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A dome from home

Rachel - Lake Bunyoni

After all that hiking up and down steep hills our muscles were sore and our knees were creaking so we headed to Lake Bunyoni for some R&R (and clothes washing). We were told about a place (hi Dean and Layni!) on one of the islands in the middle of the lake which had open fronted “geodomes” (domed structure made of wood beams and covered outside with grass thatch) that looked out onto the lake which sounded ideal. And because we’d be back down at a lower altitude we might have a chance to warm up a little too – Lots of Uganda is at high altitude so it’s actually pretty chilly here. The domes were cool little structures and we woke up with birds fluttering round in our room (where else could you birdwatch from bed) and an uninterrupted view of the dawn.

The scenery around the lake is beautiful with small but steep rounded, tree covered hills all around. We arrived and immediately went for a swim and it’s probably the nicest surrounding view for a swim I’ve ever experienced. Dave went for a walk round the island (and met some children who caught them some fresh crayfish which is abundant in the lake) but I stayed back to stare some more at the water and catch up with my notes for this blog but ended up instead chatting to two visiting Israeli doctors who were working in Uganda. It sounds like a tough job and quite frustrating to put it mildly.

There were quite a few people staying in the same place which was also a lovely change because we’d been starved of company for a few days, so we played games into the night. The food at this place was delicious and interesting (crayfish stuffed artichokes, pizza with actual cheese, goulash and burrito wraps) so much so that we decided to stay an extra day and so made a plan to take out the canoes the next day with some new friends.

Our plan was to paddle out to another one of the other little islands called “Punishment Island”, so called because unmarried pregnant girls would be taken there by their discraced family and left to die (were there no convents in Africa?). Unless they were lucky enough to be rescued by a man looking for a wife and who couldn’t otherwise afford the bride prices. What a fate eh? We passed some really cool dead trees, one which was covered with large menacing looking birds which against the background of gathering storm clouds looked awesome, but unfortunately we had been warned of rain so we hadn’t brought out the camera. Lucky we didn’t really because it absolutely threw it down on the journey back – it felt a bit hairy out in the middle of a passing storm in a little canoe but as soon as we sighted shore the sun came out to congratulate us for making it.

That night was another real treat because they had a little cinema screen and hundreds of films to choose from so we randomly selected African Queen, grabbed some blankets and wine and settled down in the snug. I really miss films actually, especially when you want to do something but you’re too tired to go out. I’m writing this on boxing day and all of us here could do with a nice James Bond or something…instead we’re boozing again.

Anyway, I think we could happily have stayed another day here but now our muscles were rested we heard the call of the INPENATRABLE FOREST which was too hard to resist.

Posted by rachndave 02:48 Archived in Uganda Tagged lodging Comments (0)

The Mushroom Farm


Oh how we loved you the Mushroom Farm, you get an entry all of your own. On the face of it it’s a simple eco-friendly lodge with only 1 two level huts, a hand crafted mud “cob house” and levelled camping spaces set on the edge of the cliff looking out over to the lake. There’s a little bar and a little dining area come reading area come games room. And that’s about it. But the Australian owners are climbing and abseiling enthusiasts who are into permaculture so the place has all sorts of quirks that add to the whole vibe of the place. The composting toilet has a view. The shower makes you feel that you’re showering in a rainforest (you’d love it Laycock – hi Nick!). The power is solar powered, the food is vegetarian, interesting and really really tasty. They have piglets at the back, ducks and chickens and it’s all set clinging to the side of this hill.

Like I said earlier, it takes some effort for people to get there so there’s a sense of belonging there that’s hard to describe. The usual owner-managers were on holiday and so they pass it over to temporary mangers for 6 months of the year and this time it’s being run by Steve and Carmel – a half scouse, half Yorkshire couple who were taking over from their daughter who had told them they’d love it. I don’t think she quite prepared them for what was in store for them because they were rushed off their feet making small improvements to the place, raising the animals, tending the veg, ordering the food, managing bookings, running the bar and still take time out to try and get to know their guests and nothing is ever a bother.

After having a welcome rest in our beautiful balconied “honeymoon room” we decided we could do with an extra day to chill out, do our washing etc. and recover but our room was booked the following night so we camped the next evening instead – Steve and Carmel let us pinch the cushions from the chairs and borrow one of their tents for free so we still had a comfy night. We’re really glad we stayed because not long after we decided we could cope with camping John and Tisita from the Ilala turned up and we’d already made friends with the other two Canadians staying in the cob-house so we all had a good old natter and hang-out all day.

We also had a really interesting time talking with Steve and Carmel about the surprises they’d had on site like pregnant sows, administering antibiotics to piglets, the difficulties of managing staff, how to stay on top of stock when faced with diesel shortages, trying to rebuild links with the local villages, cooking on a wood fired stove and all sorts of new things they’d like to try out. It was a truly inspirational place.

