Saturday, March 23, 2013

Tanzania, Exploring Stone Town : Day 14

We woke to the sounds of the call to prayer in the dark after a night of enjoying our freezing air con (so nice in this heat, and with these angry red welts all over). The kids came in to see us, and then off to breakfast on the rooftop here, enjoying the view over Stone Town and to the sea, a couple of blocks away. We set off straight away, walking through the narrow alleyways, trying to trend towards the old slave markets and the fresh food markets, but just wending our way through all the crooked alleys. The streets were very clean, swept, with small rubbish piles hidden in corners. People were slowly going about their day, no tourists yet, kids already in school. We found our way fairly directly to St Monica's Caedral, one of only 2 cathedrals in Stone Town (there are 54 mosques) which is the site of the slave markets that finished in the 1870's. 

After paying our $14 entry for the 6 of us, a guide met us and took us through. Zanzibar was the main slave trading centre for east and central Africa, with Ghana the west African centre. Thousands of slaves were traded and auctioned on this site for several hundred years. We were shown the holding rooms underground, lit only by very small windows at ground level in which 75 people would be chained together, cheek by jowl,  hunched on the concrete step (their waste would collect on the floor). Turnover was fast, so they were never there for more than 3 days, but the ships were even worse, housing 609 people on a boat built to accommodate 451. We also admired the cathedral itself, complete with a crucifix made from wood of the tree that Dr livingstone died under. The mahogany pews came from Cyprus, the alter from India, the Carrera marble pillars from Italy. Typical church, no expense spared, built on the site of the slave trade. 

We then wandered past the university and the Hallie Selassi secondary school to the main fresh food markets. Wow, what an experience that was. We started with the fish market. It was more than the kids could bear, so I stayed outside with them while Charlie went in to take some shots. Then into the fruit, veg and spices. So many spices. Fresh garlic, ginger, onions, bananas the size of the kids lower legs, green mangoes from Pemba, the next island to the north, cucumbers (tango in Swahili), avocados, leafy greens, apples (we haven't seen them since leaving home), lemons and limes. Unfamiliar tropical fruits - jackfruit, breadfruit, and presumably the horrid 'bum fruit' on our plates at breakfast (it had orange flesh, looked like papaya, tasted terrible), as well as the familiar. Distressingly, many of the fruits were cut open and utterly covered with flies. The locals didn't shoo the, away, leaving us to wonder if they didn't know about flies and disease. 

The spices looked fantastic - baskets full of fresh saffron, little bags with 20 vanilla pods in them, whole nutmeg, turmeric, seeds, pods and ground. We didn't buy any - everyone seems to understand fairly well that in the land of the kangaroo (the response whenever we say where we are from), we cannot take them home. We wandered through some of the other alleys, seeing the stalls and then small shop fronts selling everything else - hardware, nappies, pharmacy, toiletries, washing powder (seriously, a separate shop for each), clothing, haberdashery, pool toys (no pools in Stone Town), stationery, electrical goods. Everyone was pretty hot by now - it was only 10.30 or so, but it was stiflingly hot, we were all very sweaty (I was about the sweatiest I have ever been) and the kids were getting overwhelmed (heat, noise, crowds). We wandered back towards the hotel, keen to get back out there without the kids to look again. So we did.  We got the kids settled with Gran, the air con, plenty of water and the tv playing cartoon network, and off we went. 

We wandered through different streets and found our way pretty quickly back to e markets. We were approached by a man very quickly who wanted to show us his spice stall. We said we were Australian, and he understood immediately, but said he'd show us around. He took us through the fish market, asking stall holders for permission to take a picture. These markets were revolting. The heat, the smell, the flies all over the fish. The shelled mussels in little piles, covered with flies and getting drier by the second, the shark with its fin cut off already, the big tuna drying out, kingfish, swordfish, prawns, whitebait, white fish, squid, octopus, snake fish. The smell!

