30 June 2009

Furniture removal - Tanzanian style

We saw these guy's when we getting off the ferry at Dar.

It almost makes Pickfords look professional!

Vomit comet

Our return to mainland Tanzania yesterday was a bit of a testing journey.

We left Jambiani at 10am and made the 2 hour trip across Zanzibar in a fairly sensible minibus. That part of the journey went to plan apart from being stopped a total of 5 times by different police patrols for backhanders . . . Er, I mean driver and vehicle documentation checks!

We got back into Stone Town at midday with plenty of time to get the 1pm ferry back to Dar es Salaam. Well it would have been if the bloke in the ticket office could have been bothered to sell us a ticket. However he decided that he couldn't be arsed so we had to buy a ticket from another ferry operator whose boat didn't leave until 4pm. Just the 4 hours to sit and wait with our bags then. Thank god that Mercury's bar is next door to the ferry terminal.

After waiting for three and a half hours we made our way to board the ferry to be met by the World's biggest scrum. Three passenger ferries had docked at virtually the same time and were simultaneously trying to unload and load their passengers and cargo from a single pier. It was absolute pandemonium.

After another hour of waiting, queuing, being pushed, pulled, squashed, squeezed, elbowed, jostled and hit with various pieces of luggage we eventually made it onto the pier just as they pulled the gangplank away from the boat that we were trying to board.

Thankfully we only had to wait another 20 minutes for another boat to dock. This was again followed by more pushing, shoving and using luggage as weaponry in order to try and get on board.

The ferry that we caught was advertised as a fast ferry, and for once they weren't joking. This was a REALLY fast ferry . . . regardless of the fact that the sea was rough. We were going so fast the catamaran felt like it spent more time out of the water than in it. This of course led to the vast majority of the passengers being sick. However; because we were going really fast over a really rough sea they were really sick. Not just a bit sick, but a whole lot sick. The sounds and smells were just horrific.

Liz has sworn never to go on another boat again . . . She was just like Steve Redgrave when he gave that infamous interview as he got out of the boat at the 2000 Olympics after he won his 4th gold medal!

Just as we thought the day couldn't have got any worse . . . It did! There were no rooms left at Jambo Inn which meant that we had to check back into the dirt at Safari Inn down the road. Thankfully our room this time was cleaner than the last one we had (well lets face it, it couldn't have been any dirtier)

After a traumatic days travel we headed off out for dinner to be met by some rather unusual menu items. Monday's special of the day was "Bheja Masala (minced brains of cow cooked in gravy with capsicums, onions, tomato - medium spice)". There were also his n her's deserts on offer; "macho nuts" and "big cups". Stop ye tittering at the back . . . They're ice creams!

28 June 2009

Jambo Jambiani jellyfish

On Wednesday we left our lovely accommodation at St Monica's in Stone Town and headed all the way across Zanzibar to the beach resort of Jambiani on the East coast of the island.

Before we left Stone Town we made a reservation at Kimte Beach Inn. Although it was at the top end of our budget, it was the cheapest place we could find, the review in the Lonely Planet Tanzania was favorable and from their web site the place looked ok. The reality was something altogether different.

The Lonely Planet review used the words "spotless rooms". Who did they send to do the review? Stevie Wonder? Our small, dark and dingy room had murky blue walls with peeling paint and a grubby floor. The mosquito net was too small for the bed which resulted in me being feasted upon in the night. The bathroom shower had cold water only and outside the window ran, what sounded like, a noisy pump. For this luxury we were charged $40 dollars a night.

Wish you were here . . . Bet you're glad you're not!

Hey, it wasn't all bad though! The place was run by a bunch of really friendly Rastas, breakfast was good and they had quite a nice bar on the beach. Not quite nice enough to make us want to stay though.

We ran away after our first night and managed to find somewhere else with better, cleaner rooms for less money. We're now at a place called Shehe Bungalows where we have a little white washed coral-rag bungalow right on the beach front.

The beach here is probably the strangest beach we've ever been to. At low tide the sea, which is a beautiful turquoise colour, is about half a mile away out on the horizon. Walking out across the sand is like being on the moon.

When the tide changes direction the sea surges the half mile back up the beach in about 30 minutes.

