Travel Thursday: Why African Governments Hate Me

My last trip to Africa, so long ago no one had ever heard of that Obama guy. . .

Douglas Adams: “It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression ‘As pretty as an airport.’”
Magazine editors: I promise I will never subscribe to your magazine if I have to go through more than two pages of ads to get to the table of contents, and that includes you supposed Travel magazines. . .
I was waiting at Heathrow for the subway downtown when the terrorist news broke; phew, just in time! (near miss number 1.) But my flight to South Africa got cancelled, so I took the overnight ferry to Amsterdam, which is just as fun as London in its own way–even when that special “old friend” got married last year. . . but I digress.

Schiphol Airport
Didn’t have time to get this done, just an ordinary massage, but this is what the brochure says: The Back to Life aqua massage gives you new energy and leaves you fully relaxed. This massage is a good alternative for a full body massage as the water jets cover the body from head to toe. The treatment feels as if your body is being massaged by thirty-six fingertips. A massage while lying in this machine is therefore a unique experience. . . you can leave your clothes on. (Huh?)
Hmmm, what’s that? You want to know what happened in Amsterdam? Well, you know what they say: What happens in Amsterdam. . . unless you sign up for the naughty blog, and that $30 a month, which really isn’t worth the price even if I write it myself. . .
Besides, knowing you guys, you won’t get past the second paragraph before you’re screaming “TOO MUCH INFORMATION!”

So, I haven’t done the photojournalism thing in over a decade. It’s the complete opposite of what I usually do: instead of taking photos of preeety theeengs. . . well, you get the point.
And that in-the-news politician from Chicago–what’s his name, Obama? {Remember, this is 2006!}–was shadowing me, so security was tight just about everywhere I went. Not nearly as bad as Bush in Copenhagen, and nowhere near as bad as Queen Elizabeth in Berlin (that should put ya in your place, Dubya) but still quite annoying. (near miss number 2.)
Weather was mostly fine, except for the humidity, but not used to the sun going down so soon; frickin’ Suthin’ Hemisphere. . .

South Africa
Can you believe they gave me a bodyguard in South Africa and Kenya? I usta BE a bodyguard! Well, I never actually did, but I trained for it. And these guys sucked. And since I wouldn’t put it past them to mistakenly think I was worth something and kidnap me for ransom, I basically lost them in the first five minutes and went my own way. Apparently sometimes it helps to look like a mean asshole, even when you’re happily walking along. . . (no near misses here. . .)
Had seen on the news that it’d been snowing in Jo’berg before I left, but was supposed to be in the 70s when I got there, so I didn’t take the heavy weather gear; I wasn’t going to climb frickin’ Kilamanjaro or Meru (which is a lot more fun than Kilamanjaro, and way cheaper). Besides, I went right to Cape Town, which is a lot safer, plus it’s their version of LA, as opposed to Jo’Berg, which is more like Noo Yawk.
This is what Robert Heinlein wrote about Cape Town more than 50 years ago: Table Mountain, sitting over Cape Town and Table Bay, is a pleasing sight, but it is an ordinary mesa or butte, made exceptional by being the only one of its sort in the neighborhood, instead of being scattered around in quantity, New Mexico style. It forms a splendid background for an unusually lovely city.
See what I mean about it being like LA? And that’s just about the only part that’s still true today.
Nothing much happened here. Had it been like most trips, I woulda been shooting models, and these sorta Dutch, sorta British, All-South African babes are some of the most beautiful in the world. Well, okay, you didn’t hear it from me, but I did sign up some extra-special tour guides for the places I was really supposed to be shooting.

