Zanzibar: 7 Sep 2006

7 09 2006

Just quick (Andy is running out of patience): Today we took a city tour around Stone Town. There’s SO MUCH history here. I’ll elaborate later. Tomorrow we go snorkling at islands around Zanzibar. More later!!!st

Zanzibar: 6 Sep 2006

7 09 2006

Right now I am sitting on a beach in Zanzibar.  Today we took a spice tour in the morning to see how spices are grown and we went to a slave cave.  The cave was used to hold slaves proir to departing on ships for the eastern destinations.  The caves consist of two small cavernswith only a little light and air.  We also saw, in contrast, a bath house erected by a sultan for his wife-very luxurious (even though it’s just an empty building at this point) and more room than one person needs to take a bath!  After the tours, the bus took us to a very nice ocean beach.  Andy is having a blast in the sand building some randon structure as I write this.  I love the rhythm of the ocean waves and the sun in such a clear, clear sky!

En route to Zanzibar: 5 Sep 2006

7 09 2006

I swore not to ride the bus again after going to Arusha, so when we got back to Arusha from safari, I made plane reservations for the next day to fly to Zanzibar.  (The alternative was a 9-hour bus ride back to Dar and then take a 3-hour ferry to the island.)  The plane ride was only 1 hour.  🙂  I booked a room ahead of time, took a taxi to the hotel and had a smooth transition.  The woman at the hotel reception is exceptionally nice. We are staying at Pyramid Hotel: aptly named because climbing the staircase going to the 2nd floor reminds me of what climbing a pyramid might be like-very steep and challenging.

Stone town is a whole different experience from mainland Tanzania, but it was, until recently, a separate country.  The religion is 80% muslim, 10& christian and 10 % other, so most of the local women wear head covering consisting of anything from a colorful scarf to the full black covering with only eyes showing.  The streets are winding and narrow.  One street we saw only had room for people to walk single file.  When we were dropped by the taxi driver, he took us to a parking lot and then walked us the rest of the way.  Mopeds are common.

Arusha and safari: 1 to 4 Sept 2006

7 09 2006

The bus to Arusha was very long and crammed.  We saw Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Meru and a lot of sisal plants, but otherwise the bus ride was boring and uncomfortable.  We stayed in a very nice hotel the first night, the Outpost, but had to leave the next day because they were booked.  We checked into one hotel, but it didin’t seem too promising.  Two men watched everything I wrote as I signed into the hotel.  Each time we arrive at a hotel the check-in is the same type of book asking for passport number, where you are coming from and where you are going (along with standard info like name, address).

We had been given a reference for safari from a couple at the Outpost, Swala Safaris, so I called them and arranged to go to their office to set something up.  In the meantime, we went to Cafe Bamboo and asked for the guy Damon recommended.  No one knew him, which is unfortunate, because at that point, I really needed a friendly face that wasn’t asking for or expecting money for one thing or another.  The first day, I felt pretty lost and frustrated in Arusha…and tired of being in cities.

When we went out to the safari company office, things began to pick up.  The manager was a woman, Ester, who was very nice and set us up with a 3-day safari to Tarangirie National Park, Ngorongoro Conseration Area, and Lake Manyara.  We stayed at an awesome tented camp in the town of Mto wa Mbu (“Mosquito River”).  There were permanent tents with solar electricity, water heated by burning wood and banana-tree roofs.  The meals consisted of many courses and were quite good…AND monkeys played on the front yard!

The safaris were amazing and we had a very good guide!  His English wasn’t the best, but it was pretty good and he kept rattling off Latrin names for all the animals, birds and plants we saw.  He would not only know the Latin name, but the Swahili and English names also.  And he was just really nice to us.  I took many pics which probably tell the story better than words.  I will say, though, that the best part of the safari was seeing so many animals in the wild.

On the last day, Andy and I did a walking “Cultural Tour” through Mto wa Mbu.  It was educational seeing the life of villagers up close.  We saw how banana beer is made and learned about banana types and production.  The best part, however, was visiting a local school and the teacher had the kids all get up and sing for us.  It really was pretty cool!  I saw a woman cooking ugali and asked if I could try, so she let me.  I think I messed things up more than anything, but it was a fun experience! (So, Mari, we’re on for the the African meal, but I need to do a little more learning, I think!)

By the time we left Mto wa Mbu, I was pretty tired and getting frustrated with this portion of my African experience:

The kids are friendly out of curiosity and sometimes so they can get a pen or money,
The men are friendly because they want money or to sell something,
The women are rarely friendly and just look at us as voyerists and intruders.

That’s a huge generalization and certainly not always true, but coming away from Mtu wa Mbu, that was my observation.  I certainly understand the difference in income and it isn’t hard to see poverty anywhere you look, but I was really frustrated by the lack of authentic interactions.  At this point, I changed my expectations, probably not for the better.  Now, I want to just learn, experience and see as much as possible (while respecting the people and culture), and understand that I AM an intruder and a voyer.

