David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Mon 19 Mar 07 22:28
Our next guest is the peregrinating Marie Javins. Marie Javins is a travel writer, comic book colorist, and comic book editor whose latest book is "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik: One Woman's Solo Misadventures Across Africa." It's a travel narrative about her trip overland from Cape Town to Cairo in 2001, interspersed with bits of her life in Uganda in 2005. The Cape-to-Cairo section was part of a larger trip around-the-world by surface transport, undertaken as a nearly live year-long web project for http://www.mariesworldtour.com. At the moment, Marie lives in Cairo, where she is editing comic books for a Kuwait-based comic book company, but in comics, she is best known for over a decade's worth of editing and coloring for Marvel Comics. Her blog about living in Cairo, Kuwait, and other places is at http://mariejavins.blogspot.com. Joining Marie is Frako Loden. Frako Loden teaches film in Ethnic Studies and Women's Studies at California State University East Bay and co-hosts the WELL's Travel conference. In the 1990s while living in Tokyo, she blew her down payment for a Bay Area home by traveling around Asia and the Pacific Rim. On her way home to California, she took the long way via Asia, Africa and Europe. While planning her next and long-overdue overseas trip, she lives vicariously through the travel writings of other people. Her sole sojourn through Africa, like Marie's, also happened to be from Capetown to Cairo--only pretty different. Welcome, Marie and Frako!
Marie Javins (mariejavins) Tue 20 Mar 07 04:12
Thanks, David. I realize I'm supposed to be talking about my book, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik," but now I'd like to know about Frako's trip across Africa too.
mother of my eyelid (frako) Tue 20 Mar 07 07:33
Marie, so nice to meet you! Six hours ago I finished reading _Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik_ and your arrival in Sudan "after four months in Africa and seven months in Asia, Australia, and Europe" is still fresh in my mind--I may have even dreamt about it mixed in with details of a movie I'd seen. So we might as well start at the end and gradually work our way back through your journeys. My first question would be, How do you prepare for such long sojourns, especially knowing that you'll be looking for the cheapest means of (overland) transport and lodging? Well, I guess we're at the beginning after all . . .
Marie Javins (mariejavins) Tue 20 Mar 07 14:36
The hardest part is getting out of the house. Selling/renting the home, getting all the financial details to take care of themselves, packing, making sense of travel insurance, getting things into storage. I always tell prospective long-term travelers that if they can get out of the house and on the road without having a nervous breakdown, the trip itself is a breeze. Planning the trip is fun but takes a lot of time and attention. I did it in halves, that is, I planned Jan-May (US, Australia, Indonesia, SE Asia, China, Trans-Sib, Baltics) from New York, then spent June in an apartment in Berlin planning Africa. I bought a huge map, a few Lonely Planet guides, andwith a highlighterworked my way up from Cape Town. There's an art to finding the balance between too much planning and not enough planning, and you want to have all the right visas on the right days and you don't want to end up in a dead end somewhere ("it looked like such a short distance but I didn't realize that border was closed"), but you also need to build in time for the unexpected. The first decision was "How do I get from Cape Town to Victoria Falls? By the eastern route or the western route?" So I read everything I could about both and decided I liked the sound of Namibia (western). And once I decided on Namibia, it was off to the internet cafe to find a trip I could afford (you need to go on a group excursion or rent a car to get into the national parks). Then how to get from Cape Town to Namibia? Off to the internet cafe again to read up on buses and trains. Then how to get from Namibia to Vic Falls? That's a new study day. I plan it a leg at a time, reading everything I can and then see how it pieces together with the next leg.
mother of my eyelid (frako) Wed 21 Mar 07 09:25
OK, so you do use Lonely Planet as one of your guides. Don't you sometimes find it too restrictive as a Backpacker Bible? You must supplement it with other guides that aren't in the pack of seemingly every backpacker in the world--just so that you don't end up in the same lodgings as everybody else. And which travel sites on the Internet do you go to the most (besides specific sites for excursions and tours)? Here on the WELL, for example, Joe <static> often refers us to conversations on BootsnAll Travel (<http://www.bootsnall.com/>). Do you read travelers' reviews? My Africa experience of 1998 will provide a good contrast to yours. It was pretty much planned out for me and Joe, my husband (<jloree>), from Berkeley while we were living in Tokyo. The organization was Next Adventures. Although we didn't stay in luxury lodges, accommodations were very comfortable. In May we landed in Capetown where we spent some days. Then fly to Windhoek, Namibia, where we rented a car and drove out to Sossusvlei (sand dunes) and Swakopmund. Back to Windhoek, we flew to Victoria Falls, where we met up with our group for the 10-day "participatory safari." Off we went to Chobe National Park, Moremi, Okavango Delta. Then to Johannesburg, then to Cairo. A hugely different experience from yours, which you planned by yourself step by step, tried to keep your costs down, and went by yourself. THAT's the more interesting experience, and we want to hear about that!
