Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Rwanda in 8 minutes

It's not been 10 months since I closed my Peace Corps Service.  Although I still live abroad it is not at all like being in the Peace Corps.  I love to look back at my photos and re-read old blog entires from the days living in Rwanda.  I don't think I did a very good job talking about the country
This video has been seen by almost everyone who was in Peace Corps Rwanda.  It shows almost every section of the country  from Lake Kivu, to the Virunga Mountains where the gorilla's live, to the rainforest in Nyungwe and lots in between.

Click this link for a great 8 minute 50 second video
(I can't seem to upload the video straight to the blog)

Saturday, June 2, 2012

I moved to Thailand to teach english for a year.  Read my new blog at farangy.blogspot.com

Friday, February 24, 2012

28 day Holiday backpacking through Tanzania and Zambia

From December 23rd-Januray 19th, I took a 28 day vacation.  It was the best vacation of my life.  I went with 2 other PCV's from Rwanda.  We went from Kigali to Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar back to Dar es Salaam to the Tanzania/Zambia border to Kapiri, Zambia to Lusaka, Zambia and finally to Livingstone, Zambia and then of course had to return all the way to Rwanda.  
Just a side note: I also went to Zanzibar last year for vacation with different Peace Corps friends.  It was really great and I was excited to return and continue on to Zambia this time.

Thankfully, Sally Dunst, wrote a blog about the trip so much of this blog is credited to her.  (With a few changes to make is personal to me of course).
The trip lasted four full weeks, cost only slightly more than a round trip ticket to the U.S., included 175 hours on public transportation (yes, that's a full 7.25 days), and was just about the most fun and exhausting month I've ever lived. In addition to tanning, eating, drinking, boating, snorkeling, scuba diving, rafting, swimming, bungee jumping, and seeing my second natural world wonder (my first one was the Great Barrier Reef in Australia when I studied abroad in 2007). This vacation was a fabulous way to celebrate almost two years living in Rwanda.

We'll get there when we get there: 
Kigali, Rwanda to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

After a day in Kigali of shopping for snacks and vacation attire, baking a Brazilian cake in the PC kitchen oven, and repacking our backpacks, We were ready to go. We woke up early on Friday, December 23rd and headed to the main bus park in Kigali. We expected to board one of the huge busses that East African countries use to transport people on long trans-country journeys. However, we instead found a much smaller bus waiting for us, the type that makes quick trips around Rwanda. We'd been told by the bus company that Saturday is the best day of the week to go to Dar es Salaam, our destination, but we wanted to avoid traveling on Christmas day. Shrugging our shoulders we hopped on the Friday 5:30am bus and hoped for the best.

The ride from Kigali to Dar takes about 30 hours on a direct bus. We quickly realized we were definitely not on a direct bus. Every 20 minutes or so our bus stopped to drop off or pick up passengers. We became disappointed and frustrated as the hours slipped by and we had yet to reach the Tanzania border. More stopping. More passengers. Stop again. Drop a few people off. Come on, let's go!

At last we arrived at the border of Rwanda and Tanzania. We got off the bus to deal with our passports and the driver told us, “Ok, you'll find a different bus on the other side! See ya!” There was nothing to do but get out our passports and get in line for Rwanda exit stamps. Sally-- stamp. Sonya-- stamp. Devin-- no stamp. Several weeks before our trip Devin had lost her PC-issued passport. Luckily we all have personal passports as well, so the embassy issued Devin a new Rwandan visa in that passport. There was just one problem. Devin's entry stamp into Rwanda was lost along with her PC passport, and nobody had told her that this would be a problem. The border agent yelled at Devin, “Where is your entry stamp? How did you come into Rwanda? Why is there no stamp?!!” Sally and I stood a few yards away exchanging nervous glances. What's our backup plan? We'll have to call Peace Corps who can get in touch with the Embassy who will be able to call this office to explain the situation. We'll surely miss our bus and get behind schedule by a day, but that's not the end of the world. Lucky for us it didn't come to that. Devin is fluent in Kinyarwanda and was able to convince the border guard of her story; the man frowned and let her pass. 
The entry stamp process in Tanzania went much more smoothly, we made it into Tanzania with no problem! Now we just needed to set our watches ahead an hour and find our bus. We spotted some of our fellow passengers and followed their lead. Again, the bus they boarded was not the giant bus we'd been hoping for, but another smaller short distance bus. And it was packed with passengers and luggage; I saw only two free seats. A man reassured us, “There is another bus coming. Just wait here.” The full bus took off and shortly after another arrived. We scurried on to make sure we got good spots and then waited for the rest of the seats to fill. Out the window we watched a man on a stationary bicycle peddle to make the wheels spin. The front wheel was rigged to act as a sharpener for the machete he was holding. With sun glasses on the man sharpened his tool as the sparks flew.

Our rush for seats turned out to be unnecessary as the bus pulled out of its parking spot with only a few passengers. At least we had leg room. Again we stopped and stopped. About an hour into the ride the driver told us we'd again be switching busses. This time we boarded an even smaller vehicle-- a matatu. Crammed into the backseat the driver instructed, “One more!” and another man squeezed into our row.

Stop. Pick up passengers. Start. Stop. Drop off a few. Start. Stop. Do nothing. Wait. Buy corn from the woman selling it on the side of the road. Start. Wish Tanzania had sweet corn instead of cattle corn. Go. List U.S. foods we miss. Go. Stop. Make faces at the beggar boy making faces at us. Get him to smile. Start. Go. Stop. Cram more people in. Wait.

By this point we knew we'd never make it to Dar in 30 hours. The man sitting next to us confirmed our suspicions. He told us this matatu was driving us to a bus station a ways up the road where we would finally get on our giant, direct bus. But, he continued, we weren't going to get to that station in time. In fact we'd probably already missed that connecting bus. I kicked myself for not making us squeeze onto that first bus at the border-- there had only been two seats but we could have squashed together and saved ourselves a whole lot of extra travel time. At the next stop the man told us we could get out in that town, find a hotel, and wait for the bus that would pass through the next day. This was the direct Saturday bus that the people in Kigali had advised us to take. We decided to do it and gathered our bags. But wait, let's just keep going and get a little farther. We could meet that bus in the next town.

The same man told us the town with the connecting bus (the one we'd already missed) was just ahead, just a few more minutes. He told us this again and again for four hours. Finally we decided to stop asking and accept that we'd get there when we'd get there. In the mean time we watched as the people around us bought ears of grilled corn, split them into smaller segments, and passed them around to share. They also bought handfuls of peanuts, which they handfulled over to each other. We couldn't figure out if they were family or if sharing food with strangers is normal etiquette in Tanzania. Where was a Tanzania PCV when you needed one?

Around 5pm we reached the bus park where our matatu was finally stopping. Time to find a hotel. We first checked with our bus company to figure out the deal and they shared some very exciting news: our connecting bus would be there in a half an hour! We saw our old fellow passengers from that morning, the ones who'd filled the first bus at the border. Yay! Somehow we weren't late and we wouldn't have to spend the night. Thank goodness we hadn't taken the advice of the idiot sitting next to us and gotten out at that random town!

Just as the bus company had promised, our next bus arrived within 30 minutes. And it was a giant bus! Finally! We piled on and began our next segment of the journey, this time without incessant stops and starts. Devin and Sally got seats next to each other in the middle section of the bus, but I was shuffled to the very back. It was a very bumpy ride in the back.  But things were going quite smoothly. The bus sped along into the darkness of the night, the sunset accelerating behind us as we headed due east.

Yep, this bus ride had finally become somewhat stress-free. We still had no idea when to expect to get to Dar the next day, but we'd been told we'd stop to sleep at some point since busses aren't allowed to travel for a few hours in the dead of the Tanzania night. So around 1am the bus halted and I waited for instructions about what to do next. It was a bit odd that there were no lights and thus no town in sight, but maybe this was the way it worked.

Instead of us getting off the bus, a couple of people got on. Well actually they were carried onboard. And they were covered in blood, some crying, others staring straight ahead in shock. Our bus was acting as an ambulance for car accident victims. Out in middle of nowhere Tanzania we were probably their best hope. And so three women and two children, all very seriously injured, laid down in the aisle and again we took off down the blaringly black savannah road.

We had no details of what had happened or who these people were. I can't remember if we were told or if we inferred there had been a car accident. One had a large flap of flesh hanging off her head. The woman lying in the aisle bleeding a large pool of blood onto the ground. Every so often she reached her bloody hand out to grab Devin's leg, probably in search of some comforting human contact. I couldn't look. One of the kids was sobbing. It was a weak but uncontrolled crying, and I wasn't sure if she was experiencing physical pain, mental shock, or despair.

