A Travellerspoint blog

Day 170 – Ex-Patriot Games

10th March 2012

sunny 27 °C

We enjoyed one more leisurely morning before the effects of our austerity cuts were to be felt. (We’d bought all our nice food the day before.) Will called to say that he and his friend Clare would only be leaving at around one o’clock and so we had another little tidy up and relaxed amongst fellow travellers at the ‘Junction.’

An hour after setting off we were still stuck in Nairobi traffic outside of the football stadium. There was football match on where the local Nairobi side, Gor Mahia, was about to exit the CAF Confederations cup. They were entering a game 4 nil down from the first leg, they’d need five goals to progress and instead they fell to a 1-0 defeat. They’d lost 5-0 to a Mozambican side called Ferroviaro. The low quality of Kenyan football aside, we were stuck in traffic. Whilst queuing we enjoyed our most varied range of hawked goods yet, Del Boy would have been proud. In our hour on the road we could have purchased: the usual warning triangles and steering wheel covers, beaded car seat covers, ice-creams and vegetables, crisps and cold drinks, sunglasses and hats, t-shirts, skirts, socks and boxers, any of a choice of board games, Monopoly, Risk and Scrabble, football t-shirts and scarves from any major league, windscreen washers and sugar cane sellers and to top it all we could have bought rabbits, kittens and even puppies, the latter available in a variety of breeds.

Once out of the traffic we endured another forty minutes fighting for our lives along a road driven by some of the worst drivers we’ve ever seen. Overtaking was a game of chicken, vastly underpowered and overloaded vehicles pulling out into oncoming traffic, goading them, willing them, literally forcing them to move off the road and allow the manoeuvre to be completed. Undertaking, overtaking, anything goes, and surprisingly there was very little use of the horn. Preference it seems is given to aggressive light flashing. This worked in our favour as it turns out that our ‘relay replacement scheme’ to fix Redvers’ electrics has been fairly unsuccessful and we are intermittently without a horn.

After a little misunderstanding about what equates to ‘two kilometres’ we found Will and Clare parked next to police officer at the turn off onto Kapiti Plains Farm. It was really more of a ranch enclosing a vast acreage of golden yellow scrub with sparse hardnosed green acacia holding firm amongst the dried grasses. We pulled in and met the rest of our fellow gatherers: Ravi, Annie, Lian, Emelie and Tatjana (TJ). All, in some way connected with an organization named the International Livestock and Research Institute (ILRI.) The weekend getaway was in celebration of Annie’s birthday and we settled in quickly before readying ourselves for a brisk walk to the top of the hill that backed onto the farm house to watch the sun rise whilst we drank chilled sauvignon blanc. The vista was stunning and the walk besieged by an endless onslaught from a booming population of ticks. Every two hundred metres or so there would be a group stop whilst we de-ticked ourselves. In our socks and on our legs, all looking for the places where the skin is thin, the air is damp and the temperature warm. Groin and armpit are ideal spots and so the challenge was to stop them before they made it, bit down and started transmitting juicy tropical diseases to our immunity lacking bodies. It was a bit of sport really, I scored around twelve, Somers had insecticide sprayed herself and scored seven or eight, but some of the others were rubbing tens of them from their arms at a time.

The sun sets quickly in Kenya and we were soon marching back down the hill thinking of gin and tonics and food. Lian, a fellow vet carrying out a PhD on porcine tape worm, had prepared our meal of Thai Green Curry. It was bloody brilliant except for the fact she’d overdone the chillies by about three fold. The dinner table conversation came with hilarity through watering eyes and running noses; gin and tonic consumption increased rapidly in a fruitless attempt to extinguish the raging infernos that had been unleashed on our senses. The music came out and the dancing began; we even learnt our first steps of tap; albeit less impressive when you’re wearing leather soled loafers and standing on the soft green lawn.

The evening was saddened when we discovered Nairobi had suffered another grenade attack. Apparently the Somalia based Al Shabaab (the Mujahadeen Youth Movement, or the ‘Al Qaida Kids’ now they’ve earned their first terrorism badges) were responsible for the four grenades, six deaths and sixty seven injured. (There is a conspiracy theory that the grenades attacks are Kenyan government ordered to keep up public support for Kenyan military interventions in Somalia.) The threat of terror was in the air in Nairobi, we’d be avoiding the centre during our stay.

Posted by ibeamish 07:50 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 169 – The Budget Review

9th March 2012

sunny

Before we made plans for traversing bandit riddled landscapes and dodging their rusty AK-47s and Martini-Henri rifles we needed Ethiopian visas and like good little boys and girls we headed straight to the DHL office at the western style mall called The Yaya Centre. DHL saw us coming (they see everyone coming) and charged us a hundred and ten quid to ship our passports to the Ethiopian Embassy in London and then return them to Nairobi. We managed to get the price down a little bit when they took off the insurance and the ‘express’ delivery option but they still took us for close on ninety quid. Still, there was little else that could be done in our situation and we managed a smile as we handed over our passports to Edna, deliberately ignoring the sign stating ‘It is illegal to send money.’

An hour later we were back in the office, and Edna was pointing at the illegal-to-send-money sign whilst we opened our parcel and took our payment in cash out of the envelope; who’d have thought DHL had x-ray machines! It was Friday afternoon; Edna informed us that the passports would be in the embassy on Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning. For the last six months, Laura had been teeing up a chap at the embassy named Yared and he’d assured us a rapid issuance of both visas. We reckoned that by Wednesday or Thursday we’d have our passports in hand. If we were paying through the nose at least we’d be getting a decent service.

We’d been in touch with an old mate from university called Will who was doing a PhD out at Busia, a Kenyan town on the border with Uganda. He’d told us that he and a few friends were planning on going out to a farm for the weekend just an hour from Nairobi and had asked did we want to come along. We did, and we told him so, and then we sat back to enjoy our new surroundings at the Jungle Junction campsite in Nairobi. It was about that time that our first serious budget crisis started brewing.

