Category Archives: Travel

It’s 50 Shillings to Mega Plaza

Bob Odhiambo, our host from VIST, arranged forSwan Centre an apartment for Bryan and me to stay during our time in Kisumu. It is located on the top floor of an imitation Arabian style, three story building called Swan Centre. “Everybody, every tuk tuk driver, in Kisumu knows where Swan Centre is” Bob says with a glee of accomplishment.  It is also the location of KCA University and the soon to be completed Victoria Institute of Science and Technology as well as a host of shops and offices. The outer ring of the Kisumubuilding is apartments filled with upper class Indians and Arabs. Our three bedroom apartment is very large by Kenyan standards. Bob has done the best he could to furnish it but could only afford a round kitchen table with 3 chairs, 2 beds with mosquito nets, two fans and an LG TV that gets only two stations and one is only broadcasting in Swahili. However, electronics and appliances here are very expensive and we appreciated the effort. We’re working on getting a shower curtain and drapes this week.

 

Swan Centre is very safe for our gear. We have toSwan Centre go through three iron security gates just to get to the apartment door and there are 24/7 security guards patrolling the halls. As with most places in the tropics, the flooring is marble tiling. That makes it mildew proof and easy to clean but it also has the capacity, without any furnishings to suck up the sound, to make the rooms into large echo chambers. Bryan and I had to resort to laying out our blankets on the floor of the living room to soak up some of the “boom” from the walls. We were not using them any way. But even with them, we have to speak softly to understand each other.  We hear the call to prayer from the local mosque on a daily basis. Regretfully, it’s not the romantic chant in the distance but rather a blaring, more scream like, hollering punctuated by microphone clicks from a tinny loud speaker. The first call to prayer is at 5am.

 

However, the view from the balcony is one of theSwan Centre best in Kisumu. From there we can see all the way out Winam Gulf and have an excellent view of the sunset as it spreads over Africa. As we look out over the lake from our third story vantage point to the horizon of the water line, we are still only seeing the Kenyan Lake Victoria and Kenya only owns 6% of the lake front!

 

As the computers didn’t arrive by Saturday and Kisumuthe University was going to be mostly closed on Sunday, we decided to take in some of the local sites for a day. But first we queried some of the younger university professors about the appropriate tuk tuk pricing. We discovered we were paying double the Muzungu (white guy) rate to get around. Our friend, Chrispin, the head of department of Academics, gave us a basic layout of correct pricing to getting a round. “It is 100 shillings ($1.25)  to get to Hippo Point, do not pay more”. When we got into the tuk tuk on Sunday morning we stated with an air of authority “Hippo Point, 100 bob!” To our great surprise he readily agreed and we were off.

 

Hippo Point doesn’t have a lot of hippos hanging Hippo Pointaround during the day. The tourist trade had pestered them into seeking more private venues. But they had motorized long boats there to take tourists on a tour of the shoreline. We settled on a boat tour operator by the name of Titus. His English was unusually understandable for a Kenyan. We negotiated the price down to 3,000ksh (Kenyan Shillings) from his original 10,000ksh as we were the only business there that morning. Titus was university educated in biology and geography and was quite impressive at naming all the bird species as well as mimicking their songs. He could even mimic the mating call of the male Hippo or so he said that’s what it was! He filled the four hour journey with great tales of life on the lake interspersed with sightings of birds, villages and a couple of hippo groups. They kept well submerged for the most part but were easy to spot. I got some good video but we were fairly far from them. We kept our distance as they are Africa’s number 2 killer, the 1st is the mosquito. Although I’ve seen Hippos closer in the zoo, it’s still an amazing site to see them in the wild.

 

By Monday there was still no word on theBryan teaching shipment of computers. In consultation with the staff and administration, we agreed to set up five of their computers as multimedia machines –using whatever parts we could adapt to the “Dell” machines and load them with the open source software that we were going to teach. Bob-O, as we now call him, also queried if we could do a short, general, overall presentation on multimedia on Tuesday. Our minds reeled with the immensity of such a presentation. We had nothing prepared; we had not expected to make such presentations –even if we felt qualified to do so! After a few moments of panic, I hastily put together a rough outline in my mind of an overall history, definitions as they’ve changed and summation of the equipment and software that is currently being used. Bryan agreed to work on the machines and I agreed to create a 20 -30 minute presentation to faculty on Wednesday. After hectically searching the very slow internet for images to illustrate the PowerPoint presentation and hastily doing some research, I had a presentation on Wednesday morning that was a fair job if I don’t say so myself. The presentation was scheduled for 10am. 10am came and left and I was told at noon that it would be 2pm. 2pm came and went and at 3pm I was told it would be 4pm for sure. At 4pm I was finally lead upstairs to one of the large lecture halls of the university.