We drove for some time until we reached a city. I think our new mission gave us a free pass to be out on the road at night; there were no other vehicles or people anywhere. From signs we figured out we were in Dodoma. At last we reached a well-lit, well-staffed, and clean-looking hospital. A few hospital workers came onto the bus to carry off the victims. Through the hospital windows I watched as they were hooked up to IV's. I'd been worried we'd have to leave them in some one room clinic lit by a lantern, so I was relieved that they were in good hands. Finally someone came on the bus with a mop to clean up the blood-soaked floor.

A few kilometers down the road we arrived at a rest stop to eat. The hour spent outside the bus felt good and quickly the drive to the hospital began fading from reality. Did that really just happen? I slept most of the way as the bus continued through the few remaining hours of the night's darkness. In the daylight the ride continued to be a bit bizarre. The woman sitting ahead of us had a baby on her lap. Every time the baby started to cry she'd hold it up in the air and then hold it out the window! Of course this didn't help the baby's crying. In this instance all we could do was gape our mouths open and shake our heads.

Once we got close to Dar es Salaam, a preacher boarded the bus. “Hallelujah! Tomorrow is the birthday of Jesus! It is Christmas!” She switched between English and Swahili. Truly the only thing she yelled was, “Tomorrow is Christmas!” And then of course she asked for money. No way, lady. But for some reason everyone else gave her their coins. Why?

When I wasn't distracted with fatal injury induced moans, death threatened babies, or uninformative screaming evangelists, I enjoyed the ride. Tanzania is quite different from Rwanda. There are huge stretches of flat grasslands and beautiful groves dotted with mango trees. Again and again I thought about how tiny and mountainous and densely populated Rwanda is, every last bit of land is lived upon and cultivated. In Tanzania there is a lot of wilderness and tree’s.

Around mid-morning we knew we were close to Dar. The air was hot and steaming with ocean moisture. Unfortunately the traffic was horrendous and we crawled along in a line of trucks and busses for hours. Around 1pm we got to Ubungo Bus Park, breathed a sigh of relief at the end of that leg of our journey, and found a taxi to the ferries. 

One boat ride and three hours later we were standing on Zanzibar island! Again we had to get our passports stamped and I rushed the process as much as I possibly could. There after we passed through “customs” was Sally’s friend Kerry.  Kerry is a PCV is Zambia and knows Sally from when they studied abroad together during their Junior Year of college.  They joined peace corps at the same time.  Kerrybrought a her friend from Peace corps Zamiba, Blair, who is a lot of fun and we were all excited and happy to meet each other for the first time.  Now there are 5 of us PCV’s traveling though Zanzibar together.  Though some of us just met we are already best friends.  That is kinda how the Peace Corps world works. 

We checked into our hotel in Stone Town, Jambo Guest House, then headed out on the town. We had a delicious Christmas Eve supper at an open air seafood market. I had a kabob shrimp. All of us became instant friends and we laughed constantly.

That night we enjoyed air conditioning in our hotel (very much appreciated in the Zanzibar heat and humidity!) and dreamed of icicles, snow, and Santa. In the morning we pooled our goodies and set up a tin Christmas tree from one of Sally’s care packages.  We surrounded it with all sorts of treats and candy.  It was as if Santa had actually come!

We spent Christmas day wandering the alleys of Stone Town, a perplexing and beautiful labyrinth of passages dotted with incredible carved wooden doorways. The shops are full of tourist souvenirs: paintings, carved wooden boxes, bead earrings, dresses, wraps, etc.  We even stopped by the Serena 5 start hotel to take a group photo in front of their large Christmas tree. 
That night we again went to the seafood market where I enjoyed seafood pizza followed by a mango for dessert. After that we headed to a club called Livingstone, an appropriate name foreshadowing a future destination of our vacation. We danced the Christmas night away, learning moves from a dance troop made up of 16 year old boys.
So all in all it was a fabulous best friend-filled Christmas.
Although Stone Town is beautiful, the shores in the north, south, east or west are sandier and beacher.  We took off on the 26th for the west coast of Zanzibar. We'd booked six nights at Mustapha's Place, a hostel recommended to us by other PCVs. When we arrived at Mustapha's things were quiet. We set our stuff down in our room, played Jenga while we waited for the kitchen to make us some lunch, then took the short walk to the Indian Ocean. I couldn't wait to swim! When our palm tree lined path ended we found ourselves on a pretty crappy beach. The tide was all the way out and the beach was full of seaweed and no sign of any other people. It looked like we'd have to walk a half mile out to get to water deep enough for swimming.  Local were literally “fishing” for seaweed to eat and sell.

“We really need to get tanning time in, guys,” Devin announced. “So let's just lie out and enjoy. I mean, things could be worse. We're on vacation at the beach after all!” We put down our towels and sat. Devin sprawled out. She was really anxious about sun time, convinced that we needed to take advantage of every minute of the next seven days.

Now I know being on an empty beach can be a beautiful and peaceful experience, but this was not the time or the place for that sort of thing. We persuaded Devin to tan upright and we took a walk up the beach. In silence we strolled, trying to find some fun. There was none. Finally one of us piped up, “Well this is disappointing.”

Instead of wallowing we took action and decided to scout out a different beach. We went to the nearest hotel where a woman told us there was a tourist office several kilometers up the road. She called us a cab and a few minutes later we were whisked away from the deserted beach. There were signs all over pointing us in the direction of the Tourism Office. We were confident the people there would be able to suggest a different place to stay. When we arrived at the office, which doubled as an internet cafe, we found three women sitting behind a desk. None of them said a word so Devin asked, “Who works here?” All of the women grunted so we greeted them, “Hi! How are you? We're wondering if you’ could help us find a hostel on another part of the island.” The women stared. We continued, We've heard Kendwa Beach is nice.” More blank stares. “Do you have any recommendations for a hotel?” One woman pointed at a computer. “Sorry, what?”

The woman finally spoke to us and said, “You can use the internet.”

Umm ok. We tried a final time. “Can you show us on a map where we are and where Kendwa Beach is located?” Nope, they couldn't even do that.

And so we hopped on the internet and began the search, the tourism office employees sitting behind the desk doing absolutely nothing. Blair and Kerry searched on google and trip advisor, I wrote down the phone numbers, and Sally made the calls. “Yes, hello, I know it's the week of New Year’s Eve, one of your busiest times of year, but I was wondering if you have room for 6 people starting tomorrow night. We'd like to stay for 5 nights. No? Ok, thanks anyways.” I repeated this dialogue several times until at last I had success. The place was called H&H in Nyungwi Beach. I reserved two triples.

We sarcastically thanked the employees and rolled our eyes when they made us pay for the 45 minutes of internet it had taken us to find a hostel ourselves. Thank goodness we were getting out of this place!

Although we'd taken a cab on the way to the office we decided to walk the beach back to our hostel. The tide had come in a bit so the water looked more appealing. We stopped at a bar, which was plopped right in the middle of the sand, ordered beers and watched a beautiful sunset.

Around 8pm we were all hanging out in our room back at Mustapha's Place. It had been a long day, the darkness of night had fallen completely, and we were all pretty tired. A few of us got ready to shower while the rest ate leftover Christmas candy. There didn't seem to be anywhere to go out so we decided to call it an early night. I went to talk to the reception desk and tell them we wouldn't be staying the six nights we'd reserved. Only tonight.

I go and tell the reception that we are leaving tomorrow.  We are sorry but we will not be staying the rest of the week.  Can we please pay and check out tonight because we are leaving early tomorrow morning.  The lady stared at me for a while and said I need to get the manager.  I leave and go back to the room to tell the other girls.  We decided to gather our money together so we could pay at once.   

I went back to reception to give them the money.  The manager is there now.  I explain to him the situation.  He gets very angry and says this is unacceptable.  He asked me if I would ever do this is the US or Europe.  I explained to him that yes people change reservations very often.  He refused to take the money and said we have to pay for two nights.

Before we could decide what to do there was a knock at our door. Devin answered. It was a hotel employee. He told us we could pay for 2 nights or leave right now and not stay at all.  We decided to leave.  We called H&H the backpacker’s in the North Beach that we had called earlier and asked if we could come and stay tonight.  They said no problem so we called a taxi.

