Google vs. Reality

Sometimes I dream away in front of a google map. Let the mind wonder around the world for a while. Today I was logging my dive in Malawi in my log book, and as I couldn’t remember what the island was called I looked it up on google maps.
This is what (apart from the name which is as easy as Kande island) I found:

Another good reason to get out there sooner than soon. The reality is so much more exciting. This photo is from when we walked up to Kande village from Kande beach to have dinner. During the day we had been diving in lake Malawi.


Remember the worms?

Remember the worms?

I’ve finally remembered to bring the tabletts. The tabletts I bought at the small modern pharmacy in Malawi that are supposed to kill the worms I might have growing under my skin, waiting to crawl up to my liver, heart and lungs and eat it.

It sounds really bad, so I keep telling myself it’s ok, but I will take the pills just in case. When I had finished all subscriptions I got from the doctor when I had malaria the thought of taking more pills were horrifying. I didn’t want to swallow another one for the rest of my life. The worm-killing ones are six, first three and then another three some hours later, and large. Huge actually. And there might not even be any worms crawling inside of me.


African border crossings

Corruption, bribes, hassle… hitch-hiking, bus, walking. There are many ways to cross a border in Africa, here is a small guide from my own experiences.

Morocco – Mauritania
You have to organize a visa at the embassy in Rabat, it takes 24 hours and cost 350 dirham, cash only. It is not allowed to walk across this border due to it being an old mine field, if you don’t have a car you need to organise a ride in Dakhla (about 400 dirham) or hitch-hike.

After two days of driving through the Western Sahara my mind was as relaxed as it could be, but still a small sting of nervousness hit me as we stopped by the ghost town (built by the Moroccan government for the Western Saharians who doesn’t want it) closest to the border. I was hitch-hiking with Viktor from Holland and he had done the crossing many times before. But still, my visa wasn’t valid yet.

To get the good bye stamp in Morocco was easy and without any hassle, then we had to drive across no mans land on a non marked out road, avoiding the soft sand which would get us stuck and causing a storm of people rushing to help us in exchange for money. What all those people were doing there between the borders? Viktor said they are luck-seekers and thieves, too lazy to work. One man waived at a car, pointed on some tracks asking the car to choose that way. The driver did. Two minutes later he was stuck in deep sand reaching the doors, and seven people ran up to help them dig after some hard negotiations on the price.

We drove through with no problems. Once on the Mauritanian side of the border the difficulties started. If Viktor wasn’t there with me I would have no clue where to go. He gave a man a bottle of perfume, another one some chocolate and water. He took me with him into a room with two officers, talked and smiled a lot, pointed out that they had nice computers while the Moroccan officers had only pens and paper. The men smiled back, stamped our passports and we were in.
If I had done that crossing myself, I imagine it would have been the worst experience ever. Be prepared if you go there with a car, have all your papers ready and be prepared to go through many doors, talking to lots of people and getting very confused before you can take your car with you. And practice both your French and your Arabic.

Mauritania – Senegal
Europeans don’t need to get a visa before hand and it’s free at the border.
I came with a taxi from Nouakchott, had no idea where to go but a guy from the Gambia took me under his wings and showed the way. It’s pretty close to where the taxis stop, and the exit is clearly marked. Once in the border-area walk to your right and a small office will be discretely marked out on your right hand side. Getting the stamp is without hassle and then all you have to do is wait for the free boat across the channel to pull in. Or pay a small fortune for one of the banana boats to take you across.

Once on the Senegalese side it’s easy to get through, though I had to wait a long time for the immigration officer to get to the office and a lot of people tried to push themselves in front of me in the line. By then my elbows had become pretty sharp though and I’ve learned how to keep my spot in line. Don’t be afraid to push, everyone else does it and so can you.
Just outside the border area some guys are selling sim cards and there is an office where you can buy air time. People with horses and carriages, taxis and bikers are all willing to get you a ride to the bus- and taxi station for a small amount of money.

