A Travellerspoint blog

December 2010

What is Rule #4??

Rachel - Dar to Mwanza and the MV Victoria

You find our happy travelers back in Dar es Salaam for the night, checked into the YMCA having a beer in the garden with a tray of stew and rice and a beer on the table in front of them. When who should do a double take and say hello but Tsur and Ido, some Israeli friends we met in the Mzuzu Zoo and again in Nkarta Bay (We’ll be seeing them again hopefully because they plan to be in Ethiopia the same time as us). A lovely turn up for the books because we were only planning a quiet night before our planned 16 hour bus journey the next day.

The journey wasn’t as dull as it could have been because the driver was some sort of madman and Tanzania seems to have sabotaged all of their good asphalt roads with foot high speed bumps which, no exaggeration I promise you, necessitated the seatbelt because every 2 miles or so you would be lifted high out of your seat to the ceiling and to the accompaniment of sounds, depending on the drivers speed ranging from grunts of discomfort, shouts of annoyance and squeals of fear. Dave was in the front (for leg room) and was witness to the countless near misses so his journey was not a dull one either. Actually this hasn’t been our worst journey but boy I was glad when it was over.

Mwanza is a largish city at the southern tip of Lake Victoria and from there we could make a pleasant overnight shortcut to the west coast near to the Ugandan border on the MV Victoria ship. Of course the first and second class sleeping berths were full so we did as the guide book suggested and bought third class tickets and would take our chance that we could find somewhere comfortable to sleep in the bar.

This was a day of indecision. First we debated staying in Tanzania to visit the Serengeti and Ngorogoro crater which were pretty nearby. And then we made serious consideration to making a detour to visit the Congo to camp by the crater of the active volcano just over the border near Goma. This is one of Dave’s burning ambitions and we had met Dean and Layni who had just returned from doing the same. But after an hour in an internet café we found a UN report of (still only) rumours that “something” was planned for late November and general warnings that the situation in Goma gets worse close to Christmas (Christmas looting for the holidays….for real) so in the end we decided that we’d feel like idiots if we got caught up in something and glumly, cursing the lack of reliable information, we settled for cheering ourselves up by playing pool in the next door bar instead.

Stepping on the ferry we were ushered towards first class by all the staff who seemed most puzzled that the mzungus would be in anything but. The main third class area was in one hard room that must have been above the engine room it was noisy, sweltering and cramped. So we went to explore the outside areas when the inspector, ignoring our assurance that we were in third class, insisted we followed upstairs and finally lead us to the quiet first class deck. Not a bed but it was breezy and deserted and best of all had access to the first class bar.

While we were poking about the front of the boat one of the crew must have been impressed that we were taking so much interest in the ship so he beckoned us to follow upstairs and into the darkened bridge. In the end we were kicked out for asking too many questions and distracting the clearly passionate crewman who was explaining the rules of the lake, prompted because he’d mentioned in passing that having two extra staff on lookout to potentially overrule technological misinformation was “Rule number 5”. So of course we asked what were the first four rules? The captain threw us off right at the end of the explanation of rule number 3 so we never did find out what was rule number 4! FYI, rules 1-4, 5 are:

1. The following rules apply to both sea and lake sailing
2. The captain is ultimately responsible for EVERYTHING that affects the ship
3. definition: The “draft” of a ship is the length from the bottom of the ship to the waterline and a ship with higher draft has priority over a more nimble ship with lower draft.
4. ??!
5. Two people must always be posted as look out

It was a fascinating insight, watching the radar and GPS and looking at the charts. These guys really have to know their stuff because it’s a shallow lake with lots of hidden islands and other ships. Hats off to you guys. We arrived at the break of dawn and a beautiful morning with birds squawking and shouts of the port crew unloading the cargo. Bus 0 – Boat 1.

Posted by rachndave 09:06 Archived in Tanzania Tagged transportation Comments (1)

Merry Christmas everyone

Today we've been christmas shopping in Kampala but the best present would be to fly you all over here.

We're going rafting and kayaking on the Nile for christmas eve and then in the backpackers for Christmas day where there'll hopefully be some fun people about, and looking for a surrogate family like we will be, for the organised barbeque. I wonder if you can bbq sprouts...

