Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Great Goan Transit Debacle

So I just got back from a 4 day conference in town of Goa in southern India.  The conference had all the things you would expect from a conference: buffet meals, beach front hotel, power point presentations…  Not really the stuff of great blog postings.  Even the photos shown here are just a couple shots of the hotel grounds taken before dinner one night. 

I could talk a little bit about the country itself, as this is my third journey there, but I am reminded of that “if you have nothing nice to say…” thing.  It is not that I had problems with individual people – on the whole I find Indians to be assholes at the same rate as the rest of the population (roughly 10 percent – double if you are in an airport).  It is as if the very essence of the country conspires to make my time there as difficult as possible in some kind of karmic retribution for an unspeakable sin.  Seriously, I have been in 74 countries now (just tacked another one on yesterday but we will come to that).  In Mauritania, I wore a burqa and children still threw rocks at me.  In Congo, I lay in a delirious sweat pool with malaria while listening to soldiers firing their AK47s.  I got robbed in East Timor and had a gun held to my head in Nicaragua.  India still ranks dead last as 74 out of 74.  I won’t go into details, but suffice to say that I reflected on this as I watched a mechanic try to liberate my luggage from the overhead compartment using a screwdriver after my 10 hours in the Mumbai airport with missed connections and delayed flights.  All in my first 11 hours in the country. 

Now, in between my complaining about flights, I will admit that getting up at dawn to jog barefoot on the Goan white sand beach before jumping into the Indian Ocean does have a certain amount of charm.  That, however, is all I am willing to concede. 

But I survived.  On Tuesday afternoon I boarded my flight to Kuwait to make the connection to Washington and back to the US for Christmas.  Alas, United Airlines had other plans.  Or no plans.  In response to the blizzard, it posted a photocopied sign at its Kuwait City counter saying the flight had been canceled come back tomorrow.  And sent its entire staff home.  (I know this because I found my way into the personnel section to bang on their locked office door.)  So my colleague and I (who has a similar level of tolerance for bullshit – actually once almost getting arrested for her response to a security guard in the Qatar airport’s suggestion the she was fixing her hair too erotically in the transit lounge) found ourselves in an increasing mass of Blackwater type guys heading home for Christmas (there were about 4 women on this flight), facing down a clearly nervous airport security guard.   At one point a slightly cross eyed redneck loudly suggested the problem was that United didn’t have any staff on the ground in Kuwait – relying completely on local hired help.  To which I responded, perhaps a little louder than I meant to – that I *hated* contractors.  (At least we got a good laugh out of it.)  Soon after my colleague and I gave up and went to the Crowne Plaza – deciding to let the World Bank corporate travel department fight it out with United Airlines as to who would be responsible for the bill.

And so I am home again.  On Thursday evening, but I eventually made it.  And want to wish everyone a happy holiday and the best for the new year.*

*The above does not apply to the management or shareholders in United Airlines, which despite my ever dwindling standards for customer service, seems unfailingly to surprise me with new levels of incompetence.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Unicorn on the River

So despite the fact that the great Dhaka metropolitan area has the rough equivalent population of Scandinavia, the vast majority of the Bangladeshi population live in small villages across the vast delta of the Ganges.  (This is the largest delta in the world- trust me, I have gotten it wrong in Trivia Pursuit before.)

It seemed only fair that I should get a rural river experience to compliment the city tour.  Fortunately the friend of a friend who, along with his family, was kind enough to adopt me during my stay in Dhaka, was game to take the unicorn out and show her the river.  We drove about two hours outside the city, or about one hour outside the endless urban sprawl.   (Though once you do finally get past the sprawl, it becomes 100 percent rice paddy rather quick.)  We drove to a town (whose name I forget but won’t be able to pronounce in a million years anyway) and rented a speed boat to take us across the river to a more rural area.  (The starting point already seemed pretty rural to me but what do unicorns know?)

On the way across we stopped on an uninhabited island roughly the size of the neighborhood I grew up in.  It seemed a little odd that in a country where people literally live in baskets in the market that there would be such a big island with nothing on it but a handful of cows and some scrub vegetation.  The answer was that up until the most recent monsoon, the island didn’t exist.  The seasonal rains have a way of reclaiming and redistributing land as the Fates see fit.  (There is actually apparently a law on the books that if your land is washed away by the river, you will be able to reclaim it in roughly 15 years when it finishes materializing on the opposite bank.) 

