Impressions of Bangkok or How Bangkok is Completely Different From Africa

First thing, and this hits you as soon as you step out of the airport, is the humidity. Completely draining. Africa may be hot (although we found this reputation overstated) but its typically a drier heat. Bangkok is something else entirely. And this from people who have handled the heat and humidity of Houston and D.C.

Then, the taxi drivers form a line next to the public taxi fare counter to wait for their fare. The civility and orderliness of it all is a bit shocking (not necessarily to continue!).

The room when we check in is immaculate, complete with free wifi internet, cable TV with bazillions of channels and hot water on demand. No further comment, its just much more than we’ve come accustomed to living with and makes us feel like we’ve just checked into a five star hotel (no, we didn’t splurge).

The food is completely as advertised, though some of the street places cut corners. We devour pad thai and a green curry with thai iced tea and a mango shake at a local restaurant. This only gets better as the days go by and we discover where to get the best food. Not to mention how little it all costs, less than a dollar a plate usually, maybe two at a real restaurant.

The variety of street food is completely overwhelming, and at times, a bit disturbing. The dried squids and various entrails piled up for sale definitely have me quickening my step.

The prevalence of fresh squeezed juices, shakes and teas (iced or hot) for a song is a welcome change from our previous world where the cheapest beverages were coke and beer.

The hordes of Western tourists in Khao San are intimidating, and guys lacking shirts are a bit too common. Its not really our scene, as we didn’t come to Asia to buy hemp jewelry or knockoff threadless tshirts or watch endless showings of movies.

The streets are incredibly lively at almost all hours and the city is so lit up it almost seems to get brighter after the sun goes down.

A 48 meter long golden reclining Buddha is a very impressive thing to see. Especially when his feet are inlaid with mother-of-pearl iconography.

So is the rest of the temple complex the built around it. I love the color and imagery used in the buildings.

We’ll see how accustomed to all of this we’ve become after four more months. For now, we’ll just enjoy.

The Joys of Border Crossing

We walk up to the visa-on-arrival office at Poipet on the border of Thailand and Cambodia ready to deal with our very favorite part of travel—border crossings. We have in hand our passports and in our pockets the $20 we know the visa costs. We grab a visa application form and provide the requested information–name, passport number, date of birth, intended length of stay, and so on and so forth. We take out one of the many passport photos we carry with us and staple it to the form, and then we hand the passport and application form over to the immigration officer standing in front of the window through which it seems you’re supposed to hand in your application.

“Money,” the officer barks, so we pull out our crisp $20 bills and hand them over.

“No good,” he says. “Only Thai baht here. 1000 baht.” He’s a young guy, round-faced with splotchy facial hair and an expression that makes you think he hasn’t smiled once in his life.

We smile and tell him that we have no baht, though we have more than enough tucked away in our pockets. One thousand baht is about $30, $10 more than the visa should cost, and we don’t intend to pay that. We then point to the sign over his head, which clearly states “Tourism Visa: $20”.

He shakes his head and insists that we must pay in baht and we must pay 1,000. We smile again and say no. We tell him that we will pay in dollars only and that the sign clearly states the cost is $20.

He stares hard at us and then changes tactics, “Okay, he says. You pay in dollars. $20 plus $5.”

We stick with the party line. “It’s $20. We’re only paying $20.” We try to reach around him to pass our passports, visa applications, and $20 through the window to the officer sitting behind him, but the round-faced officer closes the window. They’re all in this together anyhow.

So it’s on to offer number three. “Okay,” he says again. “$20 plus 100 baht.”

Our response doesn’t change. He’s getting nowhere with us. But by now there are four people in line behind us, so he moves on to them. The Israeli guy behind us gets the same spiel we do, and sides with us. He’s not paying more than $20. The three guys behind him get a shortened spiel, asking directly for the $20 plus 100 baht. He tells them that the 100 baht is an “expediting fee.” They ask how long it will take if they don’t pay the fee. He says 2 or 3 days. I’d call his bluff, but they don’t, just handing over the 100 baht.

