Showing posts from October, 2005

Where there is no Coca-Cola

Bulawayo, Zimbabwe Gas stations throughout Africa, like everywhere else, display their prices in big bold numbers visible from far away. One in Uganda might say something like: PETROL 2310 DIESEL 1680 PARAFFIN 970 ("Petrol", o American readers, is the British word for gasoline. Paraffin is primarily used as cooking fuel, but is also used for lamps and fridges.) If you walk from Zambia to Zimbabwe, as I did a couple of days ago, you cross over a metal suspension bridge perched 111 metres above the Zambezi river gorge. From your right comes the constant thunder of Victoria Falls. To your left, a bungee-jumping booth stands on the edge of the bridge. If you look over that edge, you may see, far below, amid whitewater wrinkles, yellow Tonka-toy-sized river rafts, full of adrenalinized tourists about to brave 22 of the 24 rapids of the lower Zambezi gorge. (One of them is Grade Six, too violent to raft; and you don't raft the last rapid, because then you hit croc territory.) O
Seems like DARK PLACES is going to be on TV again. (I, however, will not; I'm in Zimbabwe, and that's a long way to send a camera crew.) This is courtesy of Booked TV - here's their press release: In a story where human evil flourishes in the cyber world, BOOKED experts examine a deadly internet game in this hunt for a killer stalking backpackers in some of the most remote parts of the globe. Episodic experts: Intelligence Officer, Roger Adkin; Crown Prosecutor, Technology and Internet Crime, Steve Bilodeau; Journalist and Novelist, Rita Feutl; Hacker and Computer Programmer, "John". Find out when this episode airs by checking our episodic broadcast schedule

Miles and miles of bloody Africa

Lusaka, Zambia Dar es Salaam - Kapiri Mposhi - Lusaka is a 2000-kilometre journey that took 48 hours; 44 by train (which arrived either four hours late or two hours early, depending on who you talked to) 4 by minibus. The train was quite civilized. Slowly falling apart at the seams, like all African infrastructure, but it didn't actually break down. The first-class compartments ($50) were four-person bunks with comfortable bedding. There was a comfy bar car that served beer, wine, water and soft drinks, and showed movies (mostly Hollywood, a little Bollywood, and one truly bizarre black-and-white African money-porn thing called "Billionaires Club 2"). There was a dining car that served cheap greasy food. There were basic but serviceable toilets. And there were glorious views all through the daylight hours. Well. Mostly glorious. We departed at 4PM Friday and spent that afternoon chugging through Tanzania's lush green coastal lowlands, all palm trees and forest and thi

one day in dar

So I may or may not get bounced at the Zambian border tomorrow. (Canadians now need visas; said visas may be free, and should be available at most ports of entry, but not necessarily the Tazara Rail point of entry.) It's not that big a deal - worst case, should just mean another long uncomfortable day on a bus - but now I'm all anxious about the border. It's the Lariam, I swear, making me neurotic. Like the half-hour of gloom I fall into if I smoke a cigarette in the absence of alcohol, knowing that the emotion is purely chemical only partly blunts it. Also, rumour has it that Book Two will be reviewed in this Sunday's Washington Post Book World. Gulp. Let's hope that the paper that brought down Richard Nixon will be kinder to yours truly. Dar es Salaam is a typical African city, so an accounting of my day spent there may prove, I dunno, instructive, or if you're easily amused, interesting. 12 hours in the Haven Of Peace 9.00 Arrive ferry terminal. Wander throu

stand on zanzibar

Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania Outside, heavy rain falls on Zanzibar. Let the record show that I made it here only because I managed to perform the first successful MasterCard transation in the history of Kigali International Airport. (At long last my retail experience comes in handy!) And soon I depart on a train that will take 40 to 48 hours - opinions vary - to carry me from Dar es Salaam to somewhere deep in Zambia. If all goes according to plan. That being, this being Africa, quite unlikely. I sorta wanna go back to the Congo, but I think I need a better reason than "sorta wanna". Also it's bloody expensive. Stone Town to somewhere under the sea Stone Town, the capital of Zanzibar, is an intoxicating, captivating mix of colonial-era compound and Arab medina . Walking through it is like playing Zork: "you are in a maze of narrow, twisty alleyways, all alike." Old Stone Town's cobblestoned walkways are too narrow for cars. They are clogged instead by pass

In the shadow of doom

Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo This place is crazy . Can whole cities can be cursed? Because it seems that's what happened to Goma. As if just being situated in eastern Congo, the farthest-flung province of a nation ransacked by three decades of kleptocracy, wasn't bad enough, ten years ago things started getting real bad. In 1994, more than one million refugees fleeing the rebel army invading Rwanda (and putting an end to the genocide) came to rest here. Tens of thousands died in cholera before the UN constructed the world's largest refugee camp. But many of these 'refugees', fed and sheltered and medicated by the UN for a million dollars a day, were in fact the same militia who planned and carried out Rwandan genocide. These interahamwe ruled the camps with iron fists, and, supplied by the UN, used them as bases for a continuing low-level war with Rwanda for some years, until finally, in 1998, Rwanda invaded and repatriated the refugees. That was just

gorillas, in the midst

Gisenyi, Rwanda Get ready for the experience of a lifetime says Lonely Planet East Africa, with respect to preparations for tracking wild mountain gorillas in the Virungas. The Bradt Guide to Rwanda concurs: in 15 years of African travel, we have yet to encounter anyone who had gone gorilla-tracking and regretted the physical or financial expense. Well, then. Let me be the first. The silverback has no clothes! OK, yes, it was a pretty cool experience. There was indeed a faint alien-species-first-contact frisson . The gorillas were cute or majestic or occasionally both. The setting, a bamboo forest straight out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon , was stunning, all vertical lines enclouded by leaves, which also formed a soft brown carpet. (Apparently young bamboo shoots are like gorilla chocolate.) The gorillas played together, climbed trees, groomed, wandered, ate, hooted and growled. (No chestbeating through.) These gorillas, though wild, are habituated to human contact, which m

to penetrate the impenetrable

Lake Bunyonyi, Uganda I have been to the middle of nowhere, and it is not the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. It is, rather, where you go when your teenage taxi driver takes a wrong turn en route to said impenetrability and continues for half an hour unawares. I was first made aware of our misdirection when the top of my head smacked into the roof of our car. I'd splashed out on a private ("special hire") taxi to Bwindi, public transit being chancy-to-unavailable except on market day, and somehow contrived to fall asleep despite the humped, fissured, rocky dirt road that winds along ridgetops and steep hillsides, past glorius views of the Western Rift Valley, the cloud-shrouded Ruwenzori, and the Virunga volcanoes, along terraced fields and stands of eucalyptus forest, during the (theoretically) 3-hour journey. But when I woke, the road was no longer dirt. It wasn't even, really, a road. Barely even the idea of a road; more of a wide grass walking trail, very u