 

Rather than the expected faculty of a dozen or so, the room was packed with what looked like the entire student body. A bead of sweat ran down my cheek, all the air left the room and time slowed to a near crawl. Naturally, each piece of equipment wasn’t working like it should have and required fiddling with for what seemed to be an eternity. Finally, they graciously decided to cooperate, started working and I was off with a big “Jambo” to the room. A luke warm response circulated through the room. But undeterred I launched into the history of multimedia starting with the American painters; Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, etc. and by the time I was up to the massive slide projector shows of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s I turned to see the hopelessly glazed over eyes of everyone in the room. I timidly sputtered if there were any questions? An oppressive silence fell over the room. Still, I had no choice but to continue, so I pressed on with out pausing to ask the question of which I already knew the answer. Finally, two gallons of sweat later, it was over.

 

The good news was that I ended my presentation with my favorite computer saying “Please remember that you are smarter than the machine” which had an animated gif of a stick figure man bashing his head against a computer. It elicited a few random laughs but overall I was looked at as if I had said something with the content level of “Jambo, blah blah blah blah blah…” for the past 20 minutes. Then in a gesture of mercy, the faculty finally rose in applause and the student body followed as trained. There were only a few questions about when the computers would arrive and when they could get hands on training. Then I took the longest shower of my life. I was later told by the faculty that subdued student reaction was standard and a couple of students and faculty said they were amazed and enthralled by my presentation. I was two pounds lighter that day.

 

Despite a worm virus problem that racked allVIST our computers (including this one) Bryan was able to get the 5 machines ready for multimedia training. We moved them into the VIST location, hooked them up, loaded software on them and I began instruction in digital video on Thursday. We’re using my Canon HV20 and editing in MovieMaker2. It is attended by two VIST trainees and some of the faculty when they can afford the time. Bryan finally put together his outline for digital audio and as of this week we are teaching 2 hour sessions each on these subjects daily until we depart. However, there is so much to cover that they will probably still be lost upon our departure. The administration is aware of this fact and are probing us about staying longer or coming back for a longer period. Bryan and I are sympathetic to the cause but we have commitments in the US and unless they are willing to foot more of the cost, a three month commitment is a hard, if not impossible, sell. We have made some agreements to help with info and some questions when we return to the US but can’t make any promises beyond that.

 

Its day 16 and the shipment of computers hasn’t arrived yet. They are now six months out of port from Boston and four months at the Mombasa port or some where in transit.

 

At the end of a long day of teaching, Bryan and I Kisumuare headed up to an expat place called Mon Ami for a couple of Tuskers. It’s located at the other end of town in a surprisingly well appointed complex called Mega Plaza. Kisumu has a few of these nice shopping centers and one has the largest store I’ve ever seen. Tusky’s carries everything from pharmaceuticals to food to clothing to motorcycles in what must be a 40,000 square foot facility. The Africans are in to one stop shopping. We flag down a tuk tuk and say we’re going to Mega Plaza. He says “100 shillings, yes?” We get in and firmly but nicely state that “it is 50 shillings to Mega Plaza” –no more double Muzungu price for us.

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Touchdown, The Crowd Goes Wild!

I arrived at the airport in Boston three hours in advance of the flight to London with a connection to Nairobi. I got there earlier than normal to meet my partner, Bryan Barton, for the multimedia lab project in Kisumu, Kenya. I had talked to Bryan by phone and email but had not met in person. He was a tall, sturdy, 20 something from the suburbs south of Boston. Although, he punctuated every sentence with a prolonged “uhh…” in person, he was quite bright, amazingly dedicated and extremely accommodating. He had already been on two previous trips for the World Computer Exchange to Nigeria and South Africa.

Bryan works for a small secondary academy called Milton as head of the A/V department. However, his real interest is in acoustic design and lugged a ponderously large and heavy manual on the subject on board the plane. But the coup de gras was that Bryan had taken it upon himself to solicit for and schlep three giant suitcases filled with out of date but functional computer components for our project in Kenya. I will never again be dismissive of his generation as uncommitted.

