Sunday, April 24, 2011

Books, Figures, and Munny's Hall of Fame

Made it back to Jackson on the morning of April 20th. Looking out the window, my thought was, "It sure is green around here." I've been at 810 recuperating and managing to catch up with a few old friends who either live here or happened to be in town. The plan is to head north tomorrow - pick up Jonah in Philly on Friday and head to Providence, where we'll spend a couple of weeks rehearsing before our shows start. We have shows in Portland, Cambridge, Providence, Brooklyn, Philly and DC (we'll be updating our website soon with the tour schedule, in the meantime you can check out our facebook page). From DC we'll come through Raleigh, Asheville, Nashville, Birmingham and on to Jackson. So stay tuned for a full schedule!

As my last post I thought I'd share some figures from my trip, my booklist, and offer a last time shoutout to my Hall of Fame, a.k.a. people I may owe my first born.

You've probably wondered how I've managed to pull off this trip. And while my folks have occasionally pitched in (like paying for the safari and time with them in Africa, or donating some frequent flyer miles for a free flight), it's been otherwise self-financed. Anyone who has seen me, or my "Adventure Book," knows that I've become a meticulous record keeper during this trip and I can basically tell you what I've spent every penny on. So, with that in mind, here are the figures:
  • $18,252.78 - cost of a 13 month peregrine deviation. This figure is basically what I spent on 13 months of around-the-world travel in pretty fantastic places.
  • $1,404.06 per month - I have many friends in DC who spend this just on rent, but I spent it on adventure instead. Turns out, traveling the world is cheaper than living in DC.
  • Southeast Asia trip per diem (non-inclusive of flight): $27.44
  • East Coast roadtrip USA per diem (inclusive of gas): $20.28
  • West Coast roadtrip USA per diem (inclusive of gas): $44.72
  • South America per diem (non-inclusive of flight or Machu Picchu trek): $32.02
  • Africa per diem (non-inclusive of flight or Kilimanjaro trek): $36.30
  • Machu Pichu trek: $540.00
  • Kilimanjaro trek: $1,556.58
  • Cheapest night on the road: $1.62 for a shared room in Pakbeng, Laos
  • Most expensive night on the road: $27.00 for a shared chalet on the beach in Zanzibar
What is not included in these per diem costs are my flights, both car and health insurance, and money spent on recording an album. All of those costs are, however, reflected in the overall figure of $18,252.78. Captain Safety jokes that I should be put in charge of the federal budget since I seem to be so good a number crunching and living frugally.

At times the books chosen were deliberate, but every now and again the Kindle broke or the second-hand bookstore only had a few options. Here's the list in full:
  1. Girl With the Dragon Tattoo - Steig Larsson
  2. Girl Who Played With Fire - Steig Larsson
  3. Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest - Steig Larsson
  4. Their Eyes Were Watching God - Zora Neale Hurston
  5. Bangkok Haunts - John Burdett
  6. God Save the Sweet Potato Queens - Jill Connor Browne
  7. Tess of D'Ubervilles - Thomas Hardy
  8. Resistance - Anita Shreve
  9. Savage Detectives - Robert Balano
  10. White Teeth - Zadie Smith
  11. Water For Elephants - Sara Gruen
  12. The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
  13. Out Stealing Horses - Per Petterson
  14. Rising Tide - John Barry
  15. In the Woods - Tana French
  16. The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America - Douglas Brinkley
  17. Encounters of the Archdruid - John McPhee
  18. Cutting for Stone - Abraham Verghese
  19. Buy-ology - Martin Lindstrom
  20. Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernieres
  21. The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen
  22. Even Cowgirls Get the Blues - Tom Robbins
  23. Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight - Alexandra Fuller
  24. Into Thin Air - Jon Krakauer
  25. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
  26. Snow Falling on Cedars - David Gutterson
  27. The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
  28. The Fear: The Last Days of Robert Mugabe - Peter Goodwin
  29. 1491 - Charles Mann
  30. The Temple of My Familiar - Alice Walker
  31. The Betrayal of Africa - Gerald Caplan
  32. Dark Star Safari - Paul Theroux
  33. Dead Aid - Dambisa Moyo
  34. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind - William Kamkwamba & Bryan Mealer

