BE's Trip Diary
Tuesday, January 23, 2007
140 km tarmac Bukoba => Mwanza via O/N ferry
temperature high of 28 degrees, low of 22
Now that was an experience! Arriving at the ferry last night, the line-up stretched 100 metres. It was orderly in a fashion - as much as it can be in the chaos of 800 people with suitcases (many carried on heads), chickens in crates made of reeds, bananas and all the personal effects of 800 people who can't afford to travel any other way.
Despite our misgivings, we have no choice, and anyway have paid our $US21 each for our first-class cabin for the 11-hour journey. So on we trundle, waving to Johnny, Alfred and Agnes (Johnny's fiancée who joined us earlier today), glancing back wistfully at the now-very-comfortable-looking Land Cruiser. Whose idea was this, anyway?
Our cabin has a set of bunk beds and a sink. It's about 100 degrees and near the stairwell on the outside deck. It's on the docking side, so we can be assured of noisy company on the deck. Sigh. As I decide to check out the rest of the boat, I take the key, first locking Brent in the cabin (in order to lock everyone else out, I claim). Now that's kinda cool!
Merrilee and Dan are two cabins down, and have also stepped outside. Aside from 2 Finnish missionaries, we are the only white people on the ship. The first class lounge is crowded and steamy (but sells Kilimanjaro beer), the washroom is three stinky holes in a smelly puddle and there is a shower which surely no one ever uses and survives. This is not promising.
But the bow of the ship is a different story. It is cool in the fresh warm breeze which sweeps the flies and insects away. It is a hive of activity, laden with 3-metre high piles of bananas. Bags of manure wrapped in reeds are stacked equally high. The hold is a yawning black hole which will be filled at the ferry's island stop. We toast with our beer our next adventure and spend the next hour watching the activity below. Too bad for Brent I locked him in his room!
Our arrival in Mwanza on the eastern shore of Lake Victoria at 8:00 a.m., we watch the 796 passengers disembark into the same orderly chaos with which we started out. It is colourful, packed. Eventually we must become part of it. Venturing down the awkward gangway,we find our way out and are met by our new guides - Gerald tall and slim, Ezekiel broader with a Paul Robeson voice and a wonderful deep, warm, and rumbling laugh. This will be different, because they are not the cracker-jack birders of our Uganda trip, but they are equally pleasant and already seem determined to show us their best. Again, we instantly feel we are in good hands. Yeah for the Internet and personal recommendations.
A breakfast stop, a bank stop and our first big Internet stop. Mwanza is a city (defined as one million plus people), prosperous-looking, stretching out toward the tarmac highway. From Mwanza we will travel in a more or less straight line across northern Tanzania the 1200 km to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's capital city on the east coast of Africa.
Tanzania and Uganda have been and are missionaried to death. The Sukuma Museum is at a mission site which at least incorporated local custom into its practises and structures. We had a couple of hours of interesting lessons on the history, culture, early iron-making, former slave trade and current/past kings of the 52 tribes comprising the Sukuma people, who in turn represent almost one half of the 36 million Tanzania population. Merrilee then managed to locate the local potter craftsman and to converse in a fashion about their mutual profession. She left with a small bowl, primitive in style and craftsmanship, but oh-so-precious when you have a personal connection with the creator.
This part of Tanzania is green and flat, surprisingly supporting rice paddies and cattle grazing, and of course goats and corn. Apparently by the dry season in June it will be parched and brown -- not a blade of grass to be seen, we are told. Right now that is hard to visualize.
Our lodgins is at a 10-room resort 4 km off the highway down a muddy track - we couldn't get here without 4-WD and someone who knows the way. It started as an 8-room resort 3 years ago. As room rentals bring in income, more units are built. It will max out at 12. This is a familiar building business model.
