Tanzania

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"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.


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Stoner Bat Cave 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.

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Safari Day 1 - Lake Manyara - 25/07/2012

At some ridiculous time in the morning we were bundled into two converted landrover discoveries and started the eight hour drive to Lake Manyara National Park. We drove through the scenery you would picture when you think of Africa, especially as a child: expansive dry plains and the occasional maasi warrior herding cattle and you expect Simba and Zazu to appear at any time. There is definitely a reason they have so many national parks here. Along the roadside young Maasi boys would walk in black robes and white face paint to represent the healing process after their transition from boys to warriors, also known as circumcision. The Maasi definitely rule these plains and was very refreshing to see such a prominent tribal lifestyle, something that is almost extinct in Europe.

Before going to the national park itself we drove to the nearby town called Mto wu Mbi which was where our hotel for the night, The Holiday Fig Resort, was located. We stopped to drop our things off, get our rooms and have a spot of lunch. The rooms we were staying in were made up a single long bungalow detached from the main hotel. There was a swimming pool in front of our rooms that actually looked quite enticing even if it was not chlorinated. The rooms themselves were quite simple with comfy beds, nets and a safe. The windows however were merely mosquito nets separating you from the outside world and the exposed electrical fixings above the shower reminded you you were still in Africa.

Our lunch was your standard African fare of carbs with a side of meat stew and soon afterwards we headed to our first national park, Lake Manyara. While Muskim signed us all in we wandered around in the surprisingly informative car  park under the blistering midday sun. After registration Muskim clipped open the tops of the landrovers to give us the experience of standing 4x4 driving.

For the first few minutes we eagerly eyed up and down trees looking for any form of movement. Our driver Sebastian had been driving these safaris for years and had an eye for spotting camouflaged creatures. The park started with a jungle where we spotted water bok and baboons but moved on as we started to get concerned by how close they got to the car. The jungle soon opened up into plains and you could almost hear the circle of life playing in the back ground. Immediately there were animals everywhere; a zeal of zebras grazed underneath jackalberry trees and giraffes chased each other at a surprisingly fast pace. There were also countless wilderbeest, buffalo and even more baboons.

Even though you were surrounded by your childhood picture of the African wild you kept forgetting it was actually the wild. There were so many safari groups everywhere it felt like a safari park rather than a national park. The jeep full of Asians wearing protective masks and clothing protecting them from dust and any other potential hazard, except am impending stampede or attack, didn't help. The rotting carcasses made it feel a bit more wild though. Flamingoes stretched up into the horizon around the lake and the jeep zig-zagged back into the jungle. Eagle-eyed Sebastian managed to spot an elephant. The Swahilli word for elephant is 'tembo' and I think it is one of those words that just perfectly describes the elephant and it's docile plod. At some points we got so close we could have easily just reached out and touched  them.

We continued driving looping through between the long shadows and golden rays of the evening sun and headed back towards the hotel before the national park descended into darkness, dusk being it's most active  hour. Before dinner, the brave few of us headed into the pool in an attempt to clean ourselves, since we decided the risk of cholera was less of a threat than electrocution from the showers. We thought it would be nice to get some beers from the hotel 'bar' which was essentially a fridge and anything that wasn't there was fetched from the local market. The hotel provided us with a wonderful display of endless food with more variety than we were used to, including the exotic quesadillas and home made guacomolé. Following dinner I ended up staying up until about 3am chatting, which wasn't going to work out well when the mosque woke me up at 4:45am to conveniently start the next day.

Safari Day 2 - Ngorongoro Crater 26/07/2012


Sunrise above Lake Manyara

There was no need to set any alarms as the mosque next door had Fajr morning prayers and a loudspeaker to do the job for us. Despite the fact I only headed to bed just over an hour and a half ago, I was surprisingly perky as the prayers rang out at 4:45am. Breakfast was served at 5:30am and the hotel continued to pull out all the stops in the food department serving us the luxury that was warm toast, pancakes, omlettes and the most impressive part was the appearance from a familiar jar of Nutella (Holiday Fig Resort if anyone is in the area). Muskim had also bought some local filter coffee, alas there was no caffetiere but that didn’t stop most people at this time in the morning, or at least it was to early to notice the difference.