The river trip itself was interesting as well – even beyond the fact that I just like going fast in motorboats.  All sorts of shit was going on on the river.  (That statement can be taken literally as well I am afraid.)  People fishing, people bathing, people fetching water, little rusting boats going one way, big rusting boats going the other way…  I tried to take some pictures but focus is a little difficult when you are slamming across the various wakes of the aforementioned watercraft.  I am posting the best of the blur.

On the other side of the river, we took a pleasant little rickshaw ride through the corrugated tin houses, the irrigated rice paddies, the NGO schools, the narrow canals…  All in all a quite enjoyable day.  The villagers were a-buzz about the white Muslim lady touring around town with her Bangladeshi husband (a little head scarf goes a long way apparently). Which came in quite handy when my “husband” fainted rather dramatically from dehydration at what turned out to be the conclusion of our outing.  Everyone was very concerned about my potential impending widowhood as they directed me to a place where I could get juice to raise blood sugar and a rickshaw to take us back to the boat.  One green coconut and a mango juice box later, we were back in business.  Crisis averted, phony marriage and day trip saved. 

Then it was back on the boat and back in the car and back to the city and back to work.  Things have been a little nutty at work this week as I am heading (finally) back to DC soon, but I did find time to learn how to fit three full sized adults in a rickshaw, where to buy cheap local pearls, and the ABCs of South Asia vegetarian street food.  All valuable skills I assure you.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Unicorn in Dhaka

It is very rare that I look down at my plane ticket before getting on a flight and think “man, this is going to suck.” But as I stood on the escalator in Dubai, looking down at the teeming mass below me jockeying for a place on line to get on 2 am flight to Bangladesh, that is exactly what I was thinking. I had just wrapped up a week in Tanzania to cap the two in Uganda and was ready to just go home and watch the Yankees. Bangladesh is an impoverished country of just over 55,000 square miles and a population of 150 million people, the highest population density in the world. (To put that in perspective, it is akin to the entire population of the US east of the Mississippi River moving to Illinois.) Almost completely surrounded by India, the nearest major metropolis is Calcutta. India has never been one of my favorites, and the idea that this was condensed crowded poorer version of India was unappealing. And alcohol is illegal.

But I got on the plane anyway and five hours later I was standing bleary eyed in my hotel room, watching through the window as the English Under 19 National Cricket team ran amok in the crystal blue swimming pool. While immediately behind the 10 foot wall, naked children played in a stagnant pool of green sludge. Fabulous.

So me and my little black rain cloud took a shower and went out in search of some culturally appropriate clothing and more reasons to hate on Bangladesh. As I ventured out of the hotel gates, the first thing that I noticed was how traditional this place was. Most men wear lungi skirts and the women saris or baggy trouser-tunics combos with scarves. Full beards and skull caps appear frequently. Even downtown there were thousands of cycle-rickshaws and men carrying huge baskets of produce on their heads. And of course the requisite odd loose piece of livestock in a traffic circle.

The second thing I noticed is that I blend like a unicorn. Bangladesh’s visitor promotion slogan since independence has been “come before the tourists get here.” Safe to say that they don’t need a new one yet. I was the only whitey anywhere. And it is perfectly socially acceptable to cease all activity as gawk like I was a large white horse with a golden horn protruding from my forehead. Just keeps getting better. I got in an auto-rickshaw and promptly got taken to the wrong location and overcharged. Then found another, took it to the right location and was overcharged. Eventually I found the clothing store where I discovered that size XXL was still too tight across my shoulders. Then it took forever to find another rickshaw to take me back to the hotel.

I was not good company when I finally found one. And I was less than amused by the fact that my driver was overjoyed to have a unicorn in the back seat. He started off toward the hotel but halfway there takes a detour. He clearly wants to show me something. I am too hot and dirty to argue at this point, so I just slump lower and wait for it to be over. He takes me to the train tracks as the afternoon train rumbles by, fiercely overcrowded and with children sitting outside on the roof. He points excitedly and yells “Slumdog Millionaire!” Aww. He was so happy to show me that. I even sort of smiled. How can you hate a country like that? And for redeeming his 150 million countrymen, he was rewarded with what was likely the largest tip in the history of Bengali auto-rickshaws.

The next day was Sunday, the start of the work week here. It was also the day I met Liton. Liton is my driver – unenviably tasked with shuttling me back and forth between the hotel, Bank office and bureau of statistics. Officially this mostly involves sitting in dead-stop traffic while leaning on the horn and yelling at the rickshaw divers. But unofficially it involves keeping me out of trouble. And therein lies the rub.