Next, the meat market. Slabs of meat hanging from hooks, still hot, still flyblown. All the offal, including stomachs and goats heads, complete with hair. A buffalo head with horns attached. The smell here was bloodier. And often the men were smoking as well!  Solomon then led us to the chicken market.  At the entrance were men with plastic buckets with chicken in them, often whole, sometimes with water also to wash it, sometimes cut portions. As we ventured in further, we could see in the dim shed that there were many baskets, all filled with live chooks, ready for selection and slaughter. Thus all the buckets of water to wash them off. It was amazing - such mangey, unappealing birds. He then took us through the shed to the food preparation area behind, the women tending the fires, preparing the fish curry, cooking the rice, ready for the lunchtime rush. We only saw one dead rat here, along side a dirty discarded child's bunny toy, and couldn't help but wonder which was the more disease ridden. We did marvel at the constitution and gut flora of the locals. 

Solomon led us to a coffee us for a cool drink, insisted his tip should be higher than the 10 000 TSH we offered (he accepted 20 000 - about $14), for his kids education, and we then wandered back to e hotel to collect the family for lunch. I love just weaving my way through the streets, just as I did in Venice 11 years ago, seeing the locals, how they shop, trying to fathom some idea of how they live. We would occasionally find ourselves on a more touristy path with souvenir shops, but soon ducked off onto quieter alleys again. The girl at the hotel desk recommended the local italian restaurant for lunch, so we walked the 3 minutes to get there. what a hit!  The service was particularly warm and friendly, the kids ate all their food (bolognese, lasagna, and a nutella pizza for the lad, while we had pizza and eggplant), followed by gelati. There was a quick rainstorm while we were there, overlooking the water, so we were able to see the rain come in, and ten the clearing sky. We could also see the sand bar a little off the shore, with boats on it for picnickers. 

After lunch, some quiet time at the hotel while Charlie sought out beer to accompany his photo downloading. The kids were wanting to rest and watch tv some more (2 weeks without tv til now has been a record, it seems), I think they are also a little over the crowds and heat.  I soon joined Charlie so we could explore some more - we hadn't seen the main buildings on the waterfront, nor that side of the town at all. So, off we went, back into the sun and the heat. The main street with the most important old buildings was terribly shabby. The 'house of wonders' housing the museum is closed after a piece of balcony fell on a tourist last year. Repairs can only be done with UNESCO approval.  So it seems almost nothing gets repaired. Most of the buildings here were build in the middle of the 19th century, so are about the same age as much of Adelaide. It hasn't aged well. Built with poor materials, poor workmanship and no ongoing maintenance work, there's rust and decay everywhere. It adds a certain charm, but really is a mess. 

The Customs House and another palace were here also, along with the formal gardens. After we had done our obligatory walk past whilst getting idly hassled by touts offering to guide us or arrange tours for tomorrow, we dove back into the back alleys. I can't even describe it right now, other than to say - look at the pictures. We came across a little square outside an Islamic school.  It was 5 pm so the kids had just finished for the day and were playing outside, waiting for parents to walk or scooter them home. We sat on a wall on the edge and watched the children play, taking surreptitious photos. It was a delightful way to spend 20 minutes or so. We walked back home, finding our way increasingly easily.

We bought a few souvenirs today - some woven scarves, and a few Christmas decorations - a nativity scene and some angels for the tree. A sundress for each of the girls, a flag for Luca, and some cheap jewelry. We had a drink on the rooftop bar here at our hotel, watching the sunset, catching up with FB, cooling down and hanging as a family again.  Then dinner in an Indian restaurant, walking home slowly in the dark, refusing taxi rides (so few of the roads are wide enough for a car - where could a taxi be taking us anyway?) and tours for tomorrow, and enjoying the evening. Shower the kids, supervise teeth cleaning and reminding them we are leaving again tomorrow, this time for the beach. So spoiled. 

Tanzania, Fly to Zanzibar : Day 13

Another bright and early start, accompanied by animal sounds, and we pack up camp, another breakfast of tropical fruit, smokey fire toasted bread with butter and jam and bacon and eggs. Luca made me a cup of tea, as he had been charging around all morning - first one up, first one packed, first one with his gear in the car, ready to go. Mark joined us for the drive to the airport - we still saw so much game - dikdik, impala, topi, wildebeest, hartebeest, 3 lions resting in the shade, we closed our windows to keep the tsetse fly out (the kids killed 9 of them), buffalo, giraffes, zebra, and another hippo pool full of pooping, snorting hippos. 