Marie Javins (mariejavins) Wed 21 Mar 07 13:53
Oh no, the tried-and-true LP guide route isn't a problem in Africa at all. Well, maybe in South Africa, but S.A. has so many other options for travelers that few things are ever that crowded. There simply aren't that many backpackers roaming Africa alone. Most people who go to Africa go on either a luxury trip, a short budget safari, or an "overland truck" (where they camp). The problem with guidebooks is that you just can't go carrying all the ones you need. Too heavy! I always have one guidebook, one reading/fiction book, and that is it. As I go, I shed and replace with whatever I can find locally. I have an <A HREF="http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/6947/1372/1600/guidebooks.0.jpg">entire library at home</A> though. Hmm, what sites do I go to? Most review sites and personal stories are actually not that useful for this region, and certainly were not in 2001. I used to look at the LP Thorntree, but I think they used to archive a good deal more. I read a detailed account there of how to go overland from Ethiopia to Sudan, but it vanished later. Local sites are by far the most helpful. I found a backpacker's site from Kampala that described how to take the bus to see the mountain gorillas. And search engines turned up things like the coaches of South Africa. The Intercape Mainliner is the way to go there. One site that I don't think existed when I took the first Africa trip, but that I refer to frequently now is <A HREF="http://www.seat61.com">The Man in Seat 61,</A> which is all about train travel. I just used this last week to figure out how to get from Cairo to Luxor in the most sensible manner. And I used it in 2005 when I went from near Lesotho to Johannesburg on an overnight train (even had a shower!), then to work out the details on an overnight train in Botswana as well.
mother of my eyelid (frako) Wed 21 Mar 07 14:45
Man, that Man in Seat 61 site is amazingly detailed. I see he is a British railwayman. And I like the photo of your bookshelf. I don't see many Moon guides--I really like that series. Marie, how would you encourage a woman to travel alone through Africa?
Marie Javins (mariejavins) Wed 21 Mar 07 16:08
Woman, man... it's not so different. The big dangers to tourists in southern and eastern Africa are auto accidents and malaria. And in the biggest cities (Nairobi, Vic Falls, Jo'burg)--muggings or pickpockets. These don't discriminate on the basis of gender. Plenty of African women travel alone on buses or by walking, so solo women travelers are perfectly normal throughout these regions. People who are especially worried about crime might prefer the seeming safety of an organized trip. I have not been mugged or pickpocketed or lost anything in my times in Africa, nor have I had malaria. But these are fairly random things that you can only control to a point. Don't carry a bag in a city. Don't wear a watch or jewelry that might tempt a thief. Take taxis at night. Spend a bit more and stay somewhere decent. And don't get bitten by mosquitos. Get medical help immediately if you seem to have the flu. That could be malaria. One place where gender matters is on the train. Men and women are segregated into sleeper cars by gender. In Botswana, I shared a compartment with one Botswanan woman, who was on her way to a conference for her job. We chatted a bit, found out that we had many things in common. That was nice. On the TAZARA train, I had three roommates from either Zambia or Tanzania, and there I got to watch them go through complex morning routines involving various beauty products. This is where one woman explained to me that the naked breasts are not such a big deal in Zambia, but the crotch area is very private. I told her this was also private in my country. She looked skeptical. I reckon she's seen a lot of movies that indicated otherwise.
Joe Ehrlich (static) Wed 21 Mar 07 16:11
I just started the book today at lunch and am now hooked. Now I know what I am doing tonight....
mother of my eyelid (frako) Wed 21 Mar 07 16:22
Watching an African woman at her morning toilet would be priceless. This is something only a fellow female traveler could have access to. So Maria, if I shouldn't carry a bag in the city, where do I put all my stuff when I'm moving around? Women don't have enough pockets! And what kind of antimalarial medication, if any, have you used in Africa? I believe I took mefloquine.