Less than a half hour later we piled into a van and began the drive down the dark, dark road. Our cab had a moon roof so we gazed at the stars before falling asleep on each others' shoulders. We awoke to the van jostling down a bumpy dirt road. The driver instructed us to call H&H to tell them we were close. After a few minutes our headlights illuminated a man in the road who gave us a friendly signal. It was our guy from H&H. He turned, raised his hand straight in the air with a pointed finger, and led us to the hostel. Yay! We got out of the car, greeted our guardian angel of the night (his name was Machano) and five minutes later we were all in bed asleep.

The next morning we were rested and ready to go. Machano served us breakfast and told us he could help with any activity booking we wanted to do. This was Africa so we were able to bargain with him and get our rooms for $20 per person per night instead of $25, as long as we promised not to tell anyone about it. Machano showed us to the beach, which was a one minute walk, no, a 40 second walk, from H&H. And it was BEAUTIFUL! Nyungwi Beach has been rated as one of the top ten beaches in the world. I can't imagine a place that could beat it. We had a great morning and the afternoon brought us our sixth pack member, Cara!!! Cara is another friend of Sally’s from her study abroad who just started working in Liberia.

The next several days were pure heaven. We swam in the turquoise water, laid out on the white sand, walked up and down the beach, went snorkeling, played volleyball, and went scuba diving.
 Scuba diving was so great.  Luckily one of the girls, Blair also had her scuba license so we were able to go together.  Then I realized I did not have my PADI certification.  “No Problem” the man says I can just look it up in the world-wide PADI database.  And there I was Sonya Alexander advanced certification September of 2008.  He said he recommends I take the refreshers course since it has been so long.  No problem both Blair and I decide it would be a good idea to take the refresher course.  So we have to come back at 4pm and the course will be about an hour.  Then the next morning we will go on 2 dives.
That morning we show up and head out to the boat, by that I mean swim out to the boat because there was no dock.  And we set out for our scuba location.  The boat ride was about 3 hours.  During which we passed George Bush’s private island.
This was actually the first time I had been scuba diving outside of getting a certification.  I got the open water certification in Australia in 2007 and got the advanced certification from Washington College and went to a lake in Pennsylvania for a weekend to get certified.  Therefore I was a little nervous but glad that tests were over and this would be purely for enjoyment.  Underwater we saw a ton of coral and lots of amazing colorful fish.  We dove about 30 meters I think and saw 2 sharks on the bottom of the ocean they were about a meter and a half long.  It was incredible to just stare at them.  I was really nervous about them coming toward us but they never did they just stayed on the bottom ignoring us as we stared in fascination.  We also saw an eel come out of the coral and a bright red star fish.  There were so many fish it was just absolutely beautiful.  Scuba diving is very exhausting.  You can only stay under for 30 minutes then you must surface and take an hour break before returning for another half hour.  When under it feels like you’re under for an hour or more.  It’s a weird feeling but so cool to just watch fish underwater.
The following day the six of us went snorkeling together.  I convinced the others not to go when Blair and I were scuba diving.  Selfish of me, I know but I hate missing out on activities especially group activities and since we had plenty of free days everyone agreed.  As it turned out our snorkel spot was the exact same spot as our scuba diving was the day before.  But unfortunately I got no scuba photo's as my camera is only for 3 meters and above I was able to get some great shots of the fish in the shallow waters. 




Nungwi Beach was amazing.  There was no doubt that we had made a good decision leaving that other beach in the east to come here.  The water was crystal clear and dotted with wooden dhows. We drank cold beers and ate delicious seafood. We switched between nice restaurants directly on the beach and a local place where we could get rice and beans for a little over a dollar. I refused to wear anything other than my bathing suit and cute sun dresses since we cannot wear them in Rwanda.
Unlike on the west coast, the social scene at Nyungwi on the north coast was great! We met people from the UK, Germany, Denmark, Australia, South Africa, and Oman. Other than PCVs, we didn't run into many people from the USA. Everyone seemed to be staying at least through New Year’s so we were able to make friends and hang out with them every day.

That was how our nights usually went down. The six of us entered a bar that was just starting to fill up. We'd start out by buying beers, then spread out, start talking and dancing, and succeed in getting the crowd riled and grinding. We coined ourselves a slogan, which Devin gets credit for creating. Now you have to understand that Devin despises all things unoriginal, which includes cliché quotes. You know, quotes like Gandhi’s “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” And so Devin twisted the quote to instead say, “Be the escalation you wish to see in the party.” Just as much as Be the Change is an excellent life philosophy, so too is Be the Escalation.

We had a blast, dancing and drinking, and making friends.

On December 31st we had one final night together at Numgwi Beach.  It was New Year's Eve. Everybody had saved their best outfit to wear on this evening. Sally has an amazing gold sequins dress that her mom had sent her.  I had a black dress with a bit of sequence on the top and on the side strap.  None of us wore shoes. We put on the final touch for our outfits, glow bracelets, and headed out to our favorite spot on the beach for dinner.

I will never forget the moment we walked into the restaurant. Heads turned. People took pictures. Everyone stared. That's how good the six of us looked.

Basking in the ecstasy of being young and beautiful we sat down to dine and enjoy each other. The service and our waitress were horrendous, but with the sand between our toes and the ocean just a few meters away, we didn't mind. After finishing dinner and saying hi to our old hometown pub friends we piled into a cab and headed for the festivities at Kendwa Rocks.  This was the place to be for New Year's.  Everyone we had met during our time in Zanzibar was there.  It was great seeing familiar faces.  At midnight we had the typical countdown and there were fireworks shot over the beach.  It was really beautiful and I was there with my best friends.  It was a great New Year's.

 A few minutes later we'd again dispersed to dance and mingle. Then we heard the song! LMFAO's I'm Sexy and I Know It. We'd been planning this moment all week! I ran as fast as I could toward the volleyball courts, which was illuminated by floodlights. Within seconds I was joined by Blair, Sally, Devin, Kerry, and Cara. We got into a line. At the phrase, “Girl look at that body,” we all broke out into our choreographed dance move of pointing first to the girl at our right, then to the girl at our left. It was our flash dance!!! Blair had taught us all the moves and we'd rehearsed a few times earlier that day. We continued dancing and invited people to join us. By mid song we were surrounded by a crowd of people cheering and taking videos and pictures. It was a huge success!

For the rest of the night people yelled out to us and stopped us in our paths, “Hey! You're the Sexy and I Know It girls! We saw you earlier today practicing on the beach! You guys are awesome!”

Not much happened after that. About three and a half hours into 2012 it was time to head home. 

Cara, Kerry, and Blair had a ferry to catch that morning, so we all groggily packed our bags and met our 8am taxi. On the ride back to Stone Town we congratulated each other on the success of our flash dance, retold our best jokes of the week, and marveled over what an awesome time we'd had together.

When we arrived at the ferries the goodbye was pure agony. I didn't want to part ways. I didn't want the week to be over. I was so disappointed and down. I frowned. “Love you guys. Safe travels.” And with that, half of our crew departed.

Devin, Sally, and I were spending another night in Stone Town so we again checked into Jambo Guest House and all took naps.  After we awoke we decided to go wander around outside.
We found a great restaurant with local food and again recounted the events of the previous night. We also reviewed our injuries. Sally had a huge gash on her big toe from frolicking around the rocks near the beach. Devin also had a foot injury. And I had a disgusting green oozing wound on my knee from playing beach volleyball. We decided we needed to find a pharmacy.

Later on, each of us bandaged a bit, headed to our favorite place to eat, the seafood market. As we sat on a bench and talked a guy approached us. He worked at the pizza stall just ahead so he showed us the menu and asked if we'd like anything. Sally and I ordered food and handed him the money. He told us he'd be right back with our change. Guess what. He never came back. He wasn’t really a vendor. He'd stolen our $7 and run.  I was really furious but tried to remain calm and get over it.

We'd seen some of our old friends from Nyungwi Beach and decided to go out for a drink with them to Livingstone.  It’s the same place we spend Christmas eve.  They have a place right on the beach with tables in the sand.  It’s a really great place to sit and relax with friends.  Tomorrow it would be time to board the ferry back to DAR and begin the second leg of our journey in Zambia. 

Dar to Livingstone, Zambia

On the morning of January 2nd we savored our last few moments on Zanzibar. We were devastated to leave and incredulous that we weren't even through half of our vacation. There was no way Livingstone could be as spectacular as Zanzibar, we agreed, but we were together and looking forward to exploring a new country.