Liton has spent lots of time locking me in the car this week. On Sunday, he dropped me after work at the home of a friend of a friend with whom I would be having dinner. But he kept me locked in the car until the friend came out and personally escorted me. Repeat performance on Thursday at the same place. On Monday I ducked out of work a little early to go shopping so that I would have something to wear out to the villages and Wednesday and Thursday. Shahbag market had been recommended as being near the university and having slightly hipper clothes. But it is a sprawling four story enclosed behemoth of tiny boutiques, leftist bookstores and tea rooms conducive to plotting a revolution. Liton drove up, took one look inside at the fluorescent lighting and milling crowds (and long rows of clothing racks) and promptly put the car back into gear. “No Madame, no clothes here. We go.” I had to all but pull the emergency break to get him to let me out.

And so it went up until yesterday. On Friday I met up with a fellow unicorn also working here, and we set off to see the best sights that Dhaka has to offer. This included the Revolutionary War Museum – a poignant but very graphic look at the struggle for independence first from Britain and then from Pakistan, the university – with uncongested green spaces and fancy architecture – and finally to Old Dhaka – the historic narrow-alleyed part of the city along the Ganges River. Liton brought us to the Sadarghat ferry terminal, which sits at the end of the bazaar on one of the only streets navigable by car. We thanked him and told him that we would be back in a few hours – we were going to explore on foot and by rickshaw. And Liton had a coronary. No. Not happening. Too many Bangladeshis. Too many thieves. Not a place for foreign women. No. He just flatly refused, driving us instead to a commercial area several blocks north before finally unlocking the doors. Leaving us to walk back down to Sadarghat.

(Contrary to Liton’s hysteria, I feel very safe here. I get worried when I am someplace deserted – certainly not a problem here. The equivalent population of Delaware is within earshot at all times. I could fend off an unarmed attacker for long enough for them to raise a militia.)

But back to my walking tour. And, man, if I thought I stood out like a unicorn in New Dhaka, this was a whole different cricket game. Even hiding under our head scarves, people froze and gaped. If we stopped anywhere, chunks of traffic would break off and form concentric circles of gawkers. Occasionally they would take pictures with their cell phones or yell “what country?” But mostly it was a silent wall of eyes, just tracking us like the paintings in a Scooby Doo cartoon. Odd I have to say.

In any case, we hit the sights. Visited the Armenian Church (they were here as a trading class under the British, peaking in the 1850s and fading out as things got nationalized after independence – there is currently only one very old man left), Hindu Street (which was bumpin’ on a Friday when everything else was closed for prayers), Ahsan Manzil (the Pink Palace – which certainly was Pepto-Bismol pink) plus a wide assortment of mosques, markets and bazaars. And a bunch of really narrow streets.

We decided to cap off the day by hiring some guy to row us around the river, the heart and life-blood of old Dhaka, and watch the sunset. This didn’t go quite according to plan. First, as there are no tourists, there are no touts. And we don’t speak Bangla. So we had to loiter around the ferry terminal until someone basically guessed what we might want. Which touched off a fist fight as they figured out we were going to pay an obscene sum of money (little less than $5) to just be rowed around for an hour. Eventually we were put into a low riding wooden boat of decidedly questionable sea-worthiness and shoved off into the Ganges. As there isn’t much in the way of sites on the river – it is more just soaking up the general atmosphere of the place – our river tour consisted of us being rowed around to the rower’s friends’ boats so that they could take pictures of us with their cell phones. But I got some okay pictures of them so I can’t complain.

And in general I can’t complain. Before I came I psyched myself up by thinking that I was getting sent to hell in exchange for the Yankees impending World Series win – a deal that I would have readily made should the devil have shown up in Tanzania with the necessary paperwork. (I followed game 6 from a rural village via text message sent by the only other Western Hemispherian in the World Bank office – a Canadian Yankee fan. When they won, I inadvertently taught a gaggle of child gawkers the happy dance.) But it turned out to be a lot like India but without the hassles. Pleasantly surprised I must say.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Requisite 100th Posting

Well shit Himelein. Here are you, sitting at the airport in Uganda, after two weeks here and I don’t have anything of interest for a blog post. Usually, you can just phone these in, take a couple cute pictures of kids, re-tell an essentially dull story using fun and creative story telling language. But you don’t even have that this time.