We’d started with a budget in US dollars per day and had been nicely underneath it so far, but, our initial budget had only really been estimated to cover around six months on the road rather than the eight the trip appears it will eventually take. Day to day costs had been easy to account for, the price of food, beer and accommodation were all relatively cheap; we were camping nineteen days out of twenty and shopping with a budget in mind. But the real problem, we were beginning to realise, was that north of Kenya everything becomes a little bit grey, especially on time scale, visas and ferry services. First was our problem of obtaining an Ethiopian visa, a feat only possible from the embassy in your home country. We were onto that, the unknown would be known in one week’s time. But that was only our first issue. Our second issue would be obtaining a Sudanese visa. This is easiest to obtain in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, when ascending Africa, but we’ve no idea how long that’ll take and we’re informed it’s not cheap, especially when we’re paying David Cameron for a letter to say our passports are real. Our third issue will be the ferry across Lake Nasser from Sudan to Egypt. It runs once a week, it doesn’t hold many vehicles and the passenger ferry leaves before the vehicle ferry. There is a brand new road alongside the lake but the Egyptian government owns the ferry, and it’s expensive, and it’s busy; with this in mind there is no border control along the road, just soldiers. The only border control point is at the ferry terminal. The ferry costs we already know, but the costs of ‘fixers’ to arrange visas and ‘guards’ to look after Redvers whilst we’re on another ferry and in another country are more difficult to predict. The very idea of leaving Redvers behind is frightening.

Our fourth problem is by far our biggest; our exit strategy. At the end of this trip we need to leave North Africa; an area that hasn’t seen so much political and civil unrest since the British were ‘doing their thing’ not far from a hundred years ago. The ferry from Egypt to Italy has been suspended indefinitely because it goes via Syria, and Syria is having a bloody inconvenient ‘moment’ in its national history. Our Plan B was really our original Plan A and was to drive through Libya. Eighteen months ago tourism was building nicely and you could drive the road that passed alongside the Mediterranean visiting coliseums and battle fields along the way. From Caesar to Rommel and, more recently, from the UK to the freedom fighters, there’s some history in those sands, but anyway, our plans were scuppered when Gadaffi was suddenly declared persona non grata. That trans-Libyan route would have led us to Tunisia and its capital, Tunis from where we could have sailed to Italy and driven home to the UK in just a few days. (This incidentally is still our preferred exit route at the time of writing, but will require a very careful argument with Libyan officials in Cairo when requesting a transit visa.) If Plan B goes wrong then we have to think about cargo ships; Alexandria in Egypt to Turkey is apparently the only real route we’ve heard about and that anyone has been able to use, but its hellishly expensive for Redvers and we’d need airplane tickets, otherwise, maybe we can drive to Israel and find a boat. The original Plan C had been a jaunt through Syria, but, well that’s not ideal anymore either. Still more extreme plans are to drive back south and choose any port from Port Sudan in Sudan, Mombasa in Kenya or Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. If budgets didn’t exist we could even drive into Saudi Arabia, on into Oman, catch a ferry across the Gulf of Aden into Iran and then get out through a something-istan and into Turkey. There is also chatter about ferries from Israel, but we’ve only found passenger ferries so far. All in all we have lots of options but costs on each route vary and none are cheap, none are straightforward and none are easy. The only easy aspect of it all is seeing why leaving Africa is our biggest stress.

With our budget altered a little and our fixed costs calculated there didn’t really seem to be a crisis, we cut our days planned for Uganda and Rwanda, cut ‘big spends’ on climbing Mount Kenya and tracking Chimpanzees and set out targets for Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt: then we had a cold beer because, after all, we were still on holiday.

Posted by ibeamish 09:34 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 168 – Looking like Idiots

8th March 2012

sunny

Our most straightforward border yet traversed us from a land of painfully annoying cops with new toys and an attitude to match, to a land of extremely pleasant cops without the toys and with a far more pleasant disposition all round.

As was our custom, we slowed down on approaching a checkpoint. A normal situation involves us slowing down well in advance and in doing so showing a certain respect for the officers. In return as we approach the officer will normally respond by waving us through. However one particular cop kept his eyes fixed on Redvers and his hands by his side as we slowed towards him. His lack of movement meant our deceleration was maintained until finally we stopped next to him. A rather bemused looking Kenyan officer asked “Can I help you?” as we suddenly realised we were essentially stopped dead in the centre of the lane on a national road. We quickly realised we looked like prize idiots and fabricated some questions about speed limits before driving off again. We left a bewildered police officer stood in the road watching our red faces disappear into the horizon.

Our journey towards Nairobi took us onto a ‘motorway’ with three lanes in either direction. This was sheer bliss. We now had easy access to overtake slow lorries and dilapidated coaches. The only problem was that not a single driver had any clue about where they should be in the road with so many lanes to choose from. Lorries seemed to quite like the outside lane, the opposite to the UK, but not all lorries. Coaches didn’t appear to see any white lines and fast cars just dived in and out through impossible gaps using the hard shoulder as a fourth lane as and when required.

Lucky to be alive, we pulled into Upper Hill Campsite in the north west of Nairobi. A very pleasant spot but was very quiet and had no other overlanders, for their company, and the formation of a convoy through the bandit country of Northern Kenya, we would need to visit Jungle Junction, a campsite just down the road.

