You’re Going To Miss…Southern Africa

You’re Going To Miss…Southern Africa

 

Dear Calvin,

 

I hope this finds you doing well.  I came across your site via CU Class Notes.  I am CC 2010.  I have been inspired by your story and website, and as a fellow lover of travel and medical student, would definitely be keen on learning more about your travels and how it all works out.

 

Also–I saw that you have not yet made it to the African continent (according to the place markers on the website’s map).  [That is mainly where I travel, and my family is also from there.  I would be more than glad to provide you with connections in the countries I have been to/enjoyed, should you make it that side.]

 

Thank you, and I am truly looking forward to hearing back from you.

 

All the best,

 

Nadi Nina Kaonga

Nadi’s first ever e-mail to me, January 29th, 2013

 

Press play. And then start reading.

 

 

 

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  – African proverb

 

You’re going to miss the first impressions, the first hugs and handshakes in a random hotel, the jet-lag tempered by an excitement of going on your 2nd (or even 3rd) monsoon with once again the proudly self-proclaimed “worst tour guide ever“, and not having a clue of what could transpire with these familiar friends, co-travelers, and even strangers for the next 16 days.

You’re going to miss setting off on a city that nearly suffocates you with a beautiful chaos, the overwhelming crush of humanity in the world’s oldest outdoor market, trying to find a stolen phone and coming to terms to being forced off the grid for the next few days, the sweet taste of mint lime juice after walking over 12 miles and 20,000 steps with your new travel family, and laughing over the inefficiency of a simple task of getting food at the airport.

 

 

You’re going to miss waking up after 4 hours of sleep in a different capital city, the quiet lazy morning of eating simple — but different — bread and watered down coffee before watching a beautiful sunrise over Nairobi.

 

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You’re going to miss landing in another unfamiliar country although this time with a familiar face waiting for you at arrivals as if you already had family here, being welcomed by the very person who sent an e-mail on January 29, 2013 that first compelled you to organize this very trip to subsaharan Africa, being taken in with open arms by a sister and her grandfather that you wish you’ve always had, and being shown around the warm heart of Africa, but only after waiting more than 2 hours to get your visas (well, you might not miss that).

You’re going to miss the popcorn and water that greeted you in the car that would take you to a most beautiful lake that you felt like you had all to yourself, grabbing drinks and kicking back to a splendid view, before heading back to a home-cooked meal so good that you can’t help to having seconds (or thirds), all the while watching with mischief at a grandfather 4 times your age eat 4 times your amount of pie.

 

 

You’re going to miss the 5am transfer to the airport before a quietly emerging dawn in Malawi to board a lonely plane in a lonely airport, landing in the afternoon at a country infamous for its civil war but now on the cusp of peace, exploring a remarkably diverse capital city that could have mistaken to be on the Mediterranean, hunting for fresh fruit like a local at the municipal market, being the only customers in a huge empty restaurant and getting better-than-expected food, and afterwards exchanging stories and travel advice with fellow backpackers at your hostel.

 

 

You’re going to miss haggling down an entire bus to Swaziland before watching nervously as your bags rattle around outside on a precariously connected trailer, walking through no-man’s land to another country while talking about Donald Trump with fellow transferrers, looking for bathrooms in the chaotic bus terminal of Manzini before settling in at one of the most impressive hostels you’ve ever been.

 

 

You’re going to miss collectively deciding on horseback riding while enjoying a comfortable lunch overlooking pastures in the middle of nowhere, heading towards an unexpectedly beautiful safari all the while your horse does its best to sneak in a mouthful of vegetation while you’re trying to keep up with the group.

You’re going to miss the drinks and dinner at the safari camp, failing to blend in with the chi-chi older crowd, before getting to know the Peace Corps volunteers on the eve of their farewell after they had been staying at your hostel for the past 2 years.

 

 

You’re going to miss the smooth morning bus ride to South Africa, the subsequent quick flight to Lesotho and the warm welcome by the warmest aunt-nephew duo, and the exploration of a nearby lake at sunset before heading off to the nation’s top restaurant on the second floor of a hat-shaped building.

 

 

You’re going to miss grabbing drinks at a sketchy local bodega so you could stay up with the group on our last night together, engaging one final heart-to-heart conversation before waking up to a frigid Lesotho morning.

 

 

You’re going to miss randomly greeting Lesotho’s prime minister on the tarmac as you boarded your flight to Johannesburg, before meeting the rest of the group to begin the second week.

 

 

You’re going to miss going out on the town for a night of mayhem, getting to encounter so many younger locals who took more of an interest in us than we would have expected, and trying to find our way back home inebriated during the middle of the night.

 

 

You’re going to miss the humbling experience at the Apartheid Museum, learning about Mandela’s legacy before truly experiencing a taste of it at the prisons on Constitution Hill, and the serendipitous discovery of a world famous food market after aimlessly strolling back to the scene of the crime of the night before.

