Love Letters to Friends, As Well As Very Important Musings on Earth Shattering Matters:
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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Out of Town, Part II: Part 2 - Livingstone, Zambia which we alternately lounge like lizards and defy death.

Day 5: Friday, November 27th: on the road to Livingstone. Why did the elephant cross the road? Or rather, why didn’t he? Because we were in the way, I’m afraid, on the road to Livingstone, Zambia. He wanted to cross the road because his peeps were on the other side, which were what we were actually gawking at to our right before - Hello! he showed up bigger than life on our left.  But as we slowed down to a dead halt on the two-lane highway – along with the car coming towards us from the other direction – this behemoth seemed of two minds about whether to cross the road between us. So we waited. And waited. And he shook his ears and stomped about, and finally loped back in to the trees on his own side, perhaps to wait for a more salubrious crossing.
oh hey look, an elephant!

I mean, how cool! It's right there, like 50 feet away!

YAH! where'd you come from?

We would have done as well to heed his example, because the border crossing into Zambia was such an utter confusion of trucks and truck drivers and people with fruit baskets on their heads and others carrying long lengths of pipe and dogs and dust and fences and offices and people volunteering to be our “agent” that we were pretty sure we were missing something. Turns out, we were: see the last paragraph of this update.

cliche, granted, but still remarkable. (Mel)

But we placed our faith in the Zambian government notices posted all over that decried corruption, and the smaller notices that outlined the list of things we had to do – pay the ferry, get our passports stamped, pay for a road tax, pay for a carbon tax, buy insurance, pay a council fee – most of which, allegedly, we were supposed to be able to do without any “agents” helping us. However, all of these things had to be taken care of at different offices, by different bored officials who had little interest in making sure we got through our crossing unfleeced. And we were trying to get to Kim and Craig before it got too late. So intrepidly we sallied forth, paying a gentleman who might or might not have been an “agent” to manouver us up to the front of some lines, and to motion us away from other even less principled “agents” who were selling bogus insurance policies and the like. Eventually, we crossed with all our paperwork shuffled, stamped, stapled and in order. A small cheer went up from our party as we waved goodbye to our “agent,” who was a bit richer in US dollars, and had probably saved us a few hours.  (Seriously, there were maybe 100 semi-trucks waiting to cross at this border, which used a ferry?  No wonder supply chains in developing nations are untrustworthy.)  We arrived in good order, in time enough to enjoy some dinner with Kim and Craig, who had very thoughtfully arranged our campsite for us at this lovely little resort which was home for the next 3 days.  We'd made it to Livingstone!

Hail, Hail, the gang's got beer.

Livingstone: The Man, The Myth, The Moustache

Livingstone is something like a low-rent Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, if you’ve ever been there, which is no fault of its eponymous “discoverer.” The main attraction, is, of course, Victoria Falls, where the majestic upper Zambezi hurtles into a 100 m abyss. David Livingstone, erstwhile missionary and gutsy Scottish explorer, had been brought to see the Mosi Oa Tunya (“the smoke that thunders”) by locals over 150 years before us, in one of his numerous trips into the Dark Continent, for the benefit of the British Empire and his own incurable wanderlust.

Incidentally, we learned all about Livingstone courtesy of Sven’s iPod and a digital audiobook called “Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone” which we were serializing in parts during our drive, whenever we could no longer bear to try to agree on music. This is a fascinating account of his various explorations (including the final one, the quest to find the source of the Nile,) and the large supporting cast of explorers, native guides, n’er do wells hired guns, Arab slave traders, and gentleman scientists; and of course, how the intrepid Welshman-turned-America-turned-Brit journalist Stanley should end up finding Livingstone, eventually, on the shores of Lake Tanganyika after he’d gone missing for years. Riveting stuff, very provoking – was he or some of the other explorers of the time gay? Did he have an affair with a native woman who bore him a son? Was Stanley, charged with carrying on Livingstone’s exploration in Africa, inadvertently the promulgator of the slave trade Livingstone abhored by creating the Belgian Congo for greedy, crafty monarch Leopold II? - a great glimpse into a time in colonialist history when geo-politics had a very different meaning than it does today. But I digress.

