Friday, December 21, 2012

Stoner Bat Cave Waterfall Day -24/07/2012

At 9am the busy bees of the group headed out on a cultural tour of Moshi's surrounding area while the other half of the group went to a hot springs. Our tour was led by Stewart (another anglosized name) and included a trip to Marangu cultural village, a banana and coffee plantation, a chagga cave and waterfall and all for about £20 each. Bargain.

Our first stop was the Marangu cultural village. The minibus chugged up the steep sides of Kilimanjaro and our stomachs started to turn as we saw the pointy wooden structure of the start gate of a route heading up. The familiar cold air nipped us as we stepped off the bus and danced around the fresh faced climbers in our flip-flops. They exchanged glances among themselves as they overheard our flashbacks or they just thought we were idiots about to climb Kilimanjaro in flip flops. In the way of a cultural village, there wasn't much culture as the majority of people around were either Europeans or Americans. However the Marangu gate has a lot more plaques and information than the Machame gate but I still couldn't help but notice the dominance of Europeans on them as well.

Snake defences...
The flashbacks became more distant as we moved back down the mountain and headed to a cave that was built by the Chagga tribe to hide from their enemy Maasi tribe. This was one of their many strategies to work against the Maasi's great stature compared to the Chaggas comparatively stumpy gait. As we rolled up to the site of the cave we commented on the shoes slung over the electrical wires above, and what this meant in British culture. Apparently this is not the same in Tanzania, apparently being the important word.

We were greeted by who appeared to be Stewart's bleary eyed mate and he took us to the entrance which was a dark hole covered primitively by a thatched roof and surrounded by a subterranean moat of pineapples to protect against snakes. Although the hole seemed to descend into endless darkness, I am pretty sure a 6ft Maasi warrior could have his feet at the bottom and still see daylight.

For having a fear of flappy things, I coped quite well being in a confined space with bats flying about. The caves were less cave-like and more a labyrinth of underground tunnels. The tunnels were not nearly big enough to stand up in and so you were constantly crouching. I was glad I was in shorts, until I noticed the bats and remembered where their faeces go and more importantly my lack of a rabies immunisation. Either way I still scrambled about on my hands an knees as we were guided around the caves which would hold around 10 families in relatively few chambers. Some of the tunnels were so small you had to army crawl through them, this was where the Chagga outdid the Maasi as their chief would hide in the furthest chamber at the end of the the smallest tunnel. Back int the daylight we washed off all the mud, faeces and rabies before heading back to the car but not until we got harassed by the local crazy man who 'does that to everyone'.
In the cave

The next stop on our less than typical tour was the Kilasiya waterfall (which means endless waterfall) which was also home to numerous coffee plantations mainly in villagers back-gardens. We felt like we were miles away from any part of the tourist trap and the locals had that genuine happy look, they didn't look at you like you were another sales opportunity. Stewart told us about the coffee production process and the uses of bananas. Stewart also pointed out the tree from which the bark is used as quanine to treat malaria, the locals simply pull bark off the tree and boil it in water to create a broth.

He led us through some winding paths in between avacado plants and more importantly some aloe vera plants. My tick bite was agony for me and when Stewart offered me some pure aloe vera I could not refuse, however I advise you to refuse a taste of it. Another of Stewart's friends greeted us in a wooden hut that was used as a waiting room but had a sign calling it the "office of Kilasiya waterfalls". A winding path was built through the lush forest and we hopped our way down dodging ant colonies as we went. The trees cleared to reveal one of those waterfalls, the ones you only see as desktop backgrounds. I always think its funny computers have typical 'paradiso' pictures on their background, it's like their computer is subtly telling the vacant face in front of it to get outside.
Kilasiya Waterfall

The waterfall wasn't quite endless but it was pretty high but the plunge pools were pretty shallow. Alas I stripped down quicker than if Joshua Radin had just sang me a song he wrote for me, and got in the water. Other than my red hair, my attempts at being the little mermaid were feeble to say the least. Even if I managed to get in the water without slipping on a rock the force of the water kept me awkwardly shoved up against a rock while my knee got repeatedly beaten on the adjacent rock. Also, nobody does the drowned rat and panda-eye look like I can. You did eventually get used to it and learnt where the gentle currents were and we had a wonderful time which wouldn't look out of place in some horrendous teen horror film, but the nice bit before we realise we are abandoned in the middle of nowhere. After the inital dip in the pool we got our best lunch down from the mountain yet, which made up a surprisingly satisfying packed lunch with a chicken wing, a beefburger, cake and a banana. I have now realised the advantage of being friends with fussy eaters, their leftovers are essentially a whole meal! The trip to the waterfall was one of the most idyllic moments of the trip as it was just simple fun with great people and a beautiful backdrop.

