About Me

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Author of Safari Jema, A Journey of Love and Adventure from Casablanca to Cape Town http://tinyurl.com/owdwvrp I write about travel and adventure from my home in California and from Africa. I've sailed a catamaran from California to Hawaii, trekked in the Himalayas, worked as a construction manager on a bridge project in Zambia, hiked 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago, (http://bootsbedouinsandabridge.blogspot.com/) and traveled in over 100 countries and all seven continents. Indie Book Award Winner for Best Memoir of 2012, New York Book Festival Honorable Mention for Non-Fiction, San Francisco Book Festival Honorable Mention for Non-Fiction, Travelers Tales Solas Award for Best Travel Writing Honorable Mention for My Gambian Husband. Indie Book Award Finalist - Best Travel Book 2013. BOTYA Honorable Mention 2013 - Travel Essay. Member of The Explorers Club since 2013 You can follow my current 2013-2014 expedition across Africa, this time in a 1973 Land Rover Series III 109 on http://teresaokane.blogspot.com/ and on facebook https://www.facebook.com/safarijema

Saturday, July 31, 2010

You! I Love You!

 We left the blistering heat of Sudan, and woke up to a camel herd passing not five feet from our tent on our first morning in Ethiopia. I love bush camping. I really love the cool temperatures of Ethiopia. I love Ethiopia!
The next day I discovered we weren't the only Americans traveling in Ethiopia when I heard, “This orange juice is freaking ridiculous! It's awesome!” coming from a nearby table on the terrace of our hotel near the main roundabout in Gondar. I looked over at the two twenty somethings from Colorado as they chugged the orange juice. . The juice in their glasses was awesome. It was pure, fresh squeezed, and thick. It’s the way juice comes here in Ethiopia. 
You can get mixed juice in layers too if you want. One layer of orange, another of avocado, a third of mango… It’s freaking ridiculously healthy and delicious and awesome and only costs around twenty cents for a mug. Coffee, which was invented in Ethiopia, is not bad either. They call it a “ceremony” when they grind, brew, and pour it in front of you. I wasn’t always sure about the flavor though. At a Starbuck’s like cafe, called Kaldi’s Coffee Shop, we were able to order a frapoocino.
Ethiopia is mostly made up of mountains and people. If you could view all of Ethiopia from the air, you would see some paved, but mostly dirt roads crisscrossing the mountainous country and very few vehicles. 
A road in Ethiopia is one long conveyer belt moving an endless stream of pedestrians from village to village and city to city. From sun up to sun down it seems all of Ethiopia is out for a walk. Herders drive sheep, goats, camels, cattle and loaded donkeys down the middle of the road. Women walk miles and miles with huge bundles of wood or plastic jugs of water on their heads and babies on their backs. Men carry 14-foot long sections of timber for scaffold. 
And everyone seems to carry an umbrella or a stick with them where ever they go. When children spotted our truck and Farange (white foreigner) faces they practically trembled with excitement. They jumped up and down and spun in circles. As our driver leaned on the horn and weaved around the unperturbed masses they cried out, “You! Farange! Where do you go?” or, “You! I love you!” or often just, “You, you, you, you!” When we stopped to bush camp for the night, it wasn’t long before there was a group of children gathered around us. At one stop I inflated one of the plastic globes I brought with me and showed the children where we all were from - England, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Canada, and the U.S. 
They were absolutely fascinated while I held it during the geography lesson. We all pointed at spots on the globe and ooed and aahed. But when I handed them the globe and suggested, “Take this to school, to your teacher” they did what all children do when they get something bouncy and round. They played soccer with it. Within a few minutes, it was punctured and they were back at my side asking me to repair it. I would always say the same thing, “The world is fragile. You can’t kick it around.” All I got in return were blank stares and, “You! Fix it!”
“Al Gore has been trying to do that for years” I’d say, and they would give me a look that said, “This white lady is crazy…. but she has footballs” and smile broadly while holding the globe out to me.
