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Entries about food

New Year New Country

Rachel - Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa is one of those of those satisfying-to-say places - like Ougadougou and almost anywhere in australia. It always seems a shame to shorten it to Addis as everyone seems to do.

When we drove from the airport we were struck by how modern the city seemed, with wide asphalt roads with proper traffic lights, international hotels and business parks. Now we know that this stretch of road is a recent addition to the city. The centre itself though is a strange mix of both modern-ish shops and rickety stalls all next to each other, a feature that has apparently stretched back right to the birth of the city when palaces and traditional mud and thatch houses were interspersed.

We arrived at our hotel a little weary but decided to check out the lobby of our hotel which despite having budget rooms is the oldest hotel in Addis Ababa and had a man playing piano in the large foyer as we arrived. So we enjoyed some new beers with a young woman, Annabelle, from Berlin but originally from Ethiopia, who was looking to return to her roots and live in Addis for a while.

The first day in a new country is always the same, try and sort out maps and phones and in this case try and buy some second hand warm clothes in the crowded and pungent mercarto (market) but today we had a total fail because everything was closed or too far away to organize after we were lost in the market for too long, which only sold new things and mostly wholesale. An experience nonetheless and we were adopted by a stall owner who tried to show us all the jumper stalls that might sell single prices and seemed baffled why we weren’t really interested in the available floral or neon articles.

To try and salvage the day we did manage to squeeze in a visit to a church and it’s attached museum. Ethiopians take their church seriously it seems – even the building itself. While we were in the courtyard we noticed many people coming up just to kiss the door or steps without it even being open. The day somewhat rescued we headed off for our first taste of Ethiopian food, on the way we passed a small darkened entrance with assorted men just in view sitting inside which caught Dave’s eye. It turned out to be a tejabet or “house of tej” which is the local honey wine, only really sold in these speciallity houses. We were made to sit down and to everyone’s great interest and encouragement try our first tej which is served in a special bulbous glass with a tall thin spout which looks something like a distillation bottle from chemistry class…we weren’t too impressed (although we have found out since that we hadn’t tried a very good one). But the owner took a shine to us and showed us to the restaurant, and spent the next hour or so with us teaching us some words, describing the food and generally being a nice introduction to the country.

We had been looking forward to the food here having been to Ethiopian restaurants in London. In case you’ve not tried it yourself it’s invariably some kind of spicy stew served on a sourish spongey pancake plate which you eat with your hands by breaking off some of the pancake and scooping up some of the stew before popping it all in your mouth. It takes some practice, and apparently it’s not allowed to lick your fingers.

Oh I forgot to mention – today was New Years eve (for us) and Annabelle had invited us to a party near to our hotel so after a delicious dinner we went back to meet her and some of her friends. The street next to our hotel is full of small bars playing very loud music so we spent the hours leading up to midnight (for us) doing a tour of most of them, ending up in a great little place playing Ethiopian pop music and full of people dancing (I’ll describe the dancing in another entry because it’s pretty unique). At the stroke of midnight we were ushered outside because for the first time they had put on fireworks for “European” new year. Ethiopia has a different calendar, the Julian calendar, because they rejected the Pope and the pope’s Gregorian calendar. (note for the geeks, so *now* we know why we have all those different Calendar classes – it’s for Ethiopia). So the Ethiopian new year is actually in September and Christmas is on January 7th. The time here is even different too – midnight is 6 o’clock because they start counting from zero at 6am, which does actually make a kind of sense – start counting when you wake up. But anyway it seems like they like an excuse to party so just for us they pulled one out the bag. Dave and I tried to get everyone to join in a bouncing circle of Auld Langs Eyne which took two attempts but I think it’ll catch on.

Unfortunately almost exactly this time Dave realized that he’d been pickpocketed in the bar and they’d taken our hotel key which had the name of the hotel and the room number on it so we dashed back to find that they’d already ransacked the room and taken a few electricals that were out in sight. Fortunately they must have been in a rush so they hadn’t found our well hidden passports and cash, or Dave’s not so well hidden camera or iPod luckily, so we decided to deal with it later and headed back to meet everyone. The rest of the night was brilliant fun too – we visited a bar with traditional music and praise singing (will describe that properly later too) and later a cheesy nightclub with more Ethiopian pop. Finally at 5am the four of us staggered home happy.

