Africa, Asia and Europe - Almost Out of Africa

Africa, Asia and Europe - Almost Out of Africa

Date sent: Thu, 1 Aug 96 11:47 EAT
Hi all, Susan and I are back in Nairobi after celebrating full moon 6 at the Maasi Mara Game Preserve. Although seeing the big mammals up close was exciting, I particularly enjoyed listening to the scavengers, such as hyenas and vultures devour leftovers from fresh lion kills.

Thanks for all the email - we are doing our best to respond but this ain't Kansas. Stealth computing (you can use the equipment as long as you don't get in the way) has its drawbacks.

By this weekend I will have submitted a total of 23 Klimagrams, the last being no. 45, Border Crossings... This email address will be defunct as of Sunday, Aug. 4, when we fly to Pakistan. Please revert to

Future plans - our visa for Uzbekistan covers Aug. 17-30. We hope to leave Tashkent by public transport, cross over to western China and proceed south to Pakistan via Kashgar and the Karakorem Highway. There is a problem in that another former chunk of the USSR lies between Uzbekistan and China, namely Kazahkstan. I have heard their visas are fightfully expensive ($100) and I am not sure where to get one, so I hope we can just slip through. Any guesses as to where we will spend full moon 7?

Our next email should be from Tashkent - I have a contact for public access. Or maybe Samarkand as I have been emailing good old Yurij about his B&B lately.

So wish us luck and think of us the next time you order food in a decent restaurant. Sue has mastered the Russian alphabet but cannot say "get your bloody hands off me" yet. We have no guide book for Pakistan so we may have a few bits of drama there.

JimBo & SueBee

P.S.: The camera died on the last frame of the last roll shot in Africa, I donated my wallet to the Youth League of Greater Nairobbery last night, and the newly-published guidebook for Uzbekistan essentially calls independent travel there hell on earth - our mood is funky.

"[Uzbekistan] may not be a police state, but there are more police per square inch in Uzbekistan than anywhere else in Central Asia - on the streets, at provincial and town borders, in bus and train stations, even in the bazars - throwing their weight around, eager (and apparently free) to supplement their small salaries by discovering or inventing 'irregularities' for which they can 'fine' locals and visitors alike."

P.P.S.: Heard at 8:25 AM on August 1: "who's ideas was this trip anyway?"
Guess who said it!

Date sent: Sat, 3 Aug 96 12:12 EAT
From: (Kenya News)

Subject: More Kgrams

Jon, here's the last of them for awhile. Working with the locals for whom English is a second language has been less than a joy. Contact me on compuserve if there are any problems. It's been fun having a little contact with the real world and replying to readers from literally all over the globe. JimBo

Date sent: Sat, 3 Aug 96 12:12 EAT
From: (Kenya News)

Klimagram 42: Rural Excursions in Mali

Mali marked our first exposure to what our trip leaders called Black Africa where half the inhabitants own at least one item of clothing declaring their allegiance to the Chicago Bulls basketball team. During lunch stops and bush camps, no matter how unihabited - looking the place might appear, kids, usually dressed in rags and sometimes sporting big bellies from malnutrition, would materialize from nowhere and congregate at our perimeter staring.

Around 100 kilometres east of Mopti lies an unusual geological formation called the Bandiagara Escarpment. The Dogon people migrated to the Bandigara Escarpment around 1300 and built villages on the high cliffs that resemble those of cliff-dwelling Indians in the southwestern USA. In recent years many of the cliff dwellings have been abandoned and the inhabitants have moved onto the plains at the foot of the escarpment. A Dogon house there is typically built of rock and mud-brick.

>From my diary: we pick up our guide, Samba, and proceed to a nearby village from which our trek will begin. As the group pokes around, we attract clusters of naked children who want to hold hands or, better yet, be swung around by us acting as human merry-go-rounds.

We set off for the escarpment on a well-worn trail . Quite a few locals are headed in the same direction because today is market day in Kambole, our first Dogon vilage. The Spousal unit and I find ourselves walking amidst a dozen or so young women. I am dying for a photograph of these giggling women in their colorful, wrap-around sheets but they refuse my requests.

By the time we reach the escarpment and descend, the day has turned sweltering hot and water supplies run low. At Kombole the market activity is going full tilt but our group collapses in a hut, purifying well water and waiting for lunch. The marketplace is typical African - noisy, odoriferous and congested. Indian women can wear brilliant saris but nobody can match African women for their colorful, boldly - patterned prints

Recuperating from dehydration, we march off to the next village, Tele. The sky is very hazy from the lingering effect of the harmattan when winds from the north fill the sky with sand and dust from the Sahara. Near Tele we climb up into the cliff dwellings. Tele is a marvellous place to wander about in the evening, observing village life. When it gets dark, the Unit and I retreat to our mosquito net. We have pitched it on the roof of a mud building so we can listen to the myraid of sounds emanating from families.