In Lalibela we camped near The Obama Souvenir Shop. (Later in Tanzania Scott stopped in to get his hair cut at the Shave and Be Smart Barber Shop that had a painting of Obama and some unknown (by me) rapper on the sign.) For the most part, they like President Obama here in East Africa and for the first time in our travels we get a lot of thumbs up and comments such as, “American has the democracy we only dream of.”
Lalibela is famous for it’s 13th century underground rock hewn churches but we’ve seen them before on a previous trip so this time we headed for the huge open market located at the edge of town. We were hard pressed to find any produce.
The market consisted primarily of live goats, camels, donkeys, chilies, and exotic spices for sale. Our sole purchases were a very hot Berber spice powder, and an umbrella. Such a handy thing the Ethiopian umbrella. I used it for sunshade, for an instant privacy screen for emergency loo stops along the road (after ingesting too much Berber spice), and a few times I even used it in the rain.
In Gondar we toured the Dashen Brewery and tasted beer in the garden for far too many hours. But it was the first beer we had been able to get since Egypt- Islamic Sudan is not only arid, it’s “dry” and we were mighty thirsty.  The next day there was a pounding in my head. But it wasn’t from the beer. From the hotel terrace I watched a man with a hammer pounding large stones into small ones.  All day long he sat on a pile of the gravel and patiently shattered rocks.
While Scott hiked the Simian Mountains for three days, I nursed my bulging Achilles tendon in Gondar. From the hotel terrace I watched countless donkeys carrying recycled US AID sacks on their backs as they walked themselves through the bustling streets unaccompanied by a human. Donkey after donkey walked with odd purpose through downtown Gondar. They were obviously on a mission. But where were they all going? How did they know which way to go? After a day of watching and wondering I decided to follow one of the donkeys. I walked behind a donkey with a load of hay for about an hour before finally asking two women, “Where do the donkeys go?” Rather I pantomimed it since they didn’t speak English and my Amharic is limited to hello, goodbye, beer, and thank you. The women pointed far up a mountain side. Sure enough I could just make out a train of donkeys headed up into the hills. It looked like a steep hike and that wouldn’t have done my tendon any good, so I never did discover the ultimate destination of the donkeys. Still, I would recommend the donkey walk to anyone visiting Gondar.
In Bahar Dar Scott saw the headwaters of the Blue Nile during a spectacular downpour while I had a close encounter with an escaped crazed monkey in the campground.
In Harar, children held our hands while we walked around inside the old city walls. At night we fed raw meat to wild hyenas from the end of a stick that we held between our teeth. 
Well, I did. Scott had no desire to get within ten feet of the steel jawed carnivores that regularly roam the alleyways of Harar. (If the video actually uploads, you can see me feeding them by clicking on the photo link below.)
In Addis Ababa I spent a day at the Hilton enjoying their sauna, steam, and Jacuzzi with a few of the girls from the truck and considered booking a massage after I saw a billboard for a day spa where one kitty is giving a massage to another. Puuurrr.
In Awassa I visited the fish market and tried to keep the blue-ballied monkeys (I can’t remember what they are really called but blue-ballied is the more descriptive name for them anyway- see photos!) away from our picnic lunch on the bank of beautiful Lake Awassa.
Everywhere in Ethiopia we watched World Cup Football usually in a bar packed with locals who were politely supportive when either the US, Australia, or England were playing, just because they guessed that’s where we were from.
Lastly, in Ethiopia, for the first time ever in all our travels to Africa, when we lifted our cameras to take photos of locals, they were often already taking photos of us with their cell phones.
In a few days, when they’ve finish loading (I’m not kidding. Internet connections are just that slow) you will be able to check out photos of the crazed monkey and all the Ethiopia photos at: http://picasaweb.google.com/scottandtris/EthiopiaUpdate
Next: Playing Scrabble With the Samburu Tribe in Kenya
Kwaheri! (Bye in Swahili)
Scott and Tris,

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Swimming The Nile in a Muu-Muu

In the sandy port town of Wadi Halfa we waited two days for our truck to catch up to us. It was supposed to leave before us in a separate vehicle ferry but the ferry had broken down and was towed to Sudan by a tug. While we waited we climbed every hill in the area (two), pet stray puppies, took tuk-tuk rides, drank cardamom-flavored coffee and ate chicken and rice with pita.

