Posted by: bjhansen74 | June 26, 2010

Tanzania: Lake Tanganyika

While Lake Victoria was impressive, it was also quite polluted due to industry, invasive species, and heavy use, so we headed south to Lake Tanganyika (the 3rd largest fresh-water lake in Africa) and found an idyllic camping spot next to the pristine lake. Andrew heard from a fish biologist in South Africa that we had to go and see the beautiful fresh-water fish (cychlids) at Lake Tanganyika since it harbours over 500 species that are endemic only to that lake. This is more fish species than the fresh-water lakes of the US and Europe combined.

So, we dug the dusty snorkelling gear out of the back of the truck, headed down to the beach, and snorkelled along the rocky shore where we saw fish of various colours, shapes and sizes. It amazed me that fresh-water fish could be so interesting after growing up near the Lake Michigan in the Midwest US where fish are a bit more drab J. We wound up snorkelling a hand full of times and tried out my underwater camera which captured a minute detail of what we actually got to see. Still, 2 days on the lake spoiled us for any other snorkelling we might try along the way.

Advertisements
Posted by: bjhansen74 | June 26, 2010

Lake Victoria

After 5 exhilarating yet full days in the car from Dar es Salaam through the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti, we dropped Matt and Edie at the airport and said our goodbyes… And it was time to de-pretzel our bodies and stretch out a bit before getting back in the car! We stayed at quite a unique place run by a South African called “Tunza Lodge” right on the edge of Lake Victoria – the largest fresh-water body lake in Africa. Tunza included beach bungalows and was set in a garden right complete with a restaurant, beautiful beach, volleyball court, lounging chairs and a tree-house.

During our travels we were repeatedly asked how we could leave South Africa during the World Cup. For the most part, we answered that it was the perfect time to leave the country but the excitement and build-up to the World Cup left us with a desire to catch up with the latest news and learn the status of Bafana Bafana (the South Africa team.) The Tunza restaurant came alive with fans whenever an African team was playing, so we watched South Africa play to Paraguay.  Even though South Africa lost, it was exciting to be a part of the spirit of African fans watching the first World Cup played on African soil and cheering for teams from their continent.

On our first night at the lodge, I discovered a beach-front yoga class was being held in front of our bungalow. This was perfect timing as I so badly needed to stretch and an added bonus – got to watch the sunset over beautiful Lake Victoria.

While we were on Lake Vic, the owner of Tunza lent us his catamaran to go sailing. Andrew re-discovered his sailing skills as we sailed past cormorants, rock formations, and islands on the lake. It was a perfect way to finish our r&r-out-of-car time…

Posted by: bjhansen74 | June 26, 2010

Serengeti National Park

Remember history class and hearing about “Australopithecus” and “Homo habilis” and “Homo erectus”? Well, we visited the Olduvai Gorge which is between the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park and is where Mary and Richard Leakey discovered the “missing link” skeletons of prehistoric humans connecting us with primates… We managed to take a few re-enactment photos of what that looked like as well…

And then, we got to the Serengeti… We’d heard of the massive herds of up to 1.2 million wildebeest migrating through the Serengeti but didn’t think we’d catch any of the action… But on our second day in the Serengeti we caught thousands of wildebeest herding together after crossing the Grumeti River. On the Discovery Channel, they often show footage the wildebeest crossing the Grumeti and an unlucky few getting taken out by eager crocodiles lurking in the depths. As it turns out, we saw herds crossing and a lazy crocodile attempt on a few occasions to capture the wildie’s with no luck. Made for some great photos though!

The Serengeti is an amazing expanse of savannah and grasslands where herds of animals roam without fences surrounding their habitat. It is “old Africa” where we saw incredible numbers of zebra, gazelle and wildebeest on the plains. Matt was eager to get close to a grass fire as it was happening so we drove to a wildfire area and watched excited marabou storks and other birds waiting to feast on grasshoppers and other insects as they flew away from the fire. The heat and crackling of the fire coupled with “clouds” of insects and birds scooping them up made us feel a real part of the natural cycle.

After Zanzibar, we sadly said goodbye to Allison and hopped back in the truck with our friends Matt and Edie and drove to an area called the Ngorongoro Crater. The Tanzanians have figured out that they can charge high entrance fees and people will still flock to see their natural areas! So, we paid $130 each for a 24 hour period to get into the park, drive into the crater, and camp.