Posted by ibeamish 09:29 Archived in Kenya Comments (0)

Day 167 – Transiting Tanzania

7th March 2012

Our next point of call on our highway across Tanzania was Arusha. The northern city of Arusha is a fairly well developed city with an international airport that is the first point of call for most travellers hoping to branch west to the Serengeti and the Ngorogoro Crater or east to Kilimanjaro. For us it was just another overnight stop. The prohibitive costs of visiting Tanzania, and indeed East Africa’s National Parks would mean that wild animals would be off the sightseeing menu for the foreseeable future. (The cost of the Serengeti was: $50 per person per day, plus $150 per vehicle over 2000kg per day, plus between $30 and $50 per person per night to camp. Our cheapest Tanzania Parks option would have cost $310 per day!)

Sadly the low lying cloud meant even a distant view of Kilimanjaro was out of the question and we pulled into Arusha mid afternoon where we did some food shopping before settling in at Maasai camp and readying ourselves for the drive to Nairobi the following day.

Posted by ibeamish 09:28 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 166 – Goodbye Dar

6th March 2012

sunny

A quick whip around the embassies represented in Dar es Salaam gave us a clearer understanding of our future bureaucratic hurdles and how best to tackle them. We’d obviously performed a fair amount of research and had bolstered this knowledge with new for other travellers, but nothing is ever quite as juicy as hearing it straight from the horse’s mouth.

A Sudanese visa is best applied for in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia or Cairo, Egypt; in these two places the embassy can issue visas to foreign nationals ‘on the spot’ (maybe within a week), avoiding a protracted process involving sending passports to Khartoum and waiting on unanswered e-mails. It will however require a ‘letter of introduction ’from the British Consulate. Such letters are readily available at all British embassies because they’re a fantastic money spinner at forty-five pounds each. That’s forty-five quid, per person, for our own government to print off a standard letter with our name and passport number on; no wonder its now just the British Embassy and the ‘Great’ has disappeared. We also confirmed that our passports would need to be sent to the UK from Nairobi in order to get hold of our Ethiopian visas. The visas were a very reasonable twenty two English pounds each. We didn’t want to think about what the couriers would charge.

From Dar es Salaam we headed first west and then north stopping at the White Parrot in Korogwe where we camped overnight. Police Engagement number-who-knows-what, was routine.

Posted by ibeamish 09:19 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 165 – “The Ferry is Full, But I’ll Get You On”

5th March 2012

sunny 31 °C

It was time to return to the mainland. We found our dala-dala and raised our adrenaline levels slightly for a return leg in which our minute by minute probability of death or serious injury soared. But, by the grace of someone more powerful than we, our journey was successful in that no injuries were sustained; though a small child did manage to vomit over the man who had kindly offered to look after him. Back in Stone Town we had an idea that we could make the ferry which was due to leave in forty minutes. An easy task assuming firstly that we didn’t want to rush off to buy the art we’d seen and secondly that the ferry would have space on board.

We marched through the narrow alleys of Stone Town, politely declining the advances of the artistes and shop owners along our way. We found our art shop, bought our piece and bit our nails as the gentleman took it from its frame and slowly wrapped it in brown paper before rolling it into its card board transportation tube and insisting on sealing both ends meticulously.

We were at a quick step when we reached the gates of the ferry terminal only to be told that the ferry was full. There was, as always, someone who could make sure that ‘full’ wasn’t a problem and he agreed to fix it for us as long as we offered him some compensation for his time. Our new found friend had a gift; he walked us through security, and waved them off; he followed up by waving us through customs and immigration, this time with a few respectful words, though never breaking his step, and led us eventually to a small plastic prefab hut with an air-conditioning unit that had created a mini Siberia within the hut’s four walls. We had ten minutes before the ferry departed and once more we were being overcharged. The ferry company officials had invented an exchange rate to bolster their income by five dollars per person. We argued and the ferry official backed down; we didn’t have sufficient money left to overpay him anyway. We handed over the notes expecting four thousand shillings change. We told our fixer that the change was his, we made sure that the ferry official understood this and we ran for the ferry.

Two minutes after taking our seats, the fixer had found us again and was telling us that the officials were keeping his change. There was little we could do, we weren’t about to start a compensation fund for locals who screw each other over.

We made it back to dry land after watching a Tanzanian ‘budget’ movie about a drug user who convinces his old man to join in and they have the time of their lives before mother finds out and makes father respectable once more. The acting was as shockingly bad as would be expected and the cameraman clearly stopped concentrating periodically as the action would move half off screen before the camera would hurriedly pan to catch up ten or fifteen seconds later.

Back at the camp site we ate dinner and enjoyed the imported Guinness which is ridiculously fizzy and, at 6.5%, is strong enough to start wars. We settled our bill and Isaac told us that his shift was ending and he wouldn’t see us again. He came over, gave us almighty hugs and said goodbye.

Posted by ibeamish 06:45 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 163-164 – White Sand, Turquoise Water and Tourism

3rd-4th March 2012

sunny 33 °C

Having wallowed in the touristic delights of Stone Town with its ornately carved wooden doors and frames and Indian influenced carved lintels it was time to leave it all behind and head to the beach for a few days. We’d got it down to two options: Nungwe in the North offered white sand, turquoise water and plenty of accommodation and bars or, our second option, to head north and then west to Matemwe, which offered the same sand and water but with far fewer places to stay and far fewer bars. We’d selected the former; the latter could be explored when we return one day.

We wandered through town to find the dala-dala (minibus taxi) station and informed our conductor on the number 166 that we’d be paying 2000TSh each, he argued that the fare was 3000TSh but after a short standoff he ushered us on for the standard (true) rate of 2000TSh each. This was our first dala-dala of the trip, we were officially cheating on Redvers.

Minibus taxis are great fun as long as you pretend that you can’t possibly die whilst aboard one. The whole journey is about getting from A to B as quickly as possible whilst collecting as many passengers as possible along the way. Harsh breaking and rapid acceleration are accompanied by a driving style that even Formula One drivers can’t match. Oncoming traffic will get out of the way if they drive fast enough at it, and if they don’t, the row of vehicles they’re overtaking will be forced to make sudden and dangerous manoeuvres to allow the dala-dala into the their ranks. If there’s an off road path around a speed bump then take it and don’t worry about speed limits; it would seem that dala-dalas are expected to break the law.

