Friday, September 28, 2007

Surfing the Sand Dunes of Swakopmund

Hey All,

First off, to those of you who had a mini panic attack when you saw the photos from Vic Falls... it looks scarier than it is (although it is a bit scary) and yes, I am fine and have no plans to hang over or sit near any waterfalls for the rest of the trip.

What became of my tour of Namibia? In the end, I traveled with the Dutch couple for a few days and they were lovely travel companions. We rented a Volkswagen Chico (I hear it's the earliest version of the Golf) and headed towards Sossusvlei (pronounced "saucesfly", which took me days to master) to see the famous red sand dunes.

Before you laugh at our tiny car negotiating the gravel roads... let me tell you at least we didn't flip upside down like the English tourists in the Land Rover. We stopped to help them, but they had flipped hours earlier and were all okay. Our good karma was returned when they stopped for us the next day after Chico blew a tire. Fortunately we had a spare and the Dutch guy, Joost, was able to quickly change it.

Although we were thwarted in our dreams of getting into the park in time to see the sunrise - because the park people don't let you in until they see the sun peak over the mountains - we did see a red full moon set for the evening and still made it to Sossusvlei early in the morning.

The tallest dune is 300 meters high, once again, I must let you all work out the conversion to
feet yourselves. I wish at times like these the public schools in the US helped their citizens get more prepared to navigate through a metric world. But alas, I'm left to stand on the ground, look up and say, "wow, that's pretty tall".

So what does one do when faced with a pretty tall sand dune? Climb it, of course. Even though you try to walk in the footsteps of others, it's pretty slow going to the top but once you get there it's a marvelous view. Then you're left with no choice but to run down the side. I suppose you could take a path, but honestly it's hard not to drop on your side and roll all the way down.

After our moment in the sand, it was time to drive the Chico through a seemingly endless desert to reach the town of Swakopmund. As you're driving through the sand dunes, it appears on the horizon looking like a giant miniature golf course. Oh, that doesn't make much sense does it? It is a German town built at the seaside. Many of the signs are in German, the streets are both orderly and fairly empty. The breakfast menus feature boerewors instead of matoke or ugali. It hardly seems like Africa at all. And it's cold again.

Now that I'm not in it... I miss the chaos that is most of the rest of Africa. Streets full of people and vehicles, everyone driving and walking willy nilly with no concern for rules of the road - if there even are any. Men shouting, whistling and banging cars trying to convince you to jump on their matatu, dala dala or boda boda. Women walking along wearing colorful kangas with a baby strapped to their back and purchases from the market balanced on their heads.

But one must not sit around lamenting the abundance of western style toilets and friendly, attentive people working in the service sector. One must find a way to fling herself down a sand dune trying not to drop the board, which will result in a face full of sand and a wipe out. The people from Desert Sky Backpackers in Swakopmund helped us book a sandboarding trip with Alter Action for the following day so I could do just that.

The weather was beautiful, cool but sunny and the long haul up the sand dune was rewarded with another spectacular view. Once at the top, you get instructions of how to lay on and hold your "high tech piece of equipment", which is in reality a 3 foot board made of some kind of pressed wood so it's a bit pliable.

The scariest part of the whole affair is laying on your stomach at the top of the sand dune looking down and waiting for them to shove you over the edge. Once that's done, you fly down the hill in a blur, come to a relieved halt and then the sad realization that you're going to have to walk back up to the top in order to do it again.

We had 7 runs in all and my top speed was 75 kilometers per hour, which I think is about 50mph. Yikes! It was a very fun day and I'm glad I gave it a try. We all got a DVD with highlights from the morning (actually it's a VCD so I hope it works in my computer) as a memento and then practically everyone bought a shirt. Hey, it's cold here and a long-sleeved shirt is a good investment.

So that's it. I'm trying to make the best of my extra time in Namibia. I've got an overnight bus to Cape Town on Monday - am told I have to try to get my money back from the Intercape HQ there, but suspect the answer will be too bad, so sad.

Tomorrow I may go eco-friendly quad biking, or just sit by the Atlantic Ocean wondering what in the world I am going to do with all the footage I have when I get back home.