Posted by rachndave 12:33 Tagged lodging eco-tourism Comments (1)

Wet wet wet wet wet FISH wet


Oh splashy wet cool water how we've missed you! We arrived in Aqaba in the far-too-early morning after a 6.30 bus from Wadi Rum and after a quick nap headed straight out into the sea, stopping only to pick up some flippers and a mask. The corals around Aqaba are relatively quiet and unspoiled although they're the book-end to the much more well known Eilat in Israel or similar sites in Egypt.

We spent the next three days in the sea or by the little pool in our bargainous sea-view hotel (which was brand new and willing to give us a big discount for the business. A little bit of unexpected luxury after a week in camps or on hotel roofs).

We saw more colourful fish than you can shake a snorkel tube at and an octopus, and a huuuuuuge stingray, some unflappable puffer fish and played sheepdog with a shoal of thousands and thousands of small silvery fish - at one point being both surrounded by them all in a doughnut shape. We swam above some divers who were diving down to a wreck we were bobbing above and played with their bubbles which were lit up like millions of underwater diamonds by the sunlight which will always be a special memory for me.

I think the 3D freedom of the divers gave Dave the envy because he signed up for a introductory dive the next day and was taken down to swim round a sunken military tank of all things. I think he's got the bug now. I'd already done a padi course during an early adventure (hi Katie!) so I know how he feels, it's like a ticket to a different world.

Because it's still the Middle East, and Jordan is even more conservative than some countries, the beaches are full of families with half the living room brought along with them and women in the water fully clothed. A sight I will treasure will be four women in full burqas and veils, a few hairy men topless in shorts, all playing keepy uppy with a football up to their waists in the water. (burqas/veils arent the norm here by any means by the way which is why it was such a sight).

Also because it's the middle east everyone stays out on the streets, including the very young children, till past midnight. So after having one of the nicest meals we've had while we've been in this part of the world - a spiced rice and fish dish with a tahini sauce that i'll try and find the recipe for when i get back (one for you Auntie Alison) - we walked past the public beach and sat with our feet in the water listening to some young drummers behind, talking to some people curious to see the pictures we were taking and watching families with their shisha and barbeques having nighttime picnics. I was watching a girl who must have been about nine or ten, grinning, splashing and dancing freely to the drums in the water - shoulders a shimmying - to be told off (I think at least) by the older female family members. I couldnt really tell if she was upset after that because she was be told to reign it in or because they had to leave, as they did soon after, but she was so pleading and mournful, crouched low in the water, after that as if she wanted to melt into it or hold onto the seabed somehow. My heart went out to her. I hope she's a bit of a rebel as she grows up, she had such a spirit about her.

Had a lovely chat one night with a german guy we've seen in nearly every city we've visited but never had a chance to talk to. He said it's been the same for him and had spent time with the same four german PhD students we met in Wadi Rum everywhere as well and was pleased to hear about their engagment which hadnt happened when he saw them last. We talked technology pretty much all night because we all had the same sort of jobs and interests. It was a lovely change actually from talking about travelling. He's a TED fan, so for all you who know we had some good chat. Wish we'd crossed paths sooner. Hope his girlfriend has recovered from tummy toubles.

So at last we both have some sunburn :) We've been pretty covered up since we left because we've been out and about, and for decency's sake, or because the sun is just too strong to expose much to it. I have brown arms and face but that's it really. But now I also have red legs and so does Dave :)

Today we're back in Amman. After our last shisha, non-alcoholic beer and taste of arabic music (played by a man who reminded me of a portly Neil Diamond) last night we're turning our thoughts to phase 2: Africa. We fly to Lilongwe in Malawi this afternoon. Things might get a bit more patchy communication wise but the world is getting ever smaller so you never know. Will try and let you know we've arrived not-too-frazzled after our 16 hour, three plane journey at least.

Thinking of everyone at home all the time. Miss you. Speak to you from the next continent.

PS. It's not too late to buy Lake of Stars tickets you know...

Posted by rachndave 03:09 Archived in Jordan Tagged beaches lodging sae observations Comments (2)

What do you think this is: some kind of holiday??

Our last stop in Lebanon was Byblos and neither of us wanted to leave :(

Contender for one of the oldest inhabited towns in the world and seat of the written word you wouldn't really know it now because in the 60s Byblos was a hang out for the rich and famous who would come and party in the harbour. All because of a man who owned the super chilled "fishing club" bar/restaurant who was famous for "knowing how to throw a party". What a briliant thing to be remembered for. There are photos of him all over the walls with all the film stars of the day (bardot etc.) to royalty!

There are also sandy beaches, streets of bars, upmarket souks, some prehistoric and roman ruins, fish restaurants in the harbour and a little campsite just out of town where we had planned to camp but decided to upgrade to permanent tents/bungalows called tengalows which just 3 metres wide contain two beds and a little bathroom pod between them and nothing more but I would happily have moved in.

We had a view of the med and palm trees from the seats/table outside our little tengalow and access to a private entry to the water. Next door were Steve and his fiancee Sam from London who we had met briefly in a restaurant in Baalbeck (guess who has the same guide books ;)). Steve has just spent a year cycling round the world - through Iran and Afghanistan, Mongolia and all the stans...i can't even remember all the places. Very interesting and lovely people.

