A Travellerspoint blog

February 2005

Zanzibar, Tanzania, Africa

Beautiful Indian ocean island.

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Stone Town is amazing. My first experience of an “Arabic” city. The streets are crocked and narrow, and most of them can’t accommodate cars, which makes it a great walking city. Sunset at The Africa House hotel is a must, and the sunset is also nice from Mercury’s restaurant.

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For dinner, definitely hit Forodhani Gardens for the outdoor grill experience. The first night my eyes were bigger than my stomach, and I couldn’t finish my 5 skewers of lobster, tuna, prawns, calamari and oysters. Total of that meal, $US 7 dollars. The next night, learning my lesson, I spent $US 4 for lobster, tuna and calamari and was very happily sated.

Stayed at the Garden Inn on Kaunda Road. $US 20 for a single including breakfast on the rooftop patio. The rooms were nice with four-poster beds, mosquito nets, fans and hot water. It is also an excellent choice because it is on a major road, and thus easy to find. One of the places I was thinking of I stumbled on while lost in the twisting alleys of Stone Town. There is no way I would have been able to find a hotel in those back streets in the dark after a few beers.

Took a spice tour. Zanzibar is famous for growing spices, especially cloves, and taking a tour of a spice farm. The farmer takes you around and shows you various plants and their fruits. We then play a game where we try and guess what spice is made from the plant. Everyone else in the group would be sitting their saying stuff like, “is it turmeric?” The farmer would say, “Yes! It is turmeric!” And I would be thinking, “What the heck is turmeric?” A spice tour is a very, very boring concept if you know nothing about spices or cooking. All it was to me was an hour of beach time lost. The spice tour I took cost $20 including a transfer from Stone Town to Kendwa.

Kendwa, on the north coast, is a quiet and beautiful beach town. The beaches are white sand. The Indian Ocean water is blue and calm, perfect for swimming. Unfortunately I only had a day available in Kendwa. I could have stayed much longer.

I stayed at the Amaan Bungalows. It was $US 30 for a single “sea view.” It was about 20 metres from the beach. They wanted $US 50 for a sea view on the beach, but I decided that the extra $20 wasn’t worth the saved 40 steps to the beach. Very nice place – hot water, beds with mosquito nets, fan, AC. A beach bar and restaurant is on the property. Food is a little pricey.

The biggest complaint I have with Amaan is that they refused to take 30,000 shillings for the $US 30 charge. The insisted on 33,300 shillings based on their exchange rate. Even though I had to leave early the next day and would miss breakfast, they still wouldn’t budge.

I also checked out Kendwa Rocks next door. They were a little cheaper than Amaan Bungalows, but didn’t have any singles available. I liked the architecture at Kendwa Rocks better – the thatch hut look rather than the stucco bungalow look, but that’s just window dressing. I have heard that Kendwa Rocks can get a little rowdy at night – they do host full moon parties.

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Posted by GregW 03:00 Archived in Tanzania Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Tanzania - 5 day safari

Lake Manyara, Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater

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The five-day, four-night safari consisted of 1 day at Lake Manyara, 3 days in Serengeti National Park and 1 day in the Ngorongoro crater. The trip also included a visit to a Maasai boma village and a visit to Olduvai gorge, though we had to pay separately for those items. Saw 4 of the big 5 (missed the leopard, but saw lion, buffalo, elephant and rhino), and additionally saw cheetah, hippo, wildebeests, zebra, giraffe, impala and many others.

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First day camped at the Panorama campsite outside of Mto Wa Mbu. Very nice campsite. The tents are already set up for you and the showers have hot water. Second and third days camped at the Seronera campsite (specifically the Dik Dik campsite) in the Serengeti. Much rougher than the Panorama campsite – no showers of any kind and only a squat toilet to use. The final day we camped at Simba campsite overlooking the Ngorongoro Crater. Not as plush as the Panorama campsite, but it does have hot showers and the view is amazing.