O/N Speke Bay Lodge, on the beach at Lake Victoria; $100 per night
January 24, 2007
"Culture day" near Bunda
Yesterday afternoon we visited the traditional healer at a fishing village near Bunda. He lives in a mud hut with his wife and child. The hut is in a small area quite separate from the rest of the village, which is entered through a pathway protected by various spears and artifacts to ward off evil spirits, as well as a site for sacrifices (chickens, goats, cows) where the doctor can seek recharged energy from his healer ancestors. Those seeking his assistance physically relocate to this area to live until their diagnosis and treatment are complete. Payment is in donation (by culture in animals, but more frequently nowadays in currency). However, no cure, no payment. Go look for another doctor. That's different.
The witch doctor shook some rattles, waved a buffalo tail as a switch and chanted away. Quite mesmerizing. He then focused on Merrilee, opining that she has suffered (beyond travelling with Brent and me, I assumed). When she asked in what way, he suggested that her grandparents are no longer with her. Since Merrilee is my age, that seemed to me a pretty safe bet. But maybe he was just getting to know her.
This morning we returned to the village to watch the fishermen, who have been out all night, bring in their catch. It was an absolutely swarming mass of activity. The fishermen lay out their catch (talapia, the main local food fish; Nile perch, small here but which can grow to 120 kilograms; chiclets, the main small fish in Lake Victoria; white bait, tiny 2" fish used as fried crisps or feed fro chicken; sardines familiar in size and shape; eel, the rather slithery looking style; and catfish, the whiskered ugliest fish on the face of the earth). With all this bounty spread on makeshift tables, women and a few children bargain for fish. Some is for personal consumption, but in addition the local economy kicks in. The fishermen are eager for sleep and R&R before they head out again in 11 hours, so several women buy in bulk and set up on small mats a variety of fish for resale. Within the hour, all the fishermen are gone, and the some have become the middlemen. What doesn't sell that day cannot be easily stored since there is no refrigeration, so it is dried for future consumption or fed to chickens. Not a bit is wasted, it involves the whole community and all the interrelated business systems. Quick and easy.
Our next adventure was fishing from a dhow. Our ability was non-existent and our results pathetic. The three paddlers in our boat took a break and got a few talapia and catfish (yuck) but Dan, Merrilee and I were skunked. But in the process we made a new friend - a local fisher. Those who cannot afford a large wooden boat from which to fish the deeper waters for the larger Nile perch, build a one-person float from reeds. They sit straight-legged all day (hurts just to think about it), on this tiny reed structure and flip lines about like magicians. I took about 10 movies. To pass the time, they sometimes sing. A fellow near us sang a rhythmic hymn in a high, thin voice. The sound travelled clearly across the water. A little later, Dan sang a song. After a few moments, the fisher said (in Swahili) he would like to sing a song for us. And so it went, back and forth, Merilee and I occasionally joining in for emphasis. Our friend particularly liked our rendition of Rockin Robin (tweet, tweet, tweet). By the end of an hour, we had caught no fish, our pal had caught 30-40 and we had had the time of our lives.
Rounding out our cultural activities was a walk in a traditional village (i.e. 6 scattered huts in an agricultural area) and then, at sunset, a regional dance troupe performed for us. That is to say, us and the 300 residents for the fishing village -- all of whom came running at the sound of the drums.
The dancing style is primitive and suggestive, with lots of groin thrusts and gyrations, but requiring significant talent and practise. The villagers favourites seemed to be either mimicking animals or a form of slapstick. This style is my least favourite; still we couldn't help but enjoy the elated response of the villagers and the screams of laughter of the children. Many of the kids imitated the moves of the professionals. If anything can help preserve the culture, it will be these talented professional role models.
The staging of this day was apparently $300 -- a lot but yet so little for all we learned and experienced. Compares to one opera in Vienna, after all.
