A Travellerspoint blog


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)

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)

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)

Goodbye Malawi, Hello Tanzania

Rachel - Malawi to Dar es Salaam

It’s been a very long time since I wrote, we’ve been off the beaten track a bit. When we have had access to internet it has been to sort out flights to ethiopia and home.

So where were we? Oh yes, we’d just said goodbye to the lake and were heading off with two young Australian sisters towards the Tanzanian border. We had a lot of distance to cover that day but all went smoothly apart from a moment on the bridge when unfortunately both sisters at once we robbed on the bridge while inadvisably trying to change money with the dodgy types on the (literal) bridge between the border posts. Once they realised they were being short changed in the transaction the men hopped over the bridge barriers and made off with what they had already handed over. Bad moment. But not really much anyone could do so we loaned them some cash to get over the border and the rest of the journey was uneventful.

I can’t help like borders though. You need to be on your guard all the time and be careful about any kind of helpful advice or assistance offered. I think that’s why I like them though, if you make it through it feels like you’ve passed a test. Things are rough of course, and I certainly wouldnt want to stay overnight in a border town but there’s a certain energy about them and when you hear the stamp in your passport it produces a special unique thrill of relief and anticipation.

My first impression of Tanzania compared to Malawi was how much noisier it was, and it’s obviously richer. The houses have tin rooves, there are more cars and motorcycles rather than bikes, people are wearing shirts and trousers with no holes, houses are multi story, water is sold to buses in bottles and not little lastic bags. And the landscape is hillier, the earth is brown and not red.

We had, by phone, reserved a place on the overnight train from the west coast of tanzania to the east coast and arrived at the station early to pick up our tickets and lucky we did because after a lengthy wrestle in the arse-to-crotch shoulder-to-ear squeezy-inny argy-bargy leany-over-wavy-papers queue we told that the booking couldnt be found and it took some hours to sort out a place but since we had a 6 hour wait for the delayed train it was no problem really and it meant we all got to experience the queue and hone that technique (I find shoulder placement is key). So we boarded with all our things and bags of extra provisions we picked up in the markets outside: mangoes, bananas, avacados, bread, sachets of booze...

It was dark when we boarded but when we woke the next day I made for the restaurant car, bought byself a beer to nurse (the liquid equivalent of a towel over the sunloungers), and stared greedily out the window for 4 hours solid. And I saw LOTS of green (but let me tell you now in hindsight that i thought *this* was green but Uganda actually blows Tanzania’s greenery out of the water because in Uganda you can’t even see through to the colour of the earth it’s that dense with vegetation): short grassy green, long grassy green, thin wavy green, lush flappy green , tall green , shimmery green, matt green, frondy green, bushy leaved green, wide leaved green... with the occasional red or yellow leaved tree to break it up :) But mostly it was small overlapping hills which would arrange themselves every now and again to make an open areas – and the odd dry riverbeds which, you may have guessed, were carpeted in green grasses. I only saw a few small groups of three or four huts so the main interest other than drinking in all that green were stations where people would parade past with large dried fish, plantain, mangoes, bread, cooked chicken, dried rice, bananas, water, beef kebabs on sticks, ricecakes, sugar cane, peanuts and occasionally random non edible goods in portable glass cabinets strangely. This all more evidence that Tanzania is better off, by Malawian standards of course.

The landscape eventually flattened out as we started to approach the national park and into more typical game park savanna land which was beautiful as the sun started to set. We had been delayed so much we only just entered the park in daylight so we only managed to see a few antelope and some picked cleaned remains of some prey of some kind ,but it was just enough of a taster for savanna for me.

After dark a big group of us took over the restaurant car for some poker which lasted well into the small hours when the train pulled into Dar es Salaam and our first proper city in months. Time to hit the (paved) streets!

Posted by rachndave 05:19 Archived in Tanzania Tagged landscapes trains borders Comments (0)

Quick update - in Tanzania

We're in Dar es Salaam at the moment, it's really nice to be in a big city again. Heading to Zanzibar tomorrow which frankly I thought was a made up place shared with Timbuktu and Outer Mongolia. Very excited!

Hoping the 4 wheel drivers might read this and be in Tanzania which was always a long shot would love to hear from you

being kicked out of the internet cafe now, excuse the brevity

Posted by rachndave 12:41 Archived in Tanzania Comments (1)

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