I got some extra cash to go to Namibia and do a story on the changes there since independence, since I by accident happened to be there in 1990 when it happened. Actually most of the changes have been for the worse; I shot places I had photos of back then for comparison, but since I haven’t finished the article yet. . . well, I’ll let you know when it comes out. Although it’ll be in German. The sand dunes look the same, though. . .
And spitting of German. . . Remember what I said about Dutch/British babes in South Africa? (I know, a paragraph ago. It was for those of you with A.D.D.) Same here, except they’re perfect Deutchland representatives; if you can’t think about what that’s like, look at the gals in the Heidi braids on beer bottles next Oktoberfest. Or think Swedish. Yum. . .
I’ve been trying to come up with a way to explain how it feels–and sounds–laying against these really creepy sand dunes, but I couldn’t come up with anything better than the following, which is from Lonely Planet:
The Roaring Dunes
The lonely barchan dunes of the northern Skeleton Coast hold a unique distinction–they roar–and if you don’t believe it, sit down on a lee face, dig in your feet and slide slowly down. If you feel a jarring vibration and hear a roar akin to a four-engine cargo plane flying low, don’t bother looking up–it’s just the sand producing its marvelous acoustic effect. It’s thought that the roar is created when air pockets between electrically-charged particles are forced to the surface. The effect is especially pronounced in the warmth of late afternoon, when spaces between the sand particles are at their greatest.
Much creepier than any horror movie. . .

Maun, the capital of Botswana, has a lot of trees! I don’t remember that from last time. Forgotten they drive on the left too. It’s always dangerous that first time you step off the curb to jaywalk.
Even though I was only paid to take photos here, I managed to write an article about how expensive it is for tourists, and how the money doesn’t really trickle down to the workers.
80s during the day, freezing at night. As beautiful as this place is, with all the animals you’d want to see, avoid it unless you’re the type who can afford a different Mercedes for every day of the week, not counting holidays.

Was in Zimbabwe when the whole money thing went down in the capital (third bullet dodged, though this one just barely), so had to change my plans again. This was easier, because I was in Victoria Falls at the time; simply crossed to the other side of the falls and I was in Zambia. Not that Zambia’s much better, but at least the corrupt officials have to work at taking your money instead of just pulling a gun on you.
Non-government controlled local newspaper: Zimbabwean security forces this week stepped up their crackdown on ordinary people and innocent cross border traders, triggering fierce clashes with passengers who flatly refused to be searched, where buses from the region arrive and depart. Heavily armed police were later deployed at the terminus, clobbering defiant passengers and seizing currency and merchandise. Gun-toting police officers mounted roadblocks to search long-distance buses and vehicles. The raid has so far netted more than 2500 impoverished city residents who have had billions of dollars taken by the State agents.
Who wants to bet all the government officials haven’t turned over any of the old money? What, no takers?

Victoria Falls
Sunny and 70s. You’d think this place would be humid, with the gigantic waterfall, but I guess it’s the spray that cools you (as long as you remember to keep your camera covered).
On the walk back to the hotel we came across an elephant heading in the opposite direction; he eyed us the whole time, even though we weren’t going to argue about right-of-way. We didn’t offer him any peanuts either, though; didn’t like his attitude.
Advice: skip all offers to go to the town where Stanley said, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.” Not worth it.

Am I losing it? (wait for the specific reason before answering.) I’m staring at the computer, at the top of the document where you press a button to save or paste or so forth. The button depresses for a second, then comes back up, and I’d swear it looks like a curtsey. . .

Part 1
Whoever called Zanzibar a paradise never went to the Seychelles.
It’s kinda funny that the most Arabian-looking places aren’t so much in the Middle East. Oh sure, you go to the markets in Cairo or Damascus, and it looks like it’s supposed to, but Stone Town here on Zanzibar, along with the Albacin in Granada, Spain. . . that’s where you can ‘indulge in oriental reveries,” to quote a certain blonde. With the weather just as hot: 80s and humid . . . and it’s an island with supposed ocean breezes! As usual, it’s a hell of a lot more romantic when you’re traveling with that someone special. . . although in this place they might stone you for any PDAs. Just get the photos and move on. . .

