Our latest bus journey was supposed to be super smooth. We woke up early to make sure it would be a two bus adventure instead of three. We even arrived at the second bus station and jumped on our next bus with relative ease. Perhaps I jinxed us when I said “Wow, this hasn’t been bad at all!” to Andrew as we pulled out of the station. And then several hours passed, and we still weren’t where we were supposed to be. On a map, it’s approximately a three hour journey. Factor in a bus change, and a few road-side pick-ups (of passengers) and sure, an extra hour or even an hour and a half seems reasonable. But SIX AND A HALF HOURS?!? No, six and a half hours from Puerto Lopez to Canoa was not reasonable. By the time we got into Canoa Andrew sat down at the first restaurant we saw while I went in search of a baño. Somehow, I ended up in someone’s outhouse in their backyard (with their permission) while Andrew ordered fish and rice for us to eat around the corner. It was nearing dusk by the time we got to our beachfront hotel and we were too tired to do anything other than jump in the ocean to cool off and then immediately lay down before our next round of Spanish classes started in the morning.
It’s so interesting to travel through these quiet, little coastal towns in Ecuador after traveling through bigger tourist attractions in Peru. Since arriving in Olón, and traveling from Olón to Puerto Lopez today, it’s as if we hit the slow motion button or something similar… The bus to Puerto Lopez was relatively quick and painless and when we arrived and walked on the quiet beach we were slightly surprised at how deserted the town felt. The town was quiet. The streets did not feel well traveled. Every other building was empty, closed, or crumbling down. More restaurants and bars (than in Olón) sat on the beach, and although most were open, few patrons were seen. We walked up and down the beachfront street, had some ceviche that made us miss Peru (where the servings are bigger, spicier, and generally much more flavorful), and we made a reservation for a whale watching tour in the morning!
On the road again! Just can’t wait to get on the road again! Yay! Another long day and overnight on a bus for us! There really isn’t much to do in Huacachina other than sandboard – and in all honesty, we were anxious to get to the coast and relax on a beach for a few days. We could have split up the trip, but we decided to push on through from Ica to Trujillo. And so we did, stopping shortly in Lima, and then continuing on our way.
Surprisingly, Andrew nor I (nor my Mom for that matter) really suffered from any serious altitude-sickness during our time in Cusco. That is, until today. For some reason, the 18 hour bus ride from Cusco to Ica took both of us down. And we went down hard. The bus ride wasn’t nearly as miserable as it sounds. I mean, it wasn’t in Mozambique juggling babies and live chickens, waiting for the mud to dry so our bus could get towed out of the ditch it was stuck in on the side of the road… So, despite our big reclining seats, personal televisions, and even some weak wi-fi signals at times, we just weren’t feeling so well. I told myself I would study Spanish, but I wasn’t feeling up to doing anything other than sleeping or watching really terrible movies dubbed in Spanish… which is kinda like studying. At least the view (and this is when we were stopped in traffic for 45 minutes) was beautiful for most of the ride!
South Africa, you have some beautiful landscapes. That is the triple truth, Ruth.
At the last minute, a couchsurfer host responded to our request, and we were elated we had a place to stay when we arrived in Durban. We were intrigued he was a restauranteur and looking forward to meeting him and trying out his restaurant. We stopped by the restaurant at night, when he was working and were happy to sit down with him and his friends and talk about our travels and the restaurant business in South Africa and what Durban was like. A few free shots later, we slipped out before it would be guaranteed that I would wake up with a headache.
We were told to be at the Kampala Coach office a half hour before our departure time at 3:00. We arrived a little before 2:30 and waited. And waited some more. Moved outside next to the bus, and waited some more. Men were packing the undercarriage of the bus, shoving as much as possible into the storage cabins, kicking the door shut, and then gathering additional men to help secure the latch so it wouldn’t bust open on the road. It was amusing at first, but after an hour of the same routine, it became annoying and we were ready to go. Our “business luxury” bus was as dirty as an overnight bus in India and was two hours behind schedule. We wouldn’t arrive in Arusha until at least 22 hours after we left Kampala.