Basically, we went to a big volcanic hole that had some of Africa’s largest animals within its borders. Our books says, “[the Ngorongoro Crater] is the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera, and a shoo-in contender for any global shortlist of any national wonders… Its floor serves as an extraordinary natural sanctuary for some of Africa’s densest large mammal population”

In the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation area we saw the beautiful and distinctive Maasai who live and co-exist with the wildlife. The Maasai are nomadic cattle herdsmen who have long inhabited Kenya and northern Tanzania, men and women alike are adorned with bracelets and draped in long blankets and often the men have red-dye in their braided hair.

In a six-hour period (max time we could be in the crater) we saw lions mating, lions napping, black rhinos, elephants, buffalo, wildebeest, warthogs, flamingos, antelope (bokkies), cranes, storks, and other critters. It was an amazing experience and really spoiled us for our 2-day trip into the Serengeti National Park…

We almost got to spend the night in the crater! Andrew was so busy snapping photos that we made it to the gate after it was locked. Matt and I jumped out of the truck, around the gate and started running up the rest of the way yelling to anyone who could hear us to let us out. In the meantime, a guard with an AK-47 quietly walked up to the gate and unlocked it and the truck moved through. Gratefully, we returned to our camp so we didn’t have to spend the night with some big kitties. We did have a zebra herd in camp, though, and watched a young energetic zebra run laps around our tent. Great day!

Posted by: bjhansen74 | June 26, 2010

Zanzibar: Matemwe (a.k.a. beach paradise number 2)

After Stone Town, we departed for the beach paradise portion of our Zanzibari journey to a small coastal fishing village called Matemwe in the north-eastern part of the island. When we arrived we were blinded by the white sand and extreme blue-green water. We stayed at a place called “Seles Bungalows” which was run by a British ex-pat and her Zanzibari business partner… We arrived to “The Best of Celine Dion” belting it out from the more-than-adequate loudspeakers. Turns out Celine was a favourite of all the male staff and it was fun to hear them all singing along in their best falsetto. After the 3rd time through the Celine cd though, we requested some other music. They seemed a little disappointed…

The best part of Seles Bungalow was what we referred to as “The Clubhouse” – think “Gilligan’s Island” the place where they all hung out and had meals… On the ground floor of our open-air Clubhouse was the restaurant and bar with games, local brightly coloured table cloths and super friendly staff. The upstairs included a lounge complete with couches and (the best part) a huge hammock from where we could see palm trees and the beach. Andrew and I could fit in it and wound up reading and falling asleep most of the days we were there. Putting the capital “L” in the word “Lazy” was our mission.

In the evenings we ate at our Clubhouse – catch of the day that ranged from tuna to barracuda to prawns and calamari. It was lovely food and we ate a lot more than we should have given our level of activity for the day! We

One of the reasons we chose to stay in Matemwe was because of the snorkelling. There is a small island reachable by fisherman’s boat (dhow) called Mnemba Island that is supposed to have “the best diving / snorkelling in Zanzibar”. We arranged for two local fishermen / snorkelling outfitters to take us in their boat. Andrew, Allison and I have all spent time on boats, but this was the most raucous and extreme we had ever experienced as our captain hit the speed hard and we were tossed from side to side. The snorkelling was incredible. We spent more than 3 hours swimming around the island seeing schools of fish of all colours, shapes, and sizes including parrot-fish, eels, and clown fish (like Nemo) tickling themselves on the fingers of bright anemones. We even had dolphins come close by and revelled in the experience.

Posted by: bjhansen74 | June 25, 2010

Zanzibar! Part 1: Stone Town

Zanzibar was always one of those far-away and exotic places that I thought would never make it to… So when we were doing all of our trip planning for these 3 months on the road, it was enticing to imagine what it might be like. As I did more reading, it became one of the destinations I was most excited about visiting. After our visit, it exceeded any pre-conceived ideas I had about it.

 We took a 2-hour ferry from Dar es Salaam to Zanzibar leaving our bakkie on the mainland. So, we had to do some serious downsizing with our packing as we would be walking once we got to Zanzibar. Allison, Andrew, Matt, Edie and I departed with a backpack each and a vague idea of where our exotic-sounding Clove Hotel was in Stone Town, Zanzibar.