Marie Javins (mariejavins) Wed 21 Mar 07 22:38
Heh, thanks, Joe! Franko, for women carrying all their stuff in a city, of course if they are going to the bus station, they need their bags and need to have them in a taxi. But if walking in a city famous for bag-snatchings or crime, both women and men just have to not carry stuff. Leave it in the hotel. I take my (cheap) phone in one pocket and my money in the other. The thing that is unfortunate is that this leaves no room for a camera, so if you are going somewhere that you'll want to photograph, take a bag. And a taxi. The good news is this it really only for the few cities I mentioned earlier. You only have to think about it in big cities with high crime rates: Nairobi and Jo'burg. To a lesser extent, it goes for Vic Falls and Windhoek. In other places (Cape Town, Kampala, Cairo), you can carry all the bags you want. I don't take anti-malaria meds anymore, because it just got to be too ridiculous when I was in Uganda, Namibia, and South Africa in 2005 (six months). Side effects are tolerable on a short-term basis, not the best idea for your health for long-term. Nowadays I carry a malaria self-test kit instead, and the pills to take if I get it. I do NOT recommend this, but the thing is that mosquitos don't like me and I almost never get a bite. Plus I avoid going out at twilight and sleep under a mozzy net. But some people get eaten alive by mosquitos so obviously they should go with doctor's advice. But here's a tip: Doctors in specialist clinics in, for example, Kampala, know a lot more about local strains of malaria than your general practitioner at home, and anti-malaria meds are cheaper in Kampala anyway. But be skeptical. The "newest wonder-drug" might be great, but is also might just be tomorrow's "proven to produce lunatic rage" drug.
David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Wed 21 Mar 07 22:43
That would seem to be a drawback. Do you think that the bag-snatching and whatnot is worse in those cities than in, say, Rome, or Hong Kong, or other traditional centers of snatch-and-grab theft? As a photographer, since I'm *always* carrying a bag, I'm wondering if the techniques I've used successfully in places like that (bag over neck, never fuss with bag without being backed up against a wall, etc.) would be successful in Nairobi, etc.
Marie Javins (mariejavins) Thu 22 Mar 07 01:15
Oh yeah, crime is way worse in Nairobi or Jo'burg than in Rome or Hong Kong. For sure. Take photos in Dar Es Salaam, Cairo, Kampala, Cape Town, Lusaka. But not in Nairobi. Or take a tiny point-and-shoot for this. That said, I *do* think that Nairobi is less dangerous than people believe. I have walked around there plenty of times--yes, even with the no-no bag over my neck--and only had scams tried on me, not violent crime. But I've met lots of people who tell me violent crime is not uncommon, that they've lost money or been hit. It might best be compared to Manhattan in the late 70s, when people say they would take $20 along as "mugger-insurance." I can't speak for Johannesburg though, because I am too freaked out by the stories to hang around there. My only Jo'burg experience was arriving by train, being escorted to the minibus park by a bus line employee (after being warned against going out alone by a policeman), then leaving town in the minibus. I have to say that it didn't look so dangerous. The most hassle I got was all the people warning me non-stop. But you have to take local information seriously.
paralyzed by a question like that (debunix) Thu 22 Mar 07 07:39
Hello, Marie! I'm enjoying the book, trying to imagine myself having a solo adventure like that. I think I missed the magic window before or after college, and it probably won't happen. But I do hope to get to Africa in one way or another. One of many things I'm really struck by in your book is the repeated theme that people are fenced in in the wildlife parks, because the wildlife is wild and dangerous. So you have to be in a vehicle, or in some places, on horseback. I've always preferred to enjoy a new place on foot as much as possible, walking to get the feel of a city, or hiking to experience the outdoors up close and personal. I'd like to see an elephant up close as much as the next person, but I'm also very interested in smaller flora and fauna that would be completely invisible from a vehicle. How do you get up close and personal with the wild landscape safely?
