Greetings Friends and Family!
I am back in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia after the conclusion of my big trip through Africa. It was an amazing experience and God watched over us every step of the way. I will type some details below, but here are two links to pictures so you can see what I talk about below:
Pictures from my camera: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.3011640457949.264500.1470647726&type=1&l=dc2c381fb1
Pictures from Austin Dice’s camera: http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150524385739749.393653.648099748&type=1&l=f2643ab630
Between the two cameras, it should give a pretty complete picture of our trip. Both cameras are non-professional with 4X zooms, but the pictures let you see where we went.
So on December 26, Austin Dice (Gimbie Adventist Hospital Financial Consultant/Accountant) and yours truly (Gimbie Adventist Hospital Projects Coordinator/Administrative Secretary/etc) left Addis Ababa via plane to fly to Lilongwe, Malawi. We had a stop-over in Lubumbashi, Congo, so Austin and I thought this was a great time to get our shoes on the ground of another country. Sadly, they wouldn’t let us off the plane. We continued to Malawi, got through the airport, walked a bit, caught a ride in a landcruiser to the junction, caught a bus, then another bus, finally had to spend the night in Salima. The next day we continued to Monkey Bay on an extremely crowded bus (7 people on the steps alone including a baby and yours truly) then a short truck ride to Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi. Already at the lodge was the crew from Malomulu (Helly, IT guy; Tina, OT; and Julia, UK Med student) in addition to our own B. Carlton from Gimbie. Lake Malawi was absolutely beautiful. The sunsets and the water were perfect… although swimming in Lake Malawi ensures a parasite load for which we are planning treatment. We stayed in a gorgeous lodge and got a group rate by all sharing the top loft. The second day, we went on a boat trip to one of the islands in the lake. Helly and I tried to go fishing with the local hand-lines, but we could not catch anything. We decided this was due to the sunscreen we put on our hands, as 2 of the local guys caught some fish. Then we looped back to the island where the others and went snorkeling. The fish were absolutely stunning and it was cool to soar above the clouds of fish around the point. After lunch, we chased some fish eagles and went to a second location to play in the water. I went snorkeling some, enjoying the underwater topography. After some group pictures, we headed back. We gradually discovered we had all gotten sunburned in various degrees. We left Cape Maclear early the next morning, catching a ride to Liwonde. Once in Liwonde, we were told it was only 3 km out to the safari camp where we wanted to stay. There were bicycle guys who offered to take us for 400 quacha ( $3). Of course, Austin, Becky, and I eschewed such extravagance so we started walking. After 5 km, the others who had gotten to the camp already on their bikes sent the bikes back to pick us up for the last 2 km, as the actual distance was 7 km. The concept of walking will be a theme for this trip. The camp was really pretty and geared to tourists. Once a storm came up to break the heat, we decided to not wait for our guided canoe safari the next morning but rather go hunt hippos ourselves! We went exploring out along the river and finally found two. The next morning, on the canoe trip, we saw a big group of them in addition to impalas and warthogs on the shore. After eating some snacks, we called the bike guys to come pick us up. As soon as we got on the bikes, it started to POUR. Over the course of the 7 km, we got SOAKED. We wrung ourselves out as best we could and boarded a bus to Zomba mountain. Once in Zomba, we haggled for several hours to get a good rate up to the lodge. The problem in Malawi is that there are extreme fuel shortages (http://www.nyasatimes.com/malawi/2012/01/17/pandemonium-in-blantyre-army-offers-help/), which drives up transport costs.
The lodge at Zomba was located in a former tourist spot, which was being renovated. It is a former trout form on a creek in a lush forest. It was very cool which was a welcome respite from the sticky heat of Malawi. It barely felt like Africa! It was a gorgeous location, apart from the puzzling decision to only put in one toilet block which necessitated midnight crossings of the valley for those in the one cabin. On Saturday, we hiked to the Zomba plateau to see the famous “hole.” We had visions of a swimming hole or lake. After a few hours of hiking, we arrived on the top of a ridge, where there was a ring of trees. The Malawi guys there excitedly pointed out the hole in the ground in the center of the trees… which was a little anti-climatic. But the views were absolutely amazing and the hike was totally worth it. We got rained on going up and down, so everything was very wet again. We prepared a great supper, got some sleep, and left the lodge the next morning. We caught a string of buses, eventually reaching Malomulu Adventist Hospital in the early afternoon. The contrast between that hospital and Gimbie is huge! In comparison to Gimbie, Malomulu is a straight up western hospital. It is a much bigger hospital, but the lay-out feels much more western. Here is the way Becky put it: the difference between Sudan and Gimbie, is like the difference between Gimbie and Malomulu. The compound is much bigger as well. The next morning, Austin and I set off on our own for our overland return to Ethiopia.