We made it to the airport in good time, and stood around talking to George and Mark. They were both such lovely men. Mark played games with the kids, taught Luca some knots using his shoelace, then taught him how to lace his shoes a different way. Our pilot, Sean, came over to greet us, and we walked our bags over and onto the plane. He asked if Luca would like to sit in the front with him, as we had a full flight and the co pilot seat would need to be used. The Wayo boys stayed by the runway, waving as we taxi'd down the runway, and still waving as we took off almost directly in front of them.  Luca fell asleep in the cockpit within minutes of takeoff, as did Milla next to me, much to Big Charlie's distress. He would have loved to be in the cockpit. It was great flying over the land we had been driving over for the last 10 days. We saw another huge cater near Ngorongoro and many Masai huts in circles with a cattle yard in the middle - we hadn't been aware of that when driving past. The landscape changed from the wooded grasslands and open grasslands to much lusher forest in the hills and on crater walls, then to drier land as we approached Arusha.

  We flew to Arusha first, landing on the basic airstrip. We clambered off the 12 seater and went around the other side of the plane to identify our bags so that they could be tagged for the onward flight. we then walked across the tarmac to a transit shed - just a tin roof, no walls. After a few minutes, we were ushered to another area, at least there were toilets and a couple of shops there, still not many walls. The kids and I bought some souvenirs, we all ate our packed lunch, and waited until the next instructions. We were told to go to the only desk, where we wrote down our names and passport numbers on a piece of paper. This was check in. No ID checks, nothing electronic, a handwritten boarding pass that didn't include names or seats. Old Skool. Eventually, about an hour late, we were led over to our 'Tropical Air' plane, a bigger propeller plane. We were second on - the first couple sat right by the stairs at the back, so we had to wait for them to stow their bags before we could proceed to the front. The cargo hold was directly in front of us, the plane was a Russian plane at some point, going by some of the labels, and the Swahili signs were written in texta with neat horizontal pencil lines to keep the writing straight!  Hilarious. Again, Milla snoozed, Luca and Charlie played, and we landed in Zanzibar an hour or so later. Poor old Milla's cough is no better at all, and she is a bit snotty, gets suddenly pale a couple of times per day and has been sleeping a lot in the car. It has been odd this trip to have both of my kids actually leaving the dinner table to go to bed, at their own request. Dinner here always seems to be at 7.30 at the earliest, which is much later than we are used to, but the kids are rarely asleep before 9 at home, so I have been surprised, especially by Luca. I have a doctors appointment already booked for Milla when we get home. She's been coughing for months, and it has been alarming to spend all this time with her and realize how tired she is, more so than the other kids. 

At Zanzibar, we passed through a form of passport control - we again had to write our names and passport numbers on a piece of paper and hand it to a lady in uniform before passing through and waiting for our bags to be brought from the plane on a trolley. We were met by our driver who helped us with our bags across the muddy gravel car park, and then the quick drive through Zanzibar town to Stone Town, the old district by the waterfront. Zanzibar town looked similar to Moshi and Arusha - a main road paved, then with dirt roads coming off it, buildings made of found objects with Pepsi, beer, and washing detergent ads. Funny how we see so much promotion of Pepsi, but have not seen it for sale at all - it is all coke. 

Our hotel, Kisiwa House, is lovely. An old stone 4 story house, wooden stairs (not all even), but quality workmanship in the rooms for the tiling etc - the best we have seen in this country. We have a small sitting room, and enormous bed and a nice bathroom with a big bath. Just as well, as I had a big load of washing to try to do. Nothing actually gets clean when I am hand washing like this, but hopefully we get some of the stink out. At least we had not worn many different clothes when we were camping for the last 5 days - I had only worn 2 different tops and 2 different pants, neither of which I bothered to wash - they can wait until we get home. The kids pants were filthy, but again, I did wash them out but don't expect them to be worn again before we get home, if ever!

