Tag Archives: adventure

Why I Do Not Make a Good African Woman – Reason #1

And this is a big one!

In many parts of Africa there is a form of transportation called a “bike taxi”.

The bike taxi strikes fear into my heart.

Take a battered bicycle and put a “seat” on the back of it over the rear tire, and you have a bike taxi.

Like this one?

I wish.  No.

Like these ones.  (These have really good seats on them, by the way).

I recently went on another adventure to the African continent.  The trip in a nutshell went like this:

Fly to Dubai, meet up with Abner, hang out in Dubai for a bit waiting for our next flights, and sleep in the airport.  Fly to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania…me via Qatar, Abner direct.  Meet up with Abner again.  Spend night in DAR.  Take boat to Zanzibar.  Spend time in Zanzibar.  Take boat back to DAR.  Spend night in DAR.  Take buses and minibuses from DAR to Malawi.  Spend time in Malawi.  Take buses/minibuses to Mozambique.  Spend time in Mozambique.  Fly from Mozambique to South Africa.  Say good-bye to Abner as he heads to Lisbon.  Fly home.

This post is about the middle part of the trip.  The part where we meet up with friends in Sani/Nkhota Kota, Malawi.  There’s a lot of stories to tell up to this point, but this is as good a place as any to start.

In Malawi, especially in the rural “bush” areas, women wear skirts.  So, I was in a skirt.  And we were backpacking, so I had a big pack on my back, and a smaller one on my front.  And I’m not a young thing anymore…pushing 50 in fact.  And we’d been on the road for over two days, so I was tired and sore.

As we neared the place where our bus would drop us off to meet our Malawian friends, I began to wonder how, in the dead of night (it was after 10 PM) we would get from the roadside drop off point to Sam’s house (about 10 km) into the bush.  Is it too remote for a regular bush taxi?  Would we walk?  Or, please God, no, would he have arranged for bike taxis?

As you have probably guessed, it was the latter.  I took one look at those taxis and pictured myself trying to jump up onto the back to ride it sidesaddle with all my gear, and in a skirt, and I nearly died.  That was SO not going to happen.  “Fortunately”, once the “taxi drivers” saw the color of my skin, the previously agreed to price all of the sudden became seriously inflated.  I took that as my opportunity to encourage their immediate dismissal, opting instead to do the long walk.

Sam was quite amused.  African women have literally no problem with this form of transportation.  Even the very old ones with a parcel on their heads and one grandbaby in their laps with another one their backs.  And they are graceful while doing it.  Of course, they’ve been doing it their whole life.  This would have been my first time.

I seriously hate being a “problem” like that.  I try very hard to do the best I can to just quietly do what needs to be done.  And normally, I am extremely “game” in most travel circumstances.

But not this time.  I just couldn’t do it.  So we walked.  So I made all of us walk.  😦  And I was glad we did.  It was so very dark and the dirt road was bumpy and full of washed out areas, rocks, and potholes.  Even if I’d have gotten up there, I’m pretty sure at some point I would have fallen off, and possibly injured myself.  This is what I tell myself to make myself feel better about not doing it.

Perhaps the next time I find myself faced with a bike taxi I won’t be in a skirt, I won’t be loaded down, it won’t be dark, and there would be a step stool.  I’d give it a whirl if so.

But not this time.

In this particular case, I did not make a good African woman.


Hôtel Saint-Louis Sun

March 17th and 18th, 2011

Days 1 and 2;  Dakar Senegal

We’d originally planned on staying in Senegal for a few days, but because we were blowing our budget by the hour, we decided that once we had our Malian visas, we’d head for Mali where we knew the cost of things would be much less than in Senegal.  We’d looked into finding cheaper accommodations than the Sun, but weren’t successful.  Besides, the Sun was centrally located and pretty nice, all things considered!  So we splurged and stayed there.

The hotel was located on a very narrow, very busy street in the inner city of Dakar.  Doesn’t look like much from the outside, but upon entering, there is a peacefulness that is palpable.  Very friendly front desk people.  We initially had to wait in the courtyard for our room to be ready.  The wait turned into a few hours long, but it was a pleasant few hours spent discussing our plan of action, talking about how we couldn’t believe we’d actually made it to Dakar and were starting our grand adventure, and updating facebook statuses, that sort of thing.  I needed to check in with the young lady who was watching my cats to see if Mew Ling was taking her antibiotic pills okay.  Mew Ling every once in a while develops a urinary tract infection, which she did apparently in the days leading up to my trip.  The only time I could get her in to see the vet was the day before we left, so I was worried that she would give Lisa a problem taking her meds.  Lisa got back to me…Mew was fine, and taking her pill hidden in treats.