Ngorongoro Crater



An African Traffic Jam
We were bundled into our respective jeeps and other than to watch a sunrise above Lake Manyara, most of us slept straight until the entrance to the gate of Ngorongoro Crater. It was a lot colder there and we had to dig out the down jackets that we had packed deep into the depths of our rucksacks. There were also some more aggressive baboons in the area so time out of the jeep was limited. The first part of the safari was foggy and not the kind of weather the Lion King advertises. Initially I was worried we wouldn't see anything at all but as we descented into the crater a lion appeared out the window. The crater was fairly sparse at first with safari jeeps out numbering most animals but there was more diversity than Lake Manyara. One problem because of the early rise (and late night in some cases) was that we kept falling asleep during the drive but the excitement of a cheetah chase was enough to wake us up! We stopped for a toilet break near the hippo pool and all the trucks and toilet facilities reminded us that a national park isn't really the wild at all. Almost simultaneously everybody seemed to fall asleep but woke up at the view point where we could see across the whole crater which was much bigger than the drive seemed. Then again that could all come down to one piece of Safari advice I can now give you - get an early bed the night before.


After Ngorongoro we had the long drive all the way back to Moshi and our beloved Midlands Lodge. We stopped at Chrisburger which is a heavily westernised restaurant near the centre of Moshi but turns into a club at night. TripAdvisor calls it a "seedy dive" which is demonstrated by condoms being on their menu. When we got back to the hotel where our rooms had all been switched around and we had to be in pairs so I had to bid farewell to Team Disaster but hello to a night in a fancy little room with Sara. It was a shame we were only spending about four hours in the hotel room - something we were shortly going to be coming accustomed too!






Africa isn't all shacks and huts!


That Day We Were on a Bus ALL DAY (Moshi - Zanzibar) 27/07/2012

Now, that is the title I had in my journal and although it sounds horrendously boring I have four and a half pages dedicated to it in my journal so let's see...

4:30am was slowly becoming our regular rising time and we were once again leaving our loyal base at Midlands Lodge. We were also getting used to spending more time sleeping in our converted jeep than any hotel room. Today we were heading all the way to Zanzibar driving from Moshi to Dar es Salaam and then catching a ferry to Stone Town and then another drive to our hotel. We'd probably be on the move for about 14 hours...

For the first three hours Dan and I were respective pillows before we stopped for breakfast, but nobody explained how to order or where. We ended up playing the Tourist Card and getting away with merely pointing at things if we wanted them. Back on the bus there was - not surprisingly- more sleeping. We were all pretty shattered even after a few near misses on the road before arriving in Dar es Salaam. Dar es Salaam is very built up and modernised but it was so noticeable considering where else we have been and it was strange to see a skyscraper again.

When we arrived at the port we all had to hand our passports to Muskim so he could get our tickets, probably as dodgy as it sounds. Getting lunch was a challenge with a team heading out in the middle of a city with a large Islamic population during ramadan to try and get food. Even once they got it we had to eat it secretly which is quite a task at such a busy port. Eventually Muskim arrived back with our passports just in time for us to leap onto the boat to try and find some floor space. The boat was actually much fancier than I had expected with lots of seats and an air conditioned economy lounge as well as a first class lounge. Seating didn't really matter as even most of the floor was taken up as well. I didn't mind standing up on the upper deck as eleven hours on a bus was enough sitting for one day.

The two hours on the ferry sailed by (I couldn't help myself!) and we were greeted by the picturesque skyline of Stone Town. The calm was quickly interrupted by the havoc of the ferry landing where we had to fill out immigration forms and get a stamp in our passports - they obviously like to still classify them selves as a separate country but I won't complain, I'll take the extra stamp! Also you could skip the yellow fever certificate if you pass the officer some money under the table. Stone town has a pick and mix of buildings from colonial palaces alongside traditional Arabic architecture. Dhows were clustered around the coast as the sun was beginning to set casting a rose sheen over everything. Sunset also meant another thing - the Fondoni gardens food market came alive. Mainly a seafood market but filled with other culinary delights and the perfect dinner stop. Being a seasoned seafood lover I found the tandoori lobster surprisinly questionable and the scallops were like hardened rubber but the shark was amazing as well as the fresh sugar cane juice. The market is a feast for the nose but it can be a bit of a hit or miss for the other senses. Also like us you may think 13000tsh (~£5) is a good deal for two seafood kebabs but realistically 5000tsh (£1.99) is the local price. Alas, your eyes will always be impressed!

On the Tanzanian mainland there were hundreds of stray dogs but on Zanzibar there were hundreds of stray cats and kittens - apparently descended from those that were on cargo ships to control the rats. After dinner Muskim was taking us to "a really cheap liquor store" as promised but only after attempting three ATMs and experiencing several card swallowing scares - apparently it is common for ATMs in Zanzibar to just break on the weekend. We all went a bit crazy having been away from the toddy considering we were actually only drinking for two nights. For the first time a drive wasn't accompanied by sleeping and instead by nostalgic 90's music where we realised how young Craig and Stuart are.