Hall of Fame
After this past year I am forever indebted to many of you - travel companions, owners of couches, givers of food, offerers of a free ride somewhere. If you fed, housed, transported, or accompanied me any time in the past year you are entitled to a "free stay at my place" card, you just have to wait until I actually get a place somewhere.

In order of appearance, though, are the heavy-hitters, those my adventure would be entirely different without. A deep-felt thank you to:
Mary Ann Scott, Sarah Schwarz, Big, Shelley Katsh & Mark Gabry, Robert & Barbara Munford, Captain Safety & Pops, Nicole Melas, Hannah Wadsworth, Freeland Church, Mary Jo & George Johnston, Jaimi Norden, Lauren Plettner, Liddell Shannon, Anya Kaplan-Seem, Jon Hampton, Lucy Whidden, Joan Sullivan-Owomoyela, Sister, Scooter Walsh, and Laura Kergosien.

I hope one day I can return the favor to you and to the universe. I am humbled and incredibly grateful for all the generosity, warmth, and laughter I've been privy to this past year. To quote Alice Walker,

I thank the Universe for my participation in existence. It is a pleasure to have always been present.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dirty Money and Southern (African) Hospitality

My last stop before returning to Johannesburg was the often newsworthy and politically volatile country of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe, known as Rhodesia until the end of the civil war in 1980, is still run by one Robert Gabriel Mugabe, one of Africa's most notorious "Big Men." Since the toppling of Big Men in north and west Africa seems to be a trend of late, Captain Safety was a bit nervous about this foray of mine. But I was assured by native Zimbabweans and some of Sister's friends that as long as I kept my mouth shut I probably wouldn't end up in a Zimbabwean prison somewhere. So I ditched my copy of Fear: The Last Days of Robert Mugabe, made plans with Sister's friends living in Mutoko, and read a somewhat worthless chapter on Zim in The Lonely Planet before crossing the Mozambique - Zimbabwe border on April 6th.

Zim was, by far, my favorite African country I visited, perhaps my favorite country in the last 13 months. It has stunning scenery, gracious people, and it was the backdrop for my final reflections on this last year + of peregrination.

I started of in Harare, the capital, with some of Sister's Princeton friends who are starting an NGO focused on treating bilharzia, a waterborne parasite that can cause serious organ damage. Laura, Sister's Princeton roommate and fellow Mississippian, took me to the African bush for a few days to see the Methodist mission and community where they carry out most of their work. We returned to Harare a few days later, I bid the team adieu, and sojourned south to the Great Zimbabwe ruins before turning west to the city of Bulawayo and Matopos National Park.

Bilharzia can be found in freshwater sources all over Africa
  • Ever wonder where old, dirty American money goes when Americans think it is too foul to be of actual use? Zimbabwe. Don't ask me how, exactly, it gets there (a fascinating journey, to be sure), but it does. A few years ago Zim's own dollar suffered so much inflation as to be completely useless--the 10 trillion (yes, with a T) dollar note was worth about $1 US. To fix the inflation problem they just switched over to the US dollar and let us control the inflation for them. The result is that the entire economy runs on old, gross US currency.
  • Turns out that even countries who don't use their own currency don't really like the penny either. Instead of using US change, anything less than $1 US is quote in South African rand (about 7R = $1USD). This makes going to the grocery store a somewhat hilarious adventure. Upon my first purchase of wine, bread, and peanut butter the register read $10.18. I handed the clerk a $10 bill, a dime, and one South African rand. He turned his nose up at the dime and insisted on 2R for the change. I started to argue that 2R is actually worth closer to $.30, but soon recognized this would be a futile argument.
  • What I learned the next day was that the easy way around the confusion was to just round up your purchase with lollipops, gum, or a box of TicTacs. For example, for a $10.18 purchase you just hand the clerk $11 and ask for a handful of lollipops. This reminded me of going to the bank as a kid and the teller would give you a free sucker. This kind of arrangement quickly changed my attitude about shopping, although I am sure much to dentists' lament.