O/N Speke Bay Lodge (Nyatwali Beach Lodge and Campsite)
January 25, 2007
280 km in Serengeti National Park
We arrived at the Serengeti National Park entrance ($US50 per person) at 10:30 and in travelling the 280 km to the northeast corner at Lobo (just south of Kenya) basically did an all-day game drive until 6:00. It is grassland, some tress, generally flat with occasional wooded hills further north. Since game drives, with our heads sticking out the top of the van, are my favourite, this was an A-one day, especially with the variety of wildlife: zebra, giraffe, baboons, warthogs, jackals, hippos, elephants and a great variety of antelope whose markings we are quickly relearning from our previous Africa visits - Thompson's gazelle with bright white rear, blue-brown Topi, humped wildebeest of mass migration fame, ugly-as-sin giant mean water buffalo, long-faced hartebeest, tiny dik dik and rock-hugging klipspringer. Tonight we are at a fancy-dancy lodge with a swimming pool overlooking the plain, a giant dining room and bar, and a rather upscale crowd. While we and our clothing don't fit the mould, we are going to make the most of it!
O/N Lobo Wildlife Lodge ($US180 per person)
January 26, 2007
exploring the Serengeti
January 27, 2007
Serengeti => Ngorongoro
A night on the ground itching at tsetse fly bites is not the best experience. But we limbered up enough to inch into the van. Travelling to Ngorongoro we were on the real Serengeti, the southern plain with 3-foot grass and no trees. The Masai term Serengeti means endless plain, an apt name. Special sightings were the cape hare, serval (a small cat), tiny bat-eared fox (so named for its cute face and over-sized ears). Also lions.
Further along we saw the beginnings of the migration where hundreds of thousands (or is it millions?) of wildebeest leave this southern plain to head north eventually reaching Masai Mara in Kenya. We saw only a few hundred, but they were in the telltale single-file going along at a somewhat ungainly gallop. This was an unexpected treat and kept us high for along while - aches and pains and itches completely forgotten.
Another major bout of excitement arrived when Brent realized he had lost his pouch with his passport. Stop the van! Frantic search! Questions, queries? Where last seen? Possibilities? No answers. In the park you are not allowed out of the car. However, we have an emergency! All the backpacks on the road. Tents onto the road. Unroll the sleeping bags onto the road. Miscellaneous boots, fleeces (in this weather?), drying laundry onto the road. We look like the Clampett family. But no pouch, no passport.
While standing upright, we climb into the upside down sleeping bags, looking like huge waving caterpillars. No passport pouch. Finally we start erecting the tents. Passing vans ask if we are all right - clearly more curious than hoping to help. And, of course, in one of the tents is Brent's pouch, complete with passport. Euphoria. Once he quit hyperventilating, we reloaded and resumed our travels.
There are other highlights today:
Late in the evening, elephants walk through the site. Yipes. In the middle of the night, some animals tug on grasses outside our tent. I tell myself it must be zebra and go back to sleep. This is Africa at its best.
January 28, 2007
Ngorongoro => Arusha
Descending from an altitude of 2400 metres was a scenic drive down the outside of the crater rim through fertile country now being planted for the upcoming growing season. It is not long before we are perched on the escarpment of the Great Rift Valley. Because it runs a phenomenal 6600 km from Mozambique to Lebanon and is 20 -30 million years old, it is quite an amazing piece of natural history. It's a full kilometre deep and in places 70 km wide. It boggles the mind.
Lake Manyara is positioned along the foot of the western edge of the escarpment. It is only .5 - 2.5 metres deep and is renowned for its huge numbers of flamingos. Unfortunately, they are all 2 kilometres away so with the naked eye they are a pink mist and even with binoculars they are a shimmering vague collection of pink heads, black beaks and pink winds. At $US35 per person, this little side adventure is a big disappointment (although apparently there are short canoe rides, which would be worth the time when we come back to this Ngorongoro area.
Our overnight stay is in Arusha, a grungy-looking town notwithstanding the rhapsodizing guidebooks and tourist literature. It is conveniently located for safaris, Ngorongoro, Mt. Kilimanjaro and hill country, and the better tourist area is greener than our grimy location at the Hotel Fort des Moines, of all the goofy names, but otherwise has no appeal. The international court is currently sitting hearing the genocidal war crimes in Rwanda hearing -- were time not an issue that would be interesting to observe -- how can such a court ever figure it all out and dispense justice in timely fashion. Perhaps it can't -- it's already been a decade.