Stone Town is a falling down, decrepit area. We found the touts again, but are better at walking on. There are a lot of young travelers here, so old retirees, few families. It is a Muslim town - there is the call to prayer, women dressed in black from head to toe, and men in traditional long pale dresses, with beaded caps. There is a little school just behind our hotel - just desks, chairs and a blackboard, and Arabic script. The waterfront is filthy, and we actually saw some young men back their ute up and dump their rubbish into the water. Mind you, we can see no rubbish bins anywhere. 

We decided to have a drink at sunset on the balcony at Africa House, as suggested by our driver. We climbed the rickety, wobbly, wooden spiral staircase to the balcony. It was soo hot - at least 35 degrees with high humidity. We were all sweaty and flushed. We ordered a couple of drinks and snacks and 3 liters of water - the waiter didn't believe us!  The drinks were bland, the water almost cool, the sun went down beautifully, the snacks were ridiculously, insultingly small, and then the power went out. No music, lights, fans or eftpos. We paid cash, walked down the stairs in the dark (Luca fell and banged his knee), and walked home. We ate in our hotel restaurant, seafood platter for Charlie, chicken curry for Luca and Charlie, pasta for Milla, steak for Gran and fish for me. $90 for 6 of us, with drinks - cheaper than home, convenient, and every last bit was eaten - the first time Milla has finished a meal in a fortnight. 

The cool shower was blissful, getting into clean clothes was even better, and I was able to assess my histamine reaction to the bush. Oh dear. I have horrid, angry red welts around my ankles, my knees, behind my shoulders, at my wrist and on my left forearm. They are a combination of tsetse fly bites and grass prickles, I think. And they are sooo itchy. Cortisone cream applied, telfast swallowed, air con on to keep cool, and then to tackle the 300 emails received, and catch up on Facebook :)

Tanzania, The Lion Sleeps Tonight : Day 12

Our walking safari started at 7, when Mark asked if we had heard the lion roaring at around 10 pm, followed by the saw like sound of the leopard, which was just in the rocks adjacent our camp. Hyenas had also come through the camp overnight, getting into the kitchen stuff, eating the chocolate for the brownies (oh no!!), pooping out the chocolate, tearing the trash open and throwing that around. The men were up a few times during the night trying to secure their section of camp. Apparently we were all ok - we heard nothing, slept fine, and had been warned in any case to not venture out of the tents during the night. 

Mark explained the procedure if we were to be charged at by a lion - to shout and wave, which often works, before they have to shoot. We set off, seeing the hyena tracks on the ground. We spotted much animal poop of the various antelope around, elephant, zebra, buffalo, even a lion paw print in the softer mud a few hundred meters from camp. We saw where lions and leopards had scarred the trees by climbing them with their sharp claws. Mark showed us the mud left by warthogs on the tree.  The mud was very dry, and he pulled some of it off to look for dead ticks encased in the mud. Milla found a warthog hair in her patch of mud! We saw no animals for the first hour, which had Mark and Daniel concerned as the presence of lions was the only explanation for the lack of game to be spotted. We did hear a low noise as we set off, which Mark though was probably a lion giving us a warning growl. 

Eventually we saw some small animals - rock hyrax, a dikdik, a few hartebeest, some topi, but they were all very scattered, and we were seeing them from 100 - 200m only. Agama lizards (they look like spiderman, especially when they are crawling up and across a rock face), many birds, a few insects. Lots of dung to observe, and we climbed a rock where we had seen some baboons to see the view.  Sitting up there, catching the cool breeze, Mark told us some stories - about warthogs and how they pair up, and about the honey badger and how they get the honey anyhow their farts make bees faint!  We talked about what animals we had seen, and Mark concluded that we had seen all there was to see - he was particularly impressed we had seen the honey badgers. 