We had great bulkhead seats aboard the British Airways 747 –many thanks to the humanitarian booking work of the WCE. However, our good fortune was soon diminished by an announcement from the cockpit that a part needed replacement on the aircraft and that it may take up to three hours to get it. Two and a half sweltering hours later (because they can’t run the A/C with the engines off) they finally announced that we could finally depart. They said they’d try to make up time in the air and probably did so but we arrived just in time to see our connecting flight to depart the tarmac. BA could only offer an odious alternative by traveling down to Johannesburg then back to Nairobi that evening. Although that would have been a boon to the frequent flyer miles, we declined the 15.5 hour road burn. The only other option was to layover at Heathrow and catch the same flight -a day late. To BA’s credit they provided hotel accommodations, meals, shuttle vouchers and even a little overnight kit consisting of little lotions, shampoos, etc that looked like the first class accoutrement.

After settling into the hotel, we decided that we’d never have a less expensive stay in London and although it wasn’t a great day, why not travel down to Westminster for a couple of hours? We navigated the Tube down Piccadilly to the District line and up at the foot of Big Ben. Despite the on and off rain, it was packed with tourists. The walk across Westminster Bridge was akin to a salmon swimming upstream. I had never seen such crowds in Europe before and none of them had English accents. Although we took the cheapest path to the city it still worked out to almost $25 each including shuttles to and from the airport. I don’t know how anyone affords that city.

We get on board the next day’s flight and our bulkhead seats are gone of course but we’re happy to be on our way. We got all the way out to the runway when we got the announcement from the cockpit that there was a problem with the cargo and had to return to the gate. An hour and a half later they announced that it had been remedied and that they would try to make up time in the air…again. At least they kept the A/C running.

We got to Nairobi an hour and a half late and our host had gone home. Bryan purchased a cell phone at the airport and we called the host from the airport and he said just take a taxi to the YMCA. We began to make arrangements with a far too large group of Kenyans for that. He called back a few seconds later and said but make sure you get a “good” taxi. All of a sudden we started feeling a little uneasy about the group we were dealing with but they were very good at moving us along the path of hiring them. We were beat and the airport was nearly empty at 11:30pm. Fortunately the actual driver was small and very friendly so we took the chance and he turned out to be a great guy. We got to the “Y” and there’s no reservations and the rest of the team had already departed for their assignments. We got a room anyway and it wasn’t bad. Bryan had brought his BA overnight kit which I was amazed he could fit into his already stuffed suitcase.

Five hours later at 5:45am we had to return to the airport for our flight from Nairobi to Kisumu. Thomas, our driver from the night before, came back for us and we made great time back to the airport. We never heard from our host in Nairobi but left the three bags of donations for him to deliver to Kisumu, overland. They have severe weight restrictions on Kenya Air and I had to check my bag that had my cameras in it. The sleep deprivation and ravenous hunger overcame my fear of their demise and to KA’s credit they did seal the bags with a numbered plastic tie. The flight covered the 800km in a smooth, 45 minute jet flight and we got a great view of Kenya as dawn beaks upon it. The easiest features to identify was the wide, gapping, gash of the Rift Valley and Mount Kenya popping through the low clouds.

Our host in Kenya in Kisumu was far more accommodating than the one in Nairobi. Although our apartment wasn’t ready yet, he insisted on paying for another hotel for the evening. Tomorrow we will have the contracted housing and can start the project. Fortunately, I’m done traveling; at least for the next three weeks…the crowd goes wild…

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Mallorca -Jewel of the Mediterranean

Some friends of ours decided to get married in Mallorca, Spain. We not only decided to go to the ceremony but spend the next 10 days touring the Island. And what an Island it proven to be! The relatively small island is full of Roman ruins, Medieval walled cities, and great restaurants. Two weeks is not enough to fully explore this jewel of the Mediterranean.

You can see more images in the slideshow: Mallorca

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Maui

Clouds over north Maui

I’ve got to confess that I was a little hesitant to just go to Hawaii for the short time we we able to get away -but Maui more than lived up to its lore! This island has it all. Rain forest, Haleakala, great beaches and diving -it was a true marvel and deserved more than the 10 days we devoted to it.

You can see more of the shots in the gallery Maui 2007

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Paris and Barcelona 2007

The Seine at Notre Dame

Paris and Barcelona are two of my favorite cities in Western Europe. Due to a busy year, Janice and I had only a little over two weeks that we could spare on a quick trip. Janice had never been to either so we planned a quick trip just concentrating on those cities. We rented apartments in each, in the districts that that we wanted –in the center of the old towns.

You can see more of the shots in the gallery Paris and Barcelona 2007

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