Our hotel was called Kendwa Rocks and was made up of a group of bungalows that seemed pretty secluded on the beach but realistically there were a bunch of resorts all along the coast. Apparently we didn't get the rooms we paid for but this holiday had put me off luxury as I would just feel guilty now - so I was perfectly happy with what we had! There was a bar on the beach showing the Olympic's Opening ceremony which was in London and as soon as everyone else clicked on to the fact we were from the UK they aimed their looks of confusion at us - only to have them sent right back. I was wanting to stay up and see my dear Federer carry the flag for Switzerland but by the time it got to Laos it was already 3am so I headed off to bed - but not until a quick dip in the sea!

When in Zanzibar... 28/07/2013



Nine o' clock felt like a lie in compared to the past few days but I could have happily stayed in bed much longer. After a fancy breakfast I showered which was entirely pointless as I ran straight into the sea. The weather wasn't cooperating much but even with clouds the water was tantalisingly warm and often warmer than the surrounding air.

Paradise!
Some of the group were heading off to go on a fishing trip with local fisherman but since I could do that anyday back home I decided to take some time for myself and write my arsenal of 21 postcards. For lunch, a group of us headed to a bar next door where we realised that the prices in Zanzibar were triple those on the mainland but the food was ten times better. Zanzibar cuisine is very seafood based and lobster makes a regular appearance on menus, and is not just crabsticks, cooked in curries with a coconut milk sauce. Back to the beach and I found a hammock to write my postcards while nursing a tia maria and coke. Ahhh Paradise...

In the evening there was a Full Moon Party - despite the moon not being full - and we were used to seeing everyone looking rather dishevelled and unwashed so it was fun to dress up a bit. Some people were already tipsy at dinner but my Scottish liver was resilient as ever. For dinner we headed down to the hotel restaurant which was on the beach and luckily we got a nice waitress who turned a blind eye to our not-so-subtle swigging of "water" and "coke". Even after pizza the majority of our group were in full "drunk-Brit-abroad" mode and some were even escorted to bed *cough* Jill (no surprises there).
Thomas' moves

Back at the restaurant there were fire breathers and some phenomenal dancers and strange Michael Jackson tribute act. Then they opened the floor up to us, probably not their best move, but Thomas' alcohol infused moves got everyone else in the bar on the dancefloor. The night was spent dancing to "Waka-waka" which seemed to be on loop, spotting a wild Cougar Kyra (if you get what I mean), crashing on - and off- of hammocks before finishing with a midnight swim. Well that wasn't strictly speaking the end of the night as it took until about 4am before I got Emma dressed and Kyra into a bed -be it hers or mine. Snorkelling should be fun tomorrow!

Chunder Snorkel

After getting to bed, well Kyra's bed as she passed out in mine, there was a mere four hours of bliss sleep before breakfast at 8am. Today we were going snorkelling - probably not best for our fragile bodies and let alone Kyra's still drunken body. I wandered along the beach to the snorkelling office in the hope that Emma and Kyra would manage to fall out of bed and stumble along here. No later had I arrived did I turn round and see Pasty and Edina came crawling along the beach.

The snorkelling boat was a traditional Dhow and we joined another group who scowled at us for being in Africa time. To the relief of the crew and our already pissed off fellow passengers none of us threw up over the side of the boat. However we all had lost more of our sea legs than usual but there were plenty of places to curl up and sleep alongside the sound of the waves and gentle rocking of the sea.

We parked up next to a private island so we were allowed to swim around but couldn't actually go to the shore. We donned our flippers and snorkels and got an hour and a half in the water to play with the fluorescent fish and test the ability of my waterproof camera. Surprisingly, most of the boys went back onto the boat to do a spot of sunbathing while the girls stayed to be not-so-graceful mermaids in the sea. If you have a hangover and a lot of money I can highly recommend coming to Zanzibar and going snorkelling as in banished all of our hangover woes - well except Emma who added a bit of Scottish class to this paradise. After a few leaps off the top of the dhow - and leaps of faiths from bikini tops - we were taken to a nearby beach to have lunch. This was one of those beaches you think of when you say paradise with white beaches and turquoise sea. The crew had prepared us freshly caught barbecued tuna and kingfish which was combined with a dip in the hot-bath-like ocean waters -bliss.