We got back to camp soon after 10, so we all sat and scraped the grass seeds out of our socks and pants. Gran went and showered - the water smells of the smokey wood fire, as the water is heated in steel buckets by the fire and poured into plastic buckets to then top up the canvas bucket shower.  Charlie charged his laptop from the car by the men. The bread for lunch and dinner was being baked in the steel oven box alongside the fire. Most of the bread is a little black on top, but gee, they do an awesome job of preparing these meals for us with just a fire. Most of the rest of the day was spent quietly, writing, reading, photo downloading, snoozing, as well as another UNO championship. The girls taught Gran to play the other day, but I think she felt she was being ganged up on when she was not winning. Charlie and Luca got a fire started with Charlie's flint, some loo paper, grass and sticks, whilst the girls read and did puzzles. A very peaceful afternoon. Charlie and Luca realised they had caught their dinner (fish a few days ago), shot an arrow (with the huntsmen), started a fire today, thrown knives (hmmm, that was today), and then charged batteries using the solar panel charger. Real men.  

Lunch today was pizza with a bread base! With salad, and brownies. Hurrah!! Charlie jnr has scored on the food front - we have had lasagna, chicken curry, pizza, and then tonight, mince samosas followed by beef stroganoff - all her favorite foods. She has eaten really, well.  Milla has not. We didn't expect it to go that way, but hey, what can you do with 8 year old girls?  

Our afternoon walk was a short one to a nearby Kopjes, and a rock that Mark said was the very rock from 'The Lion King'. He brought wine, beer and coke in his backpack and we all sat atop this rock, admiring the view of the plains for miles around and the sun went down. It was truly magical. Mark told us the story of evolution, as well as another fable, while we tried to recall the dreaming stories to share. We didn't do so well. On our way down, we noticed one of the rock figs had very fresh scratch marks on it - from a leopard, in the last 24 hours. It was almost certainly from the leopard we heard last night. And less than 200m from our tents. We are keeping the kids close by. The baboons make all sorts of dog like noises, and these noises are coming from all 4 of the Kopjes surrounding the camp. 

It is our last night in the Serengeti. We are glad to be close to electricity to charge everything, a hot shower to wash my hair (yikes - 5 days with no shampoo for me), flushing toilets and so on, but it is a little sad to know that we are leaving this environment and may never be back again. We really have had a brilliant time out here - it has exceeded our expectations, and the kids have really enjoyed it as well.  They have coped very well with the slower, dare I say boring bits, they have developed the awareness of their relative privilege, as I hoped they would, and they have had the chance to see some of these animals we only see in documentaries, in cartoons and at the zoo. They are aware they are lucky, thank goodness. From here, the history of Stone Town, and then the beach!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tanzania : Day 11

Moving from our camp near Moru Kopjes to a more eastern area for a walking safari

A tough night with a protesting belly, more rain (nothing like walking through the long, wet grass in the rain, in the dark with wildlife somewhere out there, to go to the wet open air, long drop loo), more odd sounds outside - this time it sounded very much like grass being pulled and eaten. The kids seemed to sleep ok, though. 

A quick shower in the morning cool and drizzle (we call it invigorating!) then breakfast again of fruit, toast and eggs, then on the wet boggy roads heading east. We saw the elusive, viscious, nocturnal honey badger running through the grass - perhaps an adult and a youth.  They darted into a thicket, disturbing a hyena who came out, wondering what the fuss was about, and who decided it must have just been us. If he has realised it was a honey badger, he would have run away very fast. It took us a moment to spot them again, running in the grass further away from the road. 

We saw a small herd of retired buffalo - the old man herd who tend to stay where there is grass and water, often near lodges, camps and rangers where grass is watered and lions are not usually too close. They no longer can run with the full herd, but they don't need to eat as much as the younger beasts. When they do meet up with their original herd, someof them will still have mating rights being older but still strong. Others will just be old, and no longer with much respect. 

We saw Banded mongoose eating termites and scorpions (they live in abandoned termite mounds) by the side of the road, looking quite similar to the meerkats (none of those around here).  A small snake slithering across the road, a small leopard tortoise crossing the other way. 