Banana Beer
After a few more dips in we had to leave to head to the last leg of our tour; to test some banana beer. This time Stewart had definitely just brought us to a friends house. We parked next to this restaurant building but he guided us straight past into this small hut. We were led along a small alleyway to what could only be described as somebody's back porch. We all sat down on a collection of plastic chairs around a small wooden table as we waited to be 'served'. I had heard a few things about banana beer and I was told it was one of those things you had to try when you came to Tanzania. Nobody told me how strange it was. A young woman came out with several huge plastic beakers full of a strangely viscous liquid, this was banana beer. The smell was a very familiar smell to me, the smell you only know if you have lived on a farm; that smell of sheep pellets. Now I know what sheep pellet soup tastes like. As horrible as it was you kept drinking it to be polite but also there were seeds in it that were almost moreish. I say almost. When I heard banana beer I thought like how westerners probably think; yellow banana, yes? No, this beer was made from the green banana, aka plantain. Hence the lack of any sweet taste whatsoever. The woman did bring out another drink which was a bottled banana wine made by nuns in the area, this was much tastier but still not what I expected and at 10% you couldn't have too much. Who knows what percent banana beer was, it would have to be a lot to make it worth it!
Bottle cap tiling on the floor. 

Before we left Stewart we had to get money out to tip him but it took us attempts at four different banks before our cards were accepted (Barclays is the saviour in Tanzania, despite it's UK reputation!). We said goodbye to him outside the bank and thanked him for giving us a real and different insight into some Tanzanian history, scenery and cuisine. We all agreed it was a fun and exciting, if not bizarre, way to spend our day off. Afterwards we wandered to the supermarket to get food for tomorrow which was the long drive to start our big leg of independent travel. Instead of going back to the hotel we decided to eat somewhere in town, it was cheaper and after last nights bill fiasco we decided it was easier to eat with less people.

An easy option was the Coffee Lounge, we had become worryingly local to them over the past two days but as good it is to absorb the local culture it's nice to get a rest from street sellers every now and then and just drink your coffee.  The food was simple but very good, it wasn't cheaper than any local places but it was still cheap by our standards. One reason I am very glad we went there was because I ordered their banana smoothie for the first time which was the best smoothie I think I have ever had. It might have been because I couldn't remember the last time I had fresh fruit (other than the obligatory watermelon at breakfast) or because the bananas here are some kind of wonderful.

THE Banana Smoothie
 The taxi ride home was much simpler than the previous night as the Coffee Lounge staff members organised it for us and we arrived back before the rest of the group with minimal driving violations. Back at the hotel we met our guide who was going to be taking us on safari tomorrow as well as taking us to Zanzibar later in the week. His name was Muskim Mush and he was joined by his younger brother who made up the president and vice-president of their tour company Homelands Adventure. They were both pretty young so it was quite impressive they had set up a whole company between themselves to a pretty high standard. Best of all they understood we were young and so suggested stopping at an off licence on the way to Zanzibar (even during Ramadan?!). The briefing didn't tell us much more than we already knew but he did tell us of a ferry crash on the Zanzibar route which we were oblivious too, but I doubt our parents were. It ended on the note that we had to leave the hotel at 7am. So off we went to pack late into the night before setting disgustingly early alarms.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

"Recovery" Day - 23/07/2012

Waking up feeling as if we had been engulfed within a marshamallow came as a surprise after our first night down from the mountain. However we weren't going to laze around all day, we only had eight more days as much of Tanzania as we could squeeze in.

Three taxi's for 17 people and many forms of health and safety rules out the window, we arrived in the centre of Moshi. Our first port of call was the somewhat familiar sight of a Barclays bank branch. Although in the UK Barclays wasn't making a great name for themselves, here in Tanzania they would be our saviour on many occasions. After not being quite sure how much money I had just taken out after losing count of the zeros I headed over to the Buro de Change. Tanzania has taken advantage of it's weak currency by forcing tourists to use dollars. This does mean you are constantly working with three currencies in your head. If you can manage a few phrases in Swahili and know how to work Tanzanian shilings then you will be well on your way to getting a price to your companions.