Next day we reported the theft to the police, purely for the insurance report. But because we hadn’t reported the incident immediately they didn’t want to take our report until a few days later than we’d planned to move on, so the lady in the hotel reception – without telling us – told the policeman that we had a flight to catch so we couldn’t come back later which made for some very uncomfortable moments during the eventual interview when he was asking about our flight details and how come we could come back to Addis to collect the head-office-signed report. I’m not sure the insurance company will even accept the report because it’s written in Amharic script on the back of a piece of already-written-on rough paper which was all he could get his hands on at the time. It looks like I just wrote it myself! And another awkward moment was when we, via our translators who we’d to scrounge in the hotel bar by the way, had to decline to pay him a “small fee” to “start the investigation”. Our translators afterwards even tried to get us to go back to pay the bribe and then asked us for money themselves. A weird evening that was, although not unpleasant. The policeman was polite and concerned about doing a thorough job and he was clearly busy because people would come in and out of his office all the time to ask something.

On our final day we ran about town talking to tour agencies about trips to the Danakil depression (i.e. THE HOT-TEST PLACE ON EEEARTH) and then putting up posters in backpacker frequented places trying to find people to join with us, otherwise it will be a very expensive trip. But after we missed out on the volcano in the Congo we have a second chance because there’s another active lava lake in the Danakil so we *have* to go this time. Have to.

After several days in the city we didn’t really get to see much of Addis Ababa, not on the tourist trail anyway and there are some interesting looking museums here too. But we’ll be back again in a few weeks at least, and it’s the sign of a good city at least that you need to come back. Au reviour Addis Ababa(bababa).

Posted by rachndave 08:21 Archived in Ethiopia Tagged parties food cities Comments (0)

Q. How do you fit eleven people in a Ford Escort

Rachel - Ugandan Border

The Tanzania/Uganda border in the south is a small hut by the side of the dirt road with a very friendly man inside. I think it would have been possible to walk straight across because noone checked our passports when we walked round the simple road barrier.

After the usual border rituals of changing money, dodging a very persistent tout and finding out about transport we decided to take a shared taxi to the next town rather than wait for an hour for the bus. Shared taxis here, as in the other countries we’ve been, leave when they’re full and the car already contained one young man so we thought we’d be off pretty soon – we only needed one more person after all. But we sat waiting for about an hour while they crammed person after person, and their luggage, into every nook and cranny of this averagely sized car. To answer the question raised in the title of this entry you fit eleven people in a car by squeezing seven people in the back sitting on each other’s knees, and four side by side in the front with the driver driving at an angle. We thought this was perhaps because we were in at a border but this is actually the norm in Uganda although we haven’t beaten eleven people yet – the average is about eight passengers. I now try to make sure I sit in the front of taxis because there’s usually two or three people in the front but you get a little bit more air.

All the action in Uganda is focused in the south eastern corner so we left the cab in a buzzy shopping town of Masaka. We had read in the guide book that during the rainy season the place is inundated with grasshoppers which the locals catch and eat. The rainy season was over so we thought we’d miss this treat but by the side of the street people were selling de-legged-and-winged grasshoppers by the bucket load. Not knowing whether they were cooked or not we left them be but luckily in the bus station there was a lady frying them and so we managed to taste a few. They’re crunchy and kind of sweet – not bad at all. I was a bit put off because I didn’t realize they were cooked while still alive - they’re sold in the street without wings and legs because they don’t want them to get away but actually they’re still alive and the lady selling them in the station had a fresh batch so she chucked them into the hot oil with legs and all and they were jumping around in the pan…..eesh. :(

We’d been traveling non stop for over 24 hours now: first the ferry, then a taxi, a minibus, taxi, minibus, sitting on the back of a motorcycle taxi and finally the coach. Not a bad set. Long day, but we forced ourselves out for a beer and a game of pool with some Swedes we’d met on the coach to finish the day with something pleasant. Pooped.

Posted by rachndave 02:46 Archived in Uganda Tagged food transportation Comments (0)

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)

Aftertaste of victory

Rachel - Nyika Plateau

We stopped in the town of Rumphi, just south of Nkiya national park in the north of Malawi. We stayed in a lodge attached to an orphanage and farm that we had been recommended but unfortunately we arrived late and had to leave early so we didn’t get a chance to look around much.

We had arranged with our guides that we would make our own way to the campsite at the top of the plateau and so next morning we jumped on the back of a truck and then waited and waited and waited as it filled up with more and more people and goods and finally we set off. The road we were taking would go north up to the Zambian border but also goes through the national park where we would get off at the junction and hope there’d be another truck going into the park itself or otherwise have to walk 18km to get to the campsite.

Normally I love travelling by pickups but this was the most uncomfortable three hours I’ve had yet with men falling asleep on my shoulder and pushing me into sleeping babies I was trying to protect while an old women restricted any possible movement of my legs while I was sat above the wheel with no suspension and feeling every jolt up my spine. Meanwhile Dave was sat up high on two comfy sacks of flour with the wind in his hair! I need to learn to get high early on in the packing process and hold my ground... But anyway when we arrived at the gates of the park we were called back by the young lad, Twembe, who worked the gates who had called our guide who was following some way behind since he was concerned that we’d not get a lift from the junction to the website and there was a risk of being found by poachers, hyenas or leopards and normally all visitors out in the open should be accompanied by a scout with a rifle. Twembe asked us to stay with him at the gate and we would be picked up by our guide when they arrived in a few hours.