Livingstone Was Quoted Here

The Smoke that Thunders has been, appropriately, turned into a hot tourist mecca, and has given rise to a ton of extreme touristy activities like abseiling, white water rafting, and bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge, which is 111 meters high. Uh, no thank you to that last one.

Bernardo contemplates the madness of bungee jumping off that bridge.

On Saturday, we merely hiked the path to see the falls; though the Zambia side is widely agreed to be inferior to the Zimbabwe side, for political reasons the Zimbabwe side has become something of a leper colony. So Zambia was it for us: and being as how this is the dry season, the falls were not at their full capacity, at which time, we were assured, we would be drenched just by standing opposite the rift from them, and the noise would be immense. As it was, we were treated to a lovely view of the rift rocks themselves, and given a glimpse of a kinder, gentler Victoria Falls, which was still pretty damn breathtaking.

Yes, I was hiking in flip-flops.

Also, we ran across this fella, who was minding his own business, being GIANT, FURRY, and INCREDIBLY DANGEROUS LOOKING along the path we hiked.
Mothereffing Tarantula as Big As My Hand

That evening, after rinsing away the dust and sweat of the trail in the lush pool at Maramba and gobbling cheeseburgers in the shade, we opted for the yuppified splendour of a sunset booze-cruise, where I made the further acquaintance of the delicious local brew named for the falls's local name, Mosi Oa Tunya. As we chatted with other passengers and checked out the other boats tootling around, a number of submerged hippos blew water out their noses at us, and we saw some crocs sunning themselves on the central island…in fact, apparently this guy comes up to check on all the boats, and is locally known as “Duncan.” Duncan the crocodile. Sweet.
Duncan, The Funloving Predator

And in general, it was one of those scenes of extraordinary beauty that one hopes to glimpse on vacation, if just so you remember what all the hustle and driving and border crossings are about.

The answer is: sunset.

okay, no, the answer is actually:  beer at sunset.

Sunday morning dawned a lovely day and we had booked ourselves a trip to the Devil’s Pool off a bit of rock outcropping in the middle of the falls known as Livingstone’s Island. This is a ridiculously cool thing that would never be allowed in the states for liability reasons: first, you are taken to the literal edge of the falls, where a guide gives you some background and will take your picture as you are precariously perched mere feet from instant death. I did my best to capture the very cool double rainbow that formed an almost 270 degree arc over the falls, but as usual, my picture-taking ability totally failed me.

Somewhere over the rainbow... lies certain death.  Kim braves the edge.

Then, you are directed to swim INTO THE UPPER ZAMBEZI IMMEDIATELY ABOVE THE FALLS, with a rope literally stretched about 4 feet from the edge for you to GRAB IF YOU START GOING OVER, into a relatively “safe” pool of water that is slowly carving a concavation into the rocks over which the Falls fall. From the vantage of Livingstone’s Island, a few tufts of grass on some taller rocks, you JUMP INTO THIS POOL, and then wait, overcome by hysterical nervous laughter, for your turn to be HELD BY THE FEET SO YOU CAN CRAWL FAR ENOUGH TO STICK YOUR HEAD OVER THE EDGE OF THE FALLS. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, we were all that crazy. It was awesome.  I have no pictures of that, alas, but if you don't believe me, you can check out Snopes view on the subject.  Verdict: true.

The hearty explorers just before taking a dip at the end of the known universe.

After this, you are shepherded to a lovely table where your party can enjoy a seriously delicious breakfast of fresh-baked scones and Eggs Benedict. Your stomach, at this point, is so joyful to be alive that it snatches hungrily at everything brought before you, and you share some hearty guffaws with your fellow insane freaks, as those who have overcome a very dire death sentence together will do. One gentleman, from Atlanta, was so enthused by everything that he insisted on taking a picture of his eggs benedict because of its sheer perfection, much to the amusement of all. His fiancĂ©e looks on in long-suffering exasperation.
Civilisation greets the hearty explorers... the form of photo-worthy eggs benedict.

So yeah, top that, Livingstone! But oh, the best was yet to come. First, though, we bid adieu to Kim and Craig, who were back on the road to Lusaka after this death-defying adventure.
adieu, Kim and Craig!

