Sunday, April 27, 2008

Last days in Jo'burg

(posted by Andy)

Hello, it's Andrew here....I apologize for making this last email so long but we have done much in the last few days and I wanted to share the experience with you since all of you have been here the whole way thus far.
On Thursday we yet again went to another country called Botswana which neighbors Zambia and took about 1.5 hours to get to.  We were awakened early once more but we have gotten used to the early mornings and those damn monkeys keep me up all night awake doing whatever they are doing starting at 1 a.m.  As you already know in Zambia we did not have window only screens that surrounded our cabin/chalet so we (well I since Rhett sleeps through most of it) could hear everything that goes bump outside our cabin from crickets, hippos, monkeys, and anything else that wanders outside our door.  I sometimes just lay there awake in the dark and listen to the noises waiting for the morning to come. 
We were picked up by our driver who also picked up another couple, Ken and Sue from Sapporo, Japan.  Although they introduced themselves as Ken and Sue, seeing that they hardly knew a bit of English and were "very" Japanese, I think they changed their names to sound more American to avoid any uncomfortable pronounciations from others who only spoke English.    We befriended them and enjoyed their company.
Getting to and across the border was yet again an experience much like the movies in where you are in a third world country and you forget that it is the 20th century because hundreds of Africans from many countries were trying to cross the border...whether they were fleeing their own country or returning home, who knows.  Here you would see as you would approach the imigration office women laying on the ground that looked like they were there for days, some with children in their arms breast feeding, some with children wrapped around their papooses (much like backpacks) looking at us with eyes I will never forget.  Just hoping and waiting to get through.. we being white or people with money would just walk around them into the building just cutting in line because our guide was obviously paying someone off and/or our papers were in order versus refugees and others who had none. 
I suppose by now, being that we have been on the road for three weeks and have experienced this many times one would eventually get used to this chaos but I have not.  We have not built up the tolerance or the comfortness of it at all - I still get freaked out even when we have a guide to assist us. 
There, at the border, I could never explain enough in words the experience of what we see there but I will try.  Fumes of trucks and pollution from the exhaust and garbage that overtakes our senses, the spew from all the pollution just fills your lungs and all you want to do it get past this and go forward but you cannot until given permission and your paperwork was reviewed by someone behind the thick glass at the imigration desk.  Many people all over trying to get through, most hope to cross that day but probably will not.  Most of the trucks and their drivers may need to wait as long as several weeks in line just hoping that the next boat will take them through and that their goods were approved to cross, so they wait in line, for most, not haven taken a bath for a long period of time.  Perhaps these drivers sleep in their trucks bringing hopefully enough food to get through their own ordeals getting to the neighboring border. 
Once near and inside the office of immigration, the dirt and dust surrounds everthing, barb wire is evident hoping to intimidate those who think they might want to jump it.  People everywhere inside, wall to wall, back to back, as we push through to get our papers reviewed we push on.  The office is small but we manage somehow to wait and push onward with our guide following his direction as foot solders follow an officer.  Once inside the pungent odor of african sweat covers all the breathable air inside, you can never forget the smell.  It is nothing like I have ever experienced before, so strong that Rhett - and most to be honest - only allow each gasp of air into the body through your mouth to avoid it entering the nostrills....I exaggerate not a bit with these details, like I said most of the people here have probably not taken a real bath for weeks if ever and if they had, it would have been from dirty river water they had access to....very sad.
As we make our way through with our guide to the desk, they look at us, look at our passport, give it a loud stamp, and we are off to the other border into Botswana.   This is just the experience getting out of Zambia, now we need to enter Botswana's immigration process. This was much easier.  Getting to it was a 10 minute boat ride that takes you from Zambia to Botswana and was also an experience.  In that 10 minutes of a boat ride, the waters were shared by four contries....Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and of course Botswana.  Here we landed on shore and were greeted by another guide who would take us into Botwana for our final safari.
In Botswana we went to Chobe National Park on a day trip.  On Botswana's northern border lies the Kwando, Linyati and Chobe River system which forms a series of lakes, islands and floodplains and is home to the greatest concentration of game in the ENTIRE Southern African subcontinent. 