Looking forward to seeing many of you live an in person.

Peace Out,
Miss K

Monday, September 24, 2007

To Kill a Springbok

Hey All,

Did I say 18 hour bus ride to Windhoek, Namibia in my last post? I should have said 28.

Around 3:30am, 20 kilometers north of Otjiwarongo, the driver had to quickly decide whether to hit an oncoming car or a springbok.

As the springbok bounced and clattered under the bus carriage it tore up some vital piece of machinery. Four hours later, we were still stranded at the side of the road and when I borrowed a phone to call the tour company I paid to take me to the sand dunes of Sossusvlei and the German town of Swakopmund, they told me they couldn't hold the bus for 3 hours or refund any of my money. Not good.

By 8:30am we made it to the town of Otjiwarongo (we were due in Windhoek at 6:30am) where we were told to wait "one hour" for the bus to be repaired. Five hours later, we got on a new bus while our old bus with the luggage on it followed us (no I don't get it) . Finally made it to Windhoek at 4:30pm.

Am working out alternatives. Have changed my Friday bus ticket to Cape Town to Monday in hopes of fitting in some of these tours. Will return to the bus office again tomorrow to try and get a refund on the ticket. Have been advised getting angry doesn't work but crying might. Will then either try to catch another tour or hook up with a Dutch couple that is talking about renting a car and camping equipment.

Am now fiercely determined to sandboard - especially since I've seen you can do it laying on your stomach like a big sled.

Stay tuned.
Miss K

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Life on the Edge at Victoria Falls

Hey All!

First off... if you haven't read about the Mazingira Monkey Project, go back one blog and find out what it's all about.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program.

I arrived in Livingstone, Zambia on Tuesday the 18th, checked into Jollyboys and promptly got ready for the sunset cruise with my friend PJ to celebrate her birthday. We saw hippos, elephants and a lovely sunset - which I'm sparing you the picture of because I know you've seen enough.

The next day we got up and went to Zimbabwe - like you do. It's the dry season and the water is low. Can't see too much from the Zambia side, but the main falls on the Zimbabwe side are still pretty spectacular - I'd love to come back and see them in the wet season.

We were met by a guide named Taka, who I had met in Lusaka... sounds like a lot of potential for a limerick in there... he took us to the falls and then exchanged money on the black market so we could get lunch. The notes they use are not actually money but a "bearer cheque" with an expiration date of July 31st, 2007. However, since they've got nothing else to use, people still use these expired cheques. Apparently if you take money out of the ATM you get 250 Zimbabwe dollars for 1 US. On the black market you get 50,000 or so Zim dollars for 1 US. I still don't really get it, but people travel to Zambia, take Zambian Kwacha out of the ATM, exchange it for US dollars in Zambia then go back into Zimbabwe and exchange the US dollars on the black market. Crazy. That and no one calls Mugabe by name, because there are so many undercover police watching what you say... they just refer to him as "Him". I've got more stories but we must get back to the falls.

Yesterday, PJ and I went for high tea on Livingstone Island. Before you have your tea and cakes and gin and tonics, you get to swim at the edge of the falls. Literally. I refused to jump in - the guides were doing flips - but I did crawl down and swim to the edge. I was then persuaded to look over the edge while the guide held my feet. I think some people lean waaaay over. It was all I could do to stick my head over, spread out my hands then say "okay, okay I'm done". It was kind of like climbing to the top of the lighthouse at Alcatraz and touching the top. Although I was scared to do it... if that's the volunteer initiation, I'm not missing it, but I'm going to do it as quickly as possible.

Afterwards, I sat in pool a bit lower down that was like a jacuzzi. You could hold on and stick your head over and watch the water rushing by. It's hard to imagine the water of the Zambezi, which seems so calm if you watch it from the deck of the Royal Livingstone Hotel (which we did after the high tea with a lovely couple we met from the US) turns into the churning mass of water that tumbles 108 meters (yeah, I don't know how many feet that is, 300?) into the gorge below. How do those hippos hold on?