It was close to midnight when we reached our first border crossing (Uganda/Kenya). I feel in a small (small) way that I’ve grown accustomed to sketchy border crossings at this point in the trip. While everyone crowded in the brightly lit Ugandan passport control, I took in the long line and shoved my bag into Andrew’s hands and went out into the dark to look for a ladies room. This is a bit tricky. When there are no lights and people milling about in the middle of the night, it’s a gamble of who you’re going to ask for help or directions. I always assume my ‘I ain’t scared’ face and sometimes hum I won’t deny it, I’m straight rider, you don’t want to mess with me… (only Tupac didn’t sing ‘mess’ and neither did I)
I settled on the two guards outside of the ATM booth. This might have been a mistake as they proved to be creepier than their uniforms deemed them to be. I politely asked where the toilet was. They didn’t look up until I repeated it a few more times, a few more different ways, making it clear that I wasn’t going anywhere until I got an answer.
“Money” One of them eventually replied. (Sometimes bathrooms do cost money, and I gladly pay – when they are clean and there’s tissue. Ok, they are hardly ever clean, and only sometimes is there tissue. But I’m almost always prepared with my own.) I was in a bit of a rush and was slightly annoyed that they were informing me that there was indeed a bathroom, but it cost money.
“Yes. I know. Where. is. it?” I tried to ask patiently.
“Money.” The one demanded again. At this point I realized he was asking for money for directions. He obviously didn’t realize who he was talking to. I became indignant, and considered briefly what would happen if I peed inside his ATM booth. Ok, not really. I wouldn’t do that. But I might have made him a little bit nervous standing in front of him not handing over any money knowing full well I could go wherever I wanted, if I really wanted to. He sighed and waved his arm behind him. Which really, didn’t help at all, but I went and eventually found where I needed to go and got back to Andrew before he started to worry- er, more than he probably already was, but didn’t admit to. I relayed my story briefly before the Israeli guy on our bus relayed his story of almost getting ripped off exchanging money. I think we were all more surprised by the fact that none of us were surprised by the antics of the men loitering around the passport control.
Crossing into Kenya was not only sketchy, but turned frustrating on the Kenyan side when we learned we couldn’t pay for our visa in American bills printed before 2005. This is advertised nowhere and I pity the fool (me) who rolls up to the counter with a perfectly crisp $100 with 2004 stamped on it. Luckily, Andrew had a more recent bill and we were able to get back on our bus heading to Nairobi.
I didn’t think it was possible for dirt roads to be any worse than they were in Uganda… But in Kenya, they turned out to be much, much worse. We stopped in Nairobi for a brief twenty minutes before riding all morning towards Tanzania.
The Kenya/Tanzania crossing was uneventful, save for the giant groups of Americans standing in line and shouting their conversations all over the place. I leaned over to Andrew and whispered, “I get it. I get why people don’t think we’re American now…” We aren’t traveling in a pack of upper middle-class white people. We aren’t wearing American sports jerseys. Our gym-shoes aren’t bright white. We don’t have a guide with us to help us fill out our visa forms. Our backpacks are dirty. And not ‘Oh we just went on safari, look at this smudge of dirt on my awesome new travel pack.’ They. are. dirty. Like a dog peed on mine in India, I washed it in the UAE, but I’m pretty sure dogs would mark their territory on the front pocket if I let them. dirty. Maybe sometimes not looking American is a bad thing… but as proud as I am to be ‘merican, I’m glad I don’t come across the same way the obvious Americans do.
We arrived in Arusha early in the afternoon and after getting settled in a room at a busy hostel just outside of the downtown ‘Clocktower’ area, we walked into town for lunch. Along the way, a middle-aged western woman approached me and said “You need to wear your backpack on both shoulders. This is a dangerous area.”
“Oh, thank you. I know. I’m just terribly tired and we’re not going far, but thank you.” I responded, knowing full well it could get stolen, but that I was a big girl. who was tired. But she was just trying to be nice. At least, until she reached around my back and pulled the strap up over my other shoulder and said “No. Really. You need to wear both shoulder straps here.” She walked away sighing, no doubt, at what she assumed was how dumb I was.
My initial reaction was along the lines of ‘that was weird.’ And then I ate a meal for the first time in 24 hours.
“What. just. happened out there? Did she really reach around me to pull my backpack strap up over my free shoulder?” I asked Andrew.
I can understand someone being nice and suggesting care over one’s self and bags. Not that I would ever do so in the same manner that she did… But I can see the motivation for doing so, wanting to be a good samaritan of sorts. But I am 30 years old. THIRTY! I think I can take responsibility of my backpack on one or both shoulders by this point. But I KNOW she walked away judging me as I eased one strap off my shoulder again.