Chobe National Park, famous for its large elephant and buffalo herds, lies on the banks of the Chobe River (wihch flows into the Zambezi).  The park has an abundance of elephants (over 100,000 roam there) and over 460 types of beautiful and colorful birds too.   Rhett and I had a first hand viewing of these elephants and other game that were no further than 5-15 feet around close just eating and playing in the waters, rolling in the sand near the water, just as if we were not there.  They are so used to jeeps that they just go about their everyday duties ignoring the jeep and allowing us to watch their awesome size and beauty.  We also witnessed birds that flew across the river catching fish, hippos playing and swimming near by bellowing to each other chatting away.  The panoramic view was spectaular, and just when we thought we had seen it all, we had only just begun.
At Chobe National Park, Mother Earth consisted of sand and dunes unlike the red earth from our earlier safari adventures.  Since the watering holes were full and plentiful, the animals (unlike the ones at Kruger National Park in South Africa) were much more at ease and less agitated with the sounds of our jeep so we were able to get much, much closer.    We also got a viewing of two of of the rarest animals in all of Africa, the Sable Antelope and the Puku Antelope - both of which are almost extinct and extremely hard to find.
The return back into Zambia after a long day trip was less chaotic and eventually we returned back into our little cottage. 
Regrettably, Rhett and I cannot call ourselves Paris and Nicole because those two girls would never have taken such conditions and adventures.  The Association of Gay Americans (not a real association) will probably take our gay cards away from us because most gay men would never adventure out to do some of the things we have done.  Happily Andrew and Rhett have become stronger people and have a greater appreciation of what we have so goodbye Paris and Nicole, you will be missed and farewell to you both!!
We are now back in Johannesburg after a crazy and another chaotic experience at the airport.  Our flight was canceled in Livingstone and the entire airport was up in arms with people everywhere trying to get depart.  We were only delayed one hour but the expeirence seemed like it lasted days. 
On our way out of Zambia were were told by our driver that today they were celebrating World Malaria Day and they were gettting ready to have a parade.  This day they were creating awareness about Malaria and celebrating the fact that prevention was more available to them and most of Africa.  Malaria is the number one cause of death here in Africa next to AIDS and more than one million lives have been lost due to this illness of which most have been children.  The United Nations provides more medication to them, mosquito netting that protects them at night, and replenishes the mosquito repellent.   Just like we had a net that surrounded our bed at night, most Zambian people in the past have not.  We were even told that the Princess of England was going to attend the celebration and parade as well with the local residents here in Zambia to create awareness. 
I am glad to have left our little cottage/chalet with no windows, just nets, and a pillow that was as thin as a couple of magaizines that once folded in many ways, became just bearable enough to lay your head.  The mattress we left behind was simply old, hard, and my back and body are feeling the repercussions of it as I type.  Although knowing that most people that were sleeping under the same african skies had it much harder than us, probably sleeping on a thinner mat or on the ground, I am still glad to have left this small dusty town and back into Johannesburg - a big city far away from there.
For the last few weeks Rhett and I have visited five countries (Great Britain, South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia and Botswana) most of them from the developing world and very poor where 80% of people make less than $3 a day.  The land where they live is beautiful with clear blue skies, rivers and hills, music and a history of culture, pain and sacrifice, disease and sorrow, but mostly each day they wake up and thank God and hope that today will be a better one than last.
Now Rhett and I are back in the lap of luxury where we are surrounded by all the amenites we nauturally enjoy.  The General Manager here has put us into a suite that is as you can imagine is just wonderful.  No more roughing it for us for sometime...  We no longer need to live with bugspray, clean our teeth and wash our mouths with bottled water to avoid water borne diseases and our mattress once again is full and restful.  We got to see how the rest of the world lives here in Africa but we are made from a different mold.  We have longed for the last four days for radio and t.v. since we had none in Zambia.  Most of the news we received was from word of mouth.  Can you imagine getting news in this manner every day?  It drove us crazy.
We plan to spend the next few days to relax here in Jo'Burg and start getting used to the idea that we will soon be back at home and back at work.  Here we can reflect on all that we have done and seen along the way.  We also learned about ourselves in what our comfort zones are when traveling and how safety is very important to us.  We realize that taking certain adventures are just not cut out for us.
I will not be writing the next few days but will send one more email from home letting you know we are safe and sound back in Chicago.  Our flight is going to last about 24 hours with a rest over in London for breakfast and a stretch of our legs. 
We miss our doggies, our fishies, and of course our family and friends most of all.  We hoped that you have enjoyed our travel journal email and we look foward to seeing your face soon.
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