“Shit,” I think, “we’ll never win now.” How will the officer consent to just take $20 from us if others are so willing paying the fee, aka “bribe.” But we’re not about to give in. He isn’t either.

He shoos us off to the side and very quickly processes the three visas of the guys who anted up the extra 100 baht. We stand there and chat with our new Israeli friend.

This isn’t the first hassle we’ve had today. First it was finding a legitimate bus in Thailand, not one of the scam buses that after a marathon trip of fake breakdowns and multiple food stops delivers an exhausted you to a crappy guesthouse that has paid the bus to take you there and makes it very, very difficult for you to go elsewhere. Then it was getting our tuk-tuk driver to put the bike back in gear and take us to the border, not the “consulate office” conveniently located in a tourism shop on a side road near the border and charging a sweet 1,000 baht for the visa, the extra $10 a tip for the tourism agent and the tuk-tuk driver of course. Beyond the border, we’ll face the hassle of finding onward transport to Siem Reap. It was going to be a spectacularly fun day.

Border crossings are one of the unspoken joys of travel. For us, it’s gotten progressively more “fun” as we’ve traveled east. South America border crossings were cake. Hand over the passport, get a stamp, and move on. In Africa, the hassle wasn’t the actual immigration office—everyone we met inside the office was surprisingly honest—it was getting to the office through the gauntlet of touts, moneychangers, taxi drivers, and other border good-for-nothings. In Asia, it seems, the hassle is going to be with, well, pretty much everything, at least if it’s like the Cambodian crossing.

So there we were on the border of Thailand and Cambodia, being ignored by the immigration officer who was desperately looking around for his next victim to appear. Unfortunately for him, no one else wandered up. He had to deal with us. And shockingly, that’s what he does. With a sigh and an evil eye, he takes our passports, our applications, and our $20 (and no more) and passes them through to the officers on the other side of the glass. He then motions us to take a seat nearby while he himself sits down for lunch. We begin taking over/under bets on how long he’ll make us wait.

But it’s not so bad. We use the bathroom, we get a snack, we chat with our new friend. And guess what? It’s only about 15 minutes later that our passports come back out the window, visas inside. It didn’t take the threatened 2-3 days. Who would have thought? Though in the end it came down to 100 baht, or $3, it was about more than the money. It was about standing up for ourselves. It was about standing up for what was right. It was about saving our dollars to hand over to the hard-working and honest guy cleaning the bathroom rather than lining the pocket of an official who pre-bribe is probably already better offer than 90% of his countrymen. It was a small victory for sure, but it felt good. We’d stood our ground against corruption, and we’d won…at least this round.

Africa Budgets Posted

For all those who are curious about how much it costs to travel through Africa, we’ve posted country budgets for all of the countries we visited: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Victoria Falls, Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. Just click on the tab at the top that says “Country Budgets,” and you can explore to your hearts content. For those who just like to know the big number, in our three months in Africa we spent $9,922.31.

Rafting the Nile

It would have been better to just put me into a boat, push me away from the bank, and send me coursing down the White Nile toward the grade five rapids that make Jinja, Uganda one of the most exciting places in the world to whitewater raft. Giving me time to think about putting myself at the mercy of a raging river is not a good idea. I’m a worrier. And I’m a reader. That’s not a good combo, especially when the things you find to read about rafting the Nile talk about how many times the raft flipped over, about being trapped under the raft with the waves washing up and over you, about feeling your lungs about to burst as you’re swept underwater for five or six seconds at a time, about being warned not to fall out of the left side of the boat at one set of rapids because you’ll end up on the rocks…

Suffice it to say I didn’t sleep much the night before our rafting trip. I was too busy seriously reconsidering whether I actually wanted to do it. But when morning broke, I got up, got dressed, and boarded the shuttle that would take us to the Nile River Explorers site. I knew I’d regret not going. And I knew if I didn’t go, I’d probably be more worried as I spent all day wondering what the heck was happening to Jeff. It would be better to witness it all in person.