The trip back to the hotel was relaxing for everyone as the sail was taken out and we just drifted back to camp. Well, this was true for everyone except Sara who made the mistake of saying she needed to pee and so had to jump off and awkwardly float in the water in front of several boats while she did her business. Also by the end of the trip I was battling with some pretty severe sunburn I had picked  up while snorkelling which was making it's way down the entire back half of my body.



After relieving myself with slopping on the cocoa butter we headed further along the beach - which was how to find cheaper food in Zanzibar. By now my sunburn was screaming and I had to resort back to my room to have a cold shower before crashing on my bed lying on my front in my underwear in an attempt to cool down my back. Typically, at that point everyone decided to come into our room for a chat but I was in too much pain to notice. Two hours later I got up from my sun-coma and thanks to an ibuprofen I felt fine so headed to see everyone around the campfire. As idyllic the scene was, everyone started to head to bed as a group of us were off on some tours around Zanzibar so had to set our alarms early once again.

Spice Tour

A ten hour sleep had become somewhat of a rarity in Tanzania but thanks to my agonising sunburn and an ibuprofen I managed to catch one. This morning was another busy day: we were off to a spice plantation and a tour of stone town. Our group of eight managed to get our own mini bus (dalalala) and a nice guide Mohammed and Muskim was there too but who knows where he was going.

The spice plantation was essentially a massive community garden for the village and Mohammed was joined by a younger guide who couldn't have been older than 18 but knew his way around the plantation. We are all used to seeing spices dried and bottled but this tour allowed us to see all kinds of spices in their wild form. First we had to guess the spice by smelling the leaves but I can tell you that black pepper leaves don't smell much like they taste but trying peppercorns through any doubts out the window. Our young guide had made us cups out of leaves to keep our spices on us as we collected more and more: coffee robusta, lemongrass, cocoa and jackfruits. Cinammon was initially given to us as a bark which smelt just like Vicks vapour rub and that is exactly what it is used for. It is the bark that is actually used for  making cinnamon sticks and powder.

As we were guided towards a coconut tree a man was climbing up the tree using just his bare hands, some rope made from coconut husk and his own singing voice as encouragement. He climbed up to the top and grabbed some of the biggest coconuts I've ever seen and started throwing them down to the ground forming a big pile. As he hopped backed down he offered anyone from the group to have a shot
only to fail quite miserably - at least I made the photos look like they got somewhere. After that exertion the coconuts were cut open and I was transported back to a beach in Brazil some years ago as we drank the real coconut juice. The flesh of the coconut was very, well, fleshy and didn't taste like those back in the UK.

Lipstick Plant
After the first necessary tip to our impressive coconut guide we were handed bracelets and ties made from leaves - I think you can guess where the next tips were going. The next stop was vanilla pods which smelt gorgeous and are the second most expensive spice in the world after saffron. Zanzibar used to produce 80% of the worlds cloves but that has decreased dramatically but there is no escaping the spice as it is found in all of their food and drink - I swear it was even just pumped through the air. The following two plants were an example of the natural brightness of the natural world; the first being tumeric which was hard to miss and the lipstick plant which produces a red wax used in lipsticks.

Near the end of the tour we were taken to a little stall with bags of spices neatly stored and we were told - in classic African style- that we can choose what we want and then discuss a price. For us westerners shopping without a price was hard! There were all the spices you could imagine and packaged into beautiful wooden boats and butterflies full of spices. There were of course several  I'd never seen before and a personal favourite was banana essence. There were also familiar spices but under an alias - Nutmeg for example was advertised as a female aphrodisiac "to make woman not shy on wedding night to fulfil man's desires." At this point we had also acquired bags, frog necklaces and crowns made of grass and leaves.

Our final stop was with a man with a table of fruits and a man with a bucket who handed us several fruits. Some were familiar like mangos and lychees but others didn't even sound real. Take 'soursop' for example which was a spiky fruit with a taste somewhere between grapefruit and banana and a texture just as hard to describe.




Stone Town

Africa House
We bundled back into our dalalala and met other members of the group in Stone Town and went for a spot of lunch - not that most of us needed it. Now, trying to find something to eat in Zanzibar during Ramadan is something incredibly hard to come by but there are one or two restaurants catering to holiday-making westerners. Although restaurants were far to come by, the Zanzibar food market was bustling as ever and tlthough the smell of the fish market was pretty unappealing, the endless counters of spices and fruits made up for that. Mohammed (our guide) took us through the infamously winding streets of Stone Town to the famous sites such as Tipi's house (a notorious slave trader and plantation owner), Africa House (now a luxury hotel which used to be a members club for British expats) and Freddie Mercury's house - which was a person pilgrimage of mine. The central market of Zanzibar is essentially rows and alleyways of curio shops and souvenir shops but it still hasn't "sold-out" like other tourist trap towns. We rounded up the tour with a visit to the Slave Chambers before looping back to the coast to the House of Wonders. By the name it is not a surprise that you would think that the house is some kind of house of mirrors but actually it is only called House of Wonders because it was the first building in Zanzibar with electricity let alone a working lift (which ironically is now out of service). Nowadays it is Zanzibar's 'National' museum which is rather minimal except for the massive boat parked in the foyer. One of the best treats is the balcony on the third floor which offers wonderful views over Stone Town and the Indian Ocean.