Nothing interesting to report really because we spent the whole time doing "holiday" things like blowing the budget a little on yummy fish platters and messing about in waves. We had meant to move on the next day but we were so relaxed here and the view was so amazing we decided to stay another day.

We had a great last night playing cards with Steve and Sam, talking travel, drinking arak and watching the moon turn orange as it set over the sea.

Could have stayed there for a week.

Posted by rachndave 08:50 Archived in Lebanon Tagged beaches sea ruins lodging Comments (0)

Camping fail - mountain win

The Lonely Planet guide suggests that catching a train or a direct bus between the two main towns of Shiraz and Esfahan would be a wasted opportunity since between the two cities lies the stunning Zagros mountains although LP cautions that this is definitely off the beaten track. Sounds ideal!

I dont think we have completed a journey yet without a super nice and helpful Irani scoffing/despairing at our plans and suggesting various alternatives, and this was no exception. We have been getting shared taxi's when we can to cut costs and our taxi -buddy suggested (read: insisted) an alternative final city destination and a visit to a waterfall in the city where we needed to change taxis. The waterfall sounded nice and easy so when the taxi-buddy left us we trusted in the young, dangerously fast-driving taxi driver to take us there. Except he took us to his house instead and insisted we join him for lunch. This has become the norm: benign kidnapping.

After a brief if a little awkward stopover for an admittedly delicious meal with his mother and brothers (who were fasting so we just sat in the middle of the room on the carpet, ate and tried to make conversation from my phrasebook) we stopped at the frankly rubbish "waterfall" (which eminated from a pipe) for ten minutes and returned to the car to find that my camera and the equivalent of two hundred dollars in cash had been taken from my bag, and we think dave's headtorch was missing from his. The taxi driver hadn't locked the car at his home, or at the 2 minute toilet stopover earlier :(

So I cant share my photos with you - i'm gutted because I had some crackers - and lots from my last few days in London. I'll have to get another camera in Damascus (cash economy here means we can't afford it in Iran). Fortunately dave and I have many duplicates but anyway, i had some i was very proud of. Sigh.

But anyway we made it to our intended destination of a much more impressive waterfall and set up camp at the base. In the nearby tea house we attracted a crowd and shared a shisha* but when it came for bed we said we were heading to our tent... the teahouse owner would have nothing of it and bundled us into the nearby prayer room cum greenhouse.

The next morning we woke early (you try sleeping in a greenhouse!) and climbed the steep hill by the side of the waterfall and summitted the peak to marvel at he valleys and mountains beyond. It was awesome. After making our way down, frollicking with some local kids in the waterfall and stopping to pose for a dozen pictures we were put in a cab by the teahouse owner (more photos) and made our way to the next town to pick up a shared cab.

Our taxi driver from here haggled hard and entertainingly - he was an english teacher making some extra money in the holidays (many people here have two jobs...25% inflation hits people like teachers hard) and we had a good chat on the way to Sar Khun - a little village in the middle of nowhere as it turned out, but it *was* on the map!

It was in this not-too-pituresque village where we were consulting the map and deciding whether to flag down a car/cab to move on and try and find somewhere prettier to set up a camp when a passing teacher stopped to see if we needed help. Trying to explain that we didn't need help but perhaps needed info about onward villages, turning down food and board and explaining this using only charades and drawings - attracted the attention of the local police in the process. Eventually we shed the police and were offered a lift to the next village. We stopped and were trying to convince the teacher using charades again that we'd be fine while he insisted on calling an english teacher friend of his who lived in this much prettier village only for the police to turn up again.

Eventually in order to make the police leave and keep the original guy happy we agreed to stay with the english teacher instead of camp. We spent a night there talking with his entire 30 strong family, including the adorable and super helpful 11 year old Daniel (i wasnt allowed to keep him :( ), and were given a gentle lecture about our unfortunate misdirection by the visiting 19 year old mullah and were finally allowed to go to sleep to be lullabyed by the braying donkeys and crowing cockerels. It was quite a night!

The next morning the english teacher's friend visited and we all went to a nearby dam which had been built over a village and a main road which you could still see disappearing into the water. We were even fortunate enough to ride on a boat right out to the dam itself - it was amazing - still, bright turquoise water surrounded by mountains all around.

Eventually we were allowed to leave (i wasnt sure we would be at some points) and we caught the mahmooly (travelling american diner style bus) to Esfahan.

Incidentally, before we left we were introduced to another friend of the family who is a english literature university student. He was telling us how universities here are actually very conservative places and he was made to cut off his long hair or be kicked out. A story we have heard several times since - living with your parents here is where you experience the most freedom. They seem quite amused when we say it's exactly the opposite situation here. Makes me think now it was a wasted opportunity not to die my hair green while at university when I had the chance.

  • Shisha in this country is something entirely different - it may be crystal meth, crack or it may be opium we cant quite work out what people are telling us because they use a slang word "ice" for the drug which might be different from the slang term we know here. in any case this has caused people some surprise on more than one occasion :)

Posted by rachndave 04:42 Archived in Iran Tagged lodging Comments (1)

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