I was taken on the safari with Comfort Holidays based in Arusha (http://www.comfortsafaris.com/ ). That’s not who I booked with, but that’s who ended up taking me. I booked with Kilimanjaro Crown Bird Safaris in Arusha. The next day, Comfort Holidays showed up and said I was going with them. Of the 5 people in the car, only two of the people had actually booked with Comfort Holidays, and they had done that prior to leaving for Tanzania. The other 3 paying customers had all booked with another company. After hearing a number of horror stories about people booking group safaris and then not getting to go when the others in the group magically disappeared, I was just happy that I was getting to go on a Safari at all.

The guide and car provided by Comfort Holidays met my expectations. The Toyota Land Cruiser was in good working condition and comfortable (though a bit crowded when all 7 people (5 guests, guide and cook) were in the car). The guide was knowledgeable and did an excellent job meeting the desires of the group for a good, first timer safari. He did get a little side tracked one day trying to find a leopard for us to see, but otherwise I have no complaints.

Food was good and well prepared. The last day we started to run out of some things (powdered milk, tea bags, etc.), which makes me think they could do a better job in supply.

The tents were a little old and took a long time to set up, even with the guest pitching in. They were comfortable enough.

All told my safari (booked in Arusha the day before departure) cost me $US 478, including guide, car, cook, three meals a day, park fees, campsites, tents, sleeping bags and mats, Maasai village visit, Olduvai Gorge fee and tips. The couple who booked from home paid about $50 more than I did booking in Arusha.

As it was a group safari, I didn’t know the people I was with. They were nice, some better than others. Luckily we all had similar desires, most of us being first timers (one of the group had been to the Serengeti many years ago), so a wide variety of animals was called for. I could see problems developing, though, if someone in the group had very specific wants (like bird watching) and the others didn’t.

Favorite animal I saw – the Cheetah. I didn’t get to see one run, but they look fast even standing still, like a spring waiting to uncoil.

5 days was just the right amount of time for a first time safari, I think. 3 days would have been a little short and would have been rushed. At 5 days I was ready to get out of the car. There is a lot of driving involved in a game drive – a lot more driving than game viewing, in fact, especially if you are switching parks.

Definitely a great experience, and not as expensive as you would think. Highly recommended!

More details of what I saw and experience can be found in my specific blog entries on Lake Manyara, the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater.

Hotels in Arusha:

Novotel Mount Meru for $85 a night (single). Overpriced for what you got. I basically stayed there because that’s where the bus dropped me off and it was raining, so I didn’t feel like going out in the rain.

L’Oasis for $45 a night (single). Very nice. Just across the road and through a couple streets from the Novotel Mount Meru. L’Oasis provides a clean and very atmospheric bungalows in a quiet setting. It’s run by a couple of Brit ex-pats. They are also renovating a backpacker hostel across the street, which I think they said they would charge $15 a night for.

Williams Inn. This was recommended by my guide book, and the place I probably would have stayed had it not rained when I arrived at the Novotel. However, one of the group in my safari stayed here and did not like it at all. A woman was screaming all night long about people trying to kill her, and doors were constantly opening and closing and discussions about prices for sex acts could be heard all night long. They were booked to stay 2 days, and only stayed one to find a new place.

Posted by GregW 02:00 Archived in Tanzania Tagged luxury_travel Comments (1)

Kilimanjaro, Tanzania - Rongai Route up Mount Kilimanjaro

Is it just me, or is it getting hard to breathe up here?

all seasons in one day
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Attempted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro using the Rongai route. I was doing a six day climb (5 up, 2 down with the summit day being both an up and down day). Unfortunately, on the start of the fourth day it was obvious that I was not well – it looked like I was developing pulmonary edema. I had a gurgling sound when I was breathing, was coughing constantly, was dizzy, had lost my appetite and was very, very tired. The head guide of my group decided it was best that I be taken off the mountain.