Zanzibar is similar to Hawaii in that it is made up of a series of islands the main island which is called “Zanzibar”. When we arrived from the ferry, we were in the midst of Stone Town which is the capitol of Zanzibar (which considers itself it’s own country but is in reality more like a territory of big brother Tanzania) Zanzibari Stone Town dates back 600 + years ago when the Arabs used it as a trading port was a major spice, slave, and economic port. It is also known for its beautiful intricately carved (mostly teak) wooden doors that adorn each building – no matter how “lowly”. It is called “stone town” because the buildings are built from stone. (!)

As we arrived in late afternoon, we heard the “call to prayer” which is a recorded prayer broadcast from each neighbourhood mosque loudspeaker system. We could hear 5 or 6 of the calls to prayer from varying levels of closeness. What an amazing experience! Zanzibar is 95% Muslim. We were surrounded by Zanzibari’s moving about their daily business – fishermen getting back from their day at sea, women in beautifully coloured cloth head-coverings (called hajab), children running and playing on the street, and vendors ready to sell us just about anything. It was all a bit overwhelming after coming from rural Mozambique! But the sights, sounds, and smells that greeted us were intoxicating and we were excited to experience more.

The Clove Hotel (where we were staying) was in the middle of Stone Town and we walked in, threw our stuff down, and went to the 4th floor (penthouse suite) where there was an outdoor café, sat and watched all of Zanzibar busy below. Our outdoor café became a spot of respite and relaxation in the middle of a bustling city. We could see out in 3 directions (including to the port), lounge on the sofas, and have our breakfast and lunch there. Each of our rooms had carved Zanzibari beds complete with mosquito nets. Allison and I called them our fairy princess beds J

While in Stone Town, we had some amazing food! I LOVE CURRY – and Zanzibar delivered. We had fresh coconut curry most nights. Whether it was fish, vegetables, or chicken, the coconut and spices brought everything to life. And since the fish is caught and spices and coconut are grown right there all of the food was super-fresh. We at out at a restaurant called “Two Tables” on our first night in town and had a fantastic dinner in the home of a couple who kept bringing us more and more wonderful food – 6 courses in all. Fresh spiced vegetable soup, chickpea dhal / curry with chapatti (Indian fry bread), fish curry, fresh juice (best ever combo: passion-fruit, avocado, custard apple, and lime), and then banana in coconut sauce for dessert. Good thing we had a long walk home, because we were stuffed. 

One of the absolute highlights was going on a “spice tour”… We went first to the market to buy spices for lunch that was to be prepared for us. The market was an amazing mixture of “stalls” separated into the fish, meat market (J), fruit, spices, etc. with customers placing orders and a lot of bargaining / haggling – not a place for peace and quiet!

We then went on to the spice plantation and were shown the plants and trees that various spices are derived from. Among the spices, we saw the cinnamon tree with bark that smells and tastes like cinnamon, the clove fruit of which the middle (or seed) is the part where the clove is ground from (and is arguably the Zanzibari spice) and vanilla pods that had to each be hand-pollinated because the pollinating insects aren’t present on Zanzibar. Two local youth climbed coconut trees and brought down green (young) coconuts which were cut open and handed to us to drink. It was such a refreshing treat on a hot day! The tour ended with a delicious meal that was prepared and eaten with our tour guide, Ali, on the floor of a thatch building with a blanket spread picnic style. Altogether it was a great day and fun visit to Stone Town – now for the beach part of paradise…

Posted by: bjhansen74 | June 25, 2010

Pushing it on the Road in Tanzania

Ok, so we were really pushing it to make it to Dar es Salaam (Dar) in one day from the Mozambique border. We were in the south-west part of Tanzania and needed to be in the north-eastern most part. BUT, we were in high spirits as we crossed the border early entering Tanzania from Mozambique. The border guards in Tanzania were delightful, capable, and friendly as they taught us some Swahili phrases upon entering the country. Tanzania has 2 official languages: English and Swahili. We left our extremely limited Portuguese behind in Mozambique and moved into completely new territory with Swahili in Tanzania. At least in Mozambique, we could sort of “fake it” with our limited Spanish and French and a lot of sign language. We learned “Habari” for hello/greetings, “Assante” for thank you, and “Hakuna Matata” for no worries (really!) that is used in almost every exchange.

 Allison, Andrew and I were excited as we watched our GPS estimated time of arrival keep going down with the beautiful roads in Tanzania. Paved roads with no potholes, woohoo! Matt and Edie were supposed to arrive at 8:20 p.m. at the Dar airport, so we were looking GREAT for being at the airport on time to get them.

