July 27, 2011

Lurking Danger(s).

This is the story of Andrei and Matty getting lost. In the bush.

On our most recent road trip to Ruaha National Park we carried three guide books with us. Yes, 3. While this surely sounds like overkill, the thinking was -- we have them, so why not bring them. 

En route to the park, according to the uniform advice presented across all 3 guidebooks, we made a quick pit stop in Ruaha's closest neighboring city, Iringa. We reloaded essential supplies before heading off for a couple of days on safari in the park (petrol, drinking water, snacks, and cash...). We noted our exit time (3:30pm) and reset our odometer to clock ourselves headed into the park, we figured we had approximately 3 hours driving time on 120 km of unpaved packed dirt road ahead of us. We feared we were cutting things close if we wanted to get there before dark and set up ourselves to sleep in the park before the park gates close to incoming traffic, but the driving directions appeared to be very straightforward. That is to say, all 3 guidebooks laid out simple, user-friendly directions. At the fork in the road, go either right (the so called never ending road) or go left (through many villages and towns also offering accommodation and meals outside of the park). In either direction, you land squarely at the park HQ and official entry gate. When we hit the first fork in the road, we went right, onto the so called never ending road.

Soon afterwards, we hit another fork in the road. But all 3 guidebooks said there should only be 1 fork in the road?! We went right. Then, doubting ourselves we asked someone by the side of the road and they confirmed - go right to arrive at the park. Another fork in the road. One side clearly would have driven us straight through a village. So we went right. Again, we stopped and asked someone and he confirmed, we were headed in the right direction. Our odometer was just shy of 100km when we hit a T in the road. By no stretch of the imagination could this be called a fork in the road, it was clearly a T. At this point, our skepticism gave way to full blown panic. We could no longer deny we were desperately lost.

I got out of the car and asked for directions. A million and one greetings later with villagers who may or may not have ever seen a white person before -- it was confirmed, we were really close to the park entry gate. Continue up the road this way and you will be there soon. Great. Dark was nearing, but perhaps we could still make it on time.

A brief high - ok we were on the right track afterall, too much unnecessary panic and doubt.

But if there is one lesson I have learned in all of my travels, it is that when it comes to directions people cannot and will not say - "I do not know". They give you the answer they think you are seeking. I could not shake this fear.

We pass a truck several kms up the road - the first passing traffic we had seen in hours. We ask for directions. You are going where? But where are you coming from?! If you continue straight you will arrive into Iringa (the town that we had left 2.5 hours ago...). Suddenly a white Land Cruiser pulls up behind the truck - as per usual with white Land Cruisers, it was loaded with several mzungus (white folks) and a Tanzanian driver. (Chime in the singing angels from on high) Certainly they would know how to direct us.

"Oh Sh*t," he says. Apparently there was no time for further dithering. "Just follow me," directed the Tanzanian driver. And then he took off like a bat out of hell. Our Rav4 could not keep up. The sun was setting (incidentally, this is the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen in all of my life - you know, big Africa sun and all?!) But there was no time to enjoy that, instead we were in a full blown state of panic - we could no longer see our life line out of here.

Just as we began contemplating next steps (could we sleep in the car? who is around these parts? certainly we cannot set up our tent on the road side, right!? are we safe? how much will this cost us?) we arrive at the T intersection we had left many kms ago - and the white Land Cruiser is waiting for us. ThereisaGod! They are all smiling ear to ear. "Um, you guys are seriously lost. In fact, you are about 3 hours away from the Park Gate. It is dark now. We would not recommend driving all that way tonight. We have a camp site just up the road, why dont you stay with us tonight," was the offering. Andrei and I do not even look at each other - yes! we say in unison.

So all is well that ends well. Or so it seems.

Where should we set up our tent? We ask of them. Anywhere is fine, is the reassurance. Great.

As soon as our last stake is struck into the ground, we are then informed that we can expect hippos and crocodiles on one side of us and hyenas on the other side. Oh and also, snakes love this place for some reason - and we have seen spitting cobras and black mambas here just recently. We were left to hope that they prey on the resident rats that were running amok all over the camp grounds, not us.

Let me show you where the toilet is, one white guy offered. It was a basic affair, offering nothing by means of luxury but all the privacy you could ask for. That is, until one girl emerged from the toilet and calmly announced that there are bats living in the toilet. I was surprised, I didnt see them hanging from the thatch roof. Oh no, she says, they are living INSIDE the pit toilet and they fly up at your *ss when you are squatting over the toilet. That announcement officially marked my last visit to the toilet...

But despite the lurking dangers, we could not have been more thankful about this unexpected rescue and hospitality. I wish those guys a lot of good kharma in their future endeavors and adventures.

July 25, 2011

Consider Yourself Forewarned.

With such hazardous road conditions, it is no wonder Tanzanian officials feel no qualms about putting up such comprehensive warning signs.

Hazardous Conditions.

As seen in passing from our car window on our recent road trip to Ruaha National Park. We even saw a large commercial truck that had burst into flames - the fire was putting out an immense heat that felt in passing. One of these trucks was even overturned in Mikumi National Park, Tanzania's only National Park with a major highway to bisect it (for now).