A week before when we'd arrived in Stone Town we had bought our return ferry tickets. Happy that we didn't have to stand in line at a ticket office we set out for the ferry dock. Around 10am we pulled out our passports and boarding passes. It was already super hot out and we were anxious to move along. A ferry agent came by and asked to see our tickets. “No,” he told us. “This is wrong. There is no 11am ferry to Dar today.” We were not amused. We found the office where we'd bought our tickets and they confirmed the ferry was cancelled. The woman refunded our money. So much for not having to wait in line.

The only place that was selling tickets had a huge crowd in front of it. We all got into separate lines trying to find the quickest way to the front.  Lines are only wishful thinking in most of Africa, or at least Tanzania and Rwanda.  Regardless we waited trying to find our way into a line. The sun beat down. We waited. Sweat trickled down my back. We waited. My backpack became soaked with my perspiration. We waited.

And we were in Africa. So of course everyone was jammed together and people were still managing to budge. To add to our displeasure the air was 90 degrees of vapor, the line crawled forward at a annoyingly slow pace, and we should already be on the stupid ferry anyways!

I finally reached the front of the line and bought three tickets in 2nd class. Sadly I found out that the first class air conditioned cabin was sold out so we got outside seats and were happy for the moment because we were done melting in the sun for now. Thank goodness. Now we all needed a super cold drink and a seat in the shade.

Here's another fun fact about Zanzibar: it's the birthplace of Freddie Mercury! There's a restaurant honoring him right next to the ferries so we decided to stop there for lunch. I had an amazing shrimp and rice dish and enjoyed the gorgeous view of the water. We whittled away a few more hours, then returned to the boarding dock hoping our new ferry passes would get us to Dar. Our tickets were indeed valid and we found seats on the boat. We waited to get cruising. Our 3:30pm departure time came. Our 3:30pm departure time went. We waited some more. Four o'clock came. Four o'clock went. Come on! What's the problem? On the other side of the ferry we watched as people crowded against the railing and pointed at something on shore.  I wondered downstairs to try and figure out what was going on. 

I found out that a truck full of military soldiers was in an accident. They were bringing some of the guys on board to take them to a hospital in Dar. They laid the soldiers down in the aisles of first class. A bunch of them are hooked up to IV's.  How was this happening for a second time? We must be bad luck. I hoped this was not a case of something happening in three.

We left the island an hour behind schedule but our ferry zipped along with the speed of an emergency medical vehicle. Back on mainland Africa we walked to the YMCA, a cheap hostel near the ferry station. But when we got there we discovered all the rooms were full. Would we be sleeping on the sidewalk tonight? Perhaps we should splurge and buy a fancy hotel room at the Holiday Inn. As we contemplated what to do next a man passed us. “You guys looking for a hostel?” In another guardian angel swoop he walked us several blocks away to Safari Inn. “Ah! You're Peace Corps Volunteers. Yes! I know many of you! Well, enjoy the rest of your trip!”

Safari Inn had plenty of room for the three of us: a double room and a single, both with A/C! As we walked up the stairs to the room we discussed who would stay where. I spoke up, “I really don't care. Someone else can have the single. In fact I'd prefer the double.”

“Me too,” declared Sally.

“Me three,” laughed Devin.

After all the frustrations of the day and more than a week of constantly being with each other, none of us wanted to be alone in the single. I think that said a lot about our friendship.  I ended up  taking it.

Although we were beat we needed to find some dinner. There are a lot of Indians living in Dar so obviously the food is stellar. We found some amazing schwarmas that included globs of delicious garlic sauce. After eating that as an appetizer we found a restaurant with a large and inscrutable menu. Sally ordered a paneer dish. A few minutes later the waitress brought a gigantic plate out to our sidewalk table. It was a huge wrap, about a foot long by a half foot wide, filled with some delicious Indian concoction. Yes, the food in Dar is superb. 

That night I sleep really well with a hot shower and fell asleep in a nice comfy bed, enjoying the A/C blowing on my body.

The next day we returned to our schwarma spot for lunch. We each ate two and ordered another one to go. Somehow each of us had broken our phones, so we bought the cheapest Motorola we could find. We also went on a wild goose chase trying to find a bank that would help out Devin. Along with her passport she had lost her debit card. A new card had come in the mail in time, but the pin number had not. A bank in Kigali allowed Devin to withdraw from her account with her card and passport, and so we set out to find a place that would do the same in Dar. We went to the first bank. “No, sorry, we can't help you out. But International Bank down the road can.” We went to International Bank. “Nope, unfortunately we can't, but this bank can.” At that bank, “No but try this bank.” We must have gone into 15 banks. They all had the same response. All they did was get rid of us by telling us to try somewhere else. We didn't have any luck and around 1pm we had to give up. It was time to go to the train station.

We returned to our hotel to grab our backpacks and to find a cab. While we waited in the lobby we ran into some other people taking the train. We chatted about our travel plans and compared itineraries. “So,” the guy said, “you've already gotten your Zambia visas, right?” Umm no. “Yeah,” he continued, “when we bought our train tickets the staff told us that there's no guarantee you can get your visa at the border. We spent a whole day going to the embassy here to buy the visas in advance.” This was the first we'd ever heard of anything like this. I've been to several African countries and I've always been able to buy the visa upon arrival at the border. I called some Rwanda PCVs who'd done this trip before and they told me they'd gotten their visas on the train. Either way there was nothing we could do; the train was leaving in a hour and a half. If they wouldn't sell us the visa on the train they'd just have to kick us off at the border.

When we arrived in Dar the week before we'd been too impatient to go to the train station for tickets. This was a stupid move, we found out on our first day in Zanzibar. Kerry knew some Zambia PCVs going back the day we were and they told her first class was already booked, second was going fast. We really didn’t want to sacrifice an entire day or more on Zanzibar in order to go to Dar by ferry then find the train station and buy tickets (When is Africa going to figure out online booking?). Luckily those PCV friends of Kerry had extra beds in their cabins. They'd bought out a couple of rooms in second class, each with six beds, preferring to buy a few extra tickets rather than get stuck with random people. By the end of our week in Zanzibar we were more than random people to them, so they told us of course we could have those extra spots.

When we got to the train station one of the PCV girls came up to us. “There's some bad news. We need your help.” Apparently the volunteers had purchased the tickets in Kapiri, on their way to Dar. But when they arrived at the Dar station that morning the office had no record of their purchase. Turns out Kapiri had taken their money but never contacted Dar to let them know to reserve the cabins. Great business. And now all the first and second class tickets were sold out. The volunteers found the station manager, but all she offered was to either let them go on third class (no beds, just seats, so it's basically like riding a bus) or give them cars on the next train leaving in a few days. What about refunding the money? Well when they'd called the station manager's boss he'd hung up and then turned off his phone. He didn’t want to deal with it. And then the station manager explained that the cashier wasn’t around to give the PCVs their money back anyway. Where was he? At a bar. Are you kidding me?

Devin, Sally, and I wanted to help out somehow so we decided to call Peace Corps Tanzania. Maybe they had experience dealing with this office. At the very least they could have someone speak to the station manager in Swahili. Sally called the Tanzania duty phone, the number PCVs are supposed to use at any time if they're ever in trouble. A U.S. American woman, probably the country director, answered. Sally explained the situation and she was very nice and understanding. But she seemed to be busy so she put me on the phone with another PC employee, also a U.S. American. Our phone credit was running out fast so Sally hurried through the entire story again.

“Ok,” she began, “so let me ask you this. How did the Zambia PCVs connect with the Rwanda PCVs?” What? Why does that matter? Sally politely explained we were friends of friends. The woman continued, “Well let me just talk to you about the taxi drivers in Dar. We've been having a lot of problems lately with that.” Oh my gosh. Again, are you kidding me? That is not the issue right now. The woman went on for a few seconds and then my credit ran out. Gah! The women quickly called right back.

“Sorry about that,” Sally told her.

“Did you hang up on me?” she laughed. “Because that's what my teenage daughter does when I lecture her. Hahahahaha!”

Finally she finished, “So when you get into a cab pretend to call someone and tell them the license plate number. You really must be cautious. And I'm sorry we can't help you out with the train. Good luck! Bye!” What a waste of a phone call.

While I'd been on the phone the station manager escorted us from her office to the hallway, and then proceeded to lock her door and leave. That was how she was handling the problem. The Zambia volunteers decided to give up and take the Friday tickets. Devin, Sally, and I didn't want to use that many of our vacation days waiting so we decided to go figure out a bus to Kapiri.