No white christmas for us unfortunately, we're actually pretty jealous of the weather you're getting over there.

You'll be in our thoughts and toasted many times over the day.

Have a fantastic christmas everyone!

Rach abd Dave

Posted by rachndave 10:17 Archived in Uganda Comments (3)

It's got two Zs in it!

Rachel - Zanzibar

Beyond Timbuktu, Outer Mongolia and The Land of Nod lies the magical kingdom of Zanzibar. Actually that’s not too far off because although Zanzibar belongs to Tanzania it has it’s own president and also it’s own bonus stamp in our passports, yay.

After a breezy ferry trip over with a bag of mangoes we stepped off into the large port with colossal container ships and then immediately out into the wide tree lined streets with old Indian and colonial style buildings. Next to the harbour is the old area called Stone Town with never ending, narrow, winding, balcony-adorned streets down which children played and women in Islamic dress disappeared round corners. We stepped into this world and fending off shop keepers and shaking off persistent touts we found our little hostel. This is one of the most touristy places I think we’ve been too and it was a bit of a shock to encounter the hussle quite so intensely but still it wasn’t as bad as, say, the street stalls of Paris.

We booked a place for dinner in a restaurant which is also a family home, stopped off some tourist information places to plan our next few days and, grabbed a sundowner on the balcony of a hotel and watched the sun set over the sea with the old Dhow ships sailing across our view. More about those later.

We stopped by our restaurant and found that there’d been a family problem and they were closed. Bummer :( so instead we headed to the sea front and found a lantern lit night market selling freshly caught fish of all kinds and in all sorts of preparations – mostly fish kebabs. I ordered a few kebabs and coconut bread and dave ordered the lobster…different classes eh. I should confess here to being terrible at haggling. In this case I totally forgot to haggle after all the deliberation over which fish to order and from which almost identical stall (baby shark and barracuda from Amos the fisherman, in case you’re interested). Dave was not impressed. But he was impressed with his dirt cheap lobster so he was appeased. We’d only bought tasters so we headed to the obviously named Mercury’s for a fish curry as well. *burp*.

Zanzibar is covered in coconut palms and has eastern influences because of ancient trade – it’s one of the original spice islands after all. So the Swahili food is spicy and coconutty. A real sensuous treat after the simplicity of Malawi. The history of the trade and resulting cultural influence is fascinating actually. Monsoon winds and sailing ships meant visiting traders needed to stay in port for 3 months or so while the winds changed direction back again for the return journey so their cultures had a chance to really take hold. Cool huh.

The next day we visited a spice plantation where our guide plucked spice after spice from the trees and shrubs. We each had a morsel to sample and added them to a growing nosegay fashioned out of a banana leaf, what a chai it would have made at the end of the day. We had: cinnamon (leaf bark and stick), nutmeg/mace, lemongrass, cardomon, vanilla, coconut, star fruit, jack fruit, nema (medicinal and bitter), cloves, cocoa, anato (for red colour) and curry leaf.

That evening Dave had a(nother) headache (which incidentally turned out to be a side effect to his malaria pills so he’s now switched to another type and is fine now). But it was bad enough to have to cancel the re-booked restaurant and for him to turn in to bed at 6pm. So I headed out on my own for an explore, bumped into a lovely interesting older Czech man I’d met briefly on the ferry over and had an hour or so philosophy debate before leaving to make the most of the evening sun to wander the streets and take some pictures, stopping to listen to the choir singing in the church – honestly every street you turn down in Zanzibar has something fascinating to see.

After checking on Dave I went back to the nice hotel balcony for a Dowa cocktail (gin, lime and honey…yum) sundowner with my book, chatted to some Irish filmmakers who were out filming about a marathon which is held to raise awareness about a preventable yet prevalent and painful eye condition. After we parted I went back to Mercurys for some dinner. I hadn’t been in there for two minutes before a slightly too friendly man started trying to get me to join his friends. I had to get proof from two members of staff but it turned out to be the owner and his friends were all lovely so we ended up bantering and dancing way past closing time – African lock in! I stumbled home with a pizza under my arm to find a better, hungry, and a little bit worried Dave.