I wondered how old she thought I was. Would she have treated me differently if she knew I my age? If she knew I’ve been traveling around the world for six months now. After traveling for two months by myself throughout S.E. Asia. After living in foreign countries (four in total, if you count the two from studying abroad in college) for six -maybe seven- years.
“Don’t you know I have my head on a swivel, motherfunny?” Andrew said (only he didn’t say ‘motherfunny’) once upon a time in India and it’s always stuck with me. I wish I would have said that to this woman. I wish I would have told her not to talk to a thirty year old like myself, as if I was thirteen. I wish I would have asked her what made her turn into Little Ms. Bossypants with another white girl in the middle of a small town in Tanzania.
“She’s probably gone home to her husband complaining about the stupid young tourist who is probably going to get her bag stolen today…” I sighed. “And now, my bag probably will get stolen…” I thought out loud after my tangent to Andrew about all of the above…
It didn’t. It still might. But at least it didn’t in Arusha.
And not because we didn’t want to leave… we were ready to move on, but we quickly learned that leaving The Hairy Lemon Isn’t Easy. At. All. Getting a ride to “mainland” was fine, but then we felt slightly stranded with no boda bodas to be found and a giant angry pig chasing after us. We walked to an intersection of sorts where two huts sat by the side of the road. One friendly man smiled and I asked him where we could find a boda boda. He pointed in the direction back towards the river, and we walked back in what felt like the opposite direction we were supposed to go in. Luckily, there were a few men by the riverside and one got on his phone to call some friends to come give us a ride. They (as expected) charged us more than the fare we paid to get there, but we didn’t exactly have room to negotiate, and we climbed on our respective boda boda for another bumpy ride back to Nazingo to catch the first matatu of the day.
I wanted to photograph everything. Desperately. But, I didn’t feel comfortable at all on the super poor road we were on to whip out my dslr. Babies sans underpants sat in front of their houses. School children waved as we rode past. Women gathered at wells to fill their jerrycans up with water. Despite clinging to my backpack and back of the boda boda for dear life, it was a beautiful ride.
Apologies that the video above isn’t as entertaining – it was taken instead on the main road we took from Jinja back to Kampala.
Back in Kampala, we went back to the noisy downtown guesthouse, and were granted what we were told would be a quieter room. Regardless of the noise, I have never been so grateful for a white porcelain toilet in all my life. At the Hairy Lemon, there were eco toilets, think: plastic box with a hole straight down to the ground below. It’s a really great idea. Truly. There are even buckets of ash to cover any solid waste that you might leave behind. (Unfortunately, our bucket in our dorm bathroom was without ash until the last afternoon we were there.) There was also a resident gecko that I’m pretty sure enjoyed the shade between the toilet seat and lid. He liked to scare me every time I went into the bathroom. Thinking I was one step ahead of the little guy, I prepared myself to meet his acquaintance and gingerly lifted the lid, shining my light around the toilet to scare him off, so I could sit down in peace.
Only instead of one feisty little gecko under the lid, a writhing pile of maggots below caught my light and terrified me even more than a little lizard ever could. Holy. Cow. (only I didn’t scream out ‘cow’) I practically dumped the now full bucket of ash into the hole and contemplated yet again peeing off the cabin front-porch… That is, until Andrew came around to see what the fuss was about and assured me the maggots couldn’t ‘get me’ while I sat down to do my business. (Worst case of stage-fright yet, FYI.)
Needless to say, back in the city, I enjoyed a truly western style bathroom, and a bed that didn’t require a ladder to get into. Andrew magically figured out where and how to order pizza to be delivered to us. That, and the latest Walking Dead episode cures all terrifying bathroom experiences. (at least, for the short-term)
When we went to Murchison Falls, a dude on our safari (Hey Christian!) raved about this place called The Hairy Lemon, on an island, in the middle of the Nile. We decided to check it out. Jinja, even though it holds the source of the Nile just outside of town, had nothing else to offer (in my humble opinion), so we thought chillin’ out on an island would be better. Just getting there turned into quite the adventure.