En Route: 29-31 Aug 2006

7 09 2006

I’ll write more later, but in short, we took the train back to Dar on 29 to 30 Aug (sharing a room with Martina and Andi…they did us a HUGE favor), stayed at Luther House one night, and took the bus to Arusha on Aug 31.

The train had squat toilets.  Think about this: squattig to pee in a very crammed room, with the train moving along at a steady rhythm and all of a sudden it jerks to a halt.  (I took a pic of the bathroom that I’ll put on flickr when I get home.)

Mbeya: 27-29 Aug 2006

7 09 2006

Mbeya was wonderful!!! The train ride and the city were such a nice break from the chaos of Dar es Salaam.  On Sun, the 27th, we did a hike with Martina and Andi and a Sisi Kwa Sisi guide, Felix.

Sisi Kwa Sisi, literally translates to something like “Us for Us”, but the meaning is more about a group of guys working as tour guides for themselves; sort of a cooperative.  The profits are distributed equally at the end of the month after the bills are paid and it’s owned by each person involved.

Felix is really just this amazing person.  He knows about every topic Martina, Andi and I brought up:every country, politics, philosophy.  He gave honest, thoughtful answers to almost any question we asked AND he was such a patient, thorough guide.  He really knows the area.

We climbed in the Poroto Mountains to get to Ngosi Crater Lake.  It was a good climb.  At one point we had to go up by climbing roots (like rope climbing, but using tree roots) and the lake inside the crater was just beautiful.  Kids from the area went up and down the mountain like nothing.  The water from th lake is said to have special powers, so it’s used to make medicine, but no one swims in hte lake.  At the top we had a gourmet lunch provided by Martina, Andi and Felix 🙂 and were accompanied by many of the local children (we were their entertainment).  Andy tried to monkey up the banana trees like the local kids-but it was a bit harder than they make it look.  We headed back down through the rainforest mountain (with wild banana and palm trees) and back to the hotel.  We were SOOOOOO tired! 

On Mon, the 28th, Andy and I went with Felix and his friend, the driver, to Kaporogwe Falls and “God’s Bridge” over the Kiwira River.  Fortunately, the day didn’t require much walking, since we were still tired from the day before.  We had a driver, so we could drive close to our destinations. 

I forgot to mention, on SUN, to get to the crater lake, we took “dala dalas”.  Dala Dalas are this amazing public transportation system consisting of anything from a minivan to small buses that are privately owned and transport people from place to place.  They can be very elaborately painted or very junky (or both), but almost always they are VERY full.  At times, people sit practically (or literally) on other people’s laps.  ON the one we took bacl from the crater lake, the woman next to me was holding a live chicken!  It was so funny!   I wanted to take a picture, but didn’t want to offend her.

Anyway, the Kaporogwe Falls were beautiful and played a role in Tanzanian history.   When the Germans and English were battling during WWI, the Germans hid in a cave beneath the Falls.  The discovery of stone tools also indicates that the area was populated during the stone age.

From there we drove to the Kirwia River and saw a natural lava bridge over the river.  It was pretty cool, also, but seeing the tea and coffee plantations and hte way people in the area live was more interesting.  Also, the bridge was on the land of a government installation where prison guards are trained so we had to go on the installation to get official clearance.  It was a good example of how official Tanzanians like to look and act REALLY official-as if the mundane task they are performing is way more important than it really is.  An interesting scene from that:  As we drove into the government area, all of the trainees were on lunch so we drove through this sea of people in drab tan uniforms…but each was a holding a brightly colored plastic bowl.  No pics were allowed (the government is weird about that), but the image had a nice contrast.

Arriving in Mbeya: 26 Aug 2006

7 09 2006

What a long day!!  We finally arrived in Mbeya.  The train ride was so much fun!  It takes longer than bus, but the trip is much more enjoyable by train: relaxed, safe, and with the window open, you can feel the air and interact (albeit superficially) with the people from the villages we pass.

Mbeya is this laid-back town (compared to Dar).  We took a VERY overpriced taxi to the hotel: Mbeya Green View Resory and Camping.  I wouldn’t exactly call it a resort, but we found a nice cabin for $25/night.  The toilet doesn’t seem to flush and only one channel is coming through on the satalite TV, but it is comfortable, unique, reasonable and the women who work here are VERY nice.  The 3 people we shared a train room with are staying here also. 