The next day we hired a car to explore the interior of the island and visit some of the beaches on the east coast. We stopped to watch the Dhow builders who still make the old Arabic sail boats by hand. I’m not sure why they’re still making them here but they’re part of the island personality and so beautifully made. In the olden days they used to stitch them together with rope because of the flexibility that gave them in bad seas, but now they use nails. The interior was brimming with banana trees and coconut palms – totally tropical. Tropical like the white sand beaches which were like walking on powder paint it was so fine and soft – you couldn’t make out grains, the sand was like dust. The tide was out so we didn’t get the picture perfect beach views but instead we poked about the rock pools and bothered the hundreds of crabs that scuttled over the exposed craggy rocks.

That night we *finally* made it to the restaurant and enjoyed an authentic home cooked dinner in the back room of the cook’s house with 15 other people round two tables. Coconut tuna fish and home made lentil soups and chapattis were on the menu and it was certainly not a disappointment after our two failed attempts to get in.

We could have stayed another few days to go snorkeling and on a dhow cruise and hear some local music, but in the end we wandered the streets some more the next morning and reluctantly boarded the ferry – looking back to the island.

But anyway, next stop Uganda….this was always supposed to be a bonus stop – very glad we decided to make the detour.

Posted by rachndave 09:31 Archived in Tanzania Tagged beaches islands food sunsets Comments (0)

Volcanic Gorillas

In the rainforests of South-West Uganda (Dave)


This is lifted directly from my journal so I hope my ramblings make sense...

We're sitting about 2ft away from a roaring fire in our guest house. Rachel has a blanket over her legs and a towel wrapped around her feet as she's out of dry socks. We just had a hot chocolate with a sachet of cane spirit. We're tired but very happy, having just spent the day in Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, tracking the mountain gorillas. We'd been debating for months whether it would be worth the $500 (2,310,000 Ugandan shillings) and made our minds up just yesterday, after talking to our enthusiastic ranger-guide as we were climbing the towering Mt Muhavura Volcano (4127m - more of that later) - part of the National Park and Viruga Volcano chain. which extends across Uganda, Rwanda and Congo. STill not sure it was quite worth the cash but nevertheless an amazing experience, and we won't need to explain to EVERYONE for the next 6 months why we went to Uganda and didnt go gorilla bothering.

We hiked for 4 hours through the steep rainforest and bamboo forests, avoiding huge sloppy pools of buffalo poo, making our way through the undergrowth with our guide chopping a clear path with his machete. ALready tired and acheing from our volcano conquest we hiked up to the saddle between Mt Muhavura and Mt Gahinga for an age, and eventually after crawling through some bushes and across a little stream, we hooked up with 2 rangers who had been tracking them, at a distance, for the whole of the day. This group of gorillas tends to holiday in Rwanda or Congo from time to time, meaning the Nat Parks Authority cannot accept bookings more than 2 weeks in advance, but they have been in Uganda since July 2009 (cant afford the bribes at the congo border?), and luckily for us they had spaces despite the maximum group size of 8 tourists....in fact we were the only people in the group today.

We heard rustling 'somewhere' within the bamboo, and saw a dark hairy blob moving around maybe 10m away, obscured by branches and undergrowth. We made out a little gorilla hand holding a bamboo shoot, and heard lots of munching, before the trees shook as it moved away. We then went round another couple of trees and caught sight of a huge silverback, sitting up watching us, making sure we didn't do anything to threaten his family. The guide beckoned us forward and through the branches we could see a mother and her adorable toddler, the toddler with that slightly vacant, timid, wide eyed look of a human toddler, staring at us.

Then, nothing for about half an hour. The silverback layed down on his front and went to sleep, his pert gorilla buttocks sticking up in the air as he sniffed and yawned. Then a crashing noise from mum and son - what are they doing? - oh, they have layed down and gone to sleep too. We went around and watched a second silverback, an elderly 45 year old, also laying down on his front, yawning, picking his teeth, watching us. We yawned too. I cheekily and lightly tapped my chest 3 times, and with a start it got up into a sitting position and looked at me angrily. I did not repeat this move.

It seemed that all we were going to see was a family of sleeping gorillas. THe guide very kindly decided to extend our time (you only get an hour with them), and we went back around to the dominant male, who got up and started walking off. The guide knew that the others were sure to follow so we waited a few minutes, concealed behind a clump of bamboo. Sure enough, the female emerged right in front of us, with her son clambering on to her back, whimpering away because mum wouldn't give him his milk. They stopped close to us and the dominant silverback came over and joined them, so we had all 3 sitting together like a happy gorilla family, a lovely sight as our extended time ran out and we started back down through the forest.