But they weren’t about to make it easy on me. In addition to the two hour ride from Kampala to Jinja, I also had an additional hour to sit around, think about what the heck I was doing, and watch a video of a raft flipping time and time again as we waited for another group to arrive at the site. Seriously, could you just put me on the raft and in the water?

Finally, they did just that, launching us at a deceptively calm and peaceful site where the seven of us crazy people in our boat could learn from our even crazier guide how to front paddle, back paddle, hold on (for small rapids), and get down (for big rapids). Then, as we approached the first small rapid, we got a taste of what it would be like if the boat flipped, as we all moved to one side of the boat and purposely sent ourselves somersaulting backwards into the water. I came up sputtering, trying to catch my breath between waves, and practicing the crucifix position in which you float downstream with your feet high up and in front of you in the hopes of avoiding any real collisions with rocks. I came up with a bit of a fat lip thanks to someone’s flying paddle. And I came up wondering if maybe they could just let me swim to shore and walk back to the campsite where I could meet everyone later. What the hell was I doing? I am a girl who likes to be in control, and in an inflatable raft in the rapids of the Nile, you’re anything but in control.

I’ve rafted before. This wasn’t a first, and I knew that the fear was part of the thrill, but I still wasn’t sure I was up for it. Last time I’d rafted was in the Grand Canyon, where the rafts were much sturdier, where I didn’t have to paddle but instead held on for dear life while our guide used oars to row us through the rapids, and where our old-hand guide seemed a bit less crazy than the Aussie directing us on the Nile. Though technically in the same category, the experiences weren’t going to be quite the same. I’d also never met a Grade 5 rapid before, the highest grade of rapid considered to be navigable in a raft.

Luckily once on the water, there isn’t too much time to think. After passing through a few riffles, the first real rapid you meet is called 50/50, its name an indicator of your chances of making it through this Grade 3 Rapid without flipping. Let’s just say we were on the losing end of that wager. With the first coming together of waves, the left side of the boat was tossed into the water. With the second wave, one person from the right side was tossed. That left just me and another girl Dierdra hanging on for dear life, the boat pretty much on its side. And we really didn’t have a chance. With the third and final wave, the boat flipped, dunking us into the fortunately quite warm water of the Nile. The two of us plus the guide were able to hold onto the boat and ride it through the rest of the rapid. One other person was able to grab back on after being tossed and ride with us. The other four paddlers, including Jeff, had been picked up by the safety kayakers and transferred to the safety raft, from where we picked them up once we were back in calm waters and had managed to flip the boat upright.

Though it wasn’t quite the start I had hoped for (I’d been hoping to not end up in the water at all), it was probably the start I needed. I’d survived. It wasn’t that bad. The fear of the unknown was no longer hanging over my head, and for me, that is the worst fear.

Baptism by fire is the name of the game on the Nile as our next rapid was to be the biggest of the day, a Grade 5 rapid called Silverback. We were to paddle to the precipice, and then at the command of “Get Down” we were to squat into the boat, face outward, and cling to the rope. Slam, we hit the first wave, water rushing into the boat and washing over all of us, but not yet ripping any of us out. Slam the second wave followed immediately, slamming us around but not getting permanent hold of any of us. We were almost through. Apparently some people thought we might just make it. I wasn’t thinking at all, just holding on. But in the end it was all futile. Wave three grabbed us and flipped us upside down sending each of us scattering in different directions. No one managed to hold on to the boat this time. Luckily we were through the worst of it and there were no massive waves waiting to drown us, just lots of medium waves stealing our breath for snatches at a time. Over the sound of the waves, I could hear a safety kayaker yelling “Feet up! Feet up!” and so as a current pushed me right past Jeff (both of us with it enough to say hello and make sure each other was okay) and towards the rocky shoreline, I got into the crucifix position and used my feet to push off the big boulder in front of me and redirect myself back towards the center of the river and the calm pool awaiting at the end of the rapid. There, the boat floated, still upside down, and I, followed right away by Jeff, was able to grab on and hold on until it was time to flip it back over and get back in. A tiny scratch on my ankle was the only battle wound I had to add to my fat lip. Not too bad.

