Thursday, 20 December 2007

Jambo, hakuna matata

After a delightful interlude at Lake Naivasha, listening to the Hippos munch and stomp around at night whilst sitting round a campfire (Gavin finally used the axe) and watching the birds and monkeys during the day (black and white colobus and vervets) we passed by the Longonot crater in the Great Rift Valley and out to the white sands and swaying palm trees of the coast, via Mombassa. The access road into Mombassa took us through one of the most foul towns ever, with people walking barefoot ankle deep in rubbish ridden stinking mud. After our usual tour of the port (somehow we always end up at the port, could be Gavin’s secret hankering to ship the car straight back to NZ) we found our way through the city. Mombassa is a colourful vibrant town with music playing everywhere and women wearing bright kangas and headscarves.

Tiwi was our first beach since the Red Sea. Although the Red Sea is stunning underwater it really does not have the most exciting coastline whereas Tiwi was a tropical paradise. I gorged myself on fresh windfalls of coconut, which I surprised myself by really enjoying- nothing like those horrid bounty chocolate bars. The juice was very sweet but I really liked the nutty flesh. The locals slice open the coconuts adeptly with a small machete, I resorted to smashing them open with a hatchet. That evening we were invited to a fish Braai. We ate crayfish, tuna, snapper and greenfish. It was delicious but we think that most of the fish would not have been legal in New Zealand because it was undersized; I have never seen such small tuna fish.

We spent the next day of snorkelling and exploring the larval overhangs (where larva met the ocean and hardened, somebody please help me with the geological name for this), blow holes and caves and pools of water even hotter than the ambient sea water temperature. Reluctantly we then headed south to the Tanzanian border. Our next campsite near Pangani was even better than the last. We camped just behind the beach, they had hot showers (although the humidity was very high, hot showers are such a luxury for us), beautifully scented frangipani trees and even an internet place next door along a footpath fringed with bougainvillaea.

At Pangani we made our way to the ferry to cross the estuary only to find the ferry looking rather bereft. After enquiring I found out that it was not working “maybe later”. We decided to go around rather than wait for it to be fixed and when we bought fuel everybody seemed to know that it was not working. One suspects that it had not been working for a while so I guess that the two lorries waiting (the drivers had made themselves very comfortable) may still be waiting.

It was a fairly slow, rough but very pretty drive to the main road through small villages and plantations of sisal, coconut, pineapple and sugar beet. Once we hit the main road it was only a few hundred kilometres to Dar es Salaam. The road was in good condition and the bus drivers and lorry drivers have vehicles they can drive quite fast whilst not appearing to have any understanding that there are other vehicles on the road. I think it was only once we were forced off the road. Amazingly there are many police check points. Here the police check that you have a silly number of warning triangles and attempt to extort cash out of unsuspecting drivers. One successful technique has been to feign an interest in Premier League football, lucky for us the BBC World Service seems to be as obsessed with football as is the rest of the world so we know the latest football gossip- enough to get us out of trouble so far.

All through Africa, as cyclists ourselves we are generally impressed by the loads people carry on their bikes. Loads vary from a 3 seater sofa (shame we did not get a photo of it) to numerous sacks of potatoes or four or five jerry cans of water or the whole family. However we really thought that this spare wheel was not going to get this cyclist very far.

To reach the beaches and campsites closest to Dar es Salaam one can either use the Magogoni ferry or drive an extra 50km. How bad can the ferry be we asked ourselves as we approached the city a good hour and half before sunset? Long after sunset we emerged off the ferry, battling with all the pedestrians and cyclists so again we had to find a place to stop in the dark. We could not find the place we were looking for and when we saw Kim Beach advertising camping we went for it. This place was also hard to find and eventually we found ourselves on the beach and guessed that this must be it. With our torches we found the ablutions block, crawling with cockroaches and a shallow freshwater well. The humidity is so high that everything takes ages to dry and we really wanted a shower. It was quite late so we made do with a strip wash. In the morning we discovered that Kim Beach is some sort of Eco Tourism place and cost a fortune. Not only were supposed to pay too much for camping overnight but if we wanted to stay during the day, despite having paid to camp, there was an extra fee to pay! It sounds as if eco tourism here means provide nothing and expect a lot. We had more pressing things on our minds, such as getting the computer fixed which did a great big burp and refused to work, so back into the city off to Dell computers we went.