We walked out of the train station to the main road. Why don’t we take public transport to the bus park? It was less about the warnings regarding cab drivers and more about wanting to save a few dollars. We boarded a bus labeled Ubungo, the name of the bus park, and found spots in the aisle to stand. Devin asked a fellow passenger, “We're going in the direction of the bus park?”

“No. The bus park is the other way. But stay on this bus. It will turn around and then go to the busses.”

“How long will it take?”

“One hour and a half.”

“Oh, wow. But we could just get off and get on a bus going the other direction, right?”

“Yes but this bus will take you. Just wait.”

“Sure. But if we get off now and get on a bus going the other direction how long is the drive to the bus park?”

“About fifteen minutes.”

Stop the bus! We ignored the Tanzanian's logic, got off the bus, crossed the road, and found a bus going in the correct direction. On that ride we met an old man who was interested in our story. When we told him we were Peace Corps Volunteers he beamed. “Back when I was in school one of my English teachers was a Peace Corps Volunteer!” Cool!

Twenty minutes later we found a Taqwa office and bought bus tickets for 6am the next morning. At this point we'd traveled a significant distance from the Safari Inn where we’d stayed the night before. We figured we could find a closer hostel. As it turned out there was a hotel located directly in the bus park, the Terminal Inn. Our room had a twin bed and a double bed, a bathroom, A/C, and cost only $5 per person. The hotel tripled as a casino and a forex bureau. An armed guard sat at the entrance. If we'd preferred we probably could have paid for our room by the hour. And let me repeat, the hotel name was the Terminal Inn. But our spirits were high and we were extremely pumped about the ridiculousness of this place. We got out our schwarmas and giggled about everything we’d been through the past couple days. All of it was so obnoxious and outrageous. We were upset about the amount of extra time we were spending to get from Tanzania to Zambia, but this was backpacking around Africa after all, and at least we were with each other.

After our supper we decided to go out into the bus park and find a beer or two. Just a couple of yards from where our armed guard was seated we found a place with a Tusker sign. All the tables were full but a waitress scrounged up three plastic chairs and a small wooden bench. That'll do! We each ordered a drink. A vendor walked by and we bought a bag of boiled peanuts.

We were laughing about our memories, beginning to feel buzzed from our Tanzanian beers. Bare light bulbs of surrounding businesses were turning on as dusk descended. And then a little girl came tearing around the corner. She was screaming, the type of crying little kids do when they're truly upset and terrified. She ran past our table and into the darkness of the bus park. I watched her, not knowing what to do. And then she tripped and fell. She screamed some more, then got up and continued her frantic running. What was happening? I got up from my seat and moved toward the little girl, who was now rushing back toward us. I reached out for her but she wouldn't come. Our waitress came over, caught the girl, and held her against her body. The girl calmed down a bit.

There was a Tanzanian couple eating at the table next to us. The wife took the girl in her lap and they all began to share their food. I sat back down and shortly after our waitress came over. She only spoke a few words of English but with hand gestures and Swahili she told us, “That girl, her mom is crazy. She sleeps with many men.” It was clear that the girl's mom was a prostitute, out working in the bus park as we spoke, and this was a normal night for the little girl. This was where she was being raised. The couple sharing food with her didn’t know her. They were just typical African people, taking in a kid who needed care.

A while later an even smaller boy came over and we figured out he was the girl’s little brother. The girl approached our table and we shared our fries with her. How old are you? Five. By now she was acting like a happy little kid. She took another fry and skipped away. I wanted to take her into our room and give her a peaceful, safe night's sleep. All I could think about was how terrible the world is and how awful up that little girl’s life must be.

When we finished our drinks we paid our waitress and headed back to our casino forex motel. In the room I got out my pajamas and tooth brush. Something caught my eye and I looked in time to see a roach run across the white sheets of my bed. Could be worse, I thought. Could be a whole lot worse.

We woke up bright and early that morning, packed up, and headed out into the early morning darkness of the bus park. We found our bus.  We set off for Zambia. The bus was packed so luggage filled up the aisle. When we stopped every few hours to go pee on the side of the road we had to step on the arm rests of people’s seats in order to get out. I was always slightly nervous during these stops, fearing the bus would pull away without one of us. Thankfully we were never abandoned.

The roads were good and the countryside was very pretty. We rode through savannah, jungle, and even a game park. There we saw antelope, baboons, and several giraffe. The three of us switched seats throughout the ride.

Around 10pm we reached the Tanzania/ Zambia border. Unlike Rwanda’s borders, which are always open, this border closed at night. Our bus conductor helped us to find someone to show us to a guest house. We were quite thankful for him looking out for us. Our new escort took us to Abu Dhabi Lodge, which cost $7 per person per night. We had a double and a single room, so again we had to choose who would be the odd man out. At this point Devin wasn’t feeling very well so she offered to stay by herself. In this creepy place I was glad not to be alone.

I sleep very well that night, actually I slept well almost every night.  I awoke to Devin and Sally returning.  They had apparently went out for breakfast without me.  But I do enjoy my rest and hate being woken up in the mornings so I understand why they did that.
While packing up Sally and I agreed that this place was almost as sketchy as the Terminal Inn. We went to the border, bought our visas no problem, and entered Zambia. Wahoo! Our bus wasn’t leaving until 1pm, which turned out to be 2pm Tanzania time, so we went to a forex booth to exchange money, and then found another restaurant where we could wait. The place was fine. It even included some art that looked like it was straight out of a Pier 1 Imports. How nice of them to donate generic African prints to Africa.

By the afternoon we were itching to go. We boarded the bus, again making our way to our seats in the back by walking along the arm rests. On the ride we enjoyed the scenery of Zambia, similar to Tanzania and spotted with clusters of round huts made of brick and capped with thatched roofs. By 11pm we reached our destination, Kapiri. Again the conductor acted as our father and found us a taxi to take us to a place to stay for the night.  Of course the place ended up being a 5 minute walk from where the bus dropped us off.  But we had no way of knowing and paid the driver 3 dollars to drive us literally 1 minute. Once at Unity hotel we are shown a double room that we all decide to sqeeze into to as one of the beds is larger than the other.  Two of us sleep in the larger bed and the other in the smaller twin size bed.  We each paid $3 for our room.  This place was probably the sketchiest of all. Our curtains were torn and our door had a hole punched in it.

We had a mission in the morning: to buy train tickets for the way back. A cab dropped us off at the station a bit before 8am. “They open at eight o’clock!” our driver promised. Close to 9:00 someone finally opened the ticket window. We booked three beds in first class for the following Friday and hoped there wouldn’t be any complications this time. Next we headed back to the main road. Kerry had explained that hitch hiking in Zambia is a widespread and safe practice. And so we stuck out our arms and smiled at passing vehicles. It took us a while but we finally found a ride in the back of a pickup truck. Hitching is so common in Zambia that most drivers charge money, so we paid $3 each.

The ride from Kapiri to Lusaka took about three hours. The drive was fun and beautiful. We passed huge fields that had high tech irrigation equipment and tractors. It reminded me of the Midwest U.S. We also passed fruit markets, honey stands, and even a Subway restaurant! On the outskirts of Lusaka we started to get nervous. Clouds up ahead. The driver stopped and offered to let us out so we could find a ride the rest of the way inside a car. “No, it’s cool!” Devin got out the piece of cardboard we’d been sitting on and unfolded it to make us a tent. The rain began and we snuggled underneath it. Rather than get upset about the downpour we repeated over and over again, “We are so lucky to have this cardboard!”

As we continued driving the sun came out. We passed a mall with stores including Woolworths and KFC. Wow! And there were more than two tall buildings. Pretty fancy compared to Kigali. Our pickup dropped us off at the bus station and we immediately began the search for our final ride of the trip to Livingstone. Of course all the guys standing around began hassling us at the site of our white skin and dirty backpacks. “Livingstone? Livingstone? Bus to Livingstone?” Yep, lead the way.

We paid $15 for the bus tickets and got on the medium-sized bus. We should have known better. Hadn’t we learned our lesson yet about not taking giant busses? We soon figured out that we’d gotten on a Rosa bus, the Zambian equivalent of a Rwandan matatu. The vehicle was larger than a matatu but didn’t have a definite departure time and would make frequent stops. We tried to get a refund but of course that was an unreasonable request. By this point I was really worn out and awfully sick of being on a bus. We waited and waited for the bus to fill.

We finally departed at 3:30pm. Devin had a window and Sally and I were together in a two person seat. There wasn’t room for our bags anywhere except by our feet, so we didn’t have much  leg room. But it was better than sitting in the folding jump seat in the aisle. A woman was stuck there with her toddler on her lap.