Me, I was sated for the day: I opted out of an attempt by Mel and the boys to cross to see the Zimbabwe side in favor of lounging literally all day by the pool. They returned sometime later, unsuccessful, but having gotten their passports stamped before declining to pay the ridiculous money required for the 1-day visa. So at least their passports SAY they were in Zimbabwe. I, instead, was here, which was, in a word, GLORIOUS:

don't lie, you wouldn't have left it all day, either.

Monday, however, was what I was waiting for: white water rafting. As my illustrious brother can tell you, Pigeon Forge TN was my first white water rafting adventure and I’ve always harbored a love for it, after enjoying it also a few places out west. This was much, much crazier. The lower Zambezi, where we put in, is home to 25 rapids, 8 of them class 5. Did I say 8 class 5 rapids? Yes I did! And there was good reason for the guides to be strapping us into our life-jackets so thoroughly that none of us could breath. Early on, Mel, who was riding at the front of the boat, was bounced once, twice, THRICE and launched off the front end of the boat, this edifying spectacle caught in spectacular fashion by the safety kayakers who joined the rafts on the trip, and also wielded the trip cameras. Mel herself was caught similarly by another kayaker in front of us, and deposited safely back as our figurehead, after which adventure our guide Tomba called her “Water-Melan” for the rest of the trip.

Perhaps he should have considered "Twinkle Toes".  Yes, that's an actual photo of Mel (I'm in the back, at bottom.)

And a few rapids later, we flipped our entire boat, and I spent my time under water speculating about whether I’d be willing to come up again if I was unable to hang on to the skirt/shorts combo I was using as a swimsuit. Then a mad scramble to right ourselves, get on top of the flipped boat, capture all the lost oars and count heads before we were yanking each other back on board, hearts racing and panic slowly subsiding into peals of, once again, hysterical laughter. Holy crap, that was fun, in a terrifying, breathtaking sort of way. Highly recommended, despite the hours of arduous rowing, the nasty sunburn owing to substandard water-“resistant” SPF 45, and, of course, the whole death-defyingness of it all.

But in my opinion, the most fun of all were the rapids we shot without the boat: these were near the end, and formed by a natural confluence of two parallel streams in a narrows that caused them to tumble over one another without benefit of a rocky sub-floor. As such, they were perfectly safe as long as one was in one’s life-jacket. It’s hard to describe exactly how cool it is to be pulled along by a fast-moving tide, spinning and bobbing without any effort whatsoever, only to be thrust face-first, laughing and sputtering, through a series of standing waves that you can ride almost weightlessly, like a surfer in space. Exhilarating. If there was a trip where they just brought you back to the beginning of this rapid and let you go through it over and over again, I’d have been first in line the next morning.

As it was, however, we had other things to see – all of Namibia, for one – so in the morning we packed up our tents and said goodbye to our palatial spread, and to Livingstone, and headed out of the tourist mecca and back into the bush for our final 5 days. To do this, we left the madness of the Zambian border behind again, and passed back into Botswana….only to discover that the thing we had forgotten to do upon entering Zambia was get our exit stamps from the Botswanan border control. Oops. I think the utter horror on our faces, and our willingness to admit that we were complete morons for somehow failing to notice this, were the only things that enabled the border guards, incredulously, to let us carry on our way to Chobe, contrite, but unfined. And unjailed.

Next up: the thrilling conclusion.  Chobe, Caprivi, Etosha, and Windhoek – and home to Cape Town.  Until then: au revoir!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Small Game

Thursday morning, 8:00 am, November 26, 2009; Thanksgiving. Outside Maun, north of the Kgaligadi Central Reserve.

I took a shower this morning with several fat, slow-moving beetles. Maneuvering carefully as I could around them on the floor in my flip-flops, I struck up a conversation.

“So, beetles, how do you like it around here?”

“Oh, it’s lovely,” rhapsodized one, as she dreamily swam in the water running from my leg. “Nearly every day we get a warm bath, and this is a great place to hide from birds.” She shook her head, clicking sadly. “There are so many of them!”

“I noticed,” I agreed. “It sounded like some of them were having a party outside my tent this morning. Or maybe it was a fight?”

“Nasty brutes,” sniffed a huge, horny-legged beetle who sat in unmoving dignity in the corner.