And after that, well things were smooth sailing. We managed to keep the boat upright and intact over waterfalls and through raging rapids, though there were a few close calls and we certainly had plenty of waves wash over us. In fact, at an optional rapid called Chop Suey, which our boat chose to brave while the other boat bypassed it, a gigantic wave washed over the boat, pretty much sinking it for a moment. I was so surrounded by water that I couldn’t tell if I was actually in the boat or not until it popped back up and I felt the plastic of the raft under my butt. The strange thing was that although I had been in the third position when we entered the rapid, I was now in the first position. The two people in front of me, Jeff and Dierdra, had borne the brunt of the wave and been washed overboard, though both managed to hang on, and we easily pulled them back aboard.

The worst part of the remaining trip, which was about 5 hours in total, were the calm, empty stretches in the middle where you could lie back and relax or get out and swim. It wasn’t that there was anything scary here—no crocodiles that we saw—but the calm gave time for the anticipation to build. When rapid follows rapid, you have no time to think. You just act. You forward paddle and back paddle as told. You hold on and get down. You swim and gasp for breath and try to avoid rocks. But in the calm periods, where you can only hear the rapids building up in front of you, you have plenty of time to imagine the possiblities.

Fortunately, none of the imagined possibilities became realities. Though the Grade 5 rapids of the White Nile are some of the biggest in the world, it’s actually a very safe trip, because the water is deep and the rocks are relatively few. Plus the safety kayakers are so bad ass that they’d have you out in a second if you really needed a rescue. It’s a thrill though, a mix of fear and exhilaration. And in the end, when you make it through the final rapid, which is named “The Bad Place,” with only a few small battle wounds, one missing contact, and a body thoroughly exhausted, you think that given the chance, you’d definitely do it again…though you’d still prefer to just be thrown in the boat and sent downstream, without even a second to think about it.

A Ugandan Safari

When it comes to going on safari, not too many people think of Uganda. There’s good enough reason for that; Uganda is no Kenya or Tanzania, no South Africa or Namibia. It’s highlight is its gorillas, not the typical safari animals. If you’re planning a once-in-a-lifetime safari adventure, I wouldn’t advise making Uganda your destination. But if you’re in Uganda for some other reason–to see the gorillas, raft the White Nile, enjoy the lush green landscape, or spend time with the friendly people–then you ought to take a few days to enjoy a Ugandan safari in their prime reserve, Queen Elizabeth National Park.

You’ll miss some of the typical animals. Due to a case of rinderpest that struck in the early 1900s, there are no zebras, giraffes, and wildebeests. As you usually see these in great abundance, their abscence was, at least for us, quite striking. You also won’t find rhinos, which I believe were pretty much poached out of existence. And you won’t find cheetahs stalking across the plains, though I’m not sure whether their absence is due to disease, poaching, or simple geographic issues.

You will, however, find heaps and heaps of antelope, most notably waterbuck, Uganda kob (their national animal), and tobi. You’ll also find elephants, large herds of Cape buffalo, and leopards (but only if you are much luckier than we are). All cool for sure but not really worth going out of your way for.

But if you like lions, then Queen Elizabeth National Park should be on your list, as we saw many. One morning we observed a group of female lions with their cubs, while the next morning we were treated to a large male lion lying right next to the road.

Best of all, however, are the park’s famed tree-climbing lions. Though no different genetically from any other lions in Africa, these lions, which live in an area populated with easy-to-climb fig trees, have developed the behavior of resting in trees during the day. (Or at least the females have; the males are too heavy and remain in the thickets at the base of the trees.) Located exclusively in the Ishasha section of the park, an area a bit off the beaten track, the lions are an unusual treat, and we were lucky enough to spot two lazing in a tree, seemingly without a care in the world and without even the slightest bit of interest in us.