We left the coralline rock buildings of Stone Town and one hour and several near death experiences later we arrived at Nungwe. A local guy kindly escorted us to the Jambo Brothers Guesthouse and we settled in to our vastly overpriced triple room with sparse furnishing and even more sparse paint on its bathroom walls. At the north western edge of Zanzibar, Nungwe had clearly been a poorly kept secret. A talcum powdery white sand beach was the affront to an ocean of crystal turquoise water. But, along almost the entire beach are lines of large thatched buildings supplying accommodation, food and drink to the masses. The beach was stunning; the water was as warm as a bath. It was a great opportunity to kick back and relax, we felt like we needed a holiday. Books were ploughed through and hours whiled away, interspersed with swimming, milkshakes and visits to the local eateries for octopus curry, frozen mango juice and fresh bread.

The following day was spent in a similar fashion bar finding the energy to wander along the beach to the turtle sanctuary, a rehabilitation centre for all species but realistically covering the green and horn billed turtles native to Zanzibar. We fed the turtles by hand, some weighing one hundred kilograms or more and had a tour of the sanctuary. “We do like to be beside the seaside, oh we do like to be...”

Posted by ibeamish 06:38 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 162 – Ten Thousand Pieces of Art

2nd March 2012

sunny 25 °C

It was as difficult getting out of bed as it was finding Somers on the far side of a mattress whose size eclipsed our diminutive, but equally comfortable, roof tent mattress. For the first time in a long time we’d had to snuggle down beneath a feather duvet to avoid the dry cold of an air-conditioning unit deliberately turned down to ‘Arctic’ on the dial. But breakfast was only served between seven thirty and nine and nothing comes between Somers and her belly.

The dining room was open sided and positioned on the top floor to allow us a view of the surrounding buildings, all of varying heights, shapes and roofs, but the majority sporting a corrugated iron roof at various stages of rusting decay. Fresh fruit, toast and cereal with superb coffee and Kenyan tea served with a smile by our exotic maitre d’ who was a woman that blended several races, predominantly Indian, into an object of sari adorned elegance.

We and several thousand other tourists spent the day wandering Stone Town, exploring its back streets lined with a thousand stalls all of which inexplicably sold variations on the same product. Mass produced art depicting jumping Maasai combined with the Tinga-Tinga cartoon-art could be found everywhere as shop owners repeated their mantra that ‘looking is for free.’ Looking was for free; but so was the owners’ onslaught of ‘best price’ and ‘how much you wanna pay?’ as the screws were turned on the assumption that walking away should not be without taxation. Mass produced Indian textiles either untouched or subsequently crafted into handbags, scarves, slippers, dresses and shirts were just as abundant as well as a new experience for us, that of the spice sellers. Ten minutes spent at one of these stalls just smelling and touching fresh nutmeg, vanilla pods, cinnamon sticks , ginger, cardamom seeds and more was as sublime an experience as you can have at a market stall.

Of all the bazillion pieces of art on the island we took particular fancy to one piece, but told our purveyor, the artist’s brother, that this would be one for us to think about. In fact, by the end of our discussion we had sort of agreed, in principle, that if we had enough money left when we returned from the north of the island then we would complete the purchase.

It is a telling indicator of the mass tourism Zanzibar receives that so many people can exist in businesses specialising in tat. This was a stark contrast to the islands we’d previously visited: Ibo in Mozambique had only just been receiving an electricity supply and Ihla De Mozambique, whilst far ahead of Ibo, was pleasantly a thousand miles behind the consumer tat quagmire of Zanzibar.

We ate at Forodhani Square again and found that racism works both ways when we drank tea and ate cake of sorts at a price that was 250% than the local chap sat next to us had paid. When we pointed this out to our previously smiling vendor he swore that the price was correct. We dropped our new found friend in it by using his words against the tea seller who then became very angry with our new found friend. Our friend began to back track saying that his tea might be different and he hadn’t eaten cake (as he rubbed the crumbs from his lips.) It wasn’t worth arguing over and we felt our point had been made; a tactical and financially diplomatic retreat was in order.

Posted by ibeamish 06:31 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 161 –Passports?

1st March 2012

rain 21 °C

The rain had been coming since the middle of the night, not heavy, but consistent. We awoke at six and it had still not abated; it would be another hour before it began to pass. Whilst the tent had kept us dry its canvas was now sodden. We’d decided to leave the car at the campsite whilst we travelled to Zanzibar; we decided that the tent would remain erect to avoid returning to find a mildewy, mould ridden damp mess of canvas and aluminium.

Somers decided that in addition to stripping the bedding out from the tent and leaving it standing we could park Redvers beneath a tree for a little extra shelter. The reality of this involved a slightly misguided reverse bay parking which placed the tent physically into the tree. Canvas versus wood could result in only one winner but fortunately the fifteen inch tear was confined to the flysheet. We gaffer taped it feeling rather silly and boarded our awaiting Tuk-Tuk and were chauffeured by Kim the Maasai past the queuing cars, past the ferry ticket office, past the security guards and straight onto the boarding area for the car ferry across to Dar es Salaam.

From the port on the city side it was another kilometre or so along the river front to the Ferry Terminus where we waited for an hour, and tucked into a half kilo of cashew nuts, before boarding the Kilimanjaro 3 and spending one and a half hours skipping across the Zanzibar Channel.