Out of Town, Part II: Part 1 - Botswana

...a long day's journey into naught.

UPDATE! new pictures from the illustrious mel - see below!
Mel has most of the pictures from this portion of the adventure, so I will try to illustrate with feeble words what she captured so well with her magickal telephotographickal picture-taking instrument, and update this later with more pics. And for those of you playing along at home, I provide yet another map: Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, here we come!  Sorry, this map is a little hard to read. The black line is our route; the blue stars and numbers indicate which nights we spent where.

click for a bit more visibilty, though not much more.

 Oh, and who is “we”, you ask?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Out of Town, Part I: Part II

...the exciting conclusion.

Leaving my final paper in the dust at long last, we proceeded along the coast…

But first – you have no idea where I’m talking about, do I? Let me refer you to the map:

click it to see it mo bigga

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Out of Town, Part I: Part I

....In which a visitor forces me to get off my dead ass.

For those of you clamoring for an update – uh, okay, both of you – be advised that my friend Melanie is in town, and that we have been traveling and will be again shortly, so my access to the blahg is going to be poor. But I’ll recount her stay so far, at the halfway point; tonight, the first half of the first half, and tomorrow, the second half of the first half (hopefully). Got it? Excellent. We begin with a bout of rain…..

Monday, November 2, 2009

free at last, free at last...

For those of you playing along at home, Friday was my very last MBA class, EVER.  Ding dong!  The witch is dead!  I do have some fairly anticlimactic assignments due, which I'm busy doing instead of entertaining you all with cogitatin' and ruminatin', but never fear...cogitatin' and ruminatin' are right around the corner.  Just thought I'd mark this momentous occasion by, uh, remarking on this momentous occasion.

In more excellent news,

Sunday, October 18, 2009

It's Not You; It's Me

This is just to say I haven't forgotten the address to my blog, as E suspected I might: I started class, and during the modular term class is at odd times.  This weekend, for instance, I had 6 hours yesterday and 8 hours today of Supply Chain Managment.  Ow. The pain.

The good news is: I'm off for a beer and sunset watching with some fellow students soon.  The bad news is: despite fighting back from a 6 point deficit twice to hold the lead with 2 minutes left, WP lost in the semi-finals yesterday to a determined and relentless Blue Bulls team who would not DIE. DIE, you Bulls, DIE!  But the match was pretty good - lots more kicks than I am accustomed to seeing, and several times when I actually convinced myself I knew what was happening.  But I bid adieu to the fierce fightin' initials of WP (jou lekker ding!) until next time.

In weird news, the Cheetahs upset the Sharks yesterday in the early game, meaning it's anyone's match for the final in two weeks.  So I have time to study up on my rugby - oh, and my supply chain management - before watching it all go down on the big screens in The Brig, on my last day of class.  Hopefully I'll have written you something compelling before that!

gossip girl

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

An Excerpt from a Cape Times Sports Op-Ed Piece Which Made Me Laugh Out Loud Today which an ex-tighthead prop speaks up about what made him a good player, and explains things much better than me

From the article "This Tighthead Prop Thinks It's About Time WP Lifted the Cup....", The Vice Squad by Telford Vice, printed in Cape Times October 14, 2009 sport section (p 14)

To lend the number 3 jersey the dignity it demanded, you needed a skull of Kevlar,

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

On Rugby and the Language of Sports

Stormer Spoken Here (Badly)

Last night I finally met some of my classmates; not so much during class (a painful 4.5 hours long, starting at 4:00) as during a bout of drinking afterwards at the student "bar", The Brig. Far as I can tell, The Brig is actually a large, unused room that was repainted and supplied with a foosball table and a few refrigerators (and no bathroom); the students supply the beer and tend bar and generally keep it up as a convenient student hang-out in lieu of heading to town to drink. Last night, one of my classmates, who works for a brewer in Mauritius, supplied free promotional Phoenix Lagers to all, precipitating a lovely evening of chat and relaxation, albeit somewhat curtailed by way of it being Monday. As usual in a room full of guys, the talk turned to sport, wherein I enthusiastically recounted my hope that I could catch the upcoming rugby match between Vodacom WP and the Sharks, and, after a pause filled with bafflement, one of the locals remarked, "You speak some rugby, is it?" Well, no, but I'm learning.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Cash on the Barrelhead in a Leapfrogged Parallel Universe

Today’s tale is regarding the payment of rent. So let us begin by imagining that we are at a Woolworth’s store.