Due to my bad condition, they wanted to take me down my stretcher. However, because the mountain rescue team only works on the Marangu route, I would have to walk from Mawenzi Tarn camp to the saddle. Even with the help of two guides, it took me almost 6 hours to make it from Mawenzi Tarn to the Marangu route. The mountain rescue team, who loaded me on a stretcher and took me all the way to the gate, soon met us. There an ambulance met up with us, and I was taken to Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Clinic in Moshi. Got checked out, a shot and a prescription for Dex and released.

I was completely back to normal strength within two days, with no lingering effects.

The specifics of the climb and evacuation can be found in more detail in my blog entitled "I'll be coming down the mountain when I come".

The rest of the group I was with all made it to Gillman’s point, and 8 of the 10 made it to Uhuru Peak.

Overall, my guides were excellent, both in assessing the situation and helping me down the mountain. The mountain rescue team was excellent in getting me off the mountain, even if the stretcher was not very comfortable. The $20 paid in park fees for the mountain rescue crew was well worth it to me!

The climb was booked through Africa Travel Resource (www.africatravelresource.com), locally using The African Walking Company as the local guides. The climb was more expensive than others I saw, but I do feel that the quality of guides was above that of some of the other groups I saw climbing the mountain.

The food was decent and filling, though the higher we got the less variety that we got in our diet.

The hotel accommodations at the Kibo Hotel in Marangu before and after I have no complaints about. I have often read that the Kibo Hotel is a “faded glory,” but the beds were comfortable, the showers had hot water, the rooms were clean and the beer in the bar was cold.

The Rongai route itself was not a difficult hike. There was only one section, close to the lava chute cave, where we had to use our hands to scramble up some rocks. Otherwise, the climb was mainly a slow, slow walk. The path is not as well developed as the Marangu route, but I think it adds to the appeal to have a more rugged (though entirely walkable) path. Rongai does not provide cabins at all, thus tents are the only way to go. Washroom facilities are ugly – many of the group ended up using a shovel instead of going into the squat toilets at the campsites.

The worst part of the trip was the 3 hour car ride from Marangu to the trail head of the Rongai route. The road is rough and dusty. Our car dropped a shock on the way to the trail head.

I wrote about what inspired me to climb Kilimanjaro in in this blog entry. If you would like a more detailed description of the Rongai route can be found in this blog entry.

Posted by GregW 01:00 Archived in Tanzania Tagged backpacking Comments (2)

What XXX Means in Amsterdam

Amsterdam, Netherlands

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What a sight I must be in Amsterdam. I am wearing the same jacket I wore on Kilimanjaro, and it is still covered with mountain mud. My pants are the ones I wore on safari, and they are covered with dust from the Serengeti. I have just gotten off a nine hour flight from Tanzania, and my hair is sticking out in all directions. I must look like a homeless man wandering the streets of Amsterdam.

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Not the kind of dirty I expected to be in Amsterdam

It’s interesting being in Amsterdam so soon on the heels of being in Zanzibar, for they have a lot in common. The streets here are very narrow, some too narrow to even accommodate cars. So many people ride bicycles here, much like the bicycles that I saw in Zanzibar.

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Lots of bike racks in Amsterdam...

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...because so many people ride bikes...

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...because the streets are so narrow in Amsterdam.

Not everything is like Zanzibar, though. The Islamic Zanzibar wouldn’t stand for XXX shops, weed friendly coffee houses or windows where the girls ply their trade. It’s only 10 in the morning, but a few of the windows have women in them. In an attempt to say something nice, I will say the women working must have very nice personalities. I would suppose that the women working at night at of a higher quality.

The other thing I thought that was different than Zanzibar was the lack of people trying to guide me around. In Zanzibar every 15 minutes or so someone would try and offer their services as a city guide or driver. That wasn’t happening in Amsterdam, I was thinking, just when I heard a voice. “Hey mate, looking for a hostel?”

I turned around and saw a scrubby looking man. “No thanks,” I replied.

“Do you know where you are going?” he asked, seeing me looking up and down the streets of the red light district.

“Just looking around,” I said.