It was a time of killing time and casting about for random activities. Not only were all our clothes on the truck but also most of our books, our journals,and our money. One late afternoon English Alice and I waved down a tuk-tuk, showed him ten Sudanese Pounds, and asked him to “just drive us around, ten pounds worth.”

When he dropped us off back in town he made the crazy person sign to his friend by circling his index finger around his temple.

At dusk, we climbed up a small mount to watch the last of the setting sun and at night we slept on webbed beds in a dirt courtyard practicing patience while counting shooting stars.

In a small covered market I bought a muu-muu. For my British friends, in this context it’s a long Hawaiian dress, not a female body part. When I wore it around town local men gave me thumbs up and exclaimed “ Good! Good!” and women gave me a smile and a look that said, “Hello, sister.” Days later when we drove off the main road to Khartoum to find a waterhole where we could get some relief from the heat, I walked directly into the Nile, muu-muu and all. The heat drove me to it but in hindsight it was a stupid thing to do because over the doorway of a hut near the river was a crocodile head, and across from it lying on the ground was a complete 14-foot long croc carcass. Scott thought it’s gaping mouth, teeth intact, made for a good photo op – “Tris, put your head inside!” We asked the man leading us to the river, “Did you kill those crocodiles?”

“Yes, I shot them right here,” he said, gesturing to the area where we were supposed to swim. But that’s just how hot I was, and I walked right in. Sadly, the Nile was only wet, not refreshing. It too was reaching the boiling point.

Somewhere between Wadi Halfa and Khartoum - the hot days have all blended together in one hazy mirage - we visited the Nubian Pyramids of Meroe. Nubians were building pyramids long before the Egyptians even started. I prefer the slender lines of the Nubian variety to those at Giza, despite the fact there isn't a Pizza Hut restaurant within a thousand miles. The Nubian ones are still out in the middle of the desert where pyramids should be. Accompanied by two Bedouins who walked along next to me I rode a camel around the Pyramids holding my red umbrella over me for shade. Scott said I evoked an image of Lawrence of Arabia.

When we reached hot, dusty Khartoum we thought we would get some respite from the heat since we would be camped along the Nile at the Blue Nile Sailing Club, but it was still 110 degrees in the shade.

In teams of four we take turns cooking for our group of twenty overlanders and the first night in Khartoum my tean was on K-P. We decided on Sudanese style Spaghetti Bolognese. We were stunned by the price of tomatoes - $15 for 4 kilos - and we eyed with trepidation the beef hanging in the open-air, bloody floored meat shop. “Well, let's just cook it a really long time,” I said as the butcher lopped off a 2-kilo hunk of red meat of an unidentifiable animal and put it through a mincer. Thanks to the culinary skills of Phil (one-half of the delightful Tom and Phil twins on board) and Matt who reminds me of my nephew Colin and makes me long for home at times, it turned out great. I made garlic bread by spreading olive oil on pita bread and covering it with dried spices and small chunks of garlic. That came out pretty good too. It was a hot and dusty afternoon spent shopping for food then cooking over a charcoal fire. By the time the dishes were done and everything was put away I was dying for a shower. But there was no water! There are times when a wet one, even one the size of a bath towel just doesn't suffice and this one one of them. I went to bed that night sticky and miserable.
The best thing, the only thing, you can say for the Blue Nile Sailing Club is that The Melik, the gun boat that Lord Kitchener took up the Nile to conquer the Mahdi, sits as a monument in the middle of the hot and dusty campground. thinking it might somehow be a little cooler inside the old boat I climbed some rickety stairs to take a self guided tour and found a couple of men using it as their bachelor pad. there was no relief from the heat at all. Fortunately later that day Kamal Omar, a longtime member of the Blue Nile Sailing Club, took a few of us out for a sunset cruise on the Nile in his motorboat. Finally respite from the heat! Hot dogging water skiers from Dubai deliberately doused our boat as they jetted by. The waters of the Nile cooled me, and my muu-muu - you Brits can infer your meaning of muu-muu now - enough to be able to sleep that night.

Scott and Tris (in her muu muu),


Next: Ethiopia. “You! I love you!”