And we started taking some of our first photos of the journey, of course.  After shaving the next day, Abner decided he was giving up shaving for the remainder of the trip.

The rooms were upstairs and over looked the small open ceilinged courtyard.  Downstairs was a bar, a restaurant, the lobby, and a couple of meeting rooms.  We were in room three.  To enter the room required opening two doors.  The outer door was wooden slatted to provide privacy and allow in a small amount of light, the second was panes of glass.  I struggled getting the keys to work.  Why is it that African keys are always a problem???  Anyone else out there who has spent time in Africa find that keys and locks are a challenge for them?

The open courtyard was quiet despite the very busy city right outside the main entrance.  There were birds, weaver birds maybe, building nests in the trees which provided light shade from the heat of the day.  The walls were decorated with peeling but brightly colored murals.

This is the  first of quite a few very interesting key chains.  And check out the keys!  They look very similar to each other, but there’s a different one for each of the doors.

The room was a bit small, but very clean and completely adequate for our needs.  No evidence of bed bugs here!  We turned on the AC immediately figuring we should probably enjoy a little bit of cool when we could.  We had decided to come at the hottest time of the year because it:   1)  worked well for both of our schedules, 2)  would mean the least amount of mosquitoes as it was well into the dry season, and 3) would be the lowest time of the year for other travelers, so we wouldn’t be fighting as many people for the better hostel rooms, etc.

Our room was en suite…no shared bathroom facilities…not yet anyway!

We even had a closet and more wall art to enjoy!

If you ever get to Dakar, this is a good place to stay!  The food at the restaurant was good.  The beer (Flag was our choice) was COLD.  You can walk to the docks to catch the ferry to Île de Gorée.  The cost for taxi rides to the embassies for other African countries or to Le Monument de la Renaissance Africaine are reasonable.  And you feel VERY much like you are in Africa!


Old Women Should Not Ride Camels

Day 13, Timbuktu, Mali

An integral part of our plan for our time in Timbuktu was a trip further into the Sahara Desert.  Ever since reading “The Little Prince” in high school, I had visions of going to this faraway place.  I wanted to be in the place where the crash-landed aviator met the strange blonde headed traveler from asteriod B-612.  And I wanted to ride a camel to get out there.

Unfortunately for me, a perfect storm of situations came together at just the wrong time to make my camel ride something that was a painful and just slightly excruciating experience.  An experience I was VERY glad to have had, nonetheless.

I wasn’t afraid of the camel, or of riding the camel, or of anything at all about the camel part of the experience.  But my body was rather irritated from all the time on the buses, and in the 4×4 and from the sleeping on the ground on the way out….from all that great adventure of getting to Timbuktu!  However, the position in which you have to sit on the camel externally rotoated my right hip into just the exact wrong position for comfort.  Plus, the saddle was tilted slightly to the side, so I was trying to stabilize myself from slipping to the side, which aggravated my hip even more.  I had the sensation of an taser constantly going off in my groin and shooting down my leg.

For this picture, I made the worst face I could.  This was at the beginning of the camel ride.  The ride was only about an hour and a half.  And I was making my camel nervous because of my constant shifting, and with my moving my feet away from where they were supposed to be.  But me and Abzaabaa stuck with it, and I made it the Tuareg camp.  I had to!  I had to say I rode a camel into the Sahara Desert.  My camel’s handler Ibrahim was also very patient with me.  “You’re  much like a Tuareg woman.”, he told me.  Tuareg woman, he explained, don’t care for camel riding.  They prefer to be closer to the ground and so they ride donkeys instead.  I think he thought I was afraid.  I don’t think he quite appreciated the pain I was in.  He would come back and try to reposition me by moving my right leg and my foot into the right position for riding, and each time he would do that my pain would increase four-fold, and I would try to explain why I was having troubles, but in the end, I think he thought I was just afraid.  “We’ll fix it in the morning for the ride back”, he promised.  Even in this picture you can see me holding my right leg in my hand, trying to keep it from externally rotating out.  For days after this, when I was externally rotate my hip, I got taser’ed!

So, I gritted my teeth, and I rode that camel out of Timbuktu and into the Sahara…

And Ibrahim straightened the saddle, but I walked back!!!


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