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A Tale from Nowhere

Off the beaten track in Zanzibar, Tanzania, Africa

sunny 26 °C
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In my job, I spend a lot of time sitting around on airplane and in airports with not much to entertain me. So I tend to use that time to read. I just finished reading a book called Tales from Nowhere: Unexpected Stories from Unexpected Places, a collection of short stories that explores travellers' visits to places that are off the beaten path, places that both make us lonely and free us at the same time.

That got me thinking about the most off the beaten path place that I have been. I suppose the most likely passport stamp that I would have that other North American or European travellers wouldn't have would be Mongolia. However, probably the most obscure place I have been was broken down on the road between Stone Town and Kendwa on the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania.

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I wrote about my trip from Stone Town to Kendwa back in 2005 when I was in Tanzania, but didn't mention this story. There's two reasons for that. The first is that my blog entry was all about how crumby a day I was having, and this brief interlude of interest didn't fit into the theme. The second reason, and probably more important, was that I didn't know at the time what would stick with me. Often when I travel I find myself thinking one thing about a place during the trip, but years later find myself remembering other things. Now, when I think of Kendwa, instead of thinking about the crappy day of dull spice tours and van breakdowns and broken swimsuit trunks, I think of different things.

I remember trying durian fruit, and having my pee smell like rotting garbage for the next two days. I remember a beautiful french girl staying at the same resort as I, and her tiny red bikini. A better man would have hit on her, instead of I just watching her from afar.

But most of all, I remember the experience I had waiting for that new van.

I was in a van that was on it's way north from Stone Town towards Kendwa. About half way there, the van started making all manner of strange and not healthy sounding noises. We pulled over at some small town garage to have the van looked at, and the van was pronounced dead. We would have to wait a couple of hours for a new van to arrive.

There was myself and a couple from Poland in the van, and we disembarked and hung around the garage waiting for the new van to show. Soon we were surrounded by a gaggle of small children. The woman from the Polish couple actually spoke Swahili, and that amazed the children, who spent most of the time giggling and running away, then approaching close again. They were especially taken with the Polish woman's blond hair, which a few of the braver ones actually touched (at her invitation).

We gave the children some gum, but apparently they had never seen gum before and were unsure what to do with it. We tried to teach them how to chew the gum, but they refused. The van driver explained to us that the only other white people these children would have likely seen would have been doctors, and thus they were suspcious of anything given to them by whites, as it was most likely medicine and thus not very tasty.

Finally the new van arrived, and we set out on our way north again. The children laughed and waved and said goodbye. It was such a nice experience, because so often in Arusha and Stone Town, people approaching and interacting with you are doing so because they are trying to sell you a tour. It was nice not to be the "target" during an interaction for a change, and to let yourself be fully open and unguarded in interacting with the people.

Posted by GregW 05:48 Archived in Tanzania Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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)

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)

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