 

 

You’re going to miss freaking out over missing 2 people in the group who failed to board the flight with you to Zambia, the mad dash across 4 countries in one day seeing arguably the world’s most beautiful waterfalls from both sides, fending off a rabid baboon, seeing an unreal sunset over the falls, the quiet night drive into Botswana, and the giddiness of seeing an elephant quietly greet you in the backyard of your lodge before you headed to bed.

 

 

You’re going to miss the excitement of going on your first safari, getting to see your first herd of elephants, kudus, giraffes, hippos, and hundreds of other animals that were unafraid to approach your jeep, then quickly getting over seeing your three-hundredth elephant by the end of the day, nodding off on a lazy boat ride on the Chobe waterfront, before staring dumbstruck at a beautiful sunset over the horizon as animals continued to feed, unbothered by our presence.

 

 

You’re going to miss turning down a bad deal for ATVs, and then sitting idly in an airport still under construction with literally nothing to do but watch repeating stories in syndication on CNN International, returning home to Johannesburg where you befriended even more locals at the hostel on your final night there.

You’re going to miss answering a challenge to climb Lion’s Head immediately upon your arrival to Cape Town while another part of the group finally get a Girls’ Night Out, the silent wish you had done more cardio during your climb, and the feeling of redemption when you finally reached to top as the sun was setting over the ocean.

 

 

You’re going to miss trading photos back and forth between the groups, debating on who had a better time as you celebrate conquering a hike that wasn’t supposed to be really done on the first day.

 

 

You’re going to miss making friends on the boat ride to Robben Island, meeting a former prisoner there as he recalls his days with Nelson Mandela, witnessing another gorgeous sunset over a natural wonder of the world at Table Mountain, and then delighting yourself with one of the best meals you ever had alongside your fellow epicureans.

 

 

You’re going to miss the early morning car ride to see African penguins in the midst of their mating season and unbothered by your presence, the feeling of accomplishment by reaching the Cape Of Good Hope on the edge of civilization, the WTF moment of being recognized by a random student who attended one of your travel workshops 2 years ago, and the nail-biting detour to find a fellow traveler’s former school before heading back to the airport.

 

 

You’re going to miss packing your bags in an oversized tank/jeep that you would eventually call home and being led around by a guide you would eventually call a friend as your group headed off into the world’s oldest desert.

 

 

You’re going to miss the heartfelt conversations and sharing of music on the way there, the difficult hike up to the top of Elem Dunes to watch the sunset, the warm fire at your campsite, having one of the best pork-chops you ever had after it was cooked right in front of you, and braving the slumber outside despite the cold.

 

 

You’re going to miss waking up with your mouth open and night filled with so so many stars.

 

 

You’re going to miss putting the final exclamation point to your trip as you finally come upon the surreal landscape to reproduce one of your favorite photographs, then staying longer than expected as you know this probably will be the last time you will ever be here for a very very long time.

 

 

You’re going to miss the relaxing ride back home, with enough time to reflect upon everything you had just seen, but more importantly knowing for a few more moments moment you were surrounded by new lifelong friends who had just shared experiences that you wouldn’t be able to repeat again with anyone else.

And you’re going to miss most of all, each other; a group of unique personalities united by adventure, where we’ll all look back one day and ask ourselves if we did see all that we saw and went as far as we did.

And we certainly did — far, and most importantly, together.

 

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia In 5 Hours

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia In 5 Hours

 

The Monsoon Diaries’ first ever trip to sub-saharan Africa just began today with a 12 hour layover in the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa.

 

 

To begin the trip, I got to use 80,000 United Miles to score 2 free business class flights from New York to Frankfurt via Lufthansa Airlines, and Frankfurt to Addis Ababa via Ethiopian Airlines.

But no matter how fancy it was to lie in a flat-bed on the way to Ethiopia, I felt uncomfortable seeing that I was surrounded completely by foreign travelers (i.e.non-Ethiopians) in business/first class, while local Ethiopians were all in Economy. The effect of colonialism on the global south still exists, ladies and gentlemen.

We landed in Addis Ababa at 6:00am, local time.

 

 

Although Duncan, Kel and I rushed out front to be the first in line to get my visa on arrival ($50 USD per person), staff directed us back upstairs to obtain a transit visa instead as we would only be in Ethiopia for 12 hours. After a few back and forth conversations, we were told that a transit visa would be $70 USD, which made absolutely no sense at all.

So by the time we returned downstairs to get the standard visas on arrival, we were dismayed to see a huge line had already formed — Don’t let them waste your time by fooling you into going upstairs if you only have a day in Ethiopia to explore!

After about 45 minutes in line, we got out passports checked, our photos taken, and visas in our passports. We were then led to another area where we paid $50 USD per person for the visas. Yes, they do accept credit cards!