The first leg involved getting dropped off from a truck which had left Malomulu in Blantyre. We were told that the bus station was “around the bend.” A bus offered to drive us for 100 quacha, but we decided that if it was that cheap we could save the money and just walk since it must be close… 2 hours later, we realized that it wasn’t that close. After our stroll, we flagged the first bus going to Lilongwe. Unfortunately, it was driven by the worst bus driver in Malawi, he stopped at every mango stand, every pull-off, and other random places. To help matters, we were standing the whole time in the aisle because they were out of seats. After 4 hours with this guy, where we were parked at least half the time, he managed to stall out at a check-point. Then the radiator overheated, then the battery died, and then the driver just runs off because everyone was mad at him. Fortunately I had made friends with some lady and after an hour I spotted her up the road waving at me to come get on another bus where our conductor had slunk off to and was paying for people from our bus to get on. We finally got into Lilongwe at 9:30 pm. All the mini-buses had quit running for the night, only leaving expensive taxis. Forget that foolishness, we had a map on Austin’s camera, so we set off. When we left the city, we realized we had went the wrong way, as the places got more seedy. We re-traced our steps to the bus depot and set off on another loop. We made much more progress on this loop, but then a security vehicle came by and told us we were walking in an un-safe area and that we should turn around. So back into town we went, finally catching a street out. We arrived at the Balacy’s house at 11:30 pm. Matt Chacko was staying with them, which I had become aware of due to a random fb post, and it was great to catch up with him. We couldn’t get bus tickets for the next day, so we stayed with the Balacy’s for 2 days. They were extremely hospitable and we were very grateful. We went on a few walking tours of Lilongwe with Matt. The contrast between Malawi and Ethiopia is unreal. Malawi has actual super-markets where you can get pizza and ice cream. There are shopping plazas where it feels like you are in the west. Ethiopia, due to never being colonized, always feels like Africa, even in Addis. I actually really like Ethiopia for this reason.
After our very nice time in Lilongwe, we boarded an all-night bus from Lilongwe to Dar es Salaam. We left Lilongwe at 7 pm, arriving at the Malawi/Tanzania border around 6 am. Crossing the border, we drove on to Dar es Salaam finally arriving just after midnight, quite a long day on the bus! 29 hours. We had met up with Flo, a volunteer in Kenya who was returning to his post, so we hung out with him in Dar es Salaam, managing to get a room with AC for the first night which was nice as it was pretty sticky. The next day, we strolled through Dar, getting our feet wet in the Indian ocean, buying an amazing pineapple, eating at an Indian restaurant, and just exploring. The morning after, we were back on a bus up to Arusha, another all day trip. Getting off the bus in Arusha, a guy approached and offered a room for 15,000 for all three of us (good price) so we followed him to his hostel. Then, he asked if we were interested in a safari. Once we said tentatively yes, he said his Uncle was leaving the next morning and need two more people. Super sketch… then the guy showed up wearing a suit… more sketch… but he took us to his office, it all looked good, so we booked. Just another example of how God worked everything out on this trip for us.
Our driver picked us up from our hostel and we said goodbye to Flo. It was the 2 of us and a couple from Russia. We headed to Manyara Park on the lake. Right from the start, our 2 day safari was great. Our driver was informative and had a great sense of when to stop and let us stare/take pictures or keep moving. On our first day in this park we saw: baboons, giraffes, horn bills (ground and air), zebras, gnus, elephants, Egrets, leopards, golden eagles, hippos, flamingos, marabu storks, black faced monkeys, ater buffalo, wart hogs, impalas, dikdik, leopard turtle, thrush, weaver. Quite a great day! Austin and I were feeling great about agreeing to sign up by the end of the day. The leopards especially were a rare sight. We stayed at a gorgeous lodge. It felt very spoiled to be staying in places such as that after living missionary style for a few months. But, since we were paying for it, we enjoyed it. The next morning we got up early to get into the Ngorogoro Crater. As it turns out, the first day was good, but the second day was literally a life-time memory. The crater was gorgeous from all angles and as we descended into it, we began to see a fantastic diversity of animals. All of the animals were much more plentiful and came closer to the vehicle than the previous day. On the second day we saw: zebras, gnus, water buffalo, impala, grant gazelles, thompson gazelles, elands, cheetah, serval cat, lion, elephants, hippo, jackal, baboon, black faced monkey, waterbuck, ostrich, warthog, hyena, kori busterd, fish eagle, chameleon, flamingos, and black rhino. I was in biology heaven… my only regret was that my favorite biology buddy, Ms. Melissa, was not there with me. ;) The cheetah was particularly memorable. Our driver gunned it over to where some other jeeps were, telling us a cheetah was rumored to be in the area. Finally, a little head poked out of the grass but then it disappeared. So we continued on and “bagged” the serval cat. Then, our driver got word the cheetah was moving (his brother also drives). So he flies back over and deduces where the cheetah would cross the road. So the cheetah walked right in front of our jeep! Very fun. We also saw a lion in a tree, which allowed me to see all of the Big 5 (black rhino, lion, leopard, water buffalo, and elephant) in 2 days. It was a highly memorable trip and I am glad we did it. Once we drove back to Arusha, we discovered that a free hotel room had been included in our trip so we did not complain! The next morning, we bused up to Nairobi.