mother of my eyelid (frako) Thu 22 Mar 07 11:05
Before Marie answers with more experience, I would say that on my sole African safari, we got around Chobe (Moremi/Savuti) and Okavango with the traditional open Land Rover-style bus, and it was a great relief to have such a big vehicle to hide in when we got so close to elephants and lions. Lions respect big vehicles--the humans inside them don't look like prey until they start fidgeting and looking separable from the vehicle. We got in one hairy situation where we were in the direct path of a dozen elephants highly annoyed by some lions that had startled them, and the elephants charged our vehicle before stopping short in a huge cloud of dust. One afternoon our bus got a flat, and we ended up having to walk back to camp. THIS was what we were all secretly hoping for--having to walk for miles without the sanctuary of the truck. Well, some of us. I was delighted, because it meant now we had direct contact with the earth, and I got some good unjiggly photos and video footage of things like plants. It was all very exciting when dusk came, our flashlights died, and we ended up walking in single file with our nervous guides back to camp. We saw owls and other nocturnal animals but not the leopard that the guides were scaring us back in line with. It was memorable.
Marie Javins (mariejavins) Thu 22 Mar 07 11:13
Debunix, you can go on a walking safari. <http://www.zambezi.co.uk/safari/activity/walking.html> I'm sure one of these is perfect for you. It isn't the same as what Frako is describing because on a walking safari (as opposed to an unexpected flat), you are actually prepared to encounter animals (flare guns in case an elephant gets angry, for example). As for missing the window, of course you didn't! I was 34 (not college-age) when I did this trip the first time, and the last time I went Cape Town to Kampala by land, I was 39. I'm 40 and still going strong here in Egypt. And because everythng is relative, it seems in the book that I was really cutting the budget tightly. But I wasn't. I never go for the cheapest accommodation. I don't need luxury, but I need water, a working door with a good lock, and no bedbugs. So while I don't usually stay at the Hilton, I let the college kids stick to the $6 a night hostels and I head for the $13 a night private room, or the $25 a night 2-star place. I've met 70-year-olds in hostels in Namibia and my roommate on an overland truck expedition from Kathmandu to Damascus in 1998 was a 62-year-old woman. All this is to say, you can pay a bit more, have relative comfort, and not have to face drunken 20-year-olds partying at bedtime. And still travel alone around the world on a reasonable amount of money. (Um, for Frako, yikes, that WAS dangerous... that leopard would have had an easy snack that night, and when elephants charge, they charge anywhere they want to.)
mother of my eyelid (frako) Thu 22 Mar 07 12:11
Yeah, I thought those elephants were going to roll our truck into the Chobe River! It was the single most thrilling experience of my life--first watching the lions move their heads in and out of the giraffe carcass, then seeing the elephants approach them without knowing how many cats were sitting in the shade of that tree. The fuss those elephants kicked up--the trumpeting, the ear-flaring, the stamping and dust-raising--shot my adrenaline level way up past the 6.9-earthquake level. And we couldn't stop talking about that incident for DAYS afterwards. In fact, it happened on Day 1 of the safari and nothing ever measured up to that. By the way, now I remember that on the final day, Day 10, of our safari we went on a half-day walking trip. It was lovely. Marie, you say you need water--hot water at all times? I'm wondering what a $13 or $25-a-night room in Africa would get me in terms of water. And one thing that's been bugging me since I started your book: All the male street hassling. That's the main reason I've never gone traveling solo as a woman. Joe's good for many things as a travel companion, but one great thing is that he dissuades most unwanted male attention. Doesn't that just rankle you, happening all the time?
Marie Javins (mariejavins) Thu 22 Mar 07 15:06
Oh, the street hassle isn't specific to being female! It just gives it a unique spin. But men get it too. It's part of being a tourist and being out and really on the ground, instead of sheltered. I liked being on the overland truck (and then off the truck) in Ethiopia, because every time I got sick of the hassle, the truck was there to give me shelter in the tourist bubble. And occasionallyvery occasionallyif you are feeling in a good enough humor, the hassle can turn into humorous banter. A little street hassle comic book story: <http://www.comiculture.com/webcomics/maries_wt/jambo/> Here, where I am now in Cairo, THAT'S where being female is a problem! Endless street hassle, and not the kind that is designed to get you to buy a wooden elephant. I do like having hot water. But when I lived in the jungle in Uganda, it was only hot in mid-afternoon when the sun warmed the pipes. So I'm used to cold showers if I have to take them. $13 to $25 is generally a hot water hotel room in East and Southern Africa, though there are exceptions where these sort of luxuries just aren't known. A $13-25 room usually includes a bed, ceiling fan, private bathroom, and maybe a TV and/or phone. Usually includes breakfast. These rooms are almost always wearing out and have seen better days, but are safe and clean. Hostels and backpackers are cheaper, $6-12 for a bed in a dorm. I sometimes take single rooms in hostels, and then have to use the shared bathrooms. There are some great advantages to hostels--social scene, use of a kitchen, barbecues, and sometimes swimming pools. But to get a private room in a hostel, you almost always must book ahead.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 22 Mar 07 15:13
What's it like being in a place where you're the minority race?