  • Day trip to a site outside of Harare with cave paintings and a great view

  • Some estimate that up to 25% of the population are informants for ZANU PF, Mugabe's ruling party. This figure means that extreme caution should be exercised with anyone who wants to talk politics with you. My friends in Mutoko even practice such caution with their 15 year old neighbor who complains about being a poor farmer and wanting political change. It's hard not to encourage the kid to fight for real democracy, but doing so jeopardizes their work as well as their life not in jail.

  • Fishing near the Mission outside of Mutoko

  • I hitched my way to and through Matopos National Park, a gorgeous park with rock outcroppings and the final resting place of Rhodes, the man who lent Rhodesia his name, endowed the Rhodes Scholarship program, and founded the de Beers Diamond Mining Company. The park is stunning and if it's location was in the US, would be as popular as Yosemite. Instead, it was nearly vacant. I was the only camper in the entire park for the two days I was there. Others came for an afternoon or spent a night in one of the lodges, but Elbert (my tent) and I were alone in the campgrounds. I enjoyed the solitude, but couldn't shake a strong sense of isolation.
  • One afternoon I hitched a ride with a group of older white Zimbabweans, who promptly insisted I join them for their afternoon braii (cookout). I hardly met a Zimbabwean, white or black, who didn't invite me to a meal or give me their number in case I ran into any trouble. "Please tell people how nice Zimbabwe is," was a frequent refrain, as if I alone could bring back tourists. People I met were incredibly gracious, which made hitchhiking a rather pleasant endeavor and the source of some engaging conversations.

  • Elbert (my tent) pitched in Matopos

  • The older gent in this particular party told me a story of how his bank account one day had a figure with 27 zeros behind it ("and that was after the government lopped off 3 zeros to try and 'solve inflation'!"), and the next day the bank account had nothing. Not one cent. No one knew where the money went, no one cared. People, white and black, referred to this time as "when things got bad," but would often follow these stories up with, "when things get better..." Stunning optimism and resolve, if you ask me.
All-in-all, I found Zim fascinating to travel through and not once did I feel threatened or unsafe. I loved feeling like the lone tourist, and reveled in the conversations with curious locals (One gent: "How is it that I find a lone lady in the Zimbabwean bush!? Where, pray tell, are you from and how did you get here?" He then proceeded to take a picture of me and my tent, as if we were as rare as the elusive white rhino, "No one's going to believe this!").

Sadly, I am in Johannesburg now, due to make my final return flight tonight. I won't stop for long, though my grand peregrination is over. I'll make my way north to start rehearsing for the Munny & the Cameraman tour (Maine, Boston, NYC, Philly, and DC are all already on the docket), which, with any luck, should carry me through July. The next step from there is still uncertain, but it will come, it always does.

This is my final entry from abroad, but I'll make a final post on figures and my booklist for anyone interested. It's impossible to accurately sum up the last 395 days, so instead I'll leave you with a quote from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which I read somewhere along the shores of Lake Malawi:

" 'I could tell you of my adventures--beginning from this morning,' said Alice a little timidly: ' but it is no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.' "

Sunset from Pomongwe Summit in Matopos National Park

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Speaking Spanish in Africa

I am currently in an internet cafe in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe but for simplicity's sake this entry will concern my trip from Cape Town up into Mozambique. Internet has been shoddy and scarce along the way so apologies to anyone who has been on pins and needles waiting for my next report.

