South Sudan is the newest country in the World and probably one of the most unstable. It is on the brink of collapse, with high inflation, hunger and a civil war that has been going on since 2013. I flew in to Juba Airport which pretty much was just some tents, chaotic with people literally fighting each other to carry the luggage for expats and other people who had just come in with the flight from Nairobi.
I changed some dollars with a rate of 1usd to 250 south Sudanese pounds whereas the rate used to be 1 to 1 with the dollar. Just like in Venezuela I could live as a king having dollars, but for the locals making money in pounds life is hard. Officials here make 3000(12usd a month). When driving on red light we were fined 1500pounds if we wanted to have a receipt, but we’re told that we also had the option of paying 1000 without a receipt. Just an everyday example of the endless corruption going on here.
During my time I stayed next to the Nile and luckily my host had a kayak so I could paddle upstream and have a look at the An-12 plane crash that had killed 37 in 2015, leaving only a man and a baby alive, with the man dying later in the hospital.
In Juba city center there is not much to see. There is hardly any tarmac or high buildings so it all just looks like a village. The only interesting place to see was the presidential palace where the walls were full of bullet holes.
I had asked my host if she could take me to the Jebel Mountain which was controlled by the rebels until the July battles broke out and she said she wanted to join me for the hike. We went right after sunrise and just after 30mins of climbing we were on the top with some great views over Juba City. On the way down we were met by some angry locals wanting a hundred dollars or to take us to the police station, as they meant that it was illegal to walk up the mountain alone. The discussion went from the threat of snakes and kidnappings, to accusations that I was a journalist (they are not allowed here and have mystically been disappearing in masses) before I changed the topic to how Norway was helping South Sudan, as one of the locals had a UNICEF and Norwegian Refugee Council logo on his T-shirt which he obviously had been donated. At the end we ended up paying them 1,5 dollars which was all the money we had and drove off. A typical South Sudan experience should you believe other travelers reports.
South Sudan has been quite an interesting experience. And even though I only got three days here in the capital there was not much more I could have seen. Getting out of the city as a foreigner is dangerous and strictly prohibited. Since 2013 it has been a curfew here from 6pm, which now has been extended to 10pm, not allowing people to walk on the streets after this time.
Zanzibar is an amazing place, rich in history, culture and with some fantastic beaches, BUT, the tourism is partly ruining it. Western tourists with little respect for the local life, walking through the streets in hotpants and bikini tops, while most local women wear nikabs and burkas. Guys trying to immitate the western boys by drinking and smoking while trying to pick up the girls that pass by. Many times successfully too, especially among the older ladies. This was more the case in the resort areas by Nungwe Beach, where I felt like just another mzungu tourist when walking through the village. When asking for bananas they gave me a price ten times higher than what I would pay in Dar es Salaam, or more than twenty times the amount I would pay on the country side.
Paje Beach in the South West was not as bad. Here they had budget bungalows for backpackers right in the village and the locals seemed to be more of a harmony with the tourists. It was a quiet place to go for kitesurfing in the day and bonfires on the beach in the night.
Stone Town city was also beautiful with traditional arab architechture- especially the doors and balconies were something taken out of the Aladdin world. This is because Zanzibar was ruled by the Omani people and this is why you will hear the mosque prayers five times a day and see men walking around with fez like hats and their white thawb dresses.
The house of wonders
In Stone Town I got to sleep on the office floor of a travel agency called Monda Africa, which I had been refered to by a friend in Uganda. During my three days there I got to see the main sights of the Slave Market (very much like the ones in Western Africa), the Hammam, the house of wonder (because it was the first house to get electricity), the market and the Fodhani garden where boys were jumping from the docks and people were dancing capoira on the beach. Although it was good to walk around and pick a little seafood from each stand I found it to be a bit exhausting as people were pulling your arm and shouting at you at the same time to buy their food.
The Fodhani Food Market
All in all I think Zanzibar has been fantastic, but I hope for their future that they can preserve cultural heritage so that the island will just be another playground for western tourists.
Jaws Corner where you can drink tea and play dominoes with the locals
I loove trains, and I have already completed the most famous train rides I can think of; from the Trans Siberian Railway to the Silk Road and riding on top of the World’s longest train in Mauritania.
The Tanzanian Central Line was no different. It was old with curtains, furniture and wall coverings from the 70s. The carts were bumping up and down and swinging from side to side as the train was moving, making my mind drift off in the day and rocking me to sleep in the night.
A first class compartment in Africa
I was lucky enough to get to know Emmanuel, one of the police guards on the train. His friendship was easily bought with a beer and letting him watch movies on my conputer. He told me stories from how weekly they have robbers climbing on top of the roof to steal bags through the windows. One time the had taken a baby as it was mistaken for being a bag, but luckily they had found it in a train station aftwards.
Time was mostly spent sitting in the restaurant chatting with Emmanuel and others, drinking big, lukewarn Kilimanjaro beers for one dollar each and watching movies in my “first class” compartnent which was right next to the kitchen. Whenever someone were ordering dinner I could hear the chicken scream next door as they were slaughtered. With no fridges on board thats how you keep the meat fresh!