This was our first encounter with Tanzania away from the mountain, on the mountain there are foreigners everywhere. Downtown Moshi is a different story and we were hawked down whenever we saw sunlight. Luckily with a little polite Swahilli and the ability contain my emotions and not flip out at them I could walk around surprisingly freely. The streets were covered in brightly dressed vendors with equally bright personalities selling everything from oranges to mattresses. For being at the foot of one of Tanzania's biggest tourist attractions (literally), Moshi still appeared to be a town for locals. This was all true until you started reading signs and they were highly anglosized cramming in any western reference possible. I think my favourite one was a tiny stall called the "Hilary Clinton Shop."

Moshi market
We took shelter in the highly westernised café called the Kilimanjaro Coffee Lounge which a man on the street said was "a favourite of the whites." I went off with a separate group that decided it would be more fun to embrace this hectic little city we were in. As a whole group, we were heading out on Safari in a couple of days but I, at least, wasn't the type to let these days go to waste. Across the street from the cafe was the Hotel Kindroko where we could book a number of excursions out with Moshi. Without little bother at all we managed to organise a tour the next day out to a waterfall, coffee and banana plantation, a cave and most importantly (to me) we got to try some Banana Beer.

Feeling proud of ourselves we headed into the market hoping to find some local street food. The market directly opposite the Western café our friends were in turned out to be a pretty local market selling hardware supplied and food staples. The food market itself was a sight to behold and it laughed in the face of health and safety. Slabs of half slaughtered cow were plonked on wooden benches under the hot midday sun to give any nearby flies their lunch. We decided mangos were the best way to preserve our insides, for now. In Tanzania, it is illegal to drop litter on the ground and when our personal rubbish bag broke and a mango skin fell on the pavement one of the locals took advantage of this and posed as a policeman. We were about to buckle and follow him to "his office" until we noticed other locals fighting in our corner, we weren't scared to walk away.

Ugali and the mystery stews
Fleeing the crime scene, we headed into a Tanzanian equivalent of a Gastropub. As we nursed our 'Kilimanjaro' beers we were fed a selection of Tanzania mystery stews and ugali, a form of cornmeal that you roll into a ball and dip into your concoction. While the group in the other cafe were paying about 21,000Tsh a piece, we paid that for all six of us- that's about £1.30 each! Smug and equally satisfied we headed back to meet the other group who were only just gracing the market with their presence. I had read in my guidebook that the coffee in these areas is some of the best in the world so I wanted to see what the fuss was about. The coffee is probably as fresh as you can get it with coffee plantations all around Moshi from tiny household plantations to much larger corporations. You truely can taste the difference; a fly landed in my cup halfway through and that didn't stop me from finishing it.

Half the group headed back to the hotel while the rest of us went in search of a small artists market out beyond the centre. This meant navigating our way through countless street sellers, Moshi's Dalalala stands as well as it's main roads. Trusting not much more than our gut instincts, we found it and although it was smaller than anything in the centre there was a much greater wealth of interesting souveniers. The stall owners were also a lot less pushy than those in the centre, they let you peacefully look around and only start the bargaining when you do. It's safe to say we all still came home with several things we didn't really need, mainly gigantic  painted canvases of elephants.

Something I never quite picked up on before coming to Africa was the sheer amount of dust everywhere. It's not instantly visible and doesn't get in your eyes or face, it's gets on your feet and legs. It doesn't just get on your feet, it get's all over them and in between your toes. I walked into our restaurant for the evening as if I had been spending the day knee-deep in mud at a music festival. However those who have been to a festival, or third world countries know that tissues are a must for the day bag.

Our restaurant was made up of two kitchens one serving Indian food and the other Italian, hence the name Indioitaliano. The restaurant appeared to be a haven for anyone not wanting to go anywhere near the local cuisine and was filled with westerners waiting to enjoy their favourite imported dishes. Our group slowly arrived and seventeen refreshed students filled up four tables and, naturally, proceeded to get drunk. Compared to British standards the food took longer than people were used to but I imagine the poor waitress wasn't fluent in drunken English. Before the drama of splitting the bill spiralled into madness, the half of us at the drama-free end of the table were bunked into another cosy taxi.

London cabbies are known to past a test known as "The Knowledge" where they must be able to recite any potential route in the whole of London turn-by-turn. There is no such equivalent in Tanzania. We thought repeating the name of the hotel would help our driver but the go-to British tourist strategy didn't work this time. Eventually we got back to the hotel, being the first to leave the restaurant but the last to get back to the hotel and everyone had accumulated on our balcony and we continued playing to the student stereotype we do so well.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Reason's I love the Dutch.

Their Plane Food.

They have signs like this on their trains

They love passenger

They know how to do chips Pulp Fiction style.

They are the politest people I know

They love long coats

They sell an amazing gouda with cumin seeds in it

They gave us Tiger Bread and Stroopwafln