So we waited. And waited. And bought some dried fish for cooking an evening meal, And waited. And it got dark. And we waited. And the park gates officially shut. And we waited. In the end we came to the conclusion that something had happened and so Twembe broke the rules, quite seriously for him, and allowed a timber truck through who were waiting outside the closed gates to bring a mechanic to a broken down friend inside on the condition that they took us all the way to the campsite.

We had an enjoyable 2 hours bumpy ride through the pitch black park, dropped of the mechanic and finally arrived at midnight. Woke up the unhappy warden, set up camp, put on all of our clothes cos at over 2000m it’s COLD, lit a fire, put on the iPod and finally sat down to our meal of fish, tomato, garlic, onion and some chilli powder and pasta at 1.30am. Many weeks wait to try this meal and we have to say it must be an acquired taste. The fish is a bit metallic and gritty tasting. Not terrible but not really tasty either. Still we felt chuffed to have accomplished this feat all by ourselves at last so it had an ultimate aftertaste of victory :)

The next morning Dave left our little tent for a wee and found a sunrise over the vast open hills in front of our site and four zebras grazing not 10m from our tent. Apparently I wasn’t to be woken without a sledgehammer so he managed to catch them on video – they stayed for ages he says.

Our guides finally arrived the next morning – the car had suffered two flat tyes and so they’d had to abandon it and walk 15km to the gate and then get a lift to the site in the morning. They were really worried we’d think they’d made off with our deposit cash but actually this hadn’t even crossed our minds. But in the end they were too late to organise the porter and scout and so we had a day to explore the closer areas of the plateau. So I hopped on a bike and dave by foot went out to see what we could see. For a seriously furious pedal in places I was rewarded with a small herd of zebras and some Roan antelope. I love the zebras; they trot off to a safe but still distance and then just stay staring back at you until one or other of you gets a bit bored and moves off. They didn’t seem bothered at all by the bike until I got off and they moved away. I wonder what they’d make of a unicycle, if i could master that perhaps I could pat one... I saw undulating grassy valleys, heather, patches of trees in little nooks, rocky crops. Wish I’d had the camera but maybe I can find a picture on the internet to show you. But no wonder they call Nyika the Scotland of Malawi.

I’ll skim over the hike because pictures always speak louder than words in these matters but it moved from the same vast open grassy plains we’d seen the day before to forests and through some picturesque and leafy villages on day two, over a river and ending on day two in a village market square, the edge of which, strangely, we made our camp and were allowed to use the toilet of a nearby family home. That afternoon, after our 5am start 17km hike, we were shown to the “where we could take a bath”. So we followed past the house, down a lane (okay...), out of the village (...!?), over a bridge, through some scrub and down to the river :) But what a bathroom view! And soooo refreshing for our hot feet and sore muscles. We had the place to ourself so dave even got nekkid oooOOooo (i didn’t look of course, i was too busy trying to keep my cup from floating away downstream)

On the last day, and another 5am start, we had a pretty easy dirt road walk up to Livingstonia past dozens of people filling in potholes and resurfacing the road with hoes as part of a self-help community project. We arrived about 10 so we had time for me to do some internetting and Dave wondered around the town.

Livingstonia is a strange place for a settlement really although it was successful for the missionaries in the sense that this was the first place they moved to where they didn’t lose everyone to malaria because of the healthy climate. It’s perched right at the edge of the pretty much vertical Rift Valley escarpment which leads right to the lake so the views are stunning but it’s only reachable from a truly terrible rutted dirt road. It’s a strange town as well with lots of colonial buildings widely spaced out and so as the guide book puts it “the impression is as if somebody started transporting a small Victorian village to the edge of the Rift Valley Escarpment, but got bored before they finished the job”.

After a stroll through the town we finished the hike by walking for another hour or so, stopping for a little break by a 100m waterfall. We passed under another kind of waterfall on the way – light rain seemed to be falling on us from a noisy tree and a local pointed out the large winged insects that we have heard making a very loud chirruping noise everywhere we go, and the “rain” is actually their excretion. Piss insects...nice. Fortunately we finished our hike in the pretty open air showers at the awesome Mushroom Farm – a place that people take pride in reaching even when they haven’t been walking for 3 days already what with it being inaccessible by public transport and up that 10km long and steep hill. They should make victory badges.

Posted by rachndave 12:27 Archived in Malawi Tagged food hiking Comments (0)

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