Soon I was being offered directions around the red light district, offers of history of the place. I eventually was able to brush off the British tour guide, but not before he asked me for some change. I had no euros, so couldn’t give him anything. “Even a single Euro?” he asked. But I had none to give.

It seems I can’t escape the touts anywhere.

Everywhere I look I see XXX. On garbage cans and lamp posts there is XXX. “Wow,” I think, “Amsterdam must be very proud of their raunchy reputation.” But then I start seeing it on garbage trucks and flags and shields on old buildings. There must be something more to this. I later learned that the coat of arms of Amsterdam has three St. Andrew’s crosses on it.

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Three crosses form the core of Amsterdam's city crest. These are St. Andrew's crosses, named after the apostle St. Andrew who is said to have been martyred on such a cross. The shield on which the crosses stand consists of three vertical stripes in the colours red - black - red. The crosses are in the black stripe. (From Amsterdam City Site)

How’s that for ironic?

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After more touring, I needed to get something to eat. I wandered into the DeWaal bakery and ordered a Saucijzen Broodje, which is basically a pig in a blanket, but it was REALLY GOOD. If you are in Amsterdam, check out Baker De Waal and get yourself one. Best deal for 1 Euro 30 Euro cents.

The other food I had was not that great. I saw so many places called Steak Houses that I figured that they must be a great Amsterdam food tradition. So I decided to check one out. I went into Los Latinos, where Jon Bon Jovi once ate, so it must be good, right? For 13 Euros and 30 Euro cents, I got a tough steak with soggy fries. If in Amsterdam, avoid the steak houses. Just eat more Saucijzen Broodje.

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Posted by GregW 20:38 Archived in Netherlands Comments (1)

Paradise Lost

Kendwa Beach, Zanzibar, Tanzania

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Have you ever had a day where everything just goes wrong?

I had planned to write a great missive about how paradise is a white sand beach with no-one else on it and the waves of the Indian Ocean lapping the shore. But then everything started to go wrong.

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Instead of the day and a half I had been planning for, I would have to leave on a 9am flight, cutting my beach time down to a day.

On the way up to the beach, we stopped to do a spice tour. Zanzibar is famous for growing spices, especially cloves, and taking a tour of a spice farm. The farmer takes you around and shows you various plants and their fruits. We then play a game where we try and guess what spice is made from the plant. Everyone else in the group would be sitting their saying stuff like, “is it turmeric?” The farmer would say, “Yes! It is turmeric!” And I would be thinking, “What the heck is turmeric?” A spice tour is a very, very boring concept if you know nothing about spices or cooking. All it was to me was an hour of beach time lost.

Back on our way, the van suddenly started making weird noises. So we stop to get it checked out. The van cannot continue, but a new van is called to pick us up. It arrives pole pole, and it’s not until 2 hours later that we are back on the road.

We arrive at the hotel. It’s more than I really want to spend, but after checking a couple other places, I find it is one of the few places that isn’t full. $US 30 they want. I pull out 30,000 shillings, as most places give you a 1000 shilling to $1 conversion rate. But not here, they ask for 33,300 shillings, and won’t budge. So I end up spending 3,300 shillings more than I wanted.

Finally I am going to get to the beach. I get into my room, change into my swim trunks, and as I am pulling the draw string taut, it breaks. My swim trunks stay up until I get into the Indian Ocean. Once heavy with water, they start to slip off my hips. I have to give up on the swim quickly.

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I retreat into the beach bar and sulk. My last day is a total bust. Paradise lost.

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After an hour I decide that I can’t let a few bad incidents get me down. I sit quietly for a minute, thinking. Suddenly it hits me – SAFETY PINS! Ever since an incident I had in Denver where the button fell off my pants, I have carried safety pins for quick repair emergencies. So with a few safety pins I fix my swim trunks and go back into the ocean.

After a swim down the beach, I sit on the beach and watch the sun set into the Indian Ocean. Paradise, I suppose, has it’s problems, but a white sand beach with blue water and few other tourists is still paradise.

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Paradise found.

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Posted by GregW 20:28 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)