Total time was 38 hours which went by fast. Every stop I could run after the train and jump into it in the lsst second and I was allowed to go on the roof and hang out through doors and windows- you dont get to do that riding trains in Europe!
Being on a three day African Train journey between Kigoma and Dar es Salaam the story of how Burkina Faso caught me up in jail comes back to me. I have never wrote anything about it before but it was on a similar train ride that it all happened.
Me and my American Friend Travis had border the train in the Burkina capital Ouagadougou in order to visit some Belgian friends and go to a music festival in Bobo Diolasso, while our visas to Ghana were being issued at the embassy.
It started as a nice train ride. We were drinking cheap wine and our favorite African beer called “Brakina” chatting to a girl from the Ivory Coast who was working as a model in London and was happy to meet tourists in West Africa where she was from.
It was then that the trouble started. A super drunk local guy were shouting at us in French that “le blancs” were coming here to steal their ladies while he raised his fists. A policeman was quick to arrive and immediately asked what was going on and to see our papers. We showed him our passport copies and explained that our passports were at the Ghana Embassy, but then he just said “biig problem” and asked for 10 us dollar bribe. Knowing that we had not done anything wrong we refused and ended up having to join him to the police office at the train station where they questioned us for hours.
After repeating the story for the tenth time and after they had looked through all our luggage, phone photos etc they said “OK, we will take you to where you are staying tonight”. “Great!” we thought and got on their motorbikes where they were pretending to find “Villa Bobo” where our Belgian friends were staying, but instead they drove us through some guarded gates and then more officers helped them drag us into a cell where they told us that this is the place we would spend the night.
Night after night passed and when we asked for information or a phone call, they just took away our water and told us to sit down on the bench. Rice or spaghetti with some sauce was brought to us 1-2 times a day and they escorted us to the messiest toilet I have ever seen three times a day. The rest of the time we were just waiting until we saw the faces of the Belgians walking through the door, shouting excitedly “it’s them!”. Apparently they had reported us missing and vouched for us when they were told that we were being locked up.
We were still not fee men, but instead were escorted by two officers to the train station, where they joined us (on first class which we didn’t have to say for!) all the way to Ouagadougou where a friend was waiting at the train station with our passports. The police then let us go and we caught the same train heading back to Bobo Diolasso and our Belgian friends. This time as free men with out passports.
Kigoma is the kind of place I think that it would be nice to live in for a couple of years. It’s small, safe, but still has everything you need. There is a small expat community, but more in the humanitarian sector than anything else, so most locals have good respect for the Mzungus/white people living there and don’t just think of them as people who have come to exploit business opportunities like you would find in bigger cities.
Kigoma is also a historical city. The suburb of Ujiji has one of Africa’s oldest (yet least impressive) markets and is also the place where Stanley found Dr.Livingston under a mango tree in October 1871, two years after receiving the assignment from his editor in New York to find him. This is also where Stanley’s famous quote “Dr.Livingston. I presume” comes from.
Kigoma has also proven to me that you don’t need to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars on safari tours in order to see the wildlife in Tanzania. When we went to Jakobsens, a Norwegian run beach guesthouse on Lake Tanganyika there were wild impalas and zebras on the way. When driving just a few kilometers out of town towards Uvinza we also saw hippos, baboons and chimpanzees, and the excitement of seeing them in the wild was much bigger than when spotting animals on the many safari trips I have done before.
Kigoma is also well connected, being on the border between Burundi, Tanzania and Congo and the next few days I will ride the Tanzanian Central Railway all the way from here to the Tanzanian coast.
Couchsurfing really made my trip to Kigoma memorable. My host there, Anthony from Belgium, was working with distributing beans and fertilizer in a city called Uvinza and had asked me if I could drive his motorbike and girlfriend over so that we could find a place to go camping around there on the weekend. Loving both bike riding and camping I happily said yes and the morning after we were on our way. Getting there late in the afternoon, we hiked to a mountain top in hope of seeing the sun set over the city, but when we realized that it was too gray for the sun to shine through we headed down to the river and found a big mango tree where we met Anthony and made camp for the night. After a bottle of whiskey and some discussing about life in Africa we all fell deep asleep.
5 am the next morning I wake up with the sun being halfway over the horizon, I look up through my mosquito net and see Anthony and his girlfriend sitting in the mango tree. Realizing that I was awake they said that they had heard some hippos from the river and was eager to look at them from the top. As I join them up at the top I also see the hippos but still far away so we decide to drive a bit further up along the river where we had been told there were lots of hippos.
The roads on the way were muddy and sometimes almost non existent but we made it to the river where we found some women washing their clothes. Timothy talk to the women in Swahili and asks if they would show us the hippos for some shillings. One of the women straightens her back and tell us to follow her over some logs connecting us to the other side of the river where we suddenly see the hippos resting in the water in front of us. She picks up a rock and explains that if you throw it at their head they will immediately get out of the water and start running after you. We hurriedly tell her not to and soon after we are on our way back on our motorcycles to Kigoma.