The next morning we awake to roosters crowing , sheep bahing and donkeys braying. The women stream back and forth between their huts and the village well. We eat quickly and head back up the escarpment but by the time we reach the top, the heat overtakes us.

After our excursion to Dogo country, we returned to Mopti, my least favorite town in Mali. Since the water level is low, very low in fact, we rented the services of a pinasse which is similar to a gigantic, motorized canoe. It has several rows of seats and a reed mat overhead for shade.

Once again, from the diary: we load our cooking and camping gear on board along with food for the next three meals and a very generous supply of beverages. After coating ourselves with sun block, we push off into the slow-moving water.

Fishermen with their nets smile and wave, children run along the banks shouting, and village women wash clothes and themelves. Never in my life have I seen such a variety of bare boobs! Only the cattle grazing near the shore are oblivious to us. Occasionally we run aground on sand bars, forcing everyone over the side while the crew frees the boat.

Nightfall finds me on a bluff overlooking the river which looks like a ribbon of mercury - smooth, shiny and silvery - in the fading light. The surrounding plains darken but are not empty as evidenced by the cacophony of human, animal and insect sounds.

We leave early the next morning but, after scarcely a couple hundred yards, the boat is fast aground. Our boatmen are discouraged by the shallow water and disappear in their search for a navigable route. We make breakfast as the sun rises on the quiet river.

The crew return and informs us that the pinasse draws too much water with all of us and our equipment in it. They have brought two smaller, seatless, UNCOVERED craft, called pirogues, with them. Both boats leak and when each is filled with people. By the time we reach our take out point in the afternoon, everyone is wilted and limp from the blazing sun and its watery reflections. It is on the evening of this day that I become utterly rankled with the insufferable heat (see Klimagram 43).

Klimgram 43: Summary of Mauritania and Morocco

SYSTEM ADMINISTRATOR'S REPORT: Internet on a Shoestring by SueBee.

If you think the computer ever saw the light of day while Jimbo and I were sweating through the sand of Mauritania and the dust of Mali, you are wrong! It remained in the truck's safe, sealed in several layers of plastic the entire time.


Well, you all know what happened to me on the Mauritanian border as I entered the country (see Klimagram 35), so I won't reiterate it. The desert coutry provided a good gastrointestinal introduction to the real third world for the group. Dehydration and heat exhaustion were occasional problems in Mali. The Unit and I carefully monitored the color of our urine. If it turns yellowish-orange, you are a couple quarts low. Shortages were remedied in the evening by drinking rehydration fluids. The younger members of the group preferred Flag beer.

Mali also marked our arrival in mozzie land. Every country on the reminder of our itinerary, even after we leave Africa, hosts mosquitos carrying drug-resistant strains of malaria. I read somewhere that a million Africans die of malaria annually. Fortunately the mosquito that spreads malaria only flies at night. You can distinguish this bugger from it's relatives by the way it aggresively lowers its head and raises its behind when it bites. To transfer the disease via its saliva, the mosquito must first bite someone who has malaria. When you consider that many Africans have low level case of malaria on and off for years without realising it, this improbability seems more probable.

Several prophylactic measures are available for countering this threat in a camping environment.

1) Taking anti-malarial drugs. This can lead to a false sense of security since the drugs do not actually prevent the disease, only suppress its symptoms. Larium is supposed to be the best but it has hallucinating side effects.

2) Applying insect repellent. This action is less than pleasant because the Unit and I carry a powerful repellent containing 100% DEET. It will corrode plastic so you can just imagine what it is doing to your skin after repeated applications.

3) Covering one's body with clothes. A long sleeve shirt, long pants, and socks will discourage the mosquitos but can be mighty uncomfortable on a hot, humid evening.

4) Doing nothing at all becaue you are sure it will happen to you despite any preventive measures, or you would rather take your chances and then treat the disease itself if you are unlucky. The members of the Dragoman group developed their own strategies from these methods. Their success or failure is to be determined. Mali was so hot and dry we rarely saw any mosquitos except in the big towns.

The Spousal Unit and I adopted lonely Planet's advice, not only avoid mosquitos but make mosquitos avoid you. We maintained an earthy scent (mozzies love perfume, after shave, etc.), covered any exposed skin at night, and splashed on repellent. Postscript: the ridiculous, solar-powered, electronic anti- mosquito devices which we purchased prior to leaving the USA proved to be a total waste.

