A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about transportation

Community on the waves

Rachel - The Ilala

Hoonnk Hoooooooooonnnnk. The Ilala is the old, Scottish, iron passenger ship that makes a weekly trip north and south, up and down the lake stopping to pick up passengers and cargo, service the islands and take people between Mozambique and Malawi. It’s super important to the trade and lives of people, especially the islanders, and it even takes tourists.

Most of the harbours don’t have a jetty and so people and all their cargo are piled high onto the lifeboats and everything is then passed up through the door in the side of the hull. And there is a *lot* of stuff. Enormous bags and bags and bags of dried fish and maize flour, sheets of corrugated iron, bundles of hand brooms, suitcases and rucksacks and all sorts of things you just wouldn’t expect to see; a bookcase, a double bed, a live goat tied by the legs…. Tales are told of a speedboat that was to be used by one of the high end resorts lost into the water after it was dropped by the winch. Oops.

Once you make it through the doors with your stuff the corridors are full of sacks and boxes that you have to climb over and under to reach the stairs and then fortunately for us the breezy top deck. I was a little guilty to find that everyone on the first class top deck was white and there were only 20 of us compared to the hundreds of people crammed below. And the costs aren’t *that* different. But anyway for the next 24 hours or so we hung out chatting to fellow travelers, playing poker on the floor with bottle tops and daily disposable contact lenses, watching the cargo loading at the stops (each stop being about 4 hours…there’s a lot of stuff to load), and of course drinking beers. All very civilised and a gentle way to travel such a distance. There was even a shower on the deck below although having a shower on a rocky ship is quite a strange experience I must say.

At night we all slept out on the deck under the stars on foam mattresses where it’s breezy and cool. If you pay for true first class you get a cabin but that *is* much more expensive and apparently very hot so no-one really bothers. Lined up on the deck like that it was a bit like a camp out :) At one point I woke up in a mozambique port with the sun rising over the lake and the engine gently throbbing which was pretty special.

Some people were getting off with us at one of the islands, and there’s really only one place to stay on the island, so we all became pretty good friends and have all unexpectedly met up again since which is one of the other nice things about the Ilala; the sense of community that develops.

We’ve heard that they’re taking it out of service for a while for maintenance but there are no plans to replace it with anything, I can’t imagine what would happen in that case because it seems to be the heartbeat of the lake.

Posted by rachndave 23:26 Archived in Malawi Tagged transportation companions Comments (0)

A monk's picnic

Like everywhere we have been so far the summer months are hot and dry but the winter months bring snow and lots of it. Iran gets 10 moetres we were told and everyone in Lebanon and Syria are also proud of their four seasons. Bcharre, in the north west of Lebanon, is a skiing village which serves the nearby Cedars resort during the winter but in summer it is the best place to explore the Qadisha floor which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful areas in Lebanon. After the hot and dusty yellow sandstone landscape of Baalbeck we were ready for some green again.

After making a plan to meet up in the same hostel 4 hours away we left Amy and Daun in Baalbeck to wander round *our* ruins ;) for the morning while we made our way straight to Bcharre

The hotel and taxi drivers assured us that the best way to get there was to get a shared taxi to a nearby town and hitch the rest of the way. So we jumped confidently out of the first taxi only to be laughed at by the locals in the sleepy little village we were dropped in. But we soon had a team of children flagging down cars (to no avail) and eventually a passing australian-lebanese man said he fancied a drive anyway and took us most of the way there and from there we managed to flag a shared cab for the short final hop. And I had a chance to practice my school girl french with a softly spoken and smiley local man in the back. I just can't get to grips with Arabic so it's been lucky for us that everyone here speaks French.

I mention these moments really because catching shared taxis and stopping in smaller towns is the main way that we meet local people and get to swap our countries stories - this is how I get my flavour for the country but it's difficult to share that with you precicely but it'll be a reminder for me when I look back on this when i'm old, so bear with these little bookmarks :)

We climbed into the mountains and wound our way round the side to see a cloud sitting in the valley below - a very pretty sight - and under that cloud was Bcharre. The town itself has a very seasidey feel partly due to the fog/cloud I think and the fact that the houses are built up the steep sides of the valley and so as you look out you cant see anything on the other side for the fog and so it could easily be the sea. It was so cool up here that I had to use my jumper (hooray for packing it!). We pootled about the town, had dinner with the girls, and got an early night ready to start our hike at 8am sharp.