Europeans don’t have to organize a visa before getting there, but it cost 50 US dollars and is only payable in cash.
Organization is not my strong side. I came by airplane and I did look it up, read that “Swedish citizens do not need a visa” but totally missed the paragraph saying you still had to pay for it before entering. I only had Senegalese CFA and my bank card, they accepted none of it. “You can come back tomorrow.” the one officer told me. “Tomorrow? I should sleep here tonight?” I said, pointed at the floor. The two officers looked at each other, shook their heads. “No, it’s not good.” the other one said. They would actually let me get into the country and come back the next day to pay, but I didn’t want to. I know myself, I wouldn’t come back and pay and I would have problems when getting out of the country.
Solution? My friend waiting outside came in and paid the fine.

Tanzania – Malawi
Free for Europeans, no need to get a visa in advance.
My favorite border crossing. From the taxi I paid a guy with a bike to take me to the border, we went fast down the hill and he pointed at the office where I would get my good bye-stamp. I walked inside the gates, got the stamp, went to the exchange bureau to exchange my money and then walked across the bridge. It was a nice walk, about 100 meters, under the bridge a wide brown river flowed and I felt a strong sense of freedom.
At the Malawian side it was just as easy to get my passport stamped. The only difficulty was to find a ride to Karonga, there was a bus leaving for Lilongwe and thinking about it now the bus probably made a stop in Karonga. Anyway, I paid for hitch-hiking and fell in love with the country and its rice plantations, green hills, bikes, bikes, bikes and lovely people.

Malawi – Zambia
Cost 50 US dollars, only payable in cash. No need to organize the visa in advance.
I was on a bus this time, and although I KNEW that I would need 50 US dollars to cross, did I have them? Of course not. I exchanged my Malawian money at the black market, borrowed some dollars from the friends I traveled with at the moment and eventually I had scraped the 50 dollars together. Yet another example of how I never learn.
This crossing is very easy, the bus stopped just by the offices on both sides of the border, there were people selling fruits and vegetables and drinks. In total it was a very peaceful and pleasant crossing.

Zambia – Zimbabwe
The visa is supposed to be free, but you still have to pay 50 dollars to get through. Only payable in cash.
This one is the easiest. I was with Alex by the Victoria falls and after the sunset we simply walked up to the office, got our stamps out of Zambia and walked towards Zimbabwe. It was about a kilometer to walk I believe, maybe longer, and we were told later on that one should never walk there at night since the monkeys can be pretty aggressive. We had no problems with animals though.
By the immigration office in Zimbabwe we had to pay for our visas, the officers were nice and happy (probably because we were too, although I nearly let a comment about African corruption slip through my mouth as we had to pay). We got our stamps with no fuss and caught a taxi to the hostel in the town of Victoria Falls.

Zimbabwe – South Africa
Free and easy.
In Zimbabwe our CS-host told us this is a Real African border crossing. He had never been to West Africa, obviously. Sure the ques were really long and it did take a very long time to get through, but it was very easy. All we had to do was to stand in line (except for Alex who had to prove that he’s from South Korea and not north) and get our passports stamped.

Conclusion: if you want an exciting border crossing, go to north west Africa. If you prefer it easy and smooth, go to southern Africa.

Like a celebrity

As we I stepped off the bus the taxi drivers, guides, sellers and other people all surrounded me, screaming, pushing, pulling, shouting… “where are you going? I take you anywhere!” “Come with me!” “Let me show you Lusaka!” “Taxi!?” “Come here ma’am!” and I got the feeling of being a celebrity, though the cameras had changed into taxis and whatever they have to offer.