Freddie Mercury's house
The Narrowest Street in The World (I presume)
House of Wonders


A group of us decided to stay in Stone Town for the evening while the rest went back to the hotel as we were promised a lift back at 8pm. Since we were leaving Zanzibar at 5am tomorrow with no chance of breakfast we planned ahead grabbed some mangos and ridiculously cheap spices back at the food market. I was under the delusion that I knew where I was going but this is Stone Town - no tourist knows their way around Stone Town. In the end you just have to follow your feet and see where you end up. The sun was setting but the smell of amazing food was rising from stoves set out in the street. Our feet began to respond to our stomachs as we searched for something to eat. We decided to follow the sunset as we knew that would take us to the sea and our pick up point but we ended up in the complete wrong direction. Serendipitously though we stumbled across an Ethiopian restaurant which looked very civilised for Stone Town but was just as welcoming as the rest of Stone Town. The menu involved choosing a selection of vegetable or meat stews which were served with a large pancake called an injera. The moment the food arrived was a special one: on the table was a wicker tangine and the waiter came along with a massive plate with the injera and several bowls of mystery stews we had ordered which he poured out one by one. The waiters then washed each of our hands by pouring warm water from a clay jug and handing us a glass of Tej which is a delicious honey wine. The injera was used instead of cutlery to scoop up the stews and we were all virtually silent until the plate was scraped clean ten minutes later. As a final courtesy the owner called our driver to get us picked up from the restaurant as the sun had set and we had no idea where we were. We paid and left a very large tip feeling very satisfied with life. The sad thing about finding a great restaurant in Stone Town is that you will probably never find it again but if you want to try for me it was called Abyssinian Maritim!
The Tej

We spent the drive home on the bus in awe of our day - well mainly our meal. Our driver joined in on our conversation and told us about himself and how he was about to get married as well as telling us facts about the area - such as the town of Tutu which served a short railway line between the Sultan's home and a spice plantation. I spent the rest of the drive gazing at the full moon out the back window before stretching out and falling asleep on the back seats taking a major swadge [Orcadian word for the rest after a big meal].

Back at the hotel we felt smug about our life choices and even more so when the rest of the group told us of their mediocre day and disastrous dinner at the hotel. The evening was a bit of a come down as it was spent packing and sorting out our hotel bills before getting back to our 5am time schedule.




View from the 3rd Floor

The Travelling Begins... Zanzibar -> Moshi

After being dragged out of our beds at half past five in the morning we bundled onto a minibus and drifted into a calm world of sleep only to be essentially frightened awake at Zanzibar port with the chaos of immigration and boarding. Not really aware of what was going on we were rushed onto the boat which was more than full and we all sat on the floor of the upper deck. The boat ride was spent partly trying to stay awake and partly failing at that. I managed to fall asleep in a pretty impressive -yet comfy- position just hanging off the side of the boat. I woke up just in time to see some dolphins as we approached Dar es Salaam. Arriving into Dar you are always taken aback by how built up and commercial it seemed as all you see on TV from Africa is a mud hut and the cast of the Lion King.

We were shuttled into a dalalala only to be taken to Dar es Salaam bus station to be loaded onto a public coach - a somewhat luxurious experience compared to the rest of our transport experience. For example not only was there air conditioning but also a TV showing films but a lack of legroom that we had become accustomed too from our folding seats in the dalalalas. The lunch break offered a super spicy chilli for 5000tsh but only if you could eat it in under five minutes. Once the films had ran out we were given the joy of some strange Tanzanian Wife Swap, singing hotel owners and music videos with grown men bashing their heads on each others bums. Only in Tanzania. The view out the window was at least a lot nicer with the sun setting alongside Kilimanjaro creating those long shadows and the moon appearing at the other side.