The beginning of the trip went just as we’d expected. We stopped frequently to let off and pick up passengers. At one point a whole hoard of people came on. The conductor motioned for them to move to our row and for us to make room. Uh uh! No way! We paid for these seats and we are not cramming more people onto them! Get real! The lady sitting next to us was absolutely awesome as she yelled in Swahili that not a single additional butt was welcome in our row. The conductor got mad and yelled back. But our gal wasn’t backing down. She won the argument and we thanked her for sticking up for us.

By nightfall we were all a bit tense.  This ride was going horribly and we just wanted to get to our hostel in Livingstone and this bus seemed like it was taking forever.  (It did end up taking us almost double the amount of time it should have to get there (10 hours instead of 5 hours.)  It was now four and a half days since we’d left Zanzibar and we all wanted to just get to our next destination. At 9pm our bus entered a town and stopped next to a giant bus. “Ok! We’re switching busses! Everybody off!” When we boarded the next bus we found that most of the seats were full but all the passengers on the smaller bus were able to find seats on the luxiourous, airconditioned, large, express bus.  The one we were suppose to take just a few bucks more.

Victoria Falls

I can’t explain the sense of relief I experienced when we arrived in Livingstone around midnight. All the fresh air flowing freely around my body! Devin, Sally, and I shouldered our packs and walked to Jollyboys, our hostel. We found the bar of Jollyboys near the entrance of the place and checked in. We’d reserved beds in the 16-bed dorm, the cheapest option, so the man working showed us to the room. All but three beds were full and everyone was sleeping. And by sleeping I mean snoring loudly and farting. As quietly as we could we set our things down. I immediately reached for my soap and shampoo. I needed a shower.

In the dorm-like bathroom I washed off all my frustrations and stood under the flow of hot water. Afterward I felt a million times better. Then we went over to the bar to talk to the employee, a very friendly guy.
Kerry, the volunteer in Zambia decided to come join us for a few days after her close of service conference.  Therefore we decided to switch to a 4 person dorm room and pay only $4 more per person.  Our new room was much quieter and didn’t stink like smelly boys. After we moved our belongings we once again returned to the bar and gulped a celebratory 1am beer.
Jollyboys has a free daily shuttle to Victoria Falls so the next morning we woke up and prepared ourselves to visit the natural world wonder. We all ordered French toast at the Jollyboys restaurant and were gleaming with joy at not being on a bus anymore. At 10am we got into a very nice air conditioned van. We met some other people staying at Jollyboys on the bus ride.  It was those people who had been in Livingstone a few days before us who told us that a week ago the bungee broke on a 20-year old Australian girl.  The girl fell into the Zambezi River and got dragged along in the rapids. She washed up on the Zimbabwe side. They found her, banged up but alive, and took her to a hospital.  She was flown to south Africa and treated there.  Fourtuntely she is ok now, just forever scared of bungee jumping.
We heard that story a hundred more times during our stay in Livingstone. Check out the video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=78oyPAfAd18. 

The drive to the falls took about 15 minutes. We paid the park entrance fee and ran giddily toward the sound of rushing water. The site was spectacular! It truly can't be described in words or even pictures. The three of us walked from one viewing spot to the next, enjoying rainbows and the mist. At one point we walked on a narrow bridge crossing a gorge.  There were so many rainbows! I later learned that Victoria Falls are twice as high as Niagara Falls, and because the gorge is so narrow you can get a lot closer to the side you’re viewing. The trails around the park are also beautiful, overflowing with bright, deep green vegetation.

A man in our shuttle that morning had told us to check out an area of the park called the Boiling Pot, so we headed there next. We found the trail that led to the bottom of the gorge. A few minutes into the hike we spotted some baboons. And then a few more. And then several more. We looked around and realized we were surrounded by a troop of probably 200 baboons! There were no other humans in sight so we had the experience all to ourselves. At a few points we got nervous; baboons are notorious for being a bit too bold around people. But for the most part they kept their distance.

At the bottom of the gorge we climbed across a pile of boulders and stuck our feet in the water. The falls were around a bend and thus not in view, but we could see the major bridge that connects Zambia to Zimbabwe. Several times we watched people bungee jump off of it. It was a bit shocking to know the bungee had broken just a week before but I still really wanted to bungee. It is my belief that now is the safest time to jump! They just replaced the cord, everything is brand new. And I bet they’re being extra cautious.

Just then Kerry called. She had arrived at Jollyboys. We climbed back over the boulders and began our ascent. On the way up we passed several groups of people and far fewer baboons. Guess we were the only ones to see the show that day. I looked in the tree branches, wondering where all the monkeys were hiding.

We met Kerry in town at Ocean Basket, southern Africa’s version of Red Lobster. I had the best leam I have had in 2 years.  It was prawns in garlic sauce and sushi the first time we went and the second time I had mussels in garlic sauce.  After our meal we went to Shoprite, a supermarket, and stocked up on groceries. In the evening we swam in the Jollyboys pool and continued to meet other backpackers and travelers. 

One of the most interesting parts of traveling around Africa is meeting people from all over the world. Several times on this trip we’d met people who gave us their impressions of U.S. Americans. Of course we knew that people generally think we’re all loud and outgoing and sometimes obnoxious. But we also got several other perspectives. My favorite characterization came from someone we’d met in Zanzibar. He told us that U.S. Americans are super friendly. Whenever one U.S. American meets another the conversation goes like this:

“Hey! Where are you from?”

“I’m from X city.”

“Oh wow! Yeah! I have friends there! Do you know Joe Smith or Susie Johnson?”

“Susie Johnson? Does she go to Z college?”

“Yeah, that’s her!”

“Oh wow! I can't believe you know Susie! She's great!”

I loved this interpretation of U.S. Americans’ interactions. Of course not everyone had such fond opinions of us, such as the people we were sitting with at the Jollyboys picnic table. So we get offended too easily? Well, maybe that’s true. But I think it’s really mean to be mean to people you just meet.

The next day Devin and I went white water rafting.  We went over nearly 20 rapids in a matter of 4 hours.  It was class 2 rapids to class four rapids, sadly for me no class 5 rapids.  Before we had left, people were telling us crazy rumors of how 6 people died last year rafting.  I did not believe that at all, not if they were rafting with a company but as we were driving toward the rapids Devin and I did got a bit anxious about it.  In fact Devin decided to ask the guide about deaths.  He joked around but did tell us there were no deaths last year with his company.  This made us feel a bit more relieved, after all we are on Peace Corps insurance!  On our trip were with 4 other people and 2 of them were a couple of RPCV's who served in the Dominican Republic a few years before, what a small world.   
The first challenge was climbing down to the river itself.  The walk took about an hour and was straight down with a built in crickety wooden ladder.  You had to be careful though because every once in a while your foot would hit a loose piece of wood.  It was really scary and dreadful and I have no idea how the older more unfit people ever made it down that hill.  Once down we were given a quick 5 minute safety speal.  The gist of it being if you fall out of the raft grasp the side of the raft in the water and don't let go.  Hold on for dear life!  Well that seems easier said than done.  But it was time to head into the dangerous rapids of the Zambezi River and begin an adventure.  The first few rapids were no problem and lots of fun.  Then about halfway in my entire side of the boat fell out during a rapid but were quickly pulled back into the boat by our teammates.  Also in my opinion falling out or flipping are the best parts of rafting!  It was a great trip, we all had lots of laughs and screams and were glad to have survived.  A worthwhile trip! Sadly we have no pictures from this trip because I did not bring my camera.  Even though it is waterproof it is not sink-proof and I really did not want to loose it.  Of course there were professionals taking photos but we didn't like any of the photo's enough to pay the exorbitantly high prices they were trying to charge.  
After we got back from rafting we met back up with Sally and Kerry and the 4 of us set out for a sunset cruise. It was lovely. There was an open bar and lots of food. Our boat floated lazily along the placid water. We saw many birds, some hippos, and an elephant. The sunset was absolutely beautiful.
The next day we strolled around Livingstone. We checked out the craft market, which after about 10 minutes was done with because everything was the same as all other African markets and I was over it. The strange thing in Zambia was they all wanted to barter for hair ties.  They explained, “My sister in the village, I will give her that band.” I couldn’t figure out if they were telling the truth, if it was a ploy to draw me into their shops, or if there’s some black market frenzy for them.  I did end up buying some copper earring and bracelets.  Copper jewelry is for sale everywhere in Livingstone since Zambia has several copper mines.