If primates are more your thing, the park is also a prime destination. On guided chimpanzee walks, you can descend into a lush gorge and track down our closest ancestor. You’ll probably find them high above you in the trees, but sometimes they scamper down and share the path with you.

You may also spot baboons, colobus monkeys, and a variety of other species. And since the paths you are walking are actually animal tracks, you could come across pretty much any other animal that lives in the park. Though we saw hyena and lion dung, we only actually spotted a few elephants making their way down to the water as well as a school of hippos.

Speaking of hippos, they gather in great abundance in the channel that runs through the park, connecting Lake Edward and Lake George. On a boat ride down the water, you’ll catch hippos barking, hippos yawning, hippos exhaling, hippos lumbering, and hippos doing pretty much anything else that hippos do. You’ll also spot zillions of birds as well as a few small crocs and some buffalo. And if you’re lucky, perhaps the bare bum of a local bathing just a few meters away from a hippo!

If you don’t want to take a boat ride but want to get up close and personal with a hippo, then just plan to have dinner at the lodge. As the sunsets the hippos waddle out of the water and plant their enormous selves on the lawn, which they very kindly mow each evening. It’s a charming way to end the day at a park that isn’t quite top-of-the-list but is quirky and fun and boasts a few features that you’ll be hardpressed to find elsewhere.

Gorillas in our Midst

There we stood, at the edge of the impenetrable forest. We knew the gorillas were in there, and had been told they were quite close. And so we plowed on.

And while Bwindi Impenetrable Forest did prove to be mighty difficult to penetrate, the gorillas were nice enough to stick quite close to the edge. Within fifteen minutes, we found them feeding on leaves on a steep hillside, the sun shining brightly behind them making visibility poor. But after a few minutes fraught with fear that they wouldn’t move for the whole hour, the whole group, led by the silverback, paraded out in front of us and down a creek bed.

For the next hour, they meandered around hills, many times walking right in front or behind us. It was simply magical and amazing.

And the expressions on their faces and their eyes were just so … human.


Majestic creatures, without question. And an amazing experience, totally worth the high price. Especially when you consider that this price is what protects these animals and their environment.

Africa Is…

I wish I could show you Africa. But I can’t. It takes a much more talented photographer than me to capture this place. My photos contain images. Africa is an all-senses experience. But if you turn on your imagination, I will try to paint it for you with words.

Africa is…
dirt so red that it seems the earth is bleeding.

the most beautiful beaches, the most turquoise waters, the most striking mountains, the most enchanting deserts.

women who can carry seemingly everything on their heads: gallons of water, baskets piled high with bread, bundles of logs.

never seeing a woman of reproductive age without a baby in a cloth sling on her back.

being shoked when you see a man on your minibus helping with the care of a baby because you’ve seen maybe two men do so during the totality of your trip.

little girls with closely cropped hair and nothing to identify them as female except for the dresses they wear.

little boys wearing shorts that have no seat, their butts exposed to the world.

buses packed so full that there is no need to hang on because you couldn’t move if you wanted to.

the smell of dried fish, enough to make you want to gag.

the smell of humans, ripe in a way you didn’t know they could be.

women in brightly colored and patterned wrappers (cloth they wear as skirts) or wrappers with the face of the pope, the president, or Mr. Obama staring out at you.

children naively wearing t-shirts with vulgar English sayings on them.

being woken up at 4:30 a.m. by the whoops of people celebrating the results of an election.

hearing a wedding celebration long before you see it, the vibrant voices of family and friends lifted in song.

roads as crowded with people and animals as with cars.

bustling Sunday mornings as everyone heads off to church, wearing church uniforms and carrying high heeled shoes in their hands as they walk barefoot many kilometers to the “church.” 

a staggering AIDS rate and an even more staggering ignorance about the disease.

strangers stopping to tell you “You are welcome here.”

being called “mzungu” no matter how many times you tell them your name.

people furtively touching your hair, rubbing your skin, grabbing your hand.

the uncomfortable feeling of people addressing you as “Hey, boss.”