My attempt at recreating the view with a camera
Our coach dropped us off somewhere in Moshi at around 8pm under the cover of darkness where we were bundled back into a beloved dalalala. We were taken back to our Tanzanian base, and normality, at Midlands Lodge and fed some classic Tanzanian cuisine for the last time. Since it was our last night we had to frantically pack and get our bags under 23kg and charge our ipods for the long drive to Kenya.







Unleash the Choas!

My arsenal of postcards
A brave group of us headed into Moshi in two crowded taxis to run some last minute errands in Tanzania. This included the buro de change, bank, supermarket, souvenier shops and the post office for me to post fifteen of my twenty-one postcards. The post office was another reminder of African Time as it took about 10 minutes for anyone to come and see me but that gave me time to practice how to ask for my stamps in Swahilli which made both me and the teller happy. Naturally we all congregated at the Coffee Lounge for the last taste of the wonderful coffee and sweet banana smoothie - we even managed to get the recipe. Our taxi driver back to the hotel was especially cheery ,especially after our tip as we were trying to get rid of Tanzanian Shillings.

We enjoyed the "best breakfast in Moshi" for the last time and headed towards Nairobi with Kilimanjaro sitting high in the back window. At the Tanzanian border we were offered the option to walk across the border which was like a level of Frogger as you tried to dodge trucks coming from what seemed to be nowhere. At the Kenyan border we were greeted by visa forms which was only slightly better than desperately needing the toilet but being denied the use of one without paying 500 Kenyan shillings to a rather unofficial looking toilet attendant.

The Kilimanjaro Coffee Lounge Coffee :D
The drive to Nairobi was very uneventful compared to what happened next. We arrived at Nairobi airport at six o' clock although our flight wasn't until half past eleven that night. All was fine until check-in opened and we discovered the first problem of the night: Kyra wasn't booked onto the flight. Childreach still had her down for a direct return despite having said they had sorted the problem on three separate occasions. Several stressed phonecalls later and not much had been solved and Kyra's parents had to fork out the price of the remaining seat on the plane - in business class.

We hoped that would be the only disaster to strike but hoping only gets you so far. We boarded the plane and got comfy watching films and drifting off to sleep. After falling asleep on my second attempt of watching 21 Jump Street I woke up feeling light headed and dizzy so headed straight for the bathroom where I fainted and then proceeded to be sick in the toilet. Being the hypochondriac that I am I assumed it was malaria and said my kudo's to timing. However on emerging from the bathroom everyone commented on my yellow complexion just as our team leader- Jane- suddenly reached for a sick bag and I realised it was obviously something more contagious. Understandably we barely noticed that we had been stationary for two hours but the pilot announced that there was a problem with the weather radar and after attempts to repair the fault they would have to replace it. This meant our flight was cancelled and we would have to stay in Nairobi for a night as well as missing all of our onward connections. By this point I wasn't 100% aware of what was going on and one by one members of the group were running to the bathroom or finding the nearest bin as they caught the Nairobi Express.

Our hotel room in Nairobi. Even with gastroenteritis I had
blogging on the brain!
We were shepherded through visa control as we got stamped back into Kenya for the third time. Our leader was now in a wheelchair and I was experiencing what I can only imagine was nothing short of contractions so we were rushed to the front of the taxi queue - to the surprising distaste of others in the line. Jane, Keith and Jill headed off in a taxi as Jane needed to go somewhere to lie down straight away but when we got on our dalalala we were taken to a different hotel. We all thought we had checked into this five star hotel but it turned out their wasn't enough room for us - probably to do with acquiring an extra American girl and Swiss man to our group- but I was too busy being a classy bird and throwing up in their garden to notice. The group crashed out in the hotel lounge thinking this was more than suitable accommodation for the night but Dan managed to organise another bus to a new hotel. Dan was our absolute rock for these several blurred hours as he somehow wasn't getting ill and managed to sort everything as well as delivering great hugs to the infected and effected. It was about 6am by now and we were all crashing out on the ground outside and although the bus ride was short I still managed to continually find use for the sick bags from the plane. I was rushed to the bathroom as soon as we arrived and I barely had time to notice we were in the fanciest hotel I have ever seen and it was the same one I had eyed it up when we first arrived in Nairobi. A Swiss airline paying for our accommodation is one of the silver linings of  our flight cancellation - if only I was physically fit to enjoy it!

I got the first glimpse of myself in the mirror and I couldn't work out if it was the artificial lighting or my face giving off the yellowish glow. Kyra and I were still the only ones in this group showing symptoms so we quarantined ourselves in a room. We concluded we couldn't take anything into our bodies as it just came straight back out again. Lets just say that the taste of mango juice has been well and truly ruined. The time in the hotel was a complete blur as we were too ill to enjoy any of the facilities and the paid buffet breakfast was definitely out of bounds so the night was spent moving between the toilet and bed as we caught up on the nights sleep.