It was about half way through this mildly nauseating ferry journey that we started reading the guidebook for Zanzibar and noticed, rather importantly, that Zanzibar was seen as some sort of separate political entity to Tanzania and that as such, we would require our passports to enter. Our passports were securely stowed in the safe inside Redvers a good eight hours swim away and we weren’t getting any closer. Since there wasn’t much we could do about it we opted for Plan A which was immigration and customs evasion. We were spectacularly rubbish at evading anybody, probably drawing more attention to ourselves, and we were pulled up immediately and asked to go back to the desk to have our passports stamped in. Plan B was to squeal; to tell all and plead for leniency. Naturally leniency comes with a price and we weren’t the first Muppets to arrive without documents. A kind officer printed out two ‘no passport’ forms which we duly filled out and then paid our 20,000TSh each for the privilege of entry.

We left the port and began our wandering, trying to explain to our would-be guides that we didn’t want to be guided. After an hour or so we’d reluctantly learned that these guides actually operate on commission from the many hotels. All they want is to be the individual that led us into a hotel where they would then earn anything between two and ten dollars per person. Sadly by the time we discovered this we’d booked our accommodation over the phone, but we told our persistent fellow that if he led the way to the hotel we would tell the manager that he had suggested that we book there.

The accommodation, as the guidebook said, was all overpriced relative to the main land and so we elected to enjoy a minor upgrade from the $30 a night basic hotels to the far more comfortable $50 per night Kiponda Hotel, complete with air conditioning, en-suite facilities and king-sized four poster bed. Now that was living.

We wandered the streets for the rest of the afternoon before eating at the Forodhani Square market where we could buy a myriad of sea food based culinary wonders; on offer were skewers of various species of fish, lobster pieces, crab claws, shrimp and squid, supplemented with chapattis and naan breads and washed down with a fantastic drink made using pressed sugar cane juice and ginger; hello taste buds, goodbye teeth.

We wandered back through the streets to find a hotel with a roof top bar before heading back to our hotel where we spent half an hour sat on the door step discussing Zanzibarian life with the manager.

Posted by ibeamish 06:22 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 160 – Car Parts, Razorblades and Maasai Warriors

29th February 2012

sunny 31 °C

For a little while, indicating left or right had resulted in the radio turning itself off. Our rare moments of that dangerous sport, ‘night time driving’ had been given extra excitement by the fact that something was shorting the electrics and the lights would periodically dim or, worse still, turn off completely just as we approached another tricky pot-holed section or group of individuals walking the streets after dark.

Having destroyed our second shock absorber in Malawi under similar ‘bad road’ circumstances we were getting tired of the ‘lottery lighting’ and the complete absence of a horn on a road system entirely built around the use of it. There were a couple of relays that had suffered mini waterfalls coursing through them during our previous deluges and now they were making rapid clicking noises. That was where we had decided to start our electrical investigations. With only a GCSE in physics and a half one in Design and Technology between us our plan was to go back to first principles and try and think logically about it all. But two minutes later our heads hurt and so we started our ‘buy and replace’ method of auto-electrics.

Dar es Salaam has one of the biggest ports in Africa and since all Land Rover parts come from China via England we were quite excited that we might actually find reasonably priced parts at their port of entry. We nipped back across to the city on our ferry paying a second ludicrous instalment of 88 pence and went into town; on the hunt. It was too easy. Within five minutes we’d found the needle in the haystack, the needle being a parking space in front of a sign saying ‘no parking’ in a city besieged by ‘auto-overcrowding’ and ‘parking at all costs.’ I made my way inside to meet a Tanzanian-Indian chap who could fulfil all of our car based desires. The relays he supplied had five pins and we only had four holes, but this was a mere minute’s work as he called a colleague who turned up and, using a pair of pliers, snapped off the offending pins. We bought more oil, windscreen wipers and a couple more universal joints even though the replacements seem to be coping admirably. I nipped back outside arms full of crucial ‘medicine’ to relieve Redvers ailments and found Somers stood outside the car.

Whilst I was buying parts Laura had been revelling in the delightful hospitality of Tanzanian manners. Everyone that walked passed her had greeted her. People had come to the car to welcome her to Tanzania; and once smiles and warm welcomes had been exchanged they continued on their way. Nobody was offering her something to buy, nobody was begging, nobody was even close to harassing. Laura was being greeted because she was welcome in Tanzania. It’s difficult to fully alliterate how refreshing that was.

As sweet as the pleasantries were, Somers, whilst still appearing spectacular, was fighting a battle of perspiration against the sweltering humidity in a city built on the edge of the Indian Ocean. It was no surprise that people in Dar walk around with cloths with which they mop their beaded brows every five minutes. We replaced the relays immediately and were relieved to find that then horn worked, as did the radio: The lights would only be tested when we were next in the dark. As we were busy testing our electrics, our new found friend/dealer in Land Rover parts had followed me out of the store to offer me a 2012, faux leather bound, page-to-day diary embossed in gold with his company’s logo; what a splendid man.

We’d been unfathomably productive. Parts finding in Africa had historically taken us days but we had cracked it in an hour. Our excitement was unleashed in the form of pistachio ice cream and enjoying a minor shopping spree for razorblades, beer and wine.

On our way back we purchased two tickets to Zanzibar on the fast ferry departing at 12 o’clock the following day.

After an unremarkable night in Kipepeo beach camp we had decided that the night would be spent at the Mikadi Beach Camp. We met a great guy by the name of Isaac who welcomed us quite literally with open arms. We settled in and found out valuable information that the beach front was dangerous to walk alone, even in daylight. If we desired a beach stroll it was imperative that we take a Maasai (Warrior) with us for security! The place was pleasant enough though the use of salt water in the swimming pool, in the showers and in the sinks was more than a little annoying. Brushing teeth took on a mild wretching quality and showering yourself in that slight stickiness of the salty water all but defeated the purpose of the shower in the first place.