After shopping we went back to Jollyboys, changed into our bathing suits, and dove into the pool. I booked bungee jumping for the following day.

By this point we’d made best friends with an Israeli couple who were also staying at Jollyboys. They were a bit older and on their honeymoon. We had a lot of fun talking to them and I think they enjoyed us. We were swimming with them in the pool that afternoon and got to talking about our careers. Turns out the woman was a lawyer.

That night is was a full moon which meant that Victoria falls would have moon-bows! Once a month at the full moon the park opens up after dark. Apparently the light of the moon is enough to create rainbows in the mist of the falls. This I had to see!  The moon-bow itself turned out not to be that spectacular. You had to sort of look at a spot above the bow and then you could make out a faint white arc. Our Israeli friends had a really great camera and the moon-bow was much more visible in a light-adjusted photo. Still, I thought the trip was well worth it. The falls at night were gorgeous and the river sparkled silver under the brilliant circular moon.  After that, Kerry left us to finish up the rest of her Peace Corps service in her village in Zambia.  It was back to being just the three of us again.

The next morning it was time for me to go bungee jumping.  Devin and Sally were both too scared to do the jump so it was just me.  I was really excited but slightly nervous on the car ride there. 

Once we arrived I had to sign some papers and decide what option I wanted.  I could either just bungee or bungee, gorge swing and zip line for only $30 more.  What a great scheme they have going.  I decide to do the triple threat.  First is the Zip Line.  This was not very scary at all but a beautiful view.  They zip you from one side of the gorge to the other.  Next is the BUNGEE.  There is another Norwegian guy also doing these activities with me.  I tell him I have to go first, if I see some else I may not jump.  So i go first.  I refuse to open my eyes.  I know if I look down at the 111 Meter drop I will never be able to jump.  So I keep my eyes closed.  They lead me to the end of the platform.  I start panicking.  Literally I was having a panic attack, crying and screaming and deciding I didn't want to do this.  The guide nicely says do you want to come down.  I say no, sorry lets do this, 5,4,3,2,1...JUMP.

 I did it, I jumped and it was the most fantastic feeling ever.  The adrenaline rushed through you.  You feel like you can fly.  It's an incredible feeling.  Once you are done bouncing up and down and man comes down and attached a wire to you and together you are electrically pulled up.  Last was the gorge swing which is a lot like the bungee with a cable so you do not bounce you only fall once and then swing back and forth across the gorge.  Once again this is a beautiful view between Zambia and Zimbabwe.  What another great day.  Sally and Devin had just as much fun watching me do these things.  They were also scared with me too.  In fact Sally was suppose to video my jump but was so concentrated on me and my mental break down and watching me jump off a 111meter bridge the video was not taped.  Next time Sally will not be who I ask to video something!  It was fine though because I bought the photo's that the professionals took and didn't think buying the video was necessary.  The photo's were way better anyway.  The bridge is a great place to stand and watch people bungee and swinging all day.
 Another day we went to Livingstone Island. This, too, was terrifying as it was an island on the edge of the falls. We left the banks of secure land in a small motor boat and sped toward the top of the falls. I clung to the edge of the boat, knowing my grip wouldn’t do me any good if we were swept over the edge.  I reminded myself over and over how hundreds of tourists do this yearly and that everything would be fine.

A guide met us and instructed us to get into our bathing suits only as we would be swimming. He then escorted us down the sandy jungle path and closer to the falls. “Time to take off your shoes,” the guide said. Mist rose up from the depths and we stepped into shallow water. Across rocks we walked, careful not to slip. Two meters from the drop we stopped at a pool. Our guide told us we could get in and swim. Are you sure? He laughed. Slowly and surely we waded into the water. The guide demonstrated how we could duck behind the flowing water of a tiny water fall. When it was my turn I was shocked at the power of the water. I was wearing a strapless bathing suit top and that fell off almost completely in the fierce flowing water.  I did manage to save it, and put it back on before rising out of the water.  Luckily it didn't weep me away. In which case I’d certainly be carried away and tumble into the abyss.We walked around some more. At one point I stood, I swear, a foot from the very edge. One misstep and I’d have been a goner. 

Once we were safely away from the edge I asked the guide how often people fall over the falls. He told us that the last person died in October. The man had been exploring without a guide and while leaping from one ledge to the next he missed and fell into the water. He was carried downstream and got stuck between some rocks right before the edge. Unfortunately his head was underwater and he drowned. Yikes. The guide also told us that occasionally animals, including crocodiles, elephants and even hippos, are caught in a current and tumble over the falls. What a site that would be!

All the excitement worked up our appetites and we were ready for brunch. We walked back to the island and dined on elegantly served eggs and ham with a honeymooning Irish couple. And then we took the boat ride back.

We wanted to see the falls one last time so we again went to the park. On our way in we saw the usual handful of baboons strolling around. After our morning surrounded by hundreds of them they seemed kind of boring. I was with Devin and we watched as a large male baboon approached us. When he was just a few inches away, we didn’t know quite what to do. We tried to get out of his way but instead bumped into each other. And then the baboon reached out his arm and grabbed Devin’s small backpack! In one of the bravest moves I’ve ever seen Devin clung to the straps of her pack and pulled back. For what seemed like an entire WWF round the two struggled to keep hold of their end of the bag. It was an all out tug of war! Sally and I were stunned but the fight continued long enough for me to get my bearings and realize I had absolutely no idea what to do. I think one of us yelled “HELP!” and a few guys came running toward us. Just before the men reached us the baboon gave a final mighty and powerful tug and pulled the bag away from Devin. The bag had become unzipped and as the baboon ran the contents, including Devin’s wallet and passport, fell in a trail on the ground. The men continued to chase after the baboon, which finally dropped the bag and crashed into the surrounding trees.

We picked up Devin’s things and reassembled ourselves. “Holy moly! What would we have done if he’d gotten away with your bag?! Your passport would have been lost forever! And thank goodness that baboon didn’t hit you! You seriously could have gotten hurt!” We entered the park, cautiously walking very close to each other. 

The final views of Victoria Falls were again amazing. We found a trail we hadn’t gone down before so we set out. Our mindset had changed, however, and we were all a bit jumpy and scared.

“There! In the bushes! A baboon!”

“Look! There’s another!”

Devin and I found large stones and sticks and we became warriors defending ourselves against the evil, thieving monkey clan.
On our car ride back to Livingstone town we discovered the best song ever. I’m not sure what to call it other than the facebook song by a South African artist named DJ Cleo. Our driver was super cool and burned us a copy of his CD. A few days later we were in another cab that had a television in it. We saw the video, which is also really great. www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuiFJWEIpIo.

Next we checked out the Livingstone Museum, at which we learned all about David Livingstone and Zambia. We also bought our bus tickets to Lusaka for the next morning. Sadly it was time to leave and begin our trek back to Rwanda.

Heading home: Livingstone to Kigali

At 5:30am the next day we climbed onto our 6am bus. This bus was fairly comfortable and was even air conditioned (wow!). However, Devin did not enjoy the smell of the bus, which she described as something like pine fresh vomit. The ride took a quick five hours, much shorter than the10 it had taken us going the other direction. In Lusaka we found our hostel and headed to the glorious mall we’d spotted before. It was a fun day of shopping.

In the morning we walked from our hostel to the bus station. We needed to get to Kapiri in order to catch our train that afternoon. Upon entering the bus station we found a stall selling bus tickets. “What time does the bus go?” I asked.

“Nine thirty,” the man told me.

“And it’s a direct bus? We need to be at the Kapiri train station at 1pm.”

“Yes, no problem. You will get there for the train.”

“Ok, three tickets, please.”

The man handed me our tickets and pointed us toward a bug bus. We walked over and asked. “This is the 9:30am bus to Kapiri?”

A bus employee responded, “It leaves at 10:30.”

Umm what? Excuse me? The ride would take at least three hours and we were supposed to get to the train station by 1pm. Maybe we would make it but it was risky. If we missed the train who knew what we’d do. It would mean taking a million different busses back to Dar or waiting an extra four days for the next train. We boarded the bus and tried to decide whether or not we should risk it. There didn’t seem to be any other busses leaving before 10:30.  I calculated the hours over and over again in my head. This was bad. I became increasingly certain we were going to miss the train.  We finally ended up deciding we were just going to have to take a taxi.
We bargained down to $100, only $33 dollars each and unfortunalty without getting our bus ticket money back.