We Should be in London


The night was spent in a state of unconsciousness only interrupted with trips to give the toilet a not-so-friendly hug. Kyra and I groaned awake and turned on the Olympics to give us sense of cheer. However this only reminded us that we should already be in London by now and glistening pool water in the swimming reminded us of how we had expelled all of the water from our bodies in the past 24 hours and our mouths were as dry as Ghandi's flip-flops. The third member of Team Disaster (Emma) was still feeling fine so we sent her to get us some bottles of water from reception even if they were $4 each. I got a phonecall from Jill at the other hotel and we were getting more information on our onwards travel at 1pm but also the three of them were all suffering from the sick bug. In our hotel Stewart, Fiona, Rich and Amy had all contracted the bug making that more than half the group infected with Nairobi Express as I liked to call it.
Swiss Air were pretty good to us considering...

I'd managed to hold down half a litre of water and I was beginning to think I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. I managed to drag my carcus out of my bed to the shower and even down to the buffet lunch even though I was still unable to stomach anything solid. At 2:30pm we were taken back onto the bus and I got to enjoy the feeling of being one of the healthier members of the team - that wasn't to say I still didn't need regular toilet trips but the dizziness was wearing off. As a final grand gesture, Dan managed to get boxes of food from the buffet for when we were ready to stomach it - what an absolute hero.

Orkney sure gets around! (Kenya)
Arriving at the airport was comparatively stress free but several members of the group were feeling rough around the edges and this time Keith was wheelchair bound. The plane journey began with Thomas and I synchronising our TV's to play the cheeriest album on offer (Katy Perry's) as we were ecstatic just to be leaving the ground. The flight was a blur of people being sick and although I was feeling comparably better I crashed out only to wake up in a hypoglycaemic state barely able to keep my eyes open, feeling sick and sweaty with tunnel vision but the in-flight meal came to the rescue just in time. Even then I could only stomach enough to make me feel better. I fell asleep over Ethiopia and was out for the count until half an hour prior to landing in Zurich. In that time Kyra had been a visit from business class and was now offering her seat up to others and the rest of the group had used up most of the sick bags in economy.

Thomas and I did find ways to amuse ourselves.
After landing in Zurich we had plenty time to enjoy the sleek architecture of the airport as we were taken to a transfer desk to rearrange all of our onwards travel. A flight to Manchester was offered for those wanting to get closer to Scotland so half the group chose that option while the rest still had ties to London. So the group was going to be split sooner than expected with Dan, Tom, Cameron, Kyra, Emma, Rich, Amy and I going to London and the rest to Manchester. Our booking was made courtesy of Swiss Air along with a hotel voucher for the airport Hilton as out flights were in the morning. By the time we got to the hotel it was 2am  giving us a mere three our sleep before your 5am shuttle bus to the airport. By this point we were getting used to sleeping whenever and wherever possible.


The Last Day of Kili Kids

Three hours since our heads hit the pillow we were back up and off to the airport. I was just happy to have a sleep that wasn't interrupted by trips to the toilet... In a zombie-like state we packed up our gear once again and headed up to the lobby. The first shuttle was full so we had to wait for the next one but time was pushing on so we would have preferred to exchange this Swiss efficiency for African chaos where all seventeen of us would be crammed into a mini cooper. Swiss efficiency, however, became beneficial when checking in with a mere 15 minutes until it closed.

The group then inevitably separated into their different flights - it was sad to be split up so soon but leaving in stages made it all a bit easier. The plane to London was smaller and we were already accustomed to TV's in the seats so wondered how to pass the time in the short haul world. A mini-miracle happened on the flight as Cameron managed to find a family friend (whom he had never met) who was on the flight and who was able to take him from the airport to near Northampton which was where he was going. Probably one of the best small world coincidences I've ever seen.

When we landed in London there was a mix of relief and sadness as this was all coming to an end. It was the middle of the Olympics in London but we couldn't help noticing how quiet Heathrow airport was but you still couldn't escape the bright pink and smiley stewards. Kyra collected our bags - having got out of business class ages before us- while we tested out the e-passport machines that couldn't recognise our dishevelled faces. A man approached us and tried to sell one of us his foldaway bike for £200. We laughed as we thought we'd left the bargaining and haggling back in Africa. Dan agreed at £50 but almost immediately - as soon as we started walking- he regretted the decision. Thomas and Rich left us at the coach station and then there were two.

