat je daar zo’n goede tijd hebt 😉 Geniet ervan.

    • Anonymous says:

      Mooi verhaal. Fijn dat er ook tijd is om zo te genieten!
      Zie uit naar je volgend verhaal !
      groetjes uit Putten!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hoi Janno,

    Wat een story ongelofelijk, wat weet je ons mee te nemen Bas heeft de tjd van zijn leven gehad
    Wij zijn terug van minstens zo’n super week allen in postzegel formaat in Zuud Beveland
    heel veel liefs,
    mama

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