We stopped at the Serengeti Visitors Centre to have a look at the interpretive trail, find out a bit more about the animals (a crocodile can eat only once a year. He prefers to eat more often, no doubt). Milla felt very sick suddenly, dry retching on our way to the toilet. She hadn't eaten breakfast, dinner or lunch, so that was catching up with her. After some lemonade and popcorn from the shop, her color came back, and I think we'll see her being less fussy about her food. The airport nearby was busy with a couple of light aircraft and a dozen or so safari trucks. 

We drove on, heading east and the landscape changed from the grassy plains to woodland.  It was drier here, far less muddy and a much less treacherous drive. Thank goodness. It was slow going earlier. 

The flies are prolific around here! Little black flies, so many of them that the kids have caught and squashed a dozen or so for their travel diaries. There are also tsetse flies - smaller than a march fly, but still a stinging bite. I have a small mark today on my left arm from a bite yesterday. 

Everyone is very quiet in the car, driving in the sunshine, through the long grass, dozing, reading, watching 'Jaws' on his iPod (say). The plains are so vast, alternately teeming with wildlife then quiet. We came across a pride of 8 lions, resting in the shade of an acacia sapling, only a couple of feet from the track.  They looked at us as we drew alongside, a couple wandered away into the thicker shade, but several stayed close. They were likely all brothers and sisters, the boys with only a sparse mane. They all had quite full bellies - not as bloated as the ones we saw the other day, but these were not hungry beasts.
This area is only used by Wayo tours, so the animals here are not used to humans. Often the only humans they have seen have been poachers, so they will tend to keep away.  We came across a few groups of antelope - topi, impala, grants gazelles, and hartebeest, separated into female and bachelor groups. A few zebra joined them as well. 

Klipspringer on the Kopjes, adjacent to our new camp - so many bloody tsetse flies!! Our new guide, Mark, took us for a brief walk up the closest Kopjes to survey our surrounds. It was a tricky climb, but Gran managed most of it, and the view was spectacular. 

The countryside is very reminiscent of Alice Springs after rain - just as I saw it when we were there for Easter a couple of years ago.  It makes Charlie quite homesick.  We had a quiet afternoon before our walking safari with  Mark and his .458 and the ranger, Daniel with an SMG .338. The flies were terrible, as were the grass seeds in our socks and shoes - I wished I had gaiters!  We walked away from camp, seeing dikdik, klipspringer and hartebeest tracks, then seeing the beasts themselves. Mark talked about the middens we saw - each of the antelope tend to poo in the one place each day to keep their exact whereabouts secret from predators. We saw baboon poo on the rocks, looking very like person poo, and Mark explained about the various plants we saw, bugs, and the ecosystem. There were many broken trees, courtesy of the elephants, playing an important role in providing cover for saplings as well as habitat for small animals. Rock ficus, marked by leopard scratches and elephant tusks, growing on the rocks and splitting them over time. 

Mark showed us flowers which locals use to induce abortion and leaves used to cure stomach ulcers and disinfect hands. We saw buffalo that were keeping an eye on a lion on another Kopjes as well as on us. We didn't venture closer. Our two guides kept an eye on that lion, but were surprised when Milla suddenly asked 'is that a lion?'. Sure enough, on the rocks right next to our camp, was another lion, quietly watching us. The baboons usually hang out on this rock, so they were displaced to the next one over, although one baboon was hollering and carrying on. We don't know if he was calling to his buddies, wondering where they were, or yelling at us to keep away from the lion. I wonder if he'll make it though the night. 

Showers for all when we returned, and washing out some socks and jocks again. It is nice showering in the fresh air - something to think about for the dream house one day. Milla is a bit freaked out about the lion so very close, so will sleep with me tonight, the two Charlie's together and Luca will keep Gran safe and sound, as usual. The flies disappeared with the sun, leaving just the myriad other bugs and the ticks. This is our second to last night camping, so as much as an actual room with an actual bed, and a flushing toilet, will be nice, we aren't going to hurry the time away. Dinner was chicken curry and rice after pumpkin soup, followed by fruit salad again, whilst lunch was chicken with salad and chips, followed by chocolate brownie. Those brownies were good! Luca thought they were *almost* as good as mine ;)