Monday, October 06, 2008

Little Differences, Part 1 - Public Transportation

One thing I love about travelling is the little difference in mastering the all-days-life. Every big city might look similar on the first glance but as soon as you start exploring you might struggle with a lot of small hurdles.
Let´s talk about public transportation. In Johannesburg there are literally thousands of white mini vans as a kind of inofficial collective taxis. You jump in and some other new passenger gives you some coins. You add your own coins and hand the money from passenger to passenger towards the driver and yell something like ´five eight fifty one nine´. This means that five passengers want to pay eight Rand fifty and one has to pay nine Rand. It took me a while to figure this out. I never understood how to find out the price.
The passenger beside the driver is always the one that has to deal with the change (regardless if he likes it or not). Some minutes later your change is wandering back from passenger to passenger to you. If you want to jump off it´s inpolite to say ´please stop´. The correct phrase is ´short left´ or simply ´after robot´.
The most struggeling thing is that none of the white vans has a sign with the destination on the outside. You stop the van with a gesture. But be careful, just waving your hand might be wrong because every gesture means a different destination. Lifting one finger means ´Please stop if you drive to central Jo´burg´, one finger down means something else, fingers crossed means Soweto, showing four fingers means Auckland Park and so on. If the driver stops after he saw your gesture you know that he is heading towards your desired destination.
The maid of my guesthouse explained this to me because otherwise I would have been completely lost.
Oh, I forgot to mention that most of the vans have very loud african music and most of the passengers bang their heads during the ride. Very funny.

Now let´s have a quick look to the public transportation in Brazil. No african music, no guestures but big busses with the destination printed on the outside. Good, just as in Germany.

Well, not really. You can stop the bus by waving any gesture but it will not stop if you want to get off. In Germany we have little red buttons inside the bus and you show your wish to stop by pressing them. I found not a single button in the whole bus and needed one more lesson of ´learning by observing´. I saw a passenger pulling on a wire that run under the ceiling of the bus.
Well I noticed the wire before but thought that it was simply the cable for some loudspeaker mounted in the lazy brazilian way. I wouldn´t have dared to pull on a speaker cable.
It turned out that the cable is connected to a switch indicating that someone wants the bus to stop.
In addition there are little turnstiles beside the man collecting the fares. Every passenger has to pass this torture tool. All (and I mean really all) turnstiles in all of the busses are very very narrow and hard to twist. I am not very fat and was hardly able to enter. I always felt pity (and a little bit of fun) whenever a thick person entered the bus and fought with the turnstile for several minutes with a line of several more passengers waiting behind. Why the heck don´t they use bigger turnstiles?

More differences to come.


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Buffalo Diet - Kruger National Park, South Africa

Click on photo to enlarge.

Can you imagine being waked up by the roar of a lion? I couldn´t but now I know what it is like.
For a few days I was camping in the Kruger National Park in South Africa.
I slept in a very small tent close to an electric fence that separated the camp site from the bush. The nights were filled with the roars of the lions and the screams of hyenas. For some reason I had confidence in the electric fence and wasn´t afraid.
The scare-meter went higher when I was forced to kill the first scorpion in my life. The guy was sitting inside (!) my tent just beside the zipper. After breathing very hard for a few minutes I murdered it with my Flip Flop. I am brave, ain´t I?
During the day I drove through the park on the back of an open 4wd truck together with a few other folks spotting for wild animals.
It was damn impressive to see herds of hundreds of zebras crossing the road just in front of your car or to watch a lion family having a buffalo for dinner. I wasn´t expecting that the elephants, giraffes or warthogs come that close to our car.
The most challenging thing was not to cope with the wild animals but to eat the food our guide respectively we as a group prepared on small picnic grounds.
Although I saw only 4 out of the ´Big Five´ (elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo - the leopard was missing) it was a great experience to be far away from civilization.
Well, not that far away - @Meix+Prinzinnen: In the shower room of the camp site in the middle of nowhere I saw my first tube of ´Tony & Guy´ shampoo. Weired, isn´t it?


South Africa - The Remains of Apartheid

I never saw such a mass of electric fences and high walls as in Johannesburg. It´s impossible for me to imagine how this country will ever find peace if one faces sings like ´Armed Response´ on literally every wall with barb wire on top.

It was very impressive to me to see how the people of South Africa got rid of the very inhuman regime of Apartheid without a civil war (although there was a lot of bloody fighting). Now the people rule the country that represent more than 80% of the inhabitants. Hm, is this true? Not really because all the big money is still in the hand of the so called superior race and money talks.
It´s so obvious what the default skin color of a waiter is and what the color of the guesthouse owner and this makes me sad and angry.
I had several talks to black people about the remains of Apartheid and it turned out that there are a lot of achivements but that there´s much too much junk left.

My visit to the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg made it even worse because as a German with all the crap in mind that the Nazis did in the Third Reich the Apartheid looked really really scary to me. I will not put Apartheid and the murder of millions of Jews on the same level but at least the road seemed the same.

I had the chance to visit the Township Soweto near Johannesburg with the Housekeeper Ntombe of my guesthouse. She lives there and gave me at least a little glimpse behind the facades. Unbelievable that wide areas of a city as big as Munich still have no electricity or canalization. Walking through the rows of tin shacks was weird because I got aware again how damn rich we are in Germany and how much of our all day life we take for granted. I guess simply with the value of my stupid digital camera one could build more than one brick house in Soweto.

I have to admit that things seem to improve a bit in the Townships. I went to a site where the government builds hundreds of little brick houses as replacement for the tin shacks. I talked to an old woman who sat on the concrete floor of her new house. Actually the floor was all that existed because the rest of the house wasn´t finished yet but I got the impression that even a piece of concrete could give a little bit of dignity and hope back to this woman. Ntombe was very proud to show me the freedom plaza of Soweto and the very decent houses of Desmond Tuto and Nelson Mandela and she has every reason to be proud of it. My respect for Madela is even higher now.

The floor of the new house. The woman washed the dishes on the spot where the kitchen will be.

Of course it´s easy for me to make pathetic statements because I had the luck of being born with a skin color that is considered as the superior one for absolutely stupid reasons. But after all this won´t pretend me to wish all the people of Soweto a better future.


Still Alive

Hey, it has been a while, hasn´t it?
For some reason I didn´t blog much in the last three weeks.
Probably because my mind was flooded with new impressions.
This is just a quick note that I´m fine and that my trip is a cool adventure so far.
More to come - stay tuned.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The World In My Living Room


Currently there's a big map of the world in my living room. A piece of string is pinned on it from side to side forming some zig zags over the continents. Some countries are marked with small flags.
Well, looks like a route, doesn't it?
Indeed it's nothing less than the planned route of a trip I'm about to start in a few days on Monday, September 08th.
It will take me unbelievable six months to surround this cosy little planet completely.
Somehow I wasn't able yet to realize what a big thing this journey will be.
Although I'm a bit scared right now I'm sure that it will widen my horizon a lot with thousands of glimpses into the unknown, hundreds of new people, a huge pile of new smells, colors I haven't seen so far and probably some smaller or bigger changes in my mindset.

Right now I'm in the last phase of preparations and my arm has a little plaster on it from the injection against rabies this morning.

I'll try to use this blog to keep you posted over the next months - as long as there are Internet cafés in Ho Chi Min City.