We got a real taste of rainforest on the way down as the thunder started, the heavens opened, and the rain poured down for the duration of the walk back. Cool.

So here we are in our guesthouse having just eaten a huge guacamole and wedges, listening to The Bends, ready to rest our aching limbs in bed. Oh, Rachel fot ants in her pants, literally, during the trek. Biting ants. I tried not to look amused. Also saw a 2 ft long rain worm.

So on to the previous couple of days. We'd had a frustrating journey getting the 50 or so km from Kabare to Kisoro, involving a 3 hour wait for the minibus fill up with people, punctuated by a quick snack of deep fried grasshopper. We made it to Kisoro after dark. Then yesterday we reached the national park and had an amazing walk up the Mahuvura Volcano, through the rainforest, montane woodland, and up through the 'afro-alpine- zone to the top. We passed gnarly trees in the mist, draped with 'old mans beards' - a kind of stringy green moss, and saw a beautiful bird with a yellow mohican and scarlet wings. We saw strange phallic stalks that looked like 6ft elongated pineapples, got dizzy with the altitude, traversed around a jurassic-looking crag, and eventually puffed and panted our way to the summit, to find a dainty little crater lake, maybe 20m in diameter.

I asked the guide where I should go for a pee and he directed me to the other side of the lake, which is in Rwanda, so I had a piss on Rwanda. Earlier we had also shaken our fists at the view of the Democratic(!) Republic of Congo - we had wanted to visit a volcano across the border that has an actual lava lake, one of only 5 in the world, but were scuppered by civil war worries and thought better of it. Getting blown up with 2 months of our trip left would be a little premature.

We didn't get much of a view from the top of Muhavura as it was cloudy nearly all the time, but we did get glimpses of 4 of the other Viruga volcanoes now and then, draped in atmospheric mist, the outlines of the peaks just emerging through the cloud. 8 Hours after we started, we struggled back to the park gate, tired, aching after the steep muddy slopes, but elated and happy. It's been a great couple of days :o)

Posted by rachndave 08:35 Archived in Uganda Comments (1)

Middle Eastern de ja vu

Rachel - Dar es Salaam

We arrived in the cavernous station in Dar es Salaam, which was carpeted with people and their belongings in some eerie half-light, regrouped and headed to the hostel. Only it turned out to be a bit like the christmas story because in Dar the hotels dont like to let you in after it's "late" so we had to try several before someone would take us in and in the end Dave had to sleep on the floor in our triple room. Odd. But perhaps because it's a big city and has a big city's reputation that it's unwise to be out after dark.

The next day we wondered around goggle eyed though the proper streets and crowded lanes of multi-story shops. Because of its trade with the east, Dar has a strong indian/arabic influences in its architecture, inhabitants and atmosphere. It was especially interesting for us because it felt more like we were in the Middle East again rather than Africa. So much so that we headed out for a lebanese breakfast. Oh hummus, feta and salad, how I have missed you!

We'd planned to catch the more northerly branch of the train back west in some days time but we found out at the station that it was full so we split up so Dave could upload some photos for you greedy lot, and I headed to the out-of-town bus station to find out about buses to Uganda. Not very interesting I suppose in terms of photogenic sights or stories but the bustle of the traffic and shops and stations was a treat for me. Navigating the minibuses and their different way of working, running the gauntlet of bus station touts while zipping between bus office to bus office with a cheery brandishment of my notebook and pen was actually quite enjoyable.

We met for a debrief and wind-down beer on the top of a fancy hotel which looked over the harbour and was quite beautiful. Had our first taste of Swahili cuisine in the form of a tasty rich fish curry. If this is what Swahili flavour is like then we couldnt wait to get on the ferry to Zanzibar.

We liked Dar es Salaam. I wonder if I would have liked it if we hadn't been able to compare it to the Middle East and if we hadn't been sheltered from bustle for so long but nevertheless, I find myself rather fond of it.

Posted by rachndave 06:10 Archived in Tanzania Tagged food Comments (0)

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