July 19, 2011

Broken Chair.

And what would a road trip with Matty and Andrei be without an accompanying play list. Among others, Broken Chair rose to the top of the repeat list on our recent adventures. Yes, it is repeat worthy.

Beyond the lyrics, perhaps this song was particularly compelling to us in Tanzania, as its namesake represents some of our most fond everyday images, including the following (also brought to you by Sarah Markes).

July 18, 2011

Naming of Things.

In Tanzania, the naming of things is an art form. And therein lies the joy of a Tanzanian road trip.

We started a list of dala-dala (minibus), bajaj and truck names a while back and on our recent road trip out west we passed the time with a renewed interest in on-the-road entertainment in the form bus and truck names.

Some of the names could be better classified as allegiance pronouncements which center largely around religion and football and tend to be quite straightforward: Manchester United, Barcelona, Islam, Jesus, and many variations therein.

Philosophical naming conventions can make you look and think twice, or at times elucidate a very fundamentally different worldview in this part of the world: Born to Suffer, God is SO good, !2nd chance!, no gain without pains. 

And other names can just be downright hilarious, if not, perplexing: bankito, Grace & Vincent, Blue Horse, goodfellaz, Uprising, Allocation, Don't Panic: Message Sent, Double 'D', Mr. Promise, The Expendable's Full Respect, The Top Judge, Coaster for All of the Nations, AMBUSH, Doctor Bush, Castaway, Liver Pool, King Perfect, Black People, Logistika, Power (of) God, Bananaland, V.I.P. Class, B. Positive (wait, is that a blood type allegiance or a philosophical pronouncement?!).

Incidentally, this is something that Sarah Markes captures well in her Dar street level sketches. And her new book certainly did not disappoint! In fact, we have become not only proud owners of her new book, but also of two original street level sketches capturing the hilarity of naming of transportation modes.

July 6, 2011

An Ode to Container Ships.

Incidentally, the latest Felice Brothers album, Celebration, Florida, contains an ode to container ships. Despite my fascination with container ships, my favorite song on this album is Honda Civic, which became our accidental theme song in our Chevy Malibu during our recent road tripping adventure through Florida.

This album may or may not be named after the actual town called Celebration, Florida -- the Disney concept town located a stone's throw away from the Disney theme parks. (Incidentally, we did not get a chance to visit Celebration on our trip through Florida - despite our best intentions.)

The Disney people did massive sociological research before settling on the design they believed would capture the "ideal" American community. What is the American ideal of community you may ask? Well, according to this extensive Disney research it is as follows: old-fashioned exteriors, homes close to the road so that neighbors are more likely to interact, and a congenial old-fashioned downtown area beside a tranquil lake. No effort was spared in this creation. World famous architects were brought in to design major buildings: Phillip Johnson, Ritchie & Fiore designed the Town Hall; Michael Graves the post office; Cesar Pelli the 1950s style movie house; and Robert A.M. Stern the health center.

Perhaps Disney was onto something. The first 350 home sites sold out before a single model was even complete. Enthusiasts applaud Celebration's friendly small town feel, where new neighbors are greeted with home-baked brownies, each home is fully hooked up to all the others by an elaborate intercom system, town events are well attended, and children can walk carfree to school -- all without being a gated community as town spokespersons are eager to point out. On the other hand, detractors are quick to describe the town's atmosphere as "contrived" and "sterile." The stringent rules, including the town's insistence that all window treatments facing the outside must be white, only add fodder to the fire.

The town's detractors may have had a lot more to say when in November 2010 the body of a man was found in his home in Celebration, Florida. He had been strangled and beaten with an axe. It was the town's first homicide in its 15-year history. While the culprit was soon apprehended, the incident came as a complete shock to many of the municipality's 10,000 residents. This kind of thing wasn't supposed to happen in Celebration -- a crime-free, family-friendly throwback to a way of life that's more imagined than actual, according to Disney's vision.

According to Pitchfork, "it's unclear whether the Felice Brothers knew of that crime when they named their fourth album Celebration, Florida, but certainly that dark spot on the town's sunny exterior adds a bit of sensationalism to these songs, which examine the dark side of American spectacle." While Pitchfork gives this album a rather diluted review, calling the Felice Brothers "overeager in their experimenting" - I still think that it is well worth exploring.

And perhaps just as the Rough Guide to Florida authors encourage readers to stop by Celebration to determine for themselves whether this town's homogeneous blandness reflects an evolutionary stage of the American Dream or if it represents a touch of Big Brother or even some sort of smug cult - I would encourage Felice Brothers' listeners to re-acquaint themselves with some of the classics that made the Felice Brothers so appealing in the first place, including the much loved Roll On Arte and see if this experimentation is in fact over-eager or a welcome change.



Rough Guide to Florida

July 1, 2011

Container Ships Around the World.

Check out these amazing examples of shipping containers transformed into a new life form from around the world.
New Zealand
The Netherlands
Source: http://www.thedailygreen.com