Posted by ibeamish 06:11 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 159 –Are You Even In The Police?

28th February 2012

sunny

We left our campsite early, meeting a chap whose job it was to maintain it whilst the boss was away. Since we hadn’t actually met the boss we left payment with him and set our sights on Morogoro a large town 100 kilometres from Dar. This would provide a night’s accommodation before timing our entrance into Dar to avoid the horrific congestion during the several rush hours it suffers from daily.

The roads in Tanzania, are horrible to drive on. It’s not the surface, we’d chosen tarred roads with few potholes, it’s the experience. Firstly road signs are not always there, but police with radar guns are. You may see a limit sign of 50km/h, annoyingly almost one kilometre before the first habitation arises, and then you pass through town, past the police, over the speed bumps designed to slow you down by removing one or both axles, and then you leave habitation. But on leaving there may or may not be a delimitation sign. Are we in a fifty or is it open? The only way to be sure would be to drive at fifty until otherwise advised but that’s thirty miles per hour and we have both a country and a continent to cross. Meanwhile to add to the mental frustration there is a physical fear of death as coaches drive half an hour in twenty minutes around bends that shouldn’t allow for more than a trundle. They’re old and their chassis and axles have been so overloaded that they’re twisted and the whole vehicle is crabbing. (Crabbing is when a four wheel vehicle leaves four separate tracks whilst driving in a ‘straight line,’ the rear of the vehicle is twisted out of line with the front.) As they hurtle around the corner their back ends screech sideways into your lane, (picture hand brake turning in an overloaded and top heavy 1960’s coach,) frequently we’d swerve to miss them as they cut the corner in an effort to remain upright and fast. Lorries too don’t help, but their sin is that of overloading and sloth. Many of them still retain their previous owners’ names, from Guildford to Lancashire, all of those un-MOT’able vehicles have found a new lease of life in Tanzania. But, rather than slow an economy by taking them off the road, the police are bolstering the economy, and their pockets, by radar gunning the drivers of privately owned vehicles.

What with the mixed bunch of signs, the abundance of radar guns and a general disrespect for the police a ticket was bound to happen at some point. Driving out of a town Laura and I decided that it was time to switch drivers. I pulled into a bus stop as changing drivers is easiest when Redvers has stopped, only for a police man to approach and say that he’d caught me doing 66km/h despite braking to a halt. He and his female assistant caught us off guard, I hadn’t seen any signs, but I hadn’t been looking too closely, we weakly argued the cause whilst they frequently told us we’d have to pay and then pausing, waiting perhaps for our ‘suggestion.’ My suggestion came in the form of “You’d better get writing a ticket then.” They smiled, gave us a quizzical look and the in response to a second statement for a written receipt they pointed me in the direction of the two fat police officers sat, sadly, in another Land Rover 110. I greeted the male cop and he spoke only in Swahili. I apologised for not speaking Swahili, told him I’d learnt a few words but hadn’t been here long and he then started talking over me, more loudly than before but still in Swahili including the word ‘mazungu’ and generating bursts of laughter from the officers around him. I told him he was rude, disrespectful and that he ought to show a little more deference to tourists, who are his country’s third largest source of income (that last bit was made up.) I told him I’d apologised for not understanding Swahili and that I expected better. His smile disappeared and I was shown round to the other side of the car where the fat lady was sat. She asked me for the money. I pointed to her ticket book and told her I needed a receipt first. She stopped, offered another quizzical look and then she slowly reached for the book. Ten minutes later she’d completed what appeared to be one of the first tickets in her fines pad and I arrogantly folded out three 10,000TSh notes (20 quid) and thanked them for their time. (Fat man said thank you and goodbye in English.)

It wasn’t the money, nor was it the manners, we’d travelled 25,00kms without a fine or bribe and we’d just broken our duck; damn it.

Not long after, Somers was pulled over for doing sixty in a fifty. She’d been driving like an old lady to avoid more fines and obeying the road signs with some degree of fanaticism. The cop told her she’d need to pay a fine, Somers told the cop that there hadn’t been a sign and so how could she know it was a fifty and anyway she was only doing sixty. The cop pointed two hundred metres up the road to a delimitation sign as proof that we were driving in a fifty; unbelievable. Somers apologised but calmly stated that with no sign there she wouldn’t be paying any fines. The cop accepted her apology and we pulled away.

Our plan to stop at Morogoro changed when we realised we could probably make it all the way to Dar es Salaam by nightfall. We trundled through Morogoro at 48km/h and past the waiting police officers, stood as if casually talking but with a radar gun hidden underneath his folded arms and aimed directly at the oncoming traffic.

Our chosen camp site in Dar was actually just south of the city centre; and separated by a river with no bridge, only a ferry service. Our worry was making it to the bridge in time before the ferry closed for the evening. (It turned out that the ferry was 24hrs.)

We drove through a manic town centre in a traffic jam that had started ten kilometres outside of the centre. Laura was still in command and, at a junction with a filter light she waited for the green light before turning across the oncoming traffic. Two hundred metres later an angry voice on a bike was shouting through her window for her to pull over. The guy had on a blue helmet with five of the six letters required to spell police adhered to its side. His uniform was a pair of slacks and a yellow vest this time emblazoned with all six letters. His bike had funny coloured plates which we’d not noticed before but was otherwise another $1000 Toyo Chinese import the same as a million others in the city. He shouted again telling us to turn into a side street. Laura did, we pulled to a stop and waited to see what our offence had been.

The cop unstraddled his bike and walked over to Laura’s window. “Do you even understand international driving?” was his first remark. That took us a little by surprise, we paused before stating that we did and we had licenses to prove it. Laura avoided immediately condescending him by telling him she’d driven in more countries in five months than he had in his entire life. He looked at her driving license and demanded the import papers for the car.