It feels quite desolate, especially when the tide is out, incredibly remote and undeveloped.

There's only about a dozen or so choices of accommodation spread out along the beach, half of which look closed, and there's probably no more than 15 tourists in the whole resort.

Walking around the village of Jambiani, which is just behind the beach, you could easily forget that the 20th century ever happened. All of the houses are built of coral and rock with very few being connected to the electricity.

Most of the villagers eak out a living fishing (spear fishing octopus is a local specialty), harvesting seaweed or flogging fruit, shells and snorkeling trips to the few tourists who find their way here.

Despite how desolate it feels here it's still an interesting place to spend a couple of days. The walk down to the shoreline at low tide is really bizarre. There's loads of strange critters scurrying about in the rock pools and wading birds feeding on them. Then when you get down to the sea it is unbelievably blue and warm.

We had a lovely time in the sea . . . Until Liz got stung by a Jellyfish, giving her a nasty 4 inch long sting on the arm. I don't think there's any serious damage . . . Well she was still breathing last time I looked.

24 June 2009

Stone Town

Even though it's barely more than 20 miles from the coast of mainland Tanzania, since the mid 16th century up until the mid 1960's, Zanzibar was predominantly under the rule of Omani Arabs. Due to the huge influence of the slave, ivory and spice trades the Sultan of Oman even moved his court here in the mid 1800's where it remained until the 1964 revolution. Apparently the last Sultan of Zanzibar, Khalifa bin Barghash, is alive and well having fled to Portsmouth of all places!

Walking around Stone Town, which is the heart of old Zanzibar Town, feels more like being in the Middle East than Africa. Most of the buildings are 2 to 4 story Arabic houses built around the tightly twisting streets, most of which are too narrow for cars.

The buildings of Stone Town are most famous for their elaborately carved wooden front doors. The doors used to be a status symbol, the more fancy the carving the more wealthy the owner.

A lot of the doors also feature rows of large metal spikes which are to keep elephants from damaging them. The spikes must be very effective at scaring the elephants as none ever been seen on Zanzibar.

We've spent most of our time here just wandering around the streets soaking up the atmosphere.

During one of our wanderings we paid a visit to the Palace Museum, which used to be the sultan's former palace.

It's possibly the only palace we've been to that's in a worse state of repair than the average African budget hotel room. In many of the rooms the electricity didn't work making it quite challenging to see. Those that you could see in seemed to be kitted out with really bad 1960's furniture. Lets just say that it could do with a little T.L.C. in order to restore it to its former glory.

Unfortunately a lot of the buildings in Stone Town, i.e. those that aren't owned by banks or luxury hotels, are in a similar state of disrepair. It's a real shame as there are some really interesting old buildings that are just crumbling away.

For once our accommodation is actually really nice. We're staying at a place called St Monica's which is housed in a beautiful old Arabic style building built on the site of an old slave market.

The slave market here was the world's last open slave market and was finally closed in 1873. Some of the old slave holding cells are still accessible in the basement under our hotel.

Zanzibar's other, less notorious, claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Freddie Mercury. No one's really sure where his former house is but we can thoroughly recommend a visit to Mercury's Bar for a nice cooling bottle of Kilimanjaro beer.

Here's a thought that will make any Queen fans instantly feel old. This November it will be 18 years since Freddie died.

20 June 2009

Dirty digs in Dar

We'd hoped that by catching the bus from Arusha at 9.15 in the morning we would arrive in Dar es Salaam before it was dark. The journey should take about 9 hours, however; thanks to a few delays, what looked like another police shake down and some bad traffic we didn't arrive until well after sunset.

We hopped in a taxi from the bus depot to make the final 8km of the journey into central Dar. The taxi ride was certainly an experience. The traffic was really heavy so the driver spent the entire journey undertaking, cutting up, pushing in and swerving dangerously across all the lanes available (and quite a few that weren't). At one point he left the road completely and, with his arm on the horn, drove down the footpath sending pedestrians flying in every direction. It was like that scene in the film 'Planes, Trains and Automobiles' where John Candy grows horns and morphs into the devil whilst behind the wheel. God knows how, but we eventually made it into the town centre without being mangled in a traffic accident or punched in the face by an irate road user or pedestrian.