Fortunately the cloud stayed away the next day and revealed the sights that were hidden the previous day. Wow. The valley is steep, and full of green orchards and vegetation. There is a river in the bottom and the odd little houses dotted on the other side...heaven knows how they get bread and milk because there were no roads on the other side that we could see. Dave, James-the-Australian-teacher-eight-months-into-his-year-sabatical and I scrambled down the valley side to join the donkey tracks and then footpaths along the side of the valley. The valley is famous for harbouring persecuted religious minorities throughout the centuries, mostly of the christian maronite order, all that is left now are old monasteries and cave hide-outs you can explore. However some of the monasteries are still working and have been since the 11th century. We spent the day scrambling up hills to check out caves, visiting the old hermitages (these maronites like to be left alone), monastery museums (we saw the first printing press built in the whole Middle East...and lots of wine making paraphenalia...no wonder these monks like to be left alone) and scrumping apples, grapes, walnuts, figs and blackberries from the orchards, monastery gardens and even those provided legally by nature, like, just out in the open. We resisted the urge to climb into the little steel cables transport box to cross to the other side...so *that*s how they get their milk and bread.

We were making our way back on the road, pestering local goats and watching the sun sink behind the rock speckled valley, happy but weary, when our dream finally came true....!! a pick up truck stopped to give us a lift!! so we rode back home along the top edge of the valley with the glowing sunset behind us, waving like idiots at all the groups of old men sitting outside shops. James didnt quite get why were were so excited but we grinned like loons the whole way home :-D

I was still smiling when we finally fell into bed (after the walnut-tasting competition of the monk's spoils, a beer, a shower and a good meal). Good day.

Posted by rachndave 07:58 Archived in Lebanon Tagged food hiking religion transportation valleys Comments (0)

Official Adventure #1

As I write this I am sitting listening to Dave play drums with an a.maz.ing dulcimer player in a Tehrani home where we have been invited to stay for the last two nights. (Thanks Fari! Leily and Javad have been the perfect hosts and it has been a pleasure to share their company)

I can't tell you how happy I am to be in Tehran :-D we have had our first proper adventure getting here. Unfortunately due to *some* circumstances out of our control and *some* complacency we were unable to catch the train from Istanbul and so we had to take a mixture of buses and begging lifts and more buses and revising plans upon plans and one final lucky bus. But finally we crossed the border into Tabriz on Saturday morning.

As soon as we arrived at the border we seemed to become local celebrities. Everyone wanted to know where we were from and where we were going and why we were there. One group of boys even wanted a photo :s

The crossing over the border was a breeze and the immigration officers were the most polite and friendly people you could imagine. We had to have our temperature taken and all our fingerprints taken like on the Bill (although we didnt take our elbow prints...fools!)

We amused a bunch of taxi drivers no end by learning aloud our numbers and basic farsi phrases like small children while waiting for a shared cab to fill up with its compliment and then finally we hit the road. One of our first sights in Iran was one of the most beautiful sunsets i've ever seen. It felt like our journey had finally started.

We dumped our stuff in a hotel, and fumbled our way though a food order in a nearby caff. Although persian food is hearty and delicious one thing about Iran is that the food in restaurants is not very good at all. Apparently the persian response to restaurants is "why pay for a meal that you can get better and for free at home". So our kebab theme continued still.

After another day of buying language guides (see above about fumbling) trying to book onward travel, being thwarted again, redrawing counter plans (we're now going to fly to Syria on 6th September instead of the train....there's only one train a week and our visa expires at just the wrong time and would cut our trip here too short) we decided to hit the streets in the late evening and try and see at least one sight.

While standing at the corner of the street with a map we were approached, as had been the case every 10 minutes all day actually, by some local Tabrizians asking where we were from, how we were and whether we wanted some help. After some consultation of the map and rejection of our apparently unfullfilling plans (another iranian custom!) the kind lady and her daughter insisted many times on showing us a nice place. So we thought what the hey and followed...i was gently grabbed by the hand, lead surely across a busy street, bundled into an unexpected cab and taken to Elgoli Park which wasnt "*shrug* not far" but a loooong way across town :)

There we spent a truly pleasant few hours strolling around the park talking with this retired primary school teacher and her artist daughter who were genuinely frustrated that we had to leave the next day otherwise I think we may have been adopted. Again, everywhere we went people would stop us to shake our hands and ask where we were from with no other motive than curiosity. Dave and I are having to try very hard to adjust to the fact that no one wants anything other than to satify their interest and wish us a good trip round the country of which they are very proud. One trip to the toilet took me 15 minutes while Dave was stood outside while I shared my life story with three women in turn who wouldnt let me leave without taking their email addresses, refusing offers for dinner, and promising to take care :)

I have to say Dave is receiving a *lot* more attention than me. And everyone thinks he is german or austrian for some reason. As yet to be explained....

Posted by rachndave 11:02 Archived in Iran Tagged transportation Comments (0)

(Entries 6 - 8 of 8) Previous « Page 1 [2]