O/N Hotel Fort des Moines, Arusha $US30 dbl
January 29, 2007
tarmac HWY Arusha => Lushoto
Dan now tickles Brent's tummy every morning to make sure Brent's passport is in place. I'm sure people wonder about those two!, but we have a little chuckle over it. Except Merrilee who has come down with a bad case of the flu and all its attendant upheavals and other trials. She is a real trooper and puts up a brave face, but that face is drawn and grayish-looking. For the duration of our long drive (fortunately all on tarmac, so not too bumpy) she rests quietly, eyes closed, trying to go to that inner place that helps one get through these things.
Although we travel 300 km along the western foot of the Usambara Mountains, it is a long and tedious drive which takes the better part of the day. When eventually we turn off the highway and head into the Mountains it is a welcome relief. It turns into a beautiful 40 km drive on a dirt road heading steeply in a serpentine path up the Bangala River -- a lush contrast to the Masai Steppe we have left below. It is a fertile area, and the town of 5,000 has a busy, typical African market -- that is, lots of fruits and vegetables and a bunch of tiny storefronts on crumbling concrete or dirt pads selling clothing, food and bits of scrap this and that. People seem friendly enough and although I keep my cash tucked away, we are told it is completely safe to wander during daylight hours. So we do -- in search of beer which I smuggle in my pack to our room since the hotel we are staying in is owned by the Lutheran Church and it has a long list of don'ts. Fortunately, it is a green oasis with a lovely garden and great food, so we'll give in this time. And its a lovely spot for Merrilee to recuperate.
O/N Tumaini Hotel $US20 dbl
January 30, 2007
exploring Mazumbai Forest near Lushoto
We are soaked, but recovering well. This morning we had schedule a hike in the Mazumbai Forest Reserve. Today is market day, so the village of Soni is alive with vendors. The dirt road is lined with women carrying baskets of fruits on their heads and babies on their backs. These are the markets we love -- not the traps where people try to sell us bargains and trinkets, but the markets where people are going about their business and we can try to be inconspicuous observers. Actually, we can hardly be inconspicuous, but people are too busy to do more than glance at us. Every square inch is covered with colourful produce and trade is active. Plums, pears, mango, papaya, tomatoes.
Leaving Soni, our van climbs along a narrow, lumpy (looks impassable), steep, winding road clinging to the edge of the slope. For two hours we climb, regularly passing small clusters of huts perched precariously on tiny outcrops. Villagers are friendly here, sometimes waving, smiling, calling out "Jambo" - the Swahili greeting. It is gorgeous countryside, with steep slopes and panoramic views, and is obviously very fertile. But how in the world do crops get to market?
When we reach the Mazumbai Forest Reserve, we and our local guide Ratibu get out of the van to begin our walk. We have barely passed out of cultivated areas and eucalyptus trees, and are keen to experience the indigenous forest. Ten minutes later the skies open. Within minutes we are thoroughly drenched, despite efforts to shelter under the dense canopy of a tree or, in Brent's case, under a narrow rock ledge. At first we are full of jokes about seven days of rain and our poor weather forecasting ability, but as the rain pounds, rivulets form and water runs into our eyes and shoes, we become quieter and quieter. After half an hour with no end in sight, we are stoically standing, silent, dripping, staring at our feet and thinking of England. We can't imagine where our van and driver have gone, and with each passing minute we are sure they will appear momentarily. When they eventually do "Oh, Mrs. Brenda", "Sorry, sorry Mr. Brent" "Mr. Dan, so wet", we are so glad to see them we simply pile into the vehicle, dripping on everything and contracting into ourselves in 3 huddles bundles. Some locals have hacked down banana leaves as makeshift umbrellas, but even these have been of little effect.