Despite our lunatic driver's best/worst efforts we arrived at our hotel of choice, Jambo Inn, just in time to see the last room go to someone else. It was actually quite a shock to the system to see so many other backpackers/tourists in one place as we had seen so few since we left Bangkok nearly 3 weeks ago.

No problem, or so we thought, as we knew there was another hotel, Safari Inn, just around the corner. Safari Inn turned out to be a bit of a low point in the accommodation stakes. I think we have probably just about got used to it when a room is what would be best described as "a bit basic". However when it's a bit basic, a lot run down and completely filthy, then that's an entirely different matter.

Unfortunately Dar es Salaam is yet another place that is listed as unsafe to be on the streets after dark. In the end we decided it was safer to stay in the dirt of the Safari Inn than to risk being mugged whilst out on the street looking for cleaner accommodation.

The following morning we made a sprightly checkout first thing and managed to get a room back round the corner at Jambo Inn. Although Jambo Inn is still well and truly in the "a bit basic" category, at least it's clean.

Breakfast at Jambo Inn is also a hugely entertaining experience thanks to possibly the worst waiter we've ever encountered anywhere in the world. He could even show that useless lot at Sepilok Jungle Resort a new trick or two. We don't think we've ever seen anyone before who has such a brilliant skill of ignoring customers, he really is something special!

I think that my impression of what Dar es Salaam would be like is largely due to the Roald Dahl autobiography 'Going Solo' which we covered in English literature at school. My recollections from that book are not remotely like Dar es Salaam is today. Either it has changed a lot or Mr Dahl was already on one of his many flights of fantasy! I was imagining white sandy beaches and a view of the Indian Ocean. What you actually get is a port and view of the container ships.

The area where we are staying, Kisutu, is very atmospheric and feels more like somewhere in Arabia or India rather than Africa. The streets are full of Muslim and Indian traders who appear to be selling everything apart from the one item we need for our overland truck journey - a sleeping bag.

Other than shopping and soaking up the atmosphere, there isn't a huge amount to do in Dar. So whilst we wait for our ferry to Zanzibar we've spent a fair bit of our time making the most of the luxury hotels with nice facilities that are open to the public. Last night we had dinner at the Movenpick Royal Palm hotel to see a dance and acrobatics performance from a local troupe. Tonight we're off to the rooftop bar at the Kempinski Kilimanjaro hotel.

Even though the Safari Inn was a bit of a dive they still had standards . . .

17 June 2009

I am Zidane

According to the average Tanzanian I am Zinedine Zidane. I've had people shout it at me from a speeding dalla-dalla, people say it to me on the street and in shops. Unfortunately it has nothing to do with my football skills or my ability to head butt Italians. . . It is purely down to our shared lack of hair!

Not rushing back to Arusha

After just having got used to the luxury of posh safari accommodation we waved goodbye to to animals and headed back from the Serengeti to Arusha.

The last time we stayed here, 4 days ago, we were in the Impala Hotel as part of our safari deal. This time we're having to stay in somewhere that is more to our usual standards and now Arusha doesn't quite seem as nice!

The Impala was located in the nice leafy Eastern part of town. This time we are staying at the Arusha Centre Inn which is smack bang in the middle of the dusty town centre.

The room isn't too bad but still feels vastly overpriced compared to Asia. At least it's clean and we have hot water and the novelty of a TV. Although we've never before stayed in a hotel room where the TV is locked into a welded steel cage in the corner. Surely guests stealing TVs can't be that much of a problem and I'm sure that reception would notice you on the way out.

We're staying in Arusha for just 2 nights. After all of the early starts, long days and big distances that we've covered over the last few days we needed a day or two to recharge the batteries before the 9 hour bus journey to Dar es Salaam.

And the final few

A leopard asleep in a tree

This hyena was a couple of feet from the car, looking quite cute despite it's mean image. Apparently when they hunt they run alongside their prey and nibble chunks out of them, so they die from blood loss or they fall over their own entrails, not a nice way to go!

Just as we were leaving the Serengeti we were lucky enough to see this cheetah right by the side of the road. It completely ignored us as it had it's sights set on a tasty looking gazelle in the distance for breakfast.

