First day of the Africa Tour; Nairobi to Arusha in Tanzania; Nine hours on the truck

Today was the first full day of our African overland tour. We had a late start for the first day of driving - we didn’t leave until 9. Neither of us had slept very well - it was an exciting day and we’re not really used to camping anymore - and there were what sounded like a dozen dogs howling at the moon all night long. But we were in good spirits in the morning. Breakfast went smoothly enough for fourteen people trying to work together who’d only known each other for one day. After that we piled onto the truck for the 300km drive to Arusha in Tanzania.

The drive didn’t start well. Our driver took a wrong turning that cost us three hours over the roughest roads I’ve ever felt. All of the highways in Kenya are unusable because of construction, so there were temporary dirt-and-pothole detours for most of our route. We were all shaken nearly to death and it dampened the group’s sprits considerably. Also the roads were so rough that they shook open one of the truck’s lockers and some tools were lost on the road. Sheryl and I both instantly had the same thought - the replacement cost had better not be coming out of the group’s common funds. We’ve both been very suspicious and unhappy since yesterday when it was revealed to us that the three-day game drive safari (our reason for going on this trip) had increased in cost from $120 per person to $400. We’re furious about it actually. The guide tells us that he had the $400 figure all along and doesn’t know why the trip notes didn’t reflect the real price. We know why, naturally - a lower price attracts more customers and once they’re on the tour and find out the real price they feel like it would be stupid not to go. I thought Dragoman was supposed to be a reputable company, but it’s starting to look like they’re no more honest than any of these tour operators. Also we’ve just found out that, of all things - we have to bring our own water - on a three-day tour costing $400! You’d think the least they could do would be to bring some goddamned water for their customers. I’m wondering how we’re going to be treated on this little safari - maybe food isn’t included either, though we’ve been assured it is. At least we don’t have to pay until after the tour, so if it sucks maybe we’ll just have to withhold some of the payment. If indeed we do pay afterward - I’m starting to disbelieve anything our driver says.

Enough negativity. Despite the long hours in the truck and the weirdness over the safari, today was still fun. Sheryl saw an ostrich and some sort of antelopes, and we both saw many many goats. When we crossed the border from Kenya into Tanzania I noticed an instant difference in the people. They were a lot friendlier and wore brighter clothes. All the little kids waved at the truck and some adults too. Mostly all the men and children I saw were involved with herding goats or cattle, and most of the women in going to and fro on mysterious errands carrying baskets of things on their heads. Yes, they really do that, it seems - these women carry huge, heavy and awkward bundles on their heads - with no hands and no apparent sign of effort or concentration. Everyone I saw was wearing the most beautiful clothes - long flowing robes of bright reds, purples, greens - every colour shining like jewels in the sun.

Though the people seemed happy and their colours bright, there was still a lot of poverty. Mud huts and shacks were there in plenty, and even the biggest villages had no more permanent structures than brick and corrugated-metal shanties. All the shop signs were hand-lettered - shop after shop in a row, all sharing walls, all facing the road, and all with a small crowd of people at the front, just sitting. It’s strange to see, coming from a big city and having spent the last half-year in busy Europe, to see so many people just doing… nothing. Just sitting there outside a shop, or taking a nap under a tree, or squatting and watching their goats.

The culture=shock hasn’t hit me yet. It will - I can feel it there lurking and waiting to jump out at me - but so far we’ve spent all our time on the truck, high above the locals and zooming past, so none of it is real to me yet. It’s all just remote images flitting past my eyes, and none of them have any connection to me. That will come in time, I guess. I hope? I’m not really sure if I do. I find familiar types of strangers hard enough to be easy among - how will I cope with really strange strangers? I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me apprehensive.

The neatest thing that happened today was when, early in the afternoon, we saw up ahead in the road a huge crowd of people, completely blocking the road, marching toward us. In the middle of them all was a jeep with a man in a white suit sitting on top, fist raised in the air. We all began to think of bad things a demonstration, civil unrest. But all the people were beautifully dressed in what must have been their finest clothes - no one I know has anything half so nice-looking, certainly. And they were all grinning and laughing like maniacs. A strange riot, if riot it was. They swarmed and swirled around the truck, singing and waving and shouting, all smiling like they’d just won the lottery, and marched off down the road the way we’d come. We all wondered what on earth the special occasion could have been. It must have been something really special, after all. We found out, though, that they do this every week after church gets out - parade down the street shouting with joy. It’s outrageous. I’m still smiling, thinking about it.


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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