But let me stop here to clarify: not a Woolworth’s like you might remember from your youth; not the Woolworth’s with lunch counters that hosted part of the American civil rights movement; not the one Nanci Griffith described nostalgically in preface to her song Love at the Five and Dime: “Woolworth stores are the same everywhere in the world. They have this wonderful smell to ‘em, they smell like popcorn and chewing gum rubbed around on the bottom of a leather-soled shoe. The first time we went to Europe… we were driving through central London - we came around a corner and by golly, there was a Woolworth’s store! And I wanted them to stop the car and let me out so I could go fill up my suitcase with unnecessary plastic objects!”

The original Woolworth’s died an interesting death, turns out;

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Home is Where the Bath Is

...and the ambiant lighting.

After some issues with being able to get my cash together, which point I'll get to some other day, I moved into the casa today, so this is the place that until Nov 1 will be home.  SOME PEOPLE were requesting photos; I'm pretty sure these aren't the kind they meant, but it's all I have at present.  I'm also quite sure there's a better way to show all these, like say a Flickr slideshow; but I am lazy, and the hour is late.  And I have some serious solitaire to play before bedtime. (And no that's not a euphemism, you sickos.)

So welcome!  I'll give you a tour.  Here's a floor plan:

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Geography Lesson: A Guide To Apartment Hunting

in which we discover that silence really is golden, and at current market prices, weighs about a pound
In my previous international traveling days, lo these decades past, the complaint about Americans was that they were exporting all their crap, like fast food and Whitney Houston, as an expeditionary force with which they could overwhelm all the world’s nascent culture with low quality uniformity. This tactic, by the way, appears to have worked: KFC and light rock are rampant here. But in these days when everybody is trying to export their crap to everybody else, the complaint has become more direct: Americans are just dumb. A joke I have heard no less than three times in one week is that the war in Iraq is intended to teach Americans geography. Oh yeah? If we’re so dumb, how come YOU’RE the ones eating Original Recipe and still listening to “Saving All My Love For You”? Ha! Ha HA! Ahem. However, given that 63% of young Americans cannot find Iraq on a map, I provide this geography lesson as a public service to my American friends, after the jump.

The Week in Review

So apart from my encounter with The Artful Dodger on the day I visited the school, and the subsequent pall that has cast over my wanderings, the first week has overall been pretty pleasant. Here’s a recap, mostly for my benefit, so I can remember things to write about later. But if you enjoy elliptical phrases and references to streets you’ve never been on, have at it. And if someone (AHEM, ELLEN) wants to remind me how to make HTML links so I can find the appropriate restaurant websites and so forth for the folks following along at home, we can be all interactive and shit. You know, like Dancing with the Stars.

Leaving – at UIC at 9 am to receive my final shot; my awesome sister drives my ass up to Carmax to sell the Civic, which fetchs 3 grand! Ha! Thanks, Carmax, you suckers! Cruise by a bank branch and find a Potbelly’s with time to spare, though I am delayed by my luggage, which is over the 70 lb limit…by 3 lbs. Goodbye, running shoes.
The plane ride – long, sleepy, cramped, and full of dumb romcoms and food I’d never normally eat. I can recommend a Japanese flick called Departures, a bit sad but very sweet. I interact with no one, thankfully, and the leg from Amsterdam to Cape Town is 11 hours, of which I sleep approximately 7.

Tuesday night – arrive 9:30, am the last one through customs, take what appears to be the last cab at the airport to the city, and sleep like a dead person.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Blahg Blahg Blahg

Rule number one: don’t walk around alone. Even in the daytime.

Which is a problem for me, since I am pretty much always walking around everywhere alone, given that I AM alone. More to the point, I LIKE to walk around alone, and so that is how I started out in my adventures in Cape Town, and that is why I was held up at knife-point on my first day in the city.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

world's most dull blog entry

I am going to Africa for a bit. Ellen decided I will blog while I am there. I make no promises.