I had this realization yesterday afternoon. I was working in the WB office when we basically had a communications meltdown. No internet at the office, sporadic power at the hotel… which basically caused me to have a meltdown. So I decided instead of throwing my laptop or the local IT consultant out of a window, I would write a blog post. – blink – blink – goes the cursor. Nothing to say. What could I use… Well, there is my 30th birthday that I celebrated two weeks ago with one of my buddies visiting from Nairobi, but there might be children that read this. Part of me things that it might be a useful life lesson for them to know that no matter how many times your teachers tell you that smart kids become doctors or lawyers that it is possible to structure your life in a way such that, at 30, you can be screwing around as much as I am as still be considered a success. The rest of me doesn’t want them to know how much alcohol one can consume in one evening and live. So scratch that. Oh wait! I could use that bit about the field visit I did to the district at the headwaters of the Nile where I got that beautiful hotel room on the lake only to discover that a Joba-like cloud of lake gnats descended on every lit surface as soon as the sun set – leaving me to spend the evening hiding under a blanket under the mosquito net reading by the light on my cell phone… Huh, that is only a sentence long…

You see the quandary I was in yesterday afternoon. So I busted out the “what to do in Kampala” brochure that was slowly mildewing to dust on the bulletin board of the Visiting Mission Room at the Bank. Done it… done it… done it… done it… Oh wait, here is one: the Baha’i Temple. It is one of only 8 in the world (one on each continent) and the only one in Africa. It is a nine sided building (one for each of the major religions of the world) on a hill outside the city with extensive gardens. Less than 20 minutes on a motorbike. Perfect. I will run up there, take a look at the view, snap a quick shot of the building, and bust it back down to hit the gym in time to see the Phillies-Dodgers replay at 5 pm.

So I choose a bike and driver from the mass of them hanging outside the hotel. I had had a rough trip on the way home the day before (with a burned out clutch (?) almost spilling me and my takeout off the back and into the middle of Buganda Avenue). The problem with picking a good looking bike is that it came with a good looking young man to drive it – and it is a tried and true fact that good looking young men with nice bikes drive *way* too fast. And a-way we go.
It becomes very apparent very quickly that this kid knows where the temple is from seeing it in the distance, not how to navigate Kampala’s twisting hills to actually get there. He sets off in a straight line towards it – cutting across main highways, through narrow neighborhood back alleys, and, at one point, what I am pretty sure was someone’s courtyard. Finally, we could see the road to the temple but there was a deep open drainage ditch between us and the four lane highway that we needed to cut across to get to it. No no no NO! Yes. Across we go. I had to grab this poor guy’s waist to avoid getting spilled. But we lived and made it to the temple.
And, as promised, it was nice. I don’t know if I would hire a Baha’i accountant (really, you count 8 continents huh?) but they do a nice house of worship. And the basic tenants of their faith seem pretty logical. Men and women are equal, allowing extreme poverty is a sin, be nice to each other, and the way to salvation is through scientific study and personal reflection. (Of course we relegate it to crazy fringe as we much prefer something with a good old testament stoning now and then…) Then I hopped back on the moto to get back to the hotel – realizing quickly that the only thing more frightening than the trip up was going to be the trip down as we had run out of gas and had to coast to the bottom and back across the highway to get to a gas station.

So there you go. The things I have to do for you people. And I hope you enjoy the requisite temple picture and this, the 100th blog posting.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Big Fish

So this is over a week late. I have been back in the US since Sunday. I have been sick and was going to skip this last post, but then I felt a little obligated to post a few more pictures and let you know how the vacation all turned out. Mozambique really is a beautiful country. I spent a week there kickin’ it Peace Corps style, making my way up the coast in a chapa (aka taxi brousse). Though we didn’t actually break my standing record of 25 adults, 5 children and assorted animals slammed into the back of a minivan (set going to LaTodin during the Burkina 2003 hot season), we came damned close. And this trip was seven hours long. At some point the woman next to me had enough of the screaming infant on her lap (ownership of which I was never actually able to determine) and began passing him around the bus. I set a hard act to follow by shutting him up for 10 entire minutes (with the help of a touch screen iPod) before sending him on down the line. On a separate chapa trip (I took several on my journey up the coast), the driver drove directly into a telephone pole. Fortunately he was going fairly slowly and the pole had some give to it. His defense? “Since when did they get electricity out here?”
This all had such a profound effect of bringing me back to my Peace Corps days, that after I got off the chapa, and before I really knew what was going on, I had gone into the market and bought a sachet of tomatoes and a pagne.* I had to spend a good two days staring out at the turquoise water before I was completely myself again.