It takes a while to get used to, and I totally lost my temper as a man in Lusaka told my friend that I was his wife. It was after that sixteen hour bus ride, low blood sugar, low energy level and all that suppressed annoyance suddenly escaped over my inner wall of patience and calmness. The men around us got the seriousness and urged him away. The next morning as we came back to catch the bus to Livingstone, I went to look for breakfast at the market while my friends got the bus tickets when I heard a voice in front of me. “You came back!” I ran. Or walked very hurriedly, sneaking in between some tables and behind a wall, shaking him off me. Why? I asked myself. Why does he have to be so … like that? I am not interested in talking to him.

Be prepared if you plan on traveling Africa and you are a foreigner to this continent. There will be a lot of hassle and people will be stubborn and uncaring about you. But, there will be even more people showing you love and true friendship. And saying no firmly will often get you more respect

I’ve got worms under my skin.

Well ok they’re just eggs right now, but within two weeks they will hatch and small worms are going to crawl under my skin. My diving-buddie showed me his little toe, he had a worm crawling in there and almost cut off half his toe in despertion to kill it. He didn’t know where he got it from.

Today I went for dinner with two friends, after finishing a great meal (pizza in one of Malawis top restaurants, a fantastic contrast to the dinner the other day) we suddenly started talking about Lake Malawi. “Did you swim in it?” someone asked. “Yes, lots of times! It’s amazing, isn’t it? I went diving also, it was fantastic!” I said. “Do you have the tablets?” D asked. I didn’t understand what he meant. “What tablets?” “Well you have to take tablets after swimming in the Lake, there’s a parasite living in there that gets inside your body. It’s eggs get inside you if you have wounds” (which I had lots of) “and in six weeks time they will hatch and crawl under your skin.”

Tomorrow I will buy tablets as soon as we get to Lusaka, and pray that it’s not too bad. Anyway it was worth it, diving in the lake was fantastic. Over a thousand species of fishes live in that lake that you can find nowhere else in the world. Plus there was a sunken boat and a car pulled there buy the former owner of the dive center.

A swing over the edge

I was lying in a hammock by the edge of the cliff, watching the hills below and the tiny villages. Lake Malawi spread out beyond and as the sun started to set the clouds were reflected in the glimmering water and it looked as if earth had disappeared. As if someone would try to swim they would find themselves swaying among the stars in space. As if there no longer was anything else than the mountain, the hammock, peace, and the monkeys swinging themselves in the trees below me.

The other day I went with three friends up to Kande town, we had been diving in Lake Malawi during the day and now we were having dinner at the local restaurant. We had been there the day before and the woman had cooked amazing maize-meal and a tomato sauce, so we ordered food for this day as well. As we came there the woman said “I’m so sorry, I was away.” So she had just started with the meal. We asked when it would be ready. “In a couple of hours.” The woman replied.
This is Africa.
So, we went to hang out in the town which isn’t really a town but a small village. There was some music playing and we went for a game of pool. Inside the small room the walls were stained, the bar dirty and some of the people too drunk to be pleasant. The music was too loud and we had to scream to each other as we teamed up with our diving-buddy. J and myself against A and G. As we played the crowd cheered and I was happy to be with three men. No one however drunk would ever dare to harass me with those strong guys next to me.

As an hour had passed we went back to the restaurant, the food was almost ready. The day before the room was lit up by a candle, this day the candles were burnt out and we had a small lamp running on batteries to light up our food. It was all cooked in a big pot over the kitchen-fire and even though it was not as good as the tomatoes the day before it was still one of the best meals I’ve had in local African restaurants.
The day before we ordered rice for our next meal, and as we walked the twenty minutes walk back home we discussed how we would be able to eat the rice with our hands. “It will be difficult man, if it’s not gluey it will just fall between the fingers. Right?” G said. “I imagine, it will be fun! Lots of photo-opportunities!” I said. We all laughed, and as we were served the meal the next day at least I was a little disappointed. The other had rice and I got maize-meal, the they were all served spoons next to their plates. There the fun went out the window, but no. We still had a really good time, and how I will miss the African countryside as I go back to Europe. Nothing will be the same.