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 22 Mar 07 15:19
(assuming you are. You look black and white from here)
paralyzed by a question like that (debunix) Thu 22 Mar 07 15:36
Thanks for the tip on walking safaris--that sounds just like what I'd be looking for. I'm glad to know that there is an alternative to being in a truck, and am not sure my horsemanship skills are up to racing away from a charging elephant! And I'm very interested in the answer to Sharon's question, too. I've only traveled abroad before once, to Italy, where I felt reasonably inconspicuous, not only among other tourists, but walking along the streets. As soon as I opened my mouth, of course, I would naturally be recognizable as American, but not otherwise. But obviously I would not blend in in Africa. At the same time, I'd like to minimize the distance between myself and the locals, without being patronizing or inappropriately familiar.
Marie Javins (mariejavins) Thu 22 Mar 07 16:08
Well, Sharon, in Ethiopia there are rural areas where the mere sight of a foreigner (of any race) sends children into screaming frenzies, because they are so excited by the novelty of someone who looks so different from them. The thrill of this wore off quickly as being the head of a parade limits one's movements. And in South Africa, race is undeniably an issue. There is a great sense of pride in what has so far been achieved. But there is a long way to go before parity is achieved and I get confused sometimes, torn between being amazed at what has been achieved and appalled at what has not (these things take time). The majority of South Africans have faith in the power of reconciliation. From Namibia to Uganda, being "different" surely helped me, as I was clearly not from around-these-parts (though there are plenty of white Kenyans, South Africans, Namibians, Zimbabweans, and now many have relocated to Zambia, but these people do not wander around looking confused and wearing a giant backpack). Sure, there are touts and sales people, but there are also hundreds of people who can spot a lost person from a block away, and rush over to help. And in Sudan, being a traveler meant I was treated hospitably, as it is the culture. People generally went out of their way to assist me because I looked foreign. This wears off when you live somewhere. I don't mean suddenly I wasn't white in Uganda. But as you assimilate into a culture, you just get on the bus like everyone else, and it's almost like people can tell you live there. They just get on the bus too, instead of checking to make sure you're not on the wrong bus, or that you've fastened your seatbelt.
mother of my eyelid (frako) Thu 22 Mar 07 16:27
I like the comic book version, Marie! Maybe down the line we can talk about your career as a comic book colorist/editor, especially since you're making your Africa experience part of it. I noticed a huge difference in black-white relationships among Namibia, South Africa and especially Zimbabwe--the contrasts were appalling--so naturally that meant a big difference in the way I, a foreigner who doesn't look exactly black or white, was perceived from country to country. It was one of the starkest lessons I brought home from Africa.
Paulina Borsook (loris) Thu 22 Mar 07 19:26
just to ask about the title of the book --- how did you arrive at that? long story, but i have had a lamp since i was 14 yrs old made from three hooves of what i was told was a kirk's dik-dik --- so i intrigued that someone, you know, might actually have seen one on the run...fwiw, the stuffed kirk's dik-dik i saw at the harvard natural history museum last fall looked too -small- to have provided the feet for my lamp, but what do i know...
Berliner (captward) Thu 22 Mar 07 20:00
Well, actually, if you read the book, you'll note that Marie sorta cheated: it was *Marie* that got stalked *by* the dik-dik. Still, if you're looking for a great title...
Paulina Borsook (loris) Thu 22 Mar 07 20:24
sorry, dont have the book at hand, so I Confess To Knowing Nothing. except that 'the kirk's dik-dik is an excellent small mount fir [make that 'for'] a game room ' according to a document i have imprinted with the name 'knowland ward - nairobi - london'
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