ADDITIONAL WEE BITS from Jimbo: Ups and Downs

March 29: Bandiagara campground in Mali

The Rough Guide for West Africa sums up Mali's climate in two words: "gaspingly hot." I quite agree. The sun rises around 6:30 in the morning. By 7 AM you need sunglasses to cut down the blinding glare. An hour later you are virtually assured of a damp sweat. Sometimes a nice drippy sweat is quite refreshing because it cools down an overheated body. However, when you are coated with red Malian dust, the perspiration mixes with it, creating a grimy film that, when rubbed, leaves a trail of tiny bits on your skin.

I wonder if the amount of dirt in my clothing can reach saturation. For example, can a shirt become so dirty that additional soiling is not possible (i.e. noticeable)? If so, might it be better to wear the same clothes day after day. The furnace heat is becoming my undoing - when the temperature exceeds 35 C (95F), my temperament becomes volatile and I become exasperated easily even with minor problems. This behavior does not go unnoticed by the group. To my dismay, my lack of patience and short temper have followed me on this trip

Klimagram 45: Border Crossings in Equatoria
Crossing a third world border is often an exercise in patience, frustration and skullduggery. As the truck passed through equatorial Africa, we encountered our share of difficulties entering and exiting the small countries there. At each border crossing you must clear customs and immigration of both the country you are leaving and the country you are entering. Doing so with a large, commercial vehicle raises issues of taxes, insurance and a host of other reasons for delaying you.

Lucky for us our leaders normally kept the passports and presented the documentation at a border for us. I think they were afraid of us passengers either losing valuable documents or shooting off our big mouths in front of sensitive officials. With patience we usually won stand-offs because no border post wants to keep a busload of tourists idle when they could be out spending. Or so we thought until Nigeria and Zaire where the bastards prefered we do our spending right there at there at the border.

We also thought that, being an organized, recognized tour, the officials would be reluctant to over hassle us because it could jeopardize furure tours (and bribes) through their border crossing. A further complication, in our case, was the multinational composition of the passengers. Different nationalities incur different visa requirements. The attitude of country A towards citizens of country B can depend on:

- whether country B colonized A in the past - this can be very good or very bad
- whether country B has anything country A wants - for example, arms, food or money.
- whether country B's ambassador stayed awake during the last speech by the President, prime minister or chief despot of country A.

Mali to Ivory Coast

My diary does not indicate any problems at this border although it is possible unexpected fees were levied. I do remember sitting at a roadblock shortly thereafter being scrutinized by a big army man with a big gun. Dave kept reassuring the man that nobody was taking any pictures. The situation remained tense for a few minutes.

Ivory Coast to Ghana

This border crossing went smoothly possibly because the Ghanians speak English and seem to have forgiven the Western world for carting off most of its population as slaves centuries ago. Or maybe everyone was more amenable since we got bona fide visas.

Ghana to Togo

After learning that acquiring a visa for Togo in Accra, the capital of Ghana, would entail a personal interview and $20 for all non-Americans, we elected to proceed to the border sans visas and try to bluff or bribe our way in. Twenty dollars seemed a bit high.

At the Togolese border there was shouting about "favors" between our leaders and the border police. However, since we had used up our Ghanian visas, they couldn't send us back and capitulated for everyone except the Australians.

Side note - while we were parked along the beach waiting for the Togolese to call our bluff, we observed a remarkable role reversal between the local men and women. The beach was essentially a public toilet flushed twice a day by the Atlantic Ocean.

Togo to Benin

We bought two day visas for Benin at the border even though we planned to stay for four days. Our wise and caring leaders hoped that no one on the Benin side would notice that we overstayed our visa when we left.

Sharing a campground with another overland truck, we learned that the Benin - Nigeria border is closed but expected to open soon. Apparently Benin closed its border posts for a couple days to celebrate a holiday without telling neighbouring Nigeria.

Benin to Nigeria

Well, the Benin officials did notice that our two day visas had expired but they granted us free extensions. Perhaps we were lucky because we had selected an obscure border crossing that we hoped would be easier.

We wandered down a dirt road and arrived at the Nigerian border post, much to the surprise of the officials there who were enjoying a couple weeks off. Parking in the shade we ate lunch and then sat and waited on a hot, sticky afternoon.

Time passed and it became apparent nothing was going to happen even though Dave and Helen had submitted all the appropriate documents, photographs and money. The officials sat on the steps of their post talking, laughing and watching us play scrabble.

The next morning our leaders continued hassling the border officials. "Entrance fees" changed hands. The officials spent the previous night in town partying with the "fees" collected from a Swiss couple in a Land Rover who are waiting with us.

They wanted to confiscate all the cameras and forward them to the border post where we will exit Nigeria. We aren't that stupid and refused. Finally, after a few more hours of sitting, the passports returned properly stamped and we drove away on a rutted road.