Tomorrow I catch an 18 hour bus (can you stand it? I can't, but I will) to Windhoek, Namibia. When I arrive Monday morning, I'm joining up with a safari to go to the sand dunes on the coast. I may even try sand boarding - then again maybe not. Stay tuned.

The following Friday, I catch the second leg of the bus (another 18 hours) to Cape Town. I'll be back in South Africa and on my last country by next weekend! It's hard to believe it's already been 3 months. While in Cape Town, I'll have to find more things to film for my travel show demo. I've felt a little off track with that lately so it's time to focus (does anyone else hear Myriam's French accent?), especially since there will be a film crew from Dream following me around for 2 days!! It's exciting people... and you've been with me the whole time.

Thank you for that.

Miss K

PJ and I enjoy the sunsent from the deck of the Royal Livingstone Hotel before heading back to the dorms. More on dorm life in another blog... it's like being back in college but having 7 roommates. Lordy.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Manzingira Monkey Project

Jambo All!

I'm currently in Livingstone, Zambia where the focus is Victoria Falls. Sadly for me it's the dry season now so there's less water and when I went to see them (on the Zimbabwe side where the main falls are) my camera battery stopped and the extra battery I brought wasn't charged - but more on that story next time. On to our feature presentation...

Today we visit the Mazingira Monkey Project in Arusha, Tanzania. Mazingira means "environment" in Kiswahili and this project was created in 2002 by Mr. Juma Rahmadani with the aim of ridding Arusha of the used plastic bags that litter the streets.

Every morning, he goes through the streets of Arusha collecting plastic bags, which he then washes with soap and a disinfectant. He hangs them to dry them in the sun among banana trees in his neighborhood, then heads back to his office/home to start making animals with his wife, Asia Ramadhani Juma Kijangwa.

They sew kitenge cloth (a very colorful cloth worn by women all over East Africa) into the shapes of giraffe, elephants and monkeys then stuff them with the cleaned plastic bags. It takes 12 bags to fill a giraffe, 12 for a monkey and 30 for an elephant. Juma estimates he's made over 1000 animals since this project started in 2002, which means somewhere between 12,000 and 30,000 plastic bags are off the streets because of him!

Not only is he helping the environment, Juma uses the street children in Arusha to help him collect the plastic bags and in return buys them food or clothes. He works tirelessly at the Maznigira Monkey Project to support not only himself, his wife and their four children but also the environment and the street children of Arusha.

What can you do to help this project? It's easy... buy a monkey, a giraffe or a herd of elephants!

If you're interested, please let me know via a comment on this site. I'll collect orders and work with Juma directly so he can make one big shipment rather than a bunch of small ones.

As before... please leave any comments here so Juma and Asia can read them.

Miss K

“Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Goodbye Malawi, Hello Zambia (Country No. 7!)

Hey All,

After a restful week at Mayoka Village in Nkhata Bay, then a shared car down to Lilongwe for few nights at Mabuya Camp, I now have a dorm bed at Chachacha Backpackers in Lusaka, Zambia. I'm staying here through Monday waiting for the Habitat office to open so I can meet with them and then head to Victoria Falls.

Unlike Arusha and Nkhata Bay, Lusaka is a big city (though still most everything is closed on Sunday thwarting my attempt to buy more video tapes) and no one talks to you as you walk down the street. They stare, but that could be the shorts - not hoochie shorts, mind you, but between the sunglasses, shorts and backpack and walking around on my own, I guess I am something of an oddity to behold.

The photos are from Malawi... a fish eagle swooping down to catch a fish in Lake Malawi, some of the boys from Mayoka Village and perhaps my favorite shop of all time.

Below are more random tidbits from the road:

Recent Journal Entry

09/14/07 - 6:10am on the Zambia-Botswana Luxury (ha!) Coach in Lilongwe, Malawi

Over the noise from the bus engine, the rattling windows and the talking I hear the singing. About 25 women from the Reformed Church of Zambia (if the writing on their kangas is to be believed) are spread throughout the bus singing as we drive through a city slowly waking up. An older woman, by the sound of her voice, sings a verse from the back of the bus then the rest of the women join in. Call - response - harmony. It's one of the random travel moments that you can't plan, expect or forget. I love it!