The cop told us we’d gone through the junction without waiting for a filter light that permitted our turn and that as a result he’d have to take us to the station to process us. It was half past five in the afternoon. Evening was upon us, the sun in descent and we had good reason to wager that a police station tour wasn’t really up for grabs. Despite the fact we knew he was lying we were still nervous. He took the license and the carnet and disappeared around the back of Redvers for two minutes. That was the slow burn, that was supposed to be the time where our minds questioned all the nasty things that could happen in prison, all the consular officials we’d need to speak to, all the charges that could be levelled at us and that we could solve it all by giving him the equivalent of six quid. But we’d already paid the entire trip’s fines earlier that day, his chances of a bribe were zero.

He comes back with the papers and we get him to explain that he’s charging us for driving through a green light, he agrees, but sees no fault in his statement. Laura now points out that the carnet shows we’ve been in eight countries before here. Again neglecting to add that she’s probably driven on more continents than he has countries; his first remark had clearly riled us.

Once again we found ourselves looking at his uniform. Every cop in Tanzania is dressed to the nines. Crisp, pressed, whiter than white uniforms; and that joker was in his slacks and luminous vest, still wearing his skid lid with his chicken-chaser parked at a jaunty angle in front of Redvers’ sneering grille. Redvers was probably thinking “Just let me on, we’ll walk over that tin-pot tin-can of an engine.” The cop reiterated that we’d need to go to the police station and we didn’t dispute. But the time had arrived for him to give us some information, tit for tat and all that. “You’ve seen all of our papers so can we see yours please? How do we even know you’re a cop?” He faltered for the first time.

“Ask anyone around and they’ll tell you what I am.” We all looked around, there was a traffic jam over his shoulder pushing into a traffic jam to his left. There were lots of people milling around but none seemed eager to even notice us let alone jump to his defense. "I don’t carry my papers when I’m wearing my uniform," he added, pointing to his vest and ‘po ice’ helmet. We reiterated that his gear wasn’t convincing, if he was a cop he should be able to convince us, he had no radio and with no papers he hadn’t even got a charge sheet. He told us that we could ask anyone but we knew we'd broken the back of this encounter and even with our hearts still racing we were reaching the climax. He was still protesting but we reckoned that within two minutes he'd realise the game was up and send us on our way. He’d lost his vim, his get up and go, it was gone a quarter to six on a Tuesday night. His wife probably wanted him home for dinner not booking some tourist down the station for the sake of a few shillings. As hoped, he duly cracked and told us we could leave. We waited until he was on his bike before we sighed with relief. We don’t even know if he was a real cop. He did little to prove his credentials but the truth is we’ll never know. Laura drove away.

We got to the ferry queue and found that it was 24 hrs and busy around six at night and we a bought ice creams whilst we queued for an hour. We paid 80 pence for the car and driver and another 8 pence for the passenger. The campsite at Kipepeo was nice enough but a little expensive and a little farther away from the ferry than necessary. It was late and dark; we pitched camp and ate dinner with a couple of Swedish girls over doing a six volunteer session combined with holiday. My ‘fillet steak’ was a pummelled piece of leather made entirely delicious by whatever it had been marinated in.

Once more we drifted into slumber with the sounds of the Indian Ocean lapping into our ears.

Posted by ibeamish 05:14 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 158 – Neema Crafts and Snakes in the Bush

27th February 2012

semi-overcast

The couple we’d first met at The Old Farmhouse were the husband and wife, Ben and Katy. They were missionaries that had taken over the management of a shop and cafe called Neema Crafts. Neema had been set up in 2003 by another British lady, Susie, to provide work for disabled locals and to change attitudes towards them in society. Ten percent of Tanzanians are classed as having ‘severe disabilities.’ From three deaf men being taught, by Susie, how to make paper from elephant dung, Neema now employs over 120 disabled individuals making paper, glass beads, candles, pots, weaving and running a cafe staffed only by deaf individuals.

We stopped in for some breakfast and a tour of the centre, meeting the men and women responsible for the beautiful cards, cushions, candles, necklaces, soft toys and kikois. The rhythmic dancing of the man operating the feet and hand operated loom was mesmerising. We chatted to a man making paper bead necklaces for some time before being shown the relatively new addition of a pottery where a young man is being trained by an American with a degree in Art but more specifically in ceramics. We were in awe and couldn’t help staying on for lunch after our tour and buying some bits and bobs from the shop.

Ben and Katie had told us about a campsite run by a friend on the edge of the Udzungwa Mountains National Park. We called the friend and he seemed to think it would fine for us to stay there though he said he couldn’t remember the directions. We found our way there regardless and as we turned off our mud track into the ‘camp’ it was essentially a cleared area of woodland with a toilet and bucket shower. We went for a little walk along the stream wondering whether our first leopard sighting would be that of it eating the other but sadly there were no sightings other than some raucous monkeys socialising amongst the canopy.

Walking back to the car Somers gave out a yelp and beat a hasty retreat from some sort of hooded snake that was upright and annoyed at her having ventured so close. We took some pictures of the creature that just inspired pure, primitive fear and then moved it away from Redvers using a long stick and a sweeping motion like that of a three wood. My judgement was out and it ended up flying towards an aghast Somers where it hit the ground and lay stunned but uninjured amongst the mulch.