We spent the whole day in Dar es Salaam waiting for the computer to be fixed. At the end of the day expecting to have the computer ready and eager for us to use it again we were given bad news. The problem could not be fixed and they would have to save our data, wipe the hard drive completely and then re-install the programmes, many of which we do not have with us. The technician was not there to talk to so we arranged to return first thing in the morning to discuss it with him; to find out what he had tried and which programmes he could re-install. The next morning Gavin was not feeling well at all- anxiety about his beloved computer I am sure. So off I trundled back on the ferry back to town. This time I did not have to wait long as a pedestrian but as the ferry approached the other side I was showered, as were many others, by boiling water from the ferry engine’s radiator. The ferry is quite tightly packed and the panic that ensued was not pretty.

At the Dell place I had to pretend that I knew something about computers to the technician. Luckily Big Brother Rob had found a “method” on the internet for fixing this problem, but we were not confident in trying this out on our own and potentially losing all our data. So in my most diplomatic way I suggested to the technician that he might want to give it a go before wiping everything. Oh, no he says, wiping it is the only option, he has tried everything. Amazingly when we returned the next day he had not had to wipe the hard drive and our programmes were still there. We were very relieved.

Now we were free to visit Zanzibar, so the next day we packed a bag each, left the car at the campsite and braved the dalla dalla (public transport) and the Magogoni ferry again to catch the ferry to Zanzibar, the Spice Islands and heart of the slave trade.

After a three hour crossing we emerged into Stone Town which is delightful mixture of Arabic and colonial architecture backdrop for everyday Swahili life overlooking the turquoise ocean. It is also the birthplace of Freddie Mercury, his home is now a restaurant. We dined at an open air market in the evening and then chatted to other guests at the hotel until bed time. Now that we are in much more touristy areas than before we are meeting many other tourists and travellers, rather than other overlanders and it is so interesting to find out why other people are travelling. Overlanders are very much a breed separate to other travellers.

The next day we joined a spice tour which took us to spice farms where we saw, tasted, smelled, rubbed the plants and berries etc from which many spices originate and learned all sorts of interesting facts. Such as, nutmeg has quite potent aphrodisiac properties, the guide even gave us the recipe for lovers porridge. After a delicious lunch of fish curry (not Gavin’s favourite) and a swim we visited the Magapwani slave caves. After slave trading was made illegal the traders would secretly hold slaves (200 hundred at a time) in these caves and those who survived would be taken underground through a network of caves to waiting ships.

We had been told of the beautiful beaches right at the north of the Island (Nungwi) so we headed up there on the dalla dalla after the spice tour. After travelling in our own car for so long it was fun to be squashed into the back of the truck as people loaded chickens, coconut husks, bicycles and all manner of stuff. I did not even have to hang on because I was so firmly wedged in. We had also had been told, by a local, that high season had not yet started, that it would be easy to find accommodation and it would not be very expensive because all the resorts were more on the east. How misled we felt when we arrived. Our guidebook also described a place we did not recognise. Sure enough the beach was pretty, but there was resort after resort without a break. We eventually found a hotel which basically had running water, a mosquito net and a locking door. After a swim in the moonlight we went in search of food. All of the food was at inflated tourist prices, fine if you are on two week holiday to escape the European winter, not so great for a hungry G&C looking for some value. Even the food in the shops was ridiculously priced. We settled for bland rice and bananas from Mama’s café after asking a local where he ate.

In search of affordability and normality we headed a few kilometres south to Kendwa and found a banda (hut) on the beach where we chilled out for the next 24 hours before returning to Stone Town and catching the night ferry back to the mainland. That evening, having ordered our food in advance, we dined at a local café where the food was fresh and delicious (more fish curry for me) and a third of the price in Nungwi.

Zanzibar was a lovely interlude on a beautiful island rich with culture and tradition. It was fun to be backpacking again but it was also good to be back at the car, our home. After a day of and ministration in Dar es Salaam we will head away from the Indian Ocean, with some regret because it is lovely, towards Malawi where we hope to find a good spot for Christmas.