And, as per usual when I get close to said turquoise water, the first thing I want to do is get under it. Usually I spare you the details of my diving conquests but there was one day of diving that was really rockstar. First of all, because of the nature of the heavy current in the area, diving was faux-Navy Seal: fighting the heavy waves to launch the zodiac from the beach, riding out bouncing over the surf, negative entry for the dives… so you already feel like kind of a bad ass. On the way out, as expected, there were the usual dolphins a-jumpin’ which at this point you almost barely take notice of. Particularly as you are trying to concentrate on keeping your fillings from popping out as the zodiac with more horsepower than your car slams across the waves. At some point though, I looked up and thought, man, that is a really ugly dolphin that just did that flip. That was also a really big dolphin. Ah. That’s a humpback whale. Between us and the dive site was the annual migration. Humpbacks humpbacks everywhere. And while it was cool to see them jumping and fin slapping while on the boat, the best part of it was that you could hear the whale-song while you were diving. At one point one of the whales got curious about the buoy line (carried by the dive guide to mark our progress to the boat on the surface). He swam directly over top of us. Water amplifies sound waves so even a small outboard engine passing 100 feet above can sound like it is right on top of you. In this case the whale song was like a freight train.

But the humpbacks aren’t the reason that people come diving on the Mozambiquean coast. People dive here because of the giant mantas. Which are incredible. The visibility was poor – you could only see maybe 15 or 20 feet in front of you. Then all of a sudden these massive things swoop out of the murk right on top of you. It is a little disconcerting the first time they do it, but then really really cool. I tried to take a couple pictures, but it is really hard to do them justice. They can be up to 25 feet across. That’s bigger than my first apartment.

So after the dive, we are all on the boat, contentedly slamming back across the waves. Suddenly the captain stops and yells something excitedly in Portuguese. Boat stops, mad scramble to don snorkel mask and fins, everyone into the water. Whale sharks. I have been chasing these bastards all over the world. It has always been the wrong time/day/season. And here it was. The world’s largest fish. And it was a big fish. Even in a day filled with humpbacks and giant mantas, this puppy was big. And it swam close enough next to me that I could have reached out and touched it. Cherry on the hot fudge sundae.

The rest of the week was spent sitting on the beach, drinking Mozambiquan beer, taking sailing trips out to tropical paradises (note the use of the plural), eating seafood (the phrase “does anyone want my last lobster tail I’m stuffed” actually came out of my mouth at a meal where the bill was less than a salad at a standard downtown DC lunch restaurant), taking pictures of the local dhows (note the sails are made out of UNICEF refugee tents) and just generally being a laze-about. Then it was back to Maputo for a week of work and karmic retribution for having such a great vacation. With all my travels around the country on the local transport, I managed to get the flu. And I discovered that no one really even cares about whether it was swine flu or not. Suck it up and get back to work. So I did and now I am.

*pagna is the colorful cloth worn as skirts by West African women and Peace Corps volunteers of all genders

Monday, August 31, 2009

Reed Dance Festival

Greetings from Mozambique, a country with a AK47 on its flag and a hostel inexplicably full of sharpay dogs (seriously, there must be 8 or 9 of them wandering about). I just arrived here this afternoon after a really cool weekend in the Kingdom of Swaziland (of all places).

Swazi is a tiny little country of about a million people sandwiched in between South Africa and Mozambique. It is very similar to South Africa (at least in that it was a former British colony) but a little more prosperous and way more chilled out. (It was the place to go to get up to shenanigans during apartheid era South Africa.)

I was there to see the annual Reed Dance Festival, at which thousand of Swazi girls pledge their allegiance to the queen by going out and cutting a bunch of reeds, then dancing, parading and just generally carrying on with said bunch of reeds. I will be honest with you and tell you that I don’t really understand exactly all the symbolism of the things going on, but it was an incredible thing just to be witness to. The girls had these exotic costumes of varying degrees of traditionalness (I am guessing the Ray Bans were a relatively recent addition), and were just so happy. And in general no one really made a big deal about the fact that there were whities floating around with cameras. We just sat on a rock in the shade and watch the girls go by… People didn’t even seem to be that interested in hustling us, they honestly just wanted to know what country we were from and if we were enjoying their festival. And the President of Zambia was hanging out in the crowd sans entourage. Can’t argue with that kind of company.