having to say three, four, five, six times that no, you don’t want to buy the hawkers carved animals/sponges/hair barrettes/sodas/brooms/beaded keychains/oranges/etc.

people who sing regardless of how well they can carry a tune and people who dance regardless of whether they have rhythm…and who make it all seem beautiful.

seeing more sunrises and more sunsets than you’ve ever before seen.

people leaning out of a minibus window to tell you they love your country and they love your president.

islands so safe that you could leave your money lying in the sand and no one would touch it and cities so dangerous that by 6 p.m. everyone is locked away behind burglar bars, razor wire, and armed guards.

road signs that say “potholes ahead” when they should in fact say “canyon that could swallow your car ahead.”

supermarkets stocked with every wonder of the world as well as people who have to walk kilometers to fill a bucket with potable water.

charities who hand out mosquito nets to every man, woman, and child, and families who turn the mosquito nets into fishing nets because starvation seems a more dire threat than malaria.

volunteers who want to build proper toilets for a school where children must go in the schoolyard and principals who demand that any money raised first go toward buying them a new television.

kids who laugh deliriously when they see a photo of themselves on the screen of your camera.

people who see you as no more than a walking dollar sign as well as people who want no more from you than a smile and a hello.

buses that leave “now,” meaning sometime in the next 24 hours and buses that leave “now now,” meaning sometime in the next hour.

realizing that childhood is a luxury of the Western world.

a dream that is too often deferred, hope that is too often unfulfilled, and joy that is too often followed by sorrow.

everything I expected and a million things I could never have imagined.

Zanzibar Pole Pole* Style

Apparently there is a lot to do on Zanzibar, the Swahili island enclave off the coast of Tanzania. There are a slew of museums as well as dolphin tours, sunset cruises, snorkeling and diving trips, spice tours, and more. But don’t ask me for any recommendations on which of these are worth your while; we didn’t do any of them.* In our five days on Zanzibar, we did nothing but walk, walk, walk. When the touts on the street asked what tour we wanted to book with them, we said we were just going to spend the day walking around. When the taxi drivers asked if we were ready to go for a ride, we said we’re rather just walk. And we weren’t just giving them the shrug off; for us, the magic of Zanzibar was uncovered by walking.

Stone Town, the heart of Zanzibar, is a maze of tiny alleys, none which are signed, some of which end abruptly, and all of which are full of wonders waiting to be discovered. Down one you might find a madrassah, or Islamic school, from which the sounds of children chanting verses from the Koran or simple math equations emanates. When school lets out, the children flood the streets, kicking balls, licking ice cream cones, giggling with friends, and doing the things that children everywhere do. Turn down another street and you’ll find one of the island’s many mosques, all well-equipped with megaphones so that no one misses the 5:15 a.m. call to prayer. Choose another path and you might end up in the market amid tables of spices and men neatly cutting the peels off oranges.

In every alley, you’ll find architecture to marvel over: intricately carved doors and balconies and colorful plates of glass in the windows.

Time and again as you make your way through the maze, you’ll have to hug the wall so a man in a robe and skull cap on a moped or a boy on a bicycle can speed past, and you’ll want to stop repeatedly to say “Jambo” to the children peering at you, watched over by mothers in brightly patterned kangas or black robes and head scarves.

If you’re out after dark and play your cards right, the alleys will lead you to the night market, where you can gorge yourself on local delights—Zanzibar pizza, kebabs of every type of seafood you can imagine, samosas and spicy potato balls, glasses of sugar cane juice with lime and ginger, steaming cups of spice tea–while enjoying the ambiance of lantern light and the lapping of waves against the shore.

Sometimes an alley will spit you out by the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. You’ll see little boys swimming butt naked, the bright colors of cargo containers loaded on the ships in the harbor, dhows passing with the wind filling their ragged sails, fishing boats returning with their nets held high, and the sunsets that in Africa are truly worth watching. On the beach, you might find a furious soccer game underway or witness kids practicing to become acrobats.