We turn down a dirt road (is this really the road to Zambia?) and see women standing in the street waving tree branches, sweeping the road and calling out to the bus. We stop in front of a church, bells ringing and the singers exit the bus to be greeted with hugs and smiles. So begins the 14 hour journey to Lusaka.

Favorite Malawian Men's Nicknames:

- Chicken Pizza
- Cheese on Toast
- Lemon Squeeze

Favorite Malawian Men's Real Names:

- Gift
- Preacher
- Special

Coming Next:

For me a trip to Victoria Falls. For the blog, info on the Mazingira Monkey Project.

See you then.
Miss K

P.S. "Dear Jesus, don't cut too much off, I'm just trying to get rid of the split ends."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

UniquEco - the (Flipflop) Recycling Co

Jambo All,

During my last trip to Nairobi, I stopped by Marula Studios to visit with Julie Church, the woman behind UniquEco. This is her story - and her picture. Behind us are a ton of used flip flops, which I am told is nothing compared to what's still out there.

A marine conservationist by training and a woman who is passionate about the oceans, she started a project while working at the WWF to turn flip flops that washed up on the Kenyan coastline into key chains. After a large key chain order from WWF Switzerland, helped her realize the idea of making things from flip flops using more sophisticated means was possible, Julie and her business partner, Tahreni, set up UniquEco as a business to establish a sustainable solution to both waste and livelihood issues.

UniquEco works with villages adjacent to Kiunga Marine National Reserve, where Julie worked for 6 years with WWF. The villages include Kiwayu, Ndau, Mkokoni, Kiunga and Chandani. They have also stared collecting used flip flops from the slums in Nairobi.

Julie believes that the world's waste is everyone's problem and Africa can provide the solution. The flip-flop is the most basic footwear for so many in the world, yet every day hundreds of these brightly coloured, non-degradable pieces of rubber wash up on beaches around the globe, blighting the coastlines and the lives of local coastal people and the marine and coastal ecology.

The flip-flop initiative is a remarkable solution to this man-made problem. The local women and children have been encouraged to collect the washed up rubbish that arrives from as far a field as Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. The villagers turn this waste into saleable products such as key rings, belts, earrings and bags using human creativity. This provides a sustainable livelihood to those in need.

UniquEco's motto: improving lives and the world with recycled products, is about brightening life with colourful and exciting items made from waste and providing opportunities to marginalized peoples.

This is another example of what a person with some passion and commitment can do to make a positive difference in the world. Now if that doesn't make you want to go online and buy yourself (or someone you love) a flip flop necklace, well then - buy something else!

The website is developing so the best way for you to make a purchase is to send an email to work out the details. UniquEco

As with Boomu, please leave any comments here so Julie can see them and if you order an item because you learned about UniquEco here... be a pal and let them know.

Miss K

Monday, September 10, 2007

17 Days in the Life of Miss K

Hey All,

You haven't heard much from me lately because I've been on the go. A recent 17 day period in the life of Miss K has included:

- 4 countries (Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi)
- 10 different hotels
- 9 bus rides (shortest - 4 hours, longest - 14)
- 1 train ride (24 hours in a compartment with 5 women that spoke only Swahili)
- and filming for 4 different stories

Lordy, it's time for a rest!

So, I've spent the last week at a place called Mayoka Village in Nkhata Bay, Malawi. There's not much to do but go swimming in the lake, play pool, read books and chat with fellow travelers. It's been fabulous. (I'm trying to add some pictures but may have to try again when I can find a better connection - oh it's so slow... here's the view from my $8/night room. You'll have to see the fish eagle another time.)

I wasn't going to go swimming in the lake because I was worried about bilharzia (a scary parasite worm that gets in your bladder and jacks up your insides). Then I learned that the shower water is lake water, so I'd already been in it. Plus, there's some sort of morning after Lake Malawi pill that you can get at the pharmacy here. I'm checking it out.

Heading to Lilongwe, Malawi next to meet with another Habitat team. I promise, the next blog really will be about UniquEco Designs.

Keep reading,

Miss K