Dan and I repeated the journey we had carried out merely 20 days ago yet so much had happened in between.We weren't expecting an easy ride as we got on the Tube with two rucksacks, a foldaway bike and our day packs during rush-hour. We were the second stop on the line so getting a seat wasn't a problem  but as we got to the centre we were surprised by how empty the train remained. I thought London was meant to be intolerable during the Olympics? The kinds of people on the tube were also so different to the wonderful people we were used to. They were all in their own little bubble - not looking at you or talking to you. Everyone was dressed in varieties of grey and the kids were complaining about not getting things their way. At this point we started planning out escape back to Zanzibar.

When I got back to the flat all I wanted to do was shower, put on clean clothes and get my photos on facebook. I managed to do all that and then meet Natasha at the Southbank centre and it was nice to see a friendly face again but the strange contemporary dance was too much of a culture shock. I headed back for a good nights sleep as the post holiday blues were hitting hard already.

My Own Personal Slice of Chaos

Due to all the previous travel disruptions I had missed my train back to Scotland and so the parents booked me a flight for the next day. I was not ready to leave London - I felt really at home here and as soon as I hit the ground in Orkney my Kilimanjaro adventure would be over.

Gatwick was half an hour from Heather's flat on the train but I was still in Africa time and Heather thought my flight was later than it was so we were already cutting it fine when I woke up. I would arrive at Gatwick 15 minutes before my gate closed but I headed there thinking I might actually still catch the flight. When I got there I had only ten minutes and rushed to the Easyjet bag drop  but my heart sank when the man said I was in the wrong terminal. I was sure I'd followed the right signs but alas not. At this point I broke down in tears while waiting for the shuttle train to the other terminal. There had been so many problems getting home that the frustration finally got to me.

When at the right terminal I was annoyed as my flight didn't leave for another half hour yet I wouldn't get through security in that time. I went to the sales reservation desk and there was a nice woman there who probably saw my red eyes and smudged eyeliner. She booked me onto the next flight to Aberdeen for only £50 extra - luckily I had my Dad's emergency Singapore dollars to exchange. The flight wasn't until 08:25 the next day so after a sobby phonecall to my parents I got my boat to Orkney changed and booked myself into the airport Premier Inn which was a 5 minute walk away - just incase.

So there I was still stuck somewhere but I was glad I had another day in London to say goodbye. Liz and Ruth Flett - fellow hockey players from Orkney- were on the same flight as I was meant to be on and said my name was called several times over the speaker system - I've always tried so hard to avoid that happening. I got showered and changed before heading into London for one last time, more specifically I wanted to head into the Scandinavian Kitchen again for some Kladdkaka but by the time I got there they had sold out! I wandered around aimlessly for a while and saw a woman carrying a massive wooden giraffe like the ones sold in roadside shops in Africa and then on the train back to Gatwick the woman next to me was listening to Hero by Enrique Inglsias which was a favourite of William - one of the Kilimanjaro guides. It all got me a bit nostalgic.

The next day I was up at 5am just to ensure I was on time for my 8:25 flight. I had an amazing full english breakfast - the English REALLY need to discover tattie scones- and went a walk to the airport with all my luggage. This time I rolled through security and got on the plane. I was relieved to just get to Aberdeen - which rarely happens. It is never usually a joy to see the boat back to Orkney as it means there is a torturous seven hour journey coming up but at this point I was just excited to arrive at my destination. Now this should have gone plain sailing (pun) but as we were crossing near Fraserburgh the boat made a rapid U-turn. Things were falling off tables and everyone was rushing to the windows to see what was going on. There was talk of someone jumping over the side but from this distance you couldn't see anyone in the water. They were right though as lifeboats were deployed and went in search of someone/something. There was no announcement except for all staff to go to the Bridge but the passengers were clicking on to what was happening. The boat found the man and heaved him onto the deck and started CPR but if you had seen the body you knew he was already dead. I was sitting next to a -heavily pregnant- Resusitation doctor who went out to assist while the air ambulance arrived. The air ambulance came from Fraserburgh and took the body away and then just like that we headed away again. It was so bizarre - I don't think that's every happened before and it was pretty traumatic for anyone on board. The man died later in Fraserburgh infirmary and it was an expected suicide as apparently he was alone on board and witnesses said he looked pretty shaken up on board.

Finally I was back home reunited with my beloved dog and my final destination. It felt like quite an achievement overcoming gastroenteritis, 1 cancelled flight, 2 missed flights, one missed train and one missed boat.

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