Other than the Reed Dancing, Swaziland was a blur of hiking, shopping, drinking and a brief ill-fated stop in a Christian revivalist ceremony (not much going on in Mbabane on a Sunday afternoon). Sorry this is a little short but I think the pictures are much cooler than anything I might actually have to say on the subject.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kruger National Park

So, after complaining for months about how I am constantly back and forth across to Africa and I never get any time off and how much of a pain in the ass it is to always be away, I finally get a vacation. At which time I, logically, promptly board a plane and voluntarily fly 15 straight hours to Africa.

In any case, I am sitting in an internet cafĂ© in Nelspruit, South Africa, getting myself together after an incredible safari in Kruger National Park. I arrived in South Africa on Sunday morning, after a brutally long flight made more brutal by having to fly around that stupid hurricane. I then spent nearly 24 hours in Johannesburg without being the victim of a violent crime. (Here’s to beating the odds!) I actually even enjoyed myself, walking down to the neighborhood flee market in the suburb where I was staying to pick up some warmer clothing (it is bloody *cold* here) and a set of Mobuto sunglasses (when in Rome…) and visiting the apartheid museum. The museum was incredibly interesting in that it managed to, tastefully, commemorate hundreds of years of repression and brutality without demonizing the white minority. Though in the same way that it seems difficult to imagine that the American civil rights movement took place during my parent’s lifetime, it is nigh on impossible to believe that apartheid took place during my own. I can still remember class being cancelled in fifth grade so that we could all watch the release of Nelson Mandela from prison.Next morning, bright and early (as before sunrise), I was up and out to head east to the national park (though slightly delayed by the fact that the idiot stoners running my hostel got too f’ed up the night before to remember to unlock the gate for me - leaving me to climb the 10 foot fence in order to get out - which was fortunately the only one in all of Jo’burg not topped with concertina wire. On the way we (that merry band of characters that would be spending every walking hour together for the next three days) broke up the journey by stopping at some of the natural wonders along the way. I remember being fairly impressed with them at the time, but those memories have been completely obliterated by the wonders of the safari that followed, so I will drop the obligatory picture and move on.And we stopped to pick up booze - in the form of a five liter box of cheap but tooth-achingly sweet “dry” South African red, most notable for the warning on the side of the box: “Don’t drink and walk on the road, you may be killed.” (Here’s to knowing your demographic.)Then it was safari time. Our guide was a Afrikaner South Africa who was, like all the world’s safari guides, a crazy bastard. He took personal exception to the fact that I was a vegetarian. (He was the type of guy that didn’t eat any kind of vegetable - ever.) First of all, it was as unnatural as if I proposed sexual congress with a springbok (perhaps even more so). Second of all, I was the only one so cooking a completely separate meal for one person was a total pain in the ass. Therefore he decided to make it his personal mission to badger, bargain and straight up just starve me out until I agreed to eat meat. It actually didn’t take that long. He made a deal with me that if he could find the Big 5 (lion, buffalo, rhino, elephant and leopard) before lunch, that I would eat a ham sandwich. I agreed because, really, I have been on quite a few safaris at this point and the chances of this actually happening were nearly statistically impossible. Yeah. I had a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch - albeit a late lunch.
I will spare you the blow-by-blow of the safari itself, but over two days, notable sightings include: a close encounter with a lioness, multiple leopard sightings including one in a tree with a freshly killed impala, a tiny baby elephant that I went a little crazy taking pictures of, a buffalo during the night game drive, plus the usual assortment of hippos, giraffes, zebras, rhinos, baboons, warthogs, crocodiles, all things hoofed and birds that I could give a damn about. (I have attached a sizable lot of pictures for you to catch the highlights if so interested.It was actually, though, we weren’t even on a game drive for the most memorable moment. We were grilling steaks (as the guides vegetarian meal plan for the evening was “steak or starve” - I had squash for dinner), hanging out by the fire, drinking, when this massive hyena walked by the fence maybe 10 feet behind us. He was attracted by the smell of the grilling meat and came by a few times to see if he could get a taste, fortunately not coming to the conclusion that he could easily hop the 8 foot chain link fence. Which was good because it was massive. I can’t even compare it to the size of a large dog. Think more along the lines of small pony. And, hands down, the world’s ugliest creature.
Other than that, it was all tents, campfire, pre-sunrise risings, sweet wine, and swapping tales, which were probably most accurately summed up by the Irish kid as “no need of the truth getting in the way of a good story.” (He had the hyena nine foot tale and breathing sulfur fire by the 10 pm telling.) Now I am spending the night at another hostel run by stoners (though these seem older and more responsible - this is what happens when you live in an African country where things *grow*) and tomorrow, off to Kingdom of Swaziland.