We piled into the car and set off. It was 9:30. A few minutes out of town our driver pulled into a gas station. “Ok, you can pay me now.” Sally had a $100 bill and so she handed it to him. “What is this?” he asked. “I can’t pay for fuel with this!” It seemed we simply weren’t meant to make the train. Fortunately the boss at the gas station helped us out and let us pay with dollars. After filling the tank we again hit the road.

At 1pm we made it to Kapiri. Yep, we concluded, if we’d waited until 10:30 to leave we wouldn’t have made it to Kapiri until at least 2pm, at which point we’d have had zero minutes to get a cab to the train station.

At the station there were no problems with our tickets so we boarded the train. Our cabin contained four beds. There were only three of us so that meant we had a roommate. The lucky lady seemed very nice. She was your quintessential African mama.  We were very happy to no have been stuck with a mom and her 3 screaming kids.  
 The train takes about two and a half days to travel from Kapiri to Dar.  We spent most of our time in the lounge car meeting other travelers, drinking, and playing cards. We made friends with an older Danish guy who is bicycling around Africa and a Brit who works for an Overland Africa company.

Of course the ride wouldn't have fit into our trip if it had been entirely smooth sailing. Around noon on Saturday we reached the Zambia/ Tanzania border. Zambian agents came onto the train in order to check our passports and give us exit stamps. A female agent entered our car and I handed her my passport. She flipped through it, and then with a stern look asked me, “When did you arrive in Zambia.”

“Uh on January 5th.”

“And at the border, on your entry form, how long did you say you would be in Zambia for?”

“One week.”

“And how long have you been in Zambia?”

“Well, about a week.”

“EXACTLY how long have you been in Zambia?”

“We arrived on the 5th and today is the 14th so we have been here 9 days.”

“And how long did you say you would be in Zambia?”

“A week.”


“Maybe seven days?”

“Yes! Seven days! You see here on your passport, they wrote on your visa that you would be here for seven days. So your visa expired on the 12th. It expired two days ago! So now you are in Zambia illegally! Do you know what that means? You must either pay $200 per day that you have been here illegally or go to jail!”

Oh shit. This lady wasn’t kidding around. “I’m very sorry,” I told her. “We thought we would be here seven days but we were delayed. I am so sorry.”

“Well now what should I do with you? You must pay the money or go to jail!”

Double shit. “Again, I apologize. We don’t have that much money. I’m very sorry.”

There was nothing to do but try and make the lady feel sorry for us.  I started crying and saying. “We’re really sorry! We didn’t know!”

I guess we’ve all traveled so much that we don’t really take those border forms very seriously. You know, when your U.S. entry form asks you, after you’ve spent a week in the rural Nicaraguan countryside around all sorts of dogs and chickens and cows, if you’ve been near any livestock. Of course you say no! And when the Zambian entry form asks you how long you’re staying in the country, you estimate and say seven days!

The crying seemed to have helped and the agent let us off with a warning. We promised her we’d never do it again. She left and we all sighed with relief. We were having all sorts of problems at country borders on this trip!

On Sunday the train ride was almost unbearably hot. I hadn’t realized how much cooler Zambia had been compared to Tanzania until then. We sat in the lounge car, playing Phase Ten and letting the sweat trickle down our bodies. It was incredibly uncomfortable. 

We were scheduled to arrive in Dar at 3:45pm that day, but the train is regularly late and we arrived at 10:00pm. Could have been worse. We gathered our bags, said goodbye to our cabin-mate (who was insisting we address her as Auntie Alice and phone her regularly to greet her), and got off the train. It was pitch black with people everywhere. We'd been told to be extremely careful of our bags, so we clutched our wallets close to our bodies and yelled, “No!” at every guy offering us a taxi. We walked down the tracks until we reached the well-lit station. We found a legit looking driver, bargained for a good price, and headed toward the exit. But leaving wasn't as simple as walking out the front door. A military man wielding a large baton was screaming and whipping people into two lines. He looked like a minion of the Wicked Witch of the West; I was terrified! We squirmed into line, showed our tickets at the door, and at last we were free. A few minutes later our taxi dropped us at the Safari Inn. Crawling into bed I felt the way you do after you're jumping on a trampoline or walking on a treadmill for a long time, then get off onto solid ground. Why wasn't my bed jerking or shaking? The stillness of stillness felt odd.

We decided we were too beat to try to make a 6am Kigali bus the next morning, so we slept in. At breakfast we met a beautiful and somewhat bewildered young woman. Her name was Marianne and she'd arrived the night before from Denmark. She'd scheduled a cab through her hotel, but when she arrived at the Dar airport, nobody was there for her. She was alone and it was her first time in Africa. Somehow she'd managed to find different transport to a different hotel, our hotel. She was still on her own until her boyfriend, who worked for a tour company, arrived in Dar that night to meet her. “I'm so happy to find some other Westerners!” she told us in her Danish accent. “Could I hang out with you guys today?”

“Of course!” we exclaimed. “We're more than happy to have you!” She was a great sport and went with us to the bus park where we needed to buy our tickets to Kigali. We thought the bus was every day, but it turns out it's only once a week and it didn't leave until Wednesday. So we had yet another day in Dar.

It was great hanging out with Marianne. Everything about Africa was new to her and she was so excited about the smallest things. She was also in awe of our travel experience and knowledge, which was very flattering. Throughout the day she said over and over again, “I am so happy to have met you guys! Thank you so much for showing me around!” In the afternoon we wanted to find a mall, since there are none in Rwanda. A cab driver told us there was a brand new mall he would take us to. When we arrived it looked good from the outside. But upon entering we were disappointed. Most of the stores carried what seemed to be formal wear for overweight sugar mommies. It was the worst mall ever.

We visited one shop that sold African souvenirs, which was run by a Tanzanian guy. He and I got to talking and I told him we lived in Rwanda. “Ah!” he exclaimed, “You live in Rwanda? How is the situation there? It is safe?” I explained that in addition to being one of the most stable African nations, Rwanda is also beyond beautiful. I was proud to boast about the country and tell him it’s been my home for the past two years. The shop owner, like many other Africans and Westerners we met on the trip, was impressed on several counts. First off he was somewhat shocked that Rwanda is safe. Even in neighboring countries people still think of Rwanda as war-ravaged. He was also pleasantly surprised that we’d lived in Rwanda for so long. We’re sort of an exception to the rule; the majority of Westerners stop by Africa only for a shirt bit.

After window shopping we found our way back to Safari Inn and headed to a restaurant for dinner. We enjoyed Marianne’s company, especially because she was so excited for her boyfriend's arrival. She was glowing. Back at the hotel we talked some more and awaited her boyfriends arrival. 

We still had a full 24 hours to kill so the next day we headed to a different mall. This one was a thousand times better.

That evening we wandered around Dar trying to find a cheap restaurant that served beer. Not an easy task in the Muslim city. Every place we tried was either dry or way too expensive. After searching for nearly an hour we gave up and settled on Indian food and Fanta's. By this point I didn't exactly want our vacation to be over, but I knew I seriously needed a few consecutive nights of good sleep. That wouldn't be possible for a couple more days, but I tried to get in what I could that night at Safari Inn.

In the morning we got a cab at 4:30am and headed to the bus park. When we found our bus the guy in charge tried to make us pay extra for our bags. No freaking way, buddy. Don't even try to mess with us. We are not paying! And so our ride back to Rwandan began. Somehow the hours slipped by. At 11pm the bus stopped, no driving at night in Tanzania. I slept relatively well through the night, as well as you can expect sitting upright on a bus.  At 3am I hoped the bus would get going again. It didn't. I dozed. At 4am I again hoped. Nope. Finally at 5am the bus started and we were off.

Several hours later we reached the Rwandan border. Instantly I felt I had more control. Men were a bit less obnoxious. Nobody was trying to cheat us. I understood what was going on. The bus ride continued for three more hours until we arrived in Kigali.  We were almost home.  Here we all hugged each other and went our separate ways back to our sites.  It was a weird feeling being home alone, after spending 1 months with at least 2 other girls 24/7.  I was glad that there were only about 3 more months left.  Or so I thought as that time.  Now of course, things changed and I will be leaving Peace Corps April 5th.  

I wish I could say this trip was it for me.  That I was ready to go back to America and become a "proper" grown up now.  Sadly for some, this trip did the exact opposite.  It made me know I was not ready for the "real world" yet.  These developing countries are so amazing and there are so many more amazing countries out there for me to explore.  I'm ready to continue to see and travel the world!