My journey into Mozambique from Cape Town took about a week, with stopovers in Port Elizabeth and Durban, the latter being far preferable. I took the Baz Bus, a hop-on/hop-off bus that takes backpackers all over the country. I bought the express ticket, which was far cheaper, so I didn't do much hopping on and off. It's a good idea but for my purpose I probably should have just taken the regular long-distance bus. From Durban I traveled to Maputo (capital of Mozambique) via Swaziland, which was beautiful to ride through. I spent one day in Maputo doing some errands (exchanging money, buying groceries, getting a photocopy of my passport notarized, etc.) before taking the bus up to Inharrime to meet a college friend currently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) there. I spent a few days with her in Inharrime and then tagged along with a big get-together of PCVs at a beach not too far away. After the weekend I said goodbye and hitched my way north via Vilankulos to Chimoio and from there I crossed into the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe.
  • You have to love countries that sometimes don't even take their own currency. In South Africa there is a large amount of fake 200 Rand notes circulating so many shops won't take them. Too bad for me, since that's what the ATM often gives you. (I won't even start about Zim, I'll save that for the next entry.)
  • Just when I thought I've seen all the different variations of strange public transit, I was (almost literally) thrown into a chapa (minibus) in Moz that was definitely at capacity. Since there were no seats (not even an inch of seat for my more-than-inch-wide ass) I was instructed by the conductor to just stand, basically between this poor woman's legs on the second row. And obviously "standing" isn't much of an option for someone 5'10 so I crouched. This ended up paying off, though, because after 30 minutes of it I got to snag the front seat for the rest of the 3 hour journey.
  • In Moz they speak Portuguese, which I equate to "just about Spanish" so I just kept pretending they were speaking Spanish. I would just jabber away in Spanish and they'd just kind of look at me funny, but understood most of what I was saying. Problem is my reverse translation skills aren't that strong. This led to rather awkward conversations where I misled people into thinking I was Zimbabwean, or married, or volunteering in the area. Whoops.
  • The meticais, the Moz currency, seems to be fairly volatile. I traded at 32 Mtc = $1USD, but the PCVs told me it has been at 45 Mtc = $1USD when they had first arrived 18 months ago! The other funny thing is that I guess a few years ago inflation got so bad they just lopped off 3 zeros from the end of the numbers. You'll still find a few of the old Mtc in circulation - a coin that reads 5000 Mtc is actually worth only 5 Mtc. (Note: Zimbabwe also tried this trick but when you're lopping off 3 zeros from digits that have 32 zeros, it doesn't quite have the same effect. Again, more on this next entry).
  • Scooter, my Bowdoin friend, lives on a Catholic mission outside of Inharrime and teaches at the school there. The girls at the orphanage called me "Mana Munny" (Sister Munny), but also "Mana Bieber" and kept asking if I was his sister since I too was a musician. How these kids even know about Justin Bieber is beyond me...
  • I know Captain Safety was nervous when she heard I'd been hitchhiking my way through some of these African countries. But almost any PCV or long-term volunteer will tell you that hitching is almost always safer than riding in a chapa or open-backed truck (the only "public transit" available). In a hitch you might actually get inside the car and have a seatbelt. Plus, for a budget traveler like myself I often got a hitch for free (sometimes they'll charge you what you'd pay in a chapa, but still, you're often far more comfortable in a hitch than in a chapa). And company in a hitch is almost always more engaging than company in a chapa. Hitchhiking has actually been one of the highlights of my adventure here and has been the source of many engaging and interesting conversations (save for the guy who only spoke Portuguese for a 5 hour journey - that one was a little awkward).

Toenails in the sand

Two of the girls at Laura Vicuna Mission outside of Inharrime. Margarite,

Walking down the beach with the dogs of the owners. Don't worry, these were friendly dogs and they weren't chasing me

Sunset over Tsene Lagoa, a saltwater lake just inland from the Indian Ocean