Inside Nigeria we encountered many hassles with roadblocks - 18 of them in the 30 Km between the border and the first significant town. The barking officials were quite annoying although words like pompous, arrogant and dishonest better describe them. Weapons are usually displayed prominently at the road blocks. You cannot ignore a checkpoint.

Dave and Helen frequently had exchanges like the following:

Official: "Where are you going ?"
Dave: "Lagos"

Official: Where are you coming from ?
Dave: "Benin"

Official: ""What's your purpose ?
Dave: "Tourism"

Official: "Give us a gift."
Dave: "Are you corrupt ?"
Official: (hah, hah) "Oh no, we just want to be friends."

Dave: "Fine, but no money. Can we go now ?"
official: "No, I must see passports"

Dave: "This is the eighth checkpoint in the last 13 kilometers. Each one looked at our passports. Why are these so many checkpoints?"
Official: "Security."

Dave: "Can we go now ?"
Official: "Then you have something for me ?"
Dave: "Yes, a big smile."

Official: "Nothing else ?"
Dave: Absolutely nothing! Can we go now ?"
Official: "OK."

Dave: "See you later."

Sometimes we could see several roadblocks at once stretched before us in the road. It was ridiculous. Progress was slow. Dave put black shoe polish on the frames for the window mirrors to prevent officials from climbing up using the mirrors for handholds.

The members of the group organized a Nigerian checkpoint contest. To win you must guess the total number of road blocks that stop us in Nugeria. Wave throughs don't count and there must be a verbal exchange. A roadblock or checkpoint is defined as follows:

- There must be some sort of barrier in the roadway.
- Men in or out of uniform must flag us down.
- Weapons must be visible (waving them is OK but no shooting so we can distnguish a roadblock from a robbery).

Nigeria to Cameroun

Well, we were never robbed outright although dealing with Nigerian officialdom often gave one that impression. The checkpoint contest was won by none other than yours truly. In eleven days the truck encountered 37 checkpoints and 25 wave throughs.

Mike was an Australian citizen who quit his job teaching English in Nagoya, Japan to relocate to an Israeli kibbutz. To ease the transition he signed up with Dragoman to go overland from Ghana to Nairobi, an eleven week journey through central Africa.

Dragoman informed Mike that he neede to obtain visas for Ghana, Cameroun and Nigeria in advance. He dutifully requested application forms from all three embassies in Japan. Ghana and Cameroun readily complied but nothing was heard from the Nigerians. It was too late to get the visa from the Nigerian embassy in Australia and Dragoman said it could do nothing in London. Maybe he could overfly Nigeria, they suggested. So when Mike called the embassy, he tried to ask the right questions.

"What do I need to submit to get a Nigerian visa ?"
"A visa aplication and personal history form."

"Do I need anything else ?"

"Are you sure ?"

"What about a driver's license ?"

"An immunization card ?"

"A photography licence ?"

"A barber's license ?"

Later he called the embassy again to verify its address and was informed that mail-in applications were not accepted. Mike immediately called his travel agent in Nagoya who quoted him a fee of $200 for sending the necessary documents to an agent:

"What about a letter of recommendation and proof of financial means?"
"No, they don't want anything like that !"

The agent forwarded the documents which were promptly rejected by the embassy.

"We must see a letter of recommendation from your company, a description of your itinerary, your return ticket, and $200 for each day you plan to stay in Nigeria."

Mike shifted into panic mode putting this documentation together. He even had his parents in Australia write a letter stating what a wonderful son he was and how he had always looked forward to visiting Nigeria.

Other requirements were not so easy to solve. For example, to produce the $2000 he needed for a ten day visa, he found a friend with that amount in the bank, borrowed it, converted it to traveler's checks, and sent the checks to Tokyo by courier. A further complication was that Mike had already purchased a one way airline ticket from a discounter which was very difficult to change. However, a round trip ticket was eventually found at a price increase of $200 plus another $200 penalty for changing.

Through it all, Mike clung to his mantra: for every problem, there was a solution - whatever the Nigerians throw at me, I can handle it. With time running out, the embassy informed Mike it only processed visas on Wenesdays and Friday. The embassy came through on Friday, affording Mike peace of mind for four days. This assumes the rest of his life was in order despite the fact that he was relocating to the other side of the globe. So that is how a minor $40 expense mushroomed into $600.

As the Dragoman truck approached Nigerian immigration to leave the country, Mike resigned himself to one final headache: he had a ten day visa and we had been in Nigeria for eleven days. But it was Mike's lucky day as the border officials failed to notice.

There is a point to this lenghty dissertation. Don't underestimate African border crossings or under-appreciate the efforts of anyone who helps you get across.

Copyright (c) 1996 Jet City Jimbo. All rights reserved.

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