Andy and I walked into town (~1km) to plan activities to do the next couple of days and ran into this couple, Martina and Andi, from Switzerland.  They are at the end of a 6 month trip around the world.  We had dinner together.  They’ve been to some of the places Andy and I are planning to go (Arusha & Zanzibar) so they were able to give us some advice.  Hearing of all the countries they’ve been to makes me want to do that someday, also.  They said that you can actually buy a ticket to go around the world-either a certain number of kilometers or numer of countries.  They weren’t happy with their hotel, so they are going to come here tomorrow, also. 

We are going to do some mountian climbing with the tour group Sisi Kwa Sis tomorrow.  It’ll be nice to move around after sitting on the train so long.

Leaving for Mbeya: 26 Aug 2006

7 09 2006

(From the journal)

I am writing this on the train to Mbeya.  We boarded yesterday (Fri, 25 Aug) at about 3 PM and should arrive in Mbeya today (Sat) at 2PM.  More on that later, but first….

….I have to tell about Fri morning.  Kagu and Halidi met us at Luther House at 8AM and drove us past government buildings (white house, congressional buildings, ministry buildings) to a FERRY.  The ferry was packed with cars, trucks, bikes, people walking and it was VERY old.  We went across the bay to Kigamboni Peninsula, where there were many items for sale and a lot of activity.  It struck me as one of the poorer areas I had seen so far…with palm trees everywhere.  From the peninsula, we drove to Mjimwema beach and the Sunrise Beach Resort.

Here’s the setting: We drive along this very poor dry area with mud huts, boats carved out of logs, no water/electricity, kids in dirty, old tattered cloths and turn into Sunrise Beach Resort – a posh, Indian-run resort with beach-side huts, swimming pool, recliners, 2 bars, open restaurant, TV’s/fridge in each room, even a bouncey castle for the kids and an absolutely beautiful, clean, open and empty beach!  The contrast was so blatent!

We hung out on the beach all morning – walking, playing in sand and exploring the beach.  Andy had his swim trunks & Halidi stripped to underwear, so they both played in the water-finding waves to “body-surf”.  Afterward, we had lunch under a veranda on the beach.  The waiter asked Kagu if I knew how to eat the ugali that I had ordered.  He said: “Ndio (yes).” (Thanks again, Mandi!!)

After the refreshing beach and a delicious lunch, we headed back to the ferry and then on to Dar.  (The ONLY bad thing about the morning is that my camera batteries died.  Really a bummer because I found a few shots afterward that would have been nice.)

Once in Dar, the guys took us to the Tazara Train Station.  We waited in the main area for awhile & I noticed that whenever a Mzungu (white person) arrived, they woulkd go into this one room and stay there.  Andy checked it out and, of course, it was the first class waiting lounge.  The train has 1st class (4 people to a room, each person gets a bed, 2nd class (6 people to a room, each person gets a bed, and 3rd class (a bunch of seat, like bus seats, everyone packed together, good-luck).

When we came out of the 1st class room to board, the 2nd and 3rd class passengers were lined up in 3 lines on each side of the station & exiting through 2 doors.  It was packed with people & stuff and crazy in an orderly sort of way.  We found our room: a longbed/bench on each side with an upper bed hanging from the wall on each side.  After some confusion about tickets, we ended up sharing the room with Swedish and French girls.  Their friend, a Swedish guy, spent a lot of time in our room, also.  The trip so far has been fun!  We keep the window open most of the time and wave at the kids along the way.  Andy bought an orange through the window from a vendor at one of the stops.  We gave candy and paper to kids at different places through the window, also.  The Swedish girl gave a bunch of pens to one group of kids.  She said afterward that she had heard that you shouldn’t give stuff to kids if they beg, because it sets them up to be beggers and reinforces that lifestyle.  I see the point-and, also, you can’t give to every child.  I’m not sure what is the best perspective on this, but we will give away the things we brought and then be done.  It makes them so happy and gives us a warm, fuzzy feeling, also.  (NOTE: Later someone said not to give to kids, especially during the day, because it encourages them to skip school so they can get free stuff.  And also, it encourages then to get to close to trains and cars and that can be very dangerous.)

The train is such a great way to see and travel Africa.  The landscape we’ve seen is what yuou’d expect of Africa: dry, some areas with a lot of vegetation and some areas very sparse, mostly mud or bricks huts with stick or grass roofs.

Oh yeah, the toilet is gross!  It stinks and does not have a seat.  Also, the waste goes directly onto the tracks!  Really!  I’m trying to avoid pooping until we get to Mbeya-I’d rather squat in the bush!

The tracks sing their own song:
Sometimes in rhythm,
Sometimes just a randon percussion section.

NEWS: Andy just pooped on the train track!  A “piece” of him is forever a part of the Tanzanian rail system.

So, using my Tanzanian cell phone, Celtel, I was able to call ahead to the hotel we wanted in Mbeya & book a room.  Now I know we won’t be homeless for the night.  :o)  (Thanks, Lucy, for the cell phone info-it was an excellent suggestion!)