Once in Nairobi, where we arrived right after noon, we walked out to our hostel which was nice and cheap and super nice. Even included breakfast! I had 6 pieces of toast with every breakfast. The first day in Nairobi, we walked out to the slum where Austin had volunteered previously. The project he worked with dealt with providing jobs for young men and women to keep them out of gangs or the sex trade. We visited two sites. We left before it got dark, as the community we were on the edge of is known to be a guaranteed robbery site after dark. The day after that, we slept in, to be honest and it felt great after all of our travel days. In the afternoon, we went on a walking tour through Nairobi, visiting the SDA church, some schools, the park, the arboretum, and the university. I really liked Nairobi. I know it has a reputation as the most dangerous city in Africa aka Nai-robbery, but it is laid out well. The central park is a great place to hang out in, the architecture on the buildings is solid and attractive, and I appreciate how it is possible to “get out” of the hustle and bustle with the trees or the arboretum. Also, there is a national park in the city limits. For our next day in Nairobi, we hiked up to the top of the Ngong hills. I made it to a new personal elevation high (9500 feet) and the views were incredible.
For our next leg, it was actually the most dangerous. The Al Shabab group is quite active in the North of Kenya, they are an extremist Islam group that comes over from Somalia. They killed 4 people in December, including 1 tourist. Over the last 50 days, they have killed 50 people. I had people praying and I sure appreciated it. We left Nairobi about 8:30 am, catching a bus up to Isiolo. The bus was quite nice, with seats for everybody. Isiolo is 1/3 of the way to the border, Marsabit is 2/3 of the way, and Moyale is on the border between Kenya and Ethiopia. So we made it to Isiolo about 1 pm. We ate lunch, then tried to figure out a way to the border. We discovered a bus would come through, but would leave at midnight. While we debated, another guy offered that for a few more shillings, we could ride in the back of a landcruiser up to the border. The advantage being that with him it would take “10 hours” as opposed to 20 hours on the bus. However, he wouldn’t leave until 5 or so. So we waited, fending off a determined little street urchin and a drunk, crazy woman. As it turns out, not all delays are bad. While we were chilling in Isiolo, Al Shabab killed their daily target in Marsabit. Truly a sad situation. We loaded into the landcruiser bed after 4 pm, as they indicated they were leaving. We were on metal benches with a very small amount of padding. Even though the bed was full, we didn’t leave for 2 more hours!!!!!!!!!!! We finally left just before 7 pm. There were 12 people in the back of the truck. We were wedged so tight, my shins were getting bruised by the guy crammed in front of me. For the first 2 hours, we were on paved roads… then they stopped. I rapidly discovered that I don’t have any fat in my butt. None. It was bone on metal. The road was pretty rough, which wouldn’t have been a huge problem except we were flying! bam, bam bam, BOOM! Serious pain. Then, with the jerks and stuff I developed several lines of bruises: on my butt, obviously. On my spine and kidneys from slamming back against the metal truck sides. On my left shoulder, from the metal bar on the seat in front. On my shins, from the dude in front. We couldn’t see either, they had the tarp over the bed. Since we were not in convoy, although we saw one, I didn’t mind that we were driving fast. We stopped a few times, and it was very pretty. The full moon, the vivid stars which felt close enough to touch, and the blackness. It was as though we stood in an island of light around the truck with the faintly glowing desert stretching out in all directions, only broken up by a faint blue glow on either horizon from distant trucks on the road. The ride was terrible, but at least I can check that off my life experience list! Austin and I both were pretty bruised up and had no interest in sitting afterwards when we finally got to the border about 7 am, after 14 hours in the bed of the truck. We met up with some Belgians and traveled with them for that day. We had to deal with some persistent “brokers” wanting us to get tickets on buses where they would get cuts. We got a private bus to Addis at a decent rate and managed to not have to pay for anybody’s cuts. We made it a good distance back towards Addis, but then our driver’s father died so he wanted to turn around and go back. So we caught a mini-bus up to Ewossa where we spent the night. It was refreshing to hear the furious arguing of Ethiopians after a few weeks of “Hakuna Matata” ( no worries) in Kenya and Malawi and Tanzania. The Belgians could not believe how much fighting there was just getting people on and off buses. So we kicked back and moaned about our bruises while the furious arguing raged at each stop. The next morning, we got a bus to Addis and finally returned about 4 pm. Our trip was complete.
There were so, so many stories from this trip. I barely told any above, but I have a treasure store of memories. I am very grateful to God for keeping us safe and guiding us. I’m also really thankful for Austin being a fantastic travel partner. The trip was a lot of fun and I was blessed.
I am currently in Addis Ababa, trying to get back to Gimbie as soon as possible but having a hard time getting tickets. I should be back in Gimbie by, at the latest, Thursday evening. I am really excited to get back to work. The projects we have going have a lot of potential and I know God will work powerfully.
Blessings to all of my friends and family around the world!