September 26th, 2017 - out here living these stories
Hope you're well, wherever you are!
Considering this is supposed to be a monthly newsletter, you should never read me writing “it’s been awhile”. It has though, which means I’ve been slacking. But, in my defense, I was out here living these stories I write up on MilesAstray. In order to be true to my own word, this will always be my priority. I hope no one has missed my updates all too much and that you still kept up with some of the day to day work I put into MilesAstray on the site and on social media!
Much has happened since my last newsletter! First I went from Zambia to Zimbabwe to shoot the wedding of these here two lovebirds:
glimpse: LONG STORY SHORT | A burning car was my ticket to the first wedding ceremony I ever attended. The groom had driven 3.000km to pick us up in the Namib Desert, where we were stranded, and on the way back to Botswana he invited me to his big day. He lost two more cars that same week, but never his smile. It's because of his bride he said during the wedding ceremony in Zimbabwe, which I had the honor of shooting. My favorite shot was this candid moment full of momentum in-between staged perfection.
It was my first wedding ceremony and I loved how casual it was kept. The lush hills around Chimanimani were the stage for this declaration of love between two people who have shown me much kindness!
I had planned on taking a ferry up Lake Tanganyika to Tanzania and cross from there into Rwanda to continue my journey from South Africa overland. Unfortunately there was no getting in touch with the ferry line or the captain, so that I opted for a flight into Rwanda's capital Kigali.
nightfall over Kigali
dance at an art gallery
Boda Boda (motortaxi)
The atrocities of the Rwandan genocide were hard to believe in this calm, clean, safe and beautiful town, nestled somewhere in the heart of Rwanda’s countless hills. I met some interesting characters in Kigali, many of which engaged in humanitarian efforts. One of them was the German Ebola suspect who flew from Sierra Leone to Rwanda during the outbreak in 2014. Even though his condition turned out to be Malaria, his case caught tremendous media attention and the proceeds were put into his own charity project in Sierra Leone:
And then there was Niko, who was about to cycle from Kigali across Rwanda and Uganda. His longest previous bicycle trip had led him from Austria to China, traversing Eastern Europe, the -stan countries and Iran. His blog is well worth checking out:
We met up again at the explosive Lake Kivu:
glimpse: EXPLOSIVE DIVE | Lake Kivu on the border of Rwanda and DR Congo is one explosive body of water. As member of an exclusive club of solely three lakes that undergo so called limnic eruptions, it is thought to explode around every 1000 years. Then, the released methane and CO2 kills all life in close proximity by means of asphyxiation as has happened in the 1980s with its Camaroonian equivalents Lake Monoun and Lake Nyos. For now, the millions of lives along the lake are lived ordinarily and swims are a welcome and hazard-free leisure activity.
typical Rwandan mud house
I went on to the curious town of Gisenyi at the border with DR Congo. Gisenyi seamlessly merges with Goma on the other side of a border which runs right through these twin cities. A wall cuts the sprawl in half, but is so fine that you can’t even see it on Google Maps. What you can see, however, is the difference between shanty towns on the Congolese side and fine residential neighborhoods right across the wall.
Goma / Gisenyi
shanty towns / upper class residential
I had hopes of sneaking into the DRC just for a little stroll; that this isn't the most prudent idea goes without saying, but it seemed easy enough and I wasn't willing to spend a couple of hundred dollars on one afternoon in the DRC. On my first day in Gisenyi I went to the official border crossing to see what it was all about. I walked into the building and peeked from the parking lot across the barrier to the thrilling land on the other side. Without my passport on me I got into trouble upon leaving. Some border official wasn’t loving my explanation of “I just went for a walk.” After some 10 minutes he let me go under the condition I would return to the lake now. So I left towards the lake, took a turn and walked along the border on a parallel street. I peered down every side alley that led to the border and thought to have seen some streets piercing straight through the wall. It was getting late, so I postponed my attempt to the next day.
That day I went down one of the side alleys. I thought at the end was another street that ran right along the wall and that I could simply turn left at some point, straight into the DRC. When I neared the wall I took out my camera and snapped a shot. That’s when I saw the little border patrol post and that’s when they saw me. Three soldiers with machine guns approached me and made me explain. I played innocent instead of dumb and the guy in charge was awfully nice about it. He did, however, have to call his superior, who was a different story. When I told him that I just wandering about aimlessly and that I didn’t know it wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the no-man’s-land and the wall, he called me a liar. Not a good sign, but actually I was simply telling the plain truth. Obviously I denied any intent of crossing the border. That I didn’t have my passport on me, yet again, didn’t help.