You might, like me, feel for a moment as if you’re back in Greece as you stumble upon a concert at the Old Fort and sit in the crumbling ruins of the outdoor stage and remember seeing the Oedipus Trilogy at the Parthenon. Or maybe the million and one store owners begging you to enter their shop and promising you the best prices will remind you of shopping in the labyrinthine Khan el-Khalili market in Cairo. Though not exactly like anyone you’ve ever been, Zanzibar invokes the spirit of a million places through which you’ve passed. And tt’s the kind of place that will stay with you long after you’ve left, especially if you allow it to reveal itself to you slowly, one step by one step.

*Pole Pole is a Swahili saying that means “slow down” or “go slowly”.

*Okay, so that statement wasn’t entirely true; we did do a Spice Tour. Our verdict: not bad but not great either, which seemed to be the consensus of everyone we met.

The Train To Dar

The trip north from Likoma Island involved a full day and a whole lot of minibuses. Nothing terribly exciting about that. Lots of little nuances and slices of life that were pleasant or irritating, or both depending on your mood. We crossed the border into Tanzania and pulled into Mbeya just before dark after nearly 24 hours of travel pretty exhausted and sick of buses, minibuses, shared taxis and daladalas (swahili minibuses).

And so while we could’ve hopped on a bus any day and gotten to Dar 12 hours later, we just couldn’t do another bus. Instead, we waited around Mbeya three days in order to take the “express” train to Dar. It’s a 20 hour journey … if there are no delays. Also, there was the issue of finding two other people to share our compartment as people of the opposite sex are not allowed to travel together unless they have booked an entire compartment. For us, this would double the cost. Now that said, there are plenty of reasons for taking the train. For example, its not a bus. First class contains relatively comfortable four person compartments with beds. You can walk up and down the train to your hearts content and not be squished into a tiny chair for 12 hours. There are bathrooms on board … go whenever you please (except in the stations of course!). And we ran into a couple we’d met in Likoma that we managed to cajole into taking the train with us and sharing a compartment. So all was set!

So off we headed to the station, ready to catch our 2:30 train … only to have a sign meet us at the door to the train station announcing the train would not arrive until 4. Oh well, hey, its Africa. We sat and chatted with our friends and a few other travelers with whom we’d share this journey. And lo and behold, around 4, the train rolled in. We boarded, settled into our small but comfortable compartments and then, waited. After an hour and a half waiting for nothing in particular that we could figure, we finally took off just in time for sunset.

We chatted and relaxed, read and ate, had a beer in the dining car and shared our stories of our African adventures, enjoying a comfortable evening before settling to bed, all the while the train rattling along and the dark countryside passing in the background. Far, far better than a bus.

Of course, all couldn’t continue this rosy. The next morning, we pulled in with a jolt to Mangula station, about halfway to Dar, at around 10 am. But unlike the other stations we’d stopped at, we didn’t leave this one. Eventually, we got to inquiring about why we weren’t moving and we were duly informed that the locomotive died and we were being sent a new one. Estimates on arrival varied from 45 minutes to 3 hours. So what can you do? We waited. We walked around town. We watched the citizens of Mangula and tried out our phrasebook Swahili on them. We took photos of all the interesting things the locals were doing.


We got the updates hanging out in the dining car. But, and this was discussed when deciding on train or bus, being on a brokendown train is infinitely better than being on a broken down bus. We sat and waited, and eventually, after about four hours, the train sprang back to life and off we were again, rattling along.

On the upside, all of these delays meant we’d hit one of the highlights of the train journey at just the right time. The train tracks slice right through Selous National Park, and we’d pass through just before sunset, when the animals would be coming out from the heat of the day. And we saw large herds of zebra, wildebeest, and impala, a few giraffes and warthogs and a single elephant. Still no leopards though. But hey, free safari!

We pulled into Dar Es Salaam around 8 pm, after 28 hours on the train. But its a journey I’d be happy to do again. The view was infinitely different and better than a bus. The locals were friendly and interesting. Our fellow travelers felt like good friends as we left. And we managed a pretty good nights sleep in transit. It was a great culmination of the “journey” from South Africa.