We found a slightly more open spot with a perimeter we’d find easier to observe and we ate supper. Bedtime came early and we sat watching a new DVD that Paul had kindly delivered from the UK. Half through there was a crash of noise outside and then silence. The computer was turned off and we sat bolt upright in the pitch black waiting for another clue. We hadn’t seen anybody since we’d been there. But in Africa we feel like someone is rarely far away and eyes of all species are always watching. A wee beasty would have made another sound by now. An elephant would have been still eating, a large herbivore would have made a noise on the ground, but a human up to no good would have stopped dead and endeavoured for the next movements to be in silence. We sat, inside our tent seven feet above the ground peering through the mesh windows out into the black silence of the night. Inside the tents our hearts bumped on, the sweat trickled down our cheeks and we tried not to breathe loudly as we listened. There was no sound. Five minutes passed and still no sound. Ten minutes, fifteen minutes passed, until eventually, after twenty minutes of bricking it in the dark, in a place where essentially no one knew we were and that was unfenced to the creatures of the night, we decided we both needed a pee anyway and so we could go out and see what we could see.

We did and with our remarkably low powered torches we saw nothing. Given our snake encounter earlier we weren’t about to go away from the car anyway.

Laura fell asleep dreaming about the folk story that tells of snake’s partner seeking revenge on the murderer of its mate.

Posted by ibeamish 05:12 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 157 – Cup Final Day

26th Febuary 2012

overcast

After a leisurely breakfast we drove to Iringa and ate tikka massala and saagwala whilst we watched Liverpool make hard work of another cup final. We’d heard about the train issues and were hoping desperately that everyone had made it down. There was a perfectly timed power cut just after Dirk Kuyt scored what I assumed was the winner. It didn’t matter too much, since we’d clearly won; little did I know that Stevie was busy failing to score the first penalty.

We had been offered a room in one of the ex-pats houses and we gratefully accepted as the rain continued to fall.

Posted by ibeamish 05:11 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 156 – Indecision

25th Febuary 2012

semi-overcast

The clocks said half past nine when we woke up, but now we were in East Africa, we’d jumped forward an hour. It was half past ten. We’d slept like lions in the sunshine and we wandered over to the restaurant to have a spot of brunch on the lawn.

Kisolanza was a farm run by an English lady and the countryside was also surprisingly English. If it weren’t for a few of the trees that would be entirely out of place in England you’d be forgiven for mistaking the trees and the fields with some scene out of the west country.

Brunch actually turned out to be a full on lunch and we met a mixed nationality group of expats who were working in the nearby town of Iringa. They persuaded us to stay and visit their town and we were convinced when assurances were made about the cup final being on television.

We had a swim in the dam, and braai’d farm grown rump steak for dinner.

Posted by ibeamish 05:10 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Day 155 – To Tanzania

24th February 2012

rain

We left early, but not as early as the Kenyans. They had to make Mozambique by nightfall we had to make Tanzania in a similar time frame. We had Kwacha to get rid of and we spent some of it on fast food, Malawian style. I ordered goat and chips from a guy who was cooking on a coal fired shallow fryer at the side of the road just next to the police road block. The strips of deep fried goat, salted to taste, made for a delicious breakfast. Our final kwachas were spent at a stall we’d visited two days previously where we stocked up on bread and pineapple squash. The stall holder insisted that we’d been so good for business that he would carry our purchases across the road to the car for us. What an absolute gentleman.

Pulling into the border we met a seller of insurance. He was Tanzanian but had taken a stroll to Malawi in order to spot the fresh meat as it arrived. He made his introductions and we politely acknowledged him stating we would make any decisions when we’d completed immigration and customs. Then the money changers began to arrive. We weren’t paying full attention to them; at least, we weren’t making eye contact, just politely declining their services. We had a more pressing issue; Somers needed a pee. She’d needed it for a while but had been building it to a beautiful crescendo of desperation and near humiliation. We found the toilet, and next to it we found the keeper of the toilet who showed us the hand painted ‘words on breeze block’ that declared a 200 Tanzanian Shilling fare (12p) for a ride on the porcelain. We had no shillings, we’d spent our Kwacha, we did have several one hundred dollar bills on us it didn’t feel like the time or the place to try to break them. Laura pleaded, but the guy stood firm, I suggested a nice patch of grass behind a bush and beneath a tree but the observers seemed to think the police take offence. Laura pleaded some more and just before the dark patch appeared on her trousers the gentleman heeded her pleas and stood aside.

Now we could think again, the border was a formality and we’d been accompanied by our insurance salesman all the way. We followed him to his office in which the ceiling-suspended desk fan was no longer whirring as the power had been cut. As sweat trickled down our foreheads, our clothes began gently saturating. Our man offered us a Comesa yellow card which has the benefit of being useable for every country we’ll visit from Tanzanian northwards. At $120 it seemed expensive but since we’ve been paying $30 per country we’d be saving plenty. “One yellow card please.”

The sanctuary of the office provided safe shelter from the changers. We did need some shillings though and so we left it in the hands of our rather burly, (tank-like, think 125kg with rippling muscles, dressed smartly and carrying himself with a professional demeanour) insurance dealer. He called the changers over and dealt with one of them. Once we had our money we stepped outside to find some cold drinks. As we stepped from one fantastically humid environment to another one money changer was screaming and shouting at our insurance man. Apparently he had been the first to speak to us and was aggrieved that he hadn’t gotten the business. Our insurance man bought him a beer to apologise but it wasn’t really helping. We skulked towards Redvers before making an ungracious exit whilst the melee continued.

An hour down the road we were pulled over for driving at 56km/h in a 50km/h zone, it was me in the driver’s seat and it all felt a little déjà-vu. We pleaded and begged and were despicably polite and apologetic and after five minutes of grovelling we were let off with a warning. Somebody, we heard the Norwegian government, has supplied the Tanzanian police force with radar guns and they’re going at it like it’s the heralding of a new era of income. We had been warned about them; we’d also been told that the fine is TSh30,000 ($20) and that the standard bribe is a straight TSh10,000 ($6.50) no questions asked. No one had mentioned grovelling.

We ploughed on through the rain to Kisolanza, The Old Farm House,; our first stop on the road to Dar es Salaam.

Posted by ibeamish 05:08 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

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