A Serengeti view from our bedroom window

And a few more safari pictures

This big fella had a little bit of a charge towards our jeep, quite frightening!

A lion posing very nicely on top of a rock

Resting in a tree after a hard day on the plains

Just a few of the thousands of zebras we saw

Liz's favourite Tanzanian safari pictures

A picture speaks a thousand words! We have had such a fantastic time on safari in Tanzania. Here are a few of my favourite pictures from the trip.

A lovely pair of young giraffes

Ngorogoro Crater and some zebra in the distance

A Weaver bird eyeing up our packed lunch!

Ngorogoro Crater and an Augur Buzzard

Ngorogoro Crater and an ostrich

15 June 2009

Serengeti National Park

At breakfast on Monday morning we were hoping to be able to watch the sunrise over the Ngorongoro Crater but the cloud came in during the night and spoilt the view somewhat.

Although the Ngorongoro and Serengeti Parks boarder each other we still had a bit of a jaunt, another 145km, to get to our accomodation at Seroneta in the middle of the Serengeti. We had arranged to stay in the Serengeti for 2 nights to enable us to see more of the park and the animals.

Serengeti is a Masai word which means endless plain and as you enter the park you can see how it got its name.

The wildlife that we saw just driving through to our lodge was pretty stunning. The highlight being a huge male lion that we spotted sunning himself on a rock.

The setting of the hotel, Serengeti Wildlife Lodge, was again really stunning. The building was constructed into and around a rock out-crop over the Serengeti plain. Even the swimming pool was made in a fissure between some of the boulders.

There were plenty of wildlife spotting opportunities without having to leave the confines of the lodge. The view from our bedroom window included elephants.

Thats when the monkeys weren't in the way.
Stick that one in your pipe Mr Fawlty! In the grounds we also saw loads of these cute little fellas.

They are called hyrax, and despite looking like a gerbil on steroids, are actually more closely related to the elephant. They're also surprisingly nimble and could often be seen perched right in the tops of trees munching the leaves.

We saw quite a few mongoose (should that be mongeese?) which also looked quite cute.

But could turn nasty.

There was also a variety of lizards sunning themselves on the rocks around the hotel, including this rather fetching purple and red one.

Out on safari on the plains it was the turn of the larger animals. We had hoped to try and time our arrival in the Serengeti with the annual migration when up to 2 million animals make the crossing of the Grumeti River on their way to the Masai Mara. The migration usually happens sometime between May and July but unfortunately we're a little early this year as the animals were still massing on the plain. However this allowed us to see some absolutly huge herds of zebra and wildebeest.

We also got to see, at fairly close quarters, the 3 different types of big cat that are found in Tanzania. Apart from the afore mentioned sun bathing lion we also saw a few of the rare tree climbing lions which are endemic to this part of Africa.

We were able to get incredibly close to a cheetah which sat a couple of feet from our jeep eyeing up the impala across the plain.

We thought we were about to see it race off for the kill but in the end it just slinked off into the long grass and disappeared. We also saw a several leopards snoozing or gnawing bits of kill in the branches of trees.

Whilst we were looking at the one in the picture above our guide noticed that we had a flat tyre on our jeep. We tried to drive a bit further away but the tyre was coming off the rim and we risked ruining the alloy wheel on the rubble road. There was no option other than for me and our guide, Eric, to get out and change the wheel whilst Liz kept a pair of eyes on the predator a few meters away in the tree. Thankfully the big cat looked too sleepy to be bothered with us.
We had another scary animal encounter when we were threatened by a 6 ton bull elephant. We were parked up at the roadside watching a big herd of elephants that had a large number of babies in it.

When some of the baby elephants wandered a little too close to our jeep the big bull decided he didn't like it. He gave a loud trumpet and started to charge us. Thankfully it was just a warning and he stopped the charge after a few heart pounding paces.

Liz had only been reading in a book the week before about some people who got charged by elephants in Tanzania. Apparently, if you're lucky, they give you a single warning before they charge for proper and flatten you. Not wanting to risk the wrath of 6 tons of elephant we decided to make a swift reverse back down the road to put some space between us and the babies.