Our schedule lunch stop - after our exhausting 10 minute walk - allows us to dry out a bit and after we have mopped off and taken off our wet clothes in lieu of whatever odds and ends of clothing were straggling in the van, we explore the spot. It is a former residence of the local tea plantation owner. As usual, it is an old colonial style with large windows, very basic and still very charming with its large gardens in which we have just witnessed the fancy waterworks - fancy downspouts and decorative drainage - in action. Because tea requires daytime heat, nighttime cool, and lots of rain, plantations are always at highland rain forest level and are also lush and cool by equatorial standards. Tea plantations always mean "my kind of place" - as long as one is inside during the downpours! This one, at 2300 metres elevation, was bequeathed to the Sukoine University and on a future visit would be a lovely place to stay. Perhaps the only. We have come to this area because it is one of only a couple of patches of endemic rain forest left, and the others are equally difficult to get to. At a guest house like this, its worth the effort. But for now, home please!
We have been chatting off and on at our hotel with a Finnish woman who works for a chandlery company -- trying to get produce from this area to Dar es Salaam in good condition. She was full of stories of systems put in place by aid organizations that start off well and then gradually disintegrate as equipment breaks, training is forgotten, supervision lapses and favouritism creep back in. Her stories were told with humour and understanding and even sympathy, but it leaves me wondering yet again how aid organizations can provide help in ways that don't foster dependency and in ways that will be more lasting. I don't have any answers. But I do see that most of what is tried doesn't work well.
O/N Tumaini Hotel
January 31, 2007
Merrilee is better. This leads to some joking about the difference between the way men and women handle illness. Woman: go to a quiet place, crave solitude, emerge when recovered. Man: "I don't feel well. Could you get me some water? Now could you turn on the light? Can I have some soup? Do I have a temperature? Could you turn off the light? Can I have a back scratch? Maybe we should call the doctor. Where is the aspirin? Do you think I'm going to die?" That could be arranged!
We manage a closer endemic jungle forest walk today at Magambe Rain forest. It is small and not as dramatic, completely surrounded by cultivation and village life, but at least we get our four-hour trek in.
Also, a hike to Irente Viewpoint, with a spectacular straight-down 1000 metre drop to the Masai Steppe below. The Irente View Cliff Lodge is a bit out of the way (6 km from Lushoto) but at $US50 per night (dbl) and perched right on the cliff top, I just might have to try it next time.
O/N Tumaini Hotel
February 1, 2007
Lushoto => Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania
It's a 6-hour boring high-speed drive to Dar es Salaam on the East Coast. We amuse ourselves by recalling some of the things we have misunderstood or someone else has mistranslated. A local restaurant offered
We were really pressed for time, reaching Dar at 11:45 and hoping to get on the 12:00 ferry. We made it, but in doing so got scammed - it was the 6-hour ferry not the 1 ½ hour fast ferry. Merrilee and Dan are great travelling companions - they make the best of everything and never get cross. Brent turned philosophical and thought this would be a good time to do some birding - being the Indian Ocean and all. I wanted to strangle the tout!
On top of my evil thoughts about the tout, we have for the first time since our arrival in Africa left the highlands and are now at the hot and humid coast. So I'm boiling on the inside and now dripping on the outside.
We arrive in Zanzibar in the dark and fight off the touts who now want to drive us, escort us, sell to us, help us, guide us, talk to us. They don't know the chance they are taking! We dive into the labyrinth of Stone Town's alleyways followed by a chorus of persistent touts. Down one crumbling alley after another, now I'm in my element. Marching purposefully along as though I know where I'm going, ignoring the parade behind me. And, surprise, surprise, I almost find the place! Its 1000 degrees, we're on the 4th floor, but we're here!
O/N Clove Hotel ($US50 dbl)
February 2, 2007
Stone Town, Zanzibar
Stone Town is in a bad state of decay and getting worse. The guidebooks see a charm to its old colonial buildings, but they are all in a sad state of neglect. There is a charm to the market and to some extent to the souk-like alleyways, but they too are crumbling and many lots are vacant with broken walls and weed-infested dirt. Garbage is scattered everywhere, as is the smell of raw sewage. Touts abound. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I think too many observers are wearing rose-coloured glasses.