We had to take a matatu from Kampala to Jinja. Then wait for another matatu from Jinja to Nazigo. Then try your hardest to retrieve your backpacks from the back of the matatu simultaneous to swatting (lit’rally) the boda boda drivers away from grabbing your bags for you (claiming you for their ride). Then bargaining with said boda boda drivers for a reasonable fare down to the river. Then balancing your backpacks and your behind on the back of a boda boda for one of the bumpiest boda boda ride yet. Then ringing a gong on one side for someone to bring the boat over for you to get onto the island. That’s all. That’s all it takes to get to The Hairy Lemon…
Throughout Uganda, I’ve been intrigued by the storefronts and homes (let alone the day to day life) we’ve been passing by on our public transportation. Most of the storefronts (and some houses) are covered billboard style advertising paint, phone plans, Mountain Dew, milk, etc. etc. I tried to take some pictures from our matatu from Kampala to Jinja.
A series of advertisements wouldn’t be complete without one for The Lord, am I right?
When planning out this trip, I totally underestimated how long it would take to get from Point A to B. Generally, it seems in Africa, one needs an entire day to get from one city to another regardless of how close it may be. When we left Kampala for Buseesa, I knew it was only about four hours to get there, but didn’t even consider we would have to wait just as long for the matatu to fill up before we could leave Kampala. Fortunately, we arrived to the bus station in Fort Portal just in time and were one of the last people to board the bus back to Kampala. The ride itself was uneventful. Except for, maybe, the stops in between where dozens of vendors clamor up to your window hoping you’ll purchase some of their grilled bananas (yum) or perhaps a chicken on a stick.
Arriving in downtown Kampala- a first for us- was anything but uneventful. Fortunately, our hotel was a short walk away and we were able to be amused by the chaos rather than getting swept up in it.
Worn out by another day of travel, and gearing up for another matatu stint tomorrow, we stayed close to our hotel. We snuck out for dinner. Chips Chicken (fried chicken with french fries) yet again and I began to wonder when the next time I would come across a salad would be. Oh fresh baby greens, how I miss thee!
Our train from Fes to Marrakech was a bit of a nightmare. Lesson learned: never underestimate a quiet teenager sitting alone in an empty cabin. Because, if she’s waiting for a friend… You. are. doomed. Not only were they nonstop chattering (LOUDLY) until they got off in Casa- but the whole train was packed and we couldn’t escape.
It was so packed, that when I tried to go to the bathroom- after lit’rally climbing over people in the hall, three teenage boys were crammed into the bathroom sitting on the sink, stall, etc. They invited me in enthusiastically. I glared and got “lucky” with a poopy, yet teen-free facility in the next car. We left Fes around noon, and didn’t arrive into Marrakech until after ten at night. We weren’t as energetic as this video portrays us to be, rather the above is a collection of our few nights meandering around the square.
I think nights on the square have to be a pickpocket’s paradise, but it’s also considerably less shady than being in the vicinity of those setting up shop by day (more on that soon). There were groups of musicians and dancers competing for crowds and noise levels everywhere. At first, it was really neat to walk into. But then as soon as you tried to take a picture, someone would run up to you and demand a tip. It didn’t matter if you took a picture at all, or if they were even in it. They always thought they were and deserved a tip for their hard work of being in the background of a photo you took in a public square. It really ruined my experience on the square. By our second night going out in it, I didn’t even want to stay I was so annoyed at everyone asking for money, my hand to draw henna on, my belly to fill it with stall food… As wonderful as the assault on my senses was in Fes, it was done so because the city was just an old city going about its business- oblivious to me being witness to it. Here, in Marrakech, the assault was an unfortunate backlash of what tourism can do to a perfectly lovely (I’m guessing) travel destination.
We woke up bright and early to wait for our bus to Luang Prabang. In true Lao style, er, South East Asian style, a tuk-tuk came to pick us up, crammed 12 people and luggage in before it circled around forty minutes later to our the guesthouse next to where we stayed to pick someone else up. I am no longer surprised by pick-ups like this one. Six hours of beautiful scenery later, we arrived in Luang Prabang, checked into our guesthouse, walked through the night market, got some lap for dinner, and then went 'home' early hoping Andrew's migraine would go away!
The most exciting part of our day was playing, and reading with Eric before we caught the bus to Vang Vieng. So if you're not interested in watching us play with an adorable Lao/American child, maybe you should just skip watching today and come back tomorrow for a more exciting post (maybe) about Vang Vieng- although, be warned, the Lao government has shut down the tubing and the river bars so it might not be as exciting as you- and we'd like!