Once you get your visas, you’d think you go back on the regular line to get your passport checked again, but you can actually skip that line and head out a separate exit into baggage claims.

We then took a yellow cab waiting outside the airport to Tizeze Hotel; you don’t need to haggle as all airport yellow cabs refer to a guy carrying a binder listing standardized fares to various hotels.

Once at Tizeze, we finally rendezvous’ed with Samantha, Mikey and Aaron in the lobby who had stayed the night before.

After getting our bearings and stealing some hotel breakfast, we headed out to our first stop, the National Museum of Ethiopia:

 

 

Although pretty small for a national museum, it’s famous for being the home of Lucy (aka Dinkinesh, or “you are wonderful” in Amharic), the famous 3.2 million old hominoid discovered in 1974 that gave credence to the belief that we descended from the ape.

 

 

Where Lucy was one of the first humans to be bipedal, I demonstrate how far humans have (or have not) come since her:

 

Lucy just got served

 

We then headed out west.

 

 

About 20 minutes of walking up a small hill we reached Saint George’s Cathedral, which was built in 1896 to commemorate Ethiopia’s victory over the Italians.

There will be people praying besides the walls of the church, but you can’t enter inside unless you run into one of the archdeacons of the Church somewhere nearby (or at the adjacent museum) and ask him politely. We hear it’s quite wonderful, but we never got to meet an archdeacon.

To make matters worse, photography of the church, even from the outside, is forbidden (whoops).

 

 

Heading out west even further, we ventured towards the Merkato.

 

 

We passed by Anwar Mosquon the way there, which also can’t be entered or photographed from the outside (whoops):

 

 

Once you reach Merkato on the west side of the city, it feels like you’re about to board a roller coaster. This is arguably the world’s largest outdoor market, and entering it is like throwing yourself into a sea of humanity. There’s not really one place to enter as every space is filled by something to sell or someone who wants to buy; you just go in and immerse yourself.

Nevertheless, be very watchful of your stuff here! Pickpocketers teem aplenty in the market.

 

 

We ended up enjoying being assisted by a local named Gentle, who as a former Army Captain was then jailed by the government due to some political insurgency. He went above and beyond showing us around but most importantly, effectively shoo’ing off persistent beggars looking to get up too close with us.

 

 

Making a 90 degree angle south we walked about a mile to reach the Tiglachin (“Our Struggle”) monument, incorrectly sometimes referred to as the Derg Monument (even Google screws this up on their maps). It’s to commemorate the Ethiopian and Cuban soldiers who died in the 1977-1978 war against Somalia.

 

 

It was around this point where Kel suddenly found out he had his iPhone pickpocketed and where Mikey quickly deflected a would-be pickpocketing by some children selling magazines. F*ck!!! (You have been warned!)

Outside the National Theater in the southwest part of the city, you’ll come across the Lion of Judah of Haile Selassie statue, carved in 1955 to commemorate Emperor Haile Selassie.

 

 

A bit more south is the Lion of Judah of Menelik statue, built in 1930 to commemorate Emperor Menelik.

 

 

Turn east and walk along the south edges of the city center, where you’ll pass by open Meskel Square:

 

 

And on the southeast part of the city, past Meskel square, is the evocative “Red Terror” Martyr’s Memorial Museum, built as a memorial to the 500,000 people who lost their lives during the oppressively brutal Derg Regime, including the infamous famine of the 1990s.

All the guides here are survivors themselves, and they are gracious in insisting that the museum is free and any donations would be appreciated.

 

RedTerror

 

The starkest reminder of the regime’s brutal holocaust on the Ethiopian people are the clothes that have been excavated from the mass graves:

 

 

Turning north and walking up, you’ll pass by Africa Hall on your right, home of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the site of the founding of the Organization for African Unity (OAU) which eventually became the African Union.

You can’t get in unless you already have a scheduled appointment.

 

 

A bit more north, and completing the circle of our walking tour is the copper-domed Holy Trinity Cathedral, built as a final resting place to the many who died fighting to liberate Ethiopia from Italy and once the largest Orthodox Cathedral in Ethiopia.

 

HolyTrinity

 

Finally all the way near the airport in the most southeast part of the entire city is Medhane Alem (“Savior of the World”), the 2nd largest church in Africa. And just like every other place of worship we passed by today, photography is discouraged (even from the outside!) and entrance is closed off to tourists.

 

 

This whole walking tour took us about 4-5 hours, and is about 10 miles in total (aka 20,000 steps according to my pedometer). We’re pooped.

Now it’s off to Nairobi, Kenya on a 7:30pm Kenya Airways flight!

FYI, the free wifi in this airport (ADD) is pretty shit, and while the food options are pretty decent, the city’s rolling blackouts have made the ordeal to obtain said food…difficult.

 

- At time of posting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, it was 15 °C - Humidity: 82% | Wind Speed: 8km/hr | Cloud Cover: rain showers