It is a great shame. The history of Zanzibar, including its recent (1960s) annexation to Tanzania, is fascinating. The former slave trade and market (closed in 1873) is now the site of the Anglican church, from which you can hear the Muslim muezzin calling next door. That kinda says it all. Its Portuguese 1600s links, its Omani Arab overthrow in the 1700s and all influences since remain visible in various quarters. But with failing infrastructure, touts, corruption, litter - I wonder about its future.
That said, our hotel is wonderful. Central with a lovely fifth floor terrace overlooking the water and a Dutch manager who helps us with everything. Forodhani Gardens is an evening open-air food fair like none other, not to be missed. Memories of Zanzibar is the best souvenir shop we have seen on our travels. And other parts of the island are said to be a paradise - beaches, snorkeling, palm tress, scuba diving at coral reefs. So were I to come again, I would fly to Zanzibar, bypass Stone Town and head for an idyllic hideaway and scuba dive for a week. However, that's not in the cards this time. Merrilee and Dan will explore Zanzibar for a couple of days, then spend 7 more weeks at Victoria Falls (Zambia and Namibia), then travel to Botswana and on to South Africa. Needless to say I am envious, since Brent and I begin the three-day trip home tomorrow. Brent, of course, is counting the hours.
O/N Clove Hotel
February 3, 2007
Stone Town => Dar es Salaam
After quick farewells and a 2 ½ hour cramped ride on the 1 ½ hour brutally hot fast ferry, we make our way to our budget hotel (which is not bad at $US30) in Dar, turn on the air-conditioner and chill out, both literally and figuratively, venturing out only for a quick dinner at Chef's Pride.
Our hotel has a sign posted that it does not allow "women of moral inturpitude". I don't know what that is but it doesn't sound good so hope I don't have it.
O/N Econolodge ($30 dbl, with a/c)
February 4, 2007
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania => London, England
Dar es Salaam is a city of 4 million which seamlessly blends a beautiful coastal location of beaches and bays with a few large European-style buildings with diesel-belching traffic in gridlock with the standard African the grinding poverty of city slums and more rural subsistence. It is a conundrum.
Early Sunday morning means no traffic and we are soon on our way, the flight taking us directly over Mt. Kilimanjaro (I've picked out my camping spot for 2009) with its amazing snow-covered crater and over the seemingly endless (2 hours of flying time) Libya desert with its golden ochre sand in distant patterns reminiscent of rippling sandbars. Completely, 100 % desolate.
Our hotel in London is the strangest thing I've ever seen. I read about it in the Globe as the perfect hotel if you want a central location and want a clean room but don't care about the amenities. It was central, in Kensington, a couple of blocks from the V&A, so I'll give it that. I guess I could also give it good billing on no frills. The room was below ground (so no windows) and consisted of a double mattress out of which rose three walls - not an inch of space around the periphery, just the bed and the walls. We had to climb in from the foot and leave our backpacks at the foot of the bed, crawling over them (and no extra space there either) to get to the bathroom. Just as advertised --cheap (to the extent there is such a thing in London) and no frills.
To avoid claustrophobia, we slept with our heads at the wrong end. We also went out for dinner at a local restaurant, drank two bottles of wine, and befriended everyone in the place. I now have a best friend from Wales who is a foster parent of troubled kids. Who would have guessed!
O/N Easy Hotel (59 pounds = $150 CDN)
February 5, 2007
London, England => Victoria
Breakfast of eggs, bacon and lattes set us back $50; how do low-wage earners survive here? A quick tour of the Natural History Museum and a trip around a tiny part of the V&A (museums which are supported by governments and donations are wonderful) and time to head to the airport. A 23-hour layover is what gave us a chance to drop into London, but it would be a lot simpler to have better connections and avoid all the waiting. On the other hand, who would want to miss the Easy Hotel experience. And I have picked out our next London hotel - Fraser Suites looks great.
Now, home James!
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