Part 2
So here I am in this lodge in the middle of the Serengeti, and what do I see? Besides all the animals?
Chicago! (the movie, not the town). I still prefer the magician girl’s version. . . and if you don’t know what that’s referin’ to, you’ll just have to read the previous blogs. . . Had seen that one of my favorite actresses was in the movie, and I was looking for her the whole way, didn’t recognize her. Had to ask the “entertainment director” if I could see it again, in fast forward. She rightly assumed what I was looking for and passed over the remote with a wink.
Had a groaner contest at dinner one night: the worst joke you could come up with. . . I call this one the winner: Two cannibals were eating a clown. One turned to the other and said, “This tastes funny.”
And this was the most hilarious part of the trip; try to figure out which movie is being described: “Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first woman she meets, then teams up with 3 complete strangers to kill again.” (Answer at end)
You know how they have those books for visitors to sign in museums and such? They had one here, and I was leafing through it when I found this: “People who think California is weird have never been to Texas.”
Oh yeah. . .

Nairobi, 70s with showers. Typical. The hotel I stayed at had a mall, so I didn’t have to go out much, except to get the story I was being paid to get, but that was so easy I got it done in one day and had the next 3 days to myself before heading off to Darfur. So what’d I do? Headed off to safari again–good thing my German boss doesn’t read English.
On one drive through the animals there were some cliché local bare-breasted women, right out of National Geographic, and for some reason I flashed right to a Benny Hill classic:
She said, “Kiss me, big bwana.”
So I kissed her big bwana.
Any Star Trek fans out there? I finally got a good shot of a tiny deer-like animal that I’ve always wanted to shoot: Kirk’s dik-dik! I’m totally serious, I shit you not, that’s its name, look it up, and if you think about all the alien chicks the ol’ Captain bagged, I wouldn’t be surprised if he was actually built that way. And it’s a weird animal on its own: Territories are marked by up to a dozen large piles of dung placed around a boundary. Both members of the pair, and their young, use the dung piles, placing their deposits as part of an elaborate ceremony. (WTF?) Well-adapted to their dry environments, they don’t need to drink water!
I never believed in safari fatigue–Lonely Planet has a piece on it–but it finally hit me.
Endless long days peering out of a sunroof, on bumpy roads, in the heat, eating the same food, stuck with the same people, can take its toll quicker than you might think. And while on the first day any animal you might see is exciting, sooner or later you feel that jaded fatigue of “not another zebra, I wanna see a fucking leopard!”
Yeah, that’s my last safari for a while. . . Sorry, San Diego Wild Animal Park.

Please don’t ask me about this; I really don’t want to talk about it yet. Longest week of my life.
And boy, isn’t it fun to realize that a Pulitzer-winning journalist is arrested for spying right in the place you’re going? (not a bullet dodged, a missile.)

Nigeria, Sao Paulo, Panama, Mexico City, Tijuana, San Diego
Refer back to the opening comment about airports, although in San Diego it was a train station. . . which I actually like. All this because there simply weren’t many flights going to London, and who wants to travel for half a day in an airtight tube without a book or music player to keep you at least comatose? So I had to get creative. . .
When I bought the ticket on South Africa Airlines, I was asked what kind of meal I wanted, and given a long list, with at least 20 options, not just kosher: lactose-intolerant, Asian, seafood, etc. You know me. . . I chose bland.
Didn’t even leave the airports in Sao Paulo or Panama. Had a free day in Mexico City, though I didn’t look up anyone I know. I did, however, go to my favorite used book store, mostly because it’s a couple of blocks from my usual hotel, and right down the street is a really cool art museum I’ve been to dozens of times. Then straight from the Tijuana airport and across the border, trolley to San Diego with no time to look up John or Lindsey. Train up to El Lay; I get the most incredulous looks from people when I do yoga in the wide passageway where the doors are.
Went to Shannon Hurley’s concert almost straight from the train station. Still trying to adjust to all the time changes and such, so I don’t remember much about it.
I barely remember a couple of weeks ago telling myself how exciting this trip was going to be. And I didn’t mean it in a political turmoil type of way. Damn, I’m naive.

So we’ll see how long it takes me to finally decide if I enjoyed it or not. . .

P.S. Movie quiz answer: Wizard of Oz



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