After climbing up the chain of command a little higher by calling another superior, they erased the picture, and some 15 minutes of interrogation later I was allowed to leave: “Go to the lake, take pictures, never come back here, or we have to punish you, by law.” That was clear enough of a message, so off I went. I restored the picture later on, but half of it was lost forever. Curiously enough the tainted part is tinted in army green.
My next stop was Uganda, where I spent some two weeks at lovely Lake Bunyonyi. Numerous islets lay scattered all over its dark waters and rice terraces snuggle with the gentle slopes. I took in the scenery, caught up with some work and spent the nights in my tent, pitched nearby the lake. Every time I’d go for a walk, somebody would chat me up and tell me about their alleged non-profit organizations, none of which seemed to actually exist upon closer looking. These scams are frustrating as they distract from the work of genuine grassroots projects.
At Lake Victoria I caught up again with Niko over beers under the milky way. During these days and nights we shared many a story and our likeminded attitudes towards traveling. We took the ferry to Entebbe, where we rented a Boda Boda to explore the surroundings. It’s great how you can just flag down one of these motortaxis, give the driver nothing but your word and a time of return, and he hands over the key to his livelihood without even asking for a collateral.
palm fringed headland
starry Milky Way nights
Lake Victoria Beach
Niko and his bike
I spent the remainder of my Uganda days in Entebbe and visiting a local non-profit, UVF, in Kitende near Kampala. The project tries to improve the lives of single mothers and local kids, many of which are orphans. I’ve worked with non-profits throughout Latin America, Asia and Africa, but had never encountered one in such desperate need of funds. The living conditions within the community are literally dirt-poor. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to volunteer with the organization and get a better insight, so I contributed some photos and consulting instead. If you're interested in volunteering, you should get in touch with Eva, who's in charge of the organization:
100 girls sleep in this room
toilets and shower for 200 kids
single moms with their kids and tiny one room houses (no indoor plumbing, no kitchen)
Since I'm running out of pages in my passport and couldn’t get a new one in Zambia, I was forced to skip over either Kenya or Ethiopia. For some reason Ethiopia had been calling me most of all countries in Africa and so the decision was clear. I flew into Addis Ababa and on the way from the Airport to the hotel I took an instant liking to both the city and the nation. It was the first African capital that presented me simultaneously with a big city feel and village-alleys, and everything seemed so strikingly different: the facial features of the various ethnicities reminded me more of the Middle East and Northern Africa than Sub-Saharan Africa; Amhara people walked the streets with sticks, sandals and blanket-scarves adorning them; Injera and rich spices replaced rice, sweet potatoes and beans; even the calendar, the clock and the script were unique.
The rainy season had a firm grip on Addis in these days. I spent the first two weeks at Taitu, Ethiopia’s oldest hotel. Built in 1905 (1898 according to the Ethiopian calendar), the slightly run down establishment radiated an atmosphere somewhere between old decadence and brittle decay. I loved sitting in the restaurant, where locals gather over Injeera, coffee and beer. A woman, neither old nor young would play the piano and no distinguishable song had part in her impromptu; one song, ever reinventing itself like an ocean shoving its old waves towards the shoreline, so that they can always be new and different. She always played like in trance, as though she’d strike a secret code on the keys that opened doors to her very own dimension behind the piano.
My favorite street was Haile Selassie. Stores framing both sides of the road: jewelers, shoe shops, electrics, hardware, neon-colored children’s bicycles, more jewelers, and people, people, people, somebody pushing a wheelbarrow full of knives neatly arranged in a circle, the omnipresent shoe shiners. Walking towards Taitu, petite alleys would crawl up to the left like portals to little flowery villages that bloomed on the aching and benevolent back of this sprawl.
After awhile I made my way up to Gondar through a countryside where almost every house is made from skinny Eucalyptus trunks. The gaps seem to be filled with a mix of mud and hay (and sometimes they aren't filled at all).
typical Ethiopian countryside house in the Amhara region
I soon continued towards Debark, the starting point for my trek in the Simien Mountains. It isn’t allowed to enter the National Park without a scout, who carries an AK-47 to protect you from - ? – I don’t know.
scout with his livelihood
The trek up and down the 3000-4000m peaks was pretty streneous due to five days' worth of food supplies for me and my scout plus camping gear etc. on my back. The reward: tremendously beautiful scenery and many Gelada monkey sightings, which live here endemically.
Simien Mountains vista
where to next
Enough of all this for now! I am back in Addis and my next stop will be Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I'm flying today, before traveling down to Greece through the Balkans.
I’ll try to keep you posted and catch you soon!