Hah!

Throw in some road construction (road works) Africa style and the whole “schedule” gets tossed out the window. I was driving the bakkie (truck) and saw traffic congestion ahead. Thinking that it was a bunch of trucks stopped at a weigh station, I moved into the right-hand lane and passed a bunch of ‘em. I was enjoying myself immensely passing everyone until a traffic official came towards me and made me HALT. This was the beginning to the longest 50 mile stretch of road of my life. The paved road ended and the WET MUD began.

We saw street vendors selling oranges, water, lunch, cigarettes, etc. and realized we were in trouble as most of the passengers of buses were waiting by the side of the road – and had been for quite some time because NOTHING was moving. Some people had been waiting to get through the construction for 7 hours already that day. Two lanes of traffic were vying for any opening as buses were getting stuck up to their windows in mud, being dug out by highway machinery only to get stuck again 20 feet down the road.

It took us 6 hours to make it those 50 miles. Each mile was completely worked for – and earned – as we passed by the literally worst and most aggressive bus drivers I have ever seen (we were even chased down by one angry bus driver who was excited to play a game of “chicken” with us as we were on a one lane road with trees on one side and a stuck vehicle on the other. We didn’t feel the need to play chicken with a big bus, so slowed down as he air-pumped his fists and showed us who was boss. OK, cool, but we are all still alive J

We missed the 8:20 p.m. pick up time for Matt and Edie at the airport in Dar… And I was so stressed as I tried to buy a Tanzania cell card so we could call the hotel / airport / whoever I could think of to connect with them. I made up a little “cheat sheet” on how to buy cell card in Swahili + airtime as we pulled in after dusk to a town outside of Dar es Salaam. We hadn’t found a place to change any money, so I only had US dollars in a country that runs on Tanzania Shillings (TSh) Silly American girl!

The store owner was very friendly and worked with me, pulled out exactly what I needed and then got really mad when he saw I only had US$. Thankfully, someone who didn’t speak ANY English plunked down the cost of the cell card and cell time in TSh and I paid him $5 (5x what it was worth) and I don’t think he even knew what the value was / if it was real money. Thank goodness for that kind-hearted man! We were able to call the hotel where we were all staying and Matt and Edie happened to be right at reception. We told them about our misadventures, they commiserated and said they understood. And then, we met up with them at the Econolodge in Dar es Salaam 2 hours after navigating traffic in a city with no stop-lights or stop-signs. Good times, good times! But laughed off the next morning over a breakfast and instant coffee before heading to  Zanzibar.

Posted by: bjhansen74 | June 25, 2010

Night On The Border…

This is worth a mention only because it was one of the most interesting places that we will have camped on this journey. Literally we camped on the Mozambique border in the office compound… We were pretty sketched out about leaving Mozambique because we had heard horror stories and feared the worst with attempted bribes, sketchy fees, etc. So we left from Pangane EARLY in order to make it to the Mozambique border by the time it closed (thinking that it was 6 pm.)

Thanks to some really helpful advice from fellow travellers, we found out that we would not have to complete a sketchy river crossing with our truck precariously balanced on small fishing boats. Instead, there was a brand new bridge which had just opened 2 weeks beforehand (phew!) The great Rovuma River crossing (the northern Mozambique to Tanzania border)

We literally pulled into the border post at 5:57 p.m. and were told that the border was closed for the night (Translation: Traffic through the border had been low, Mozambican officials had left early for home.) The border guard who sat at a wooden table by the side of the beautiful bridge indicated with his neon flashlight that we’d need to move our truck into a chain-link fenced compound. He proudly showed us our quarters for the night – a gravel parking lot next to the new border offices. I was really bummed because we had hoped to cover much more ground that night in order to pick up our American friends Matt and Edie at the Dar Es Salaam airport the following day (they were joining us for Zanzibar and Serengeti.) BUT, if I have learned one thing on this trip, it is not to be too married to a schedule. This is, after all, Africa. And that is what is so great about it.

I was able to pull myself together, have a little sit down talk with inner Bethany, and motivate to accept the situation and enjoy the evening. We actually had a great time as we unpacked everything we could possibly need including deluxe tent, gas light, camp stove, food boxes and fridge and sat down with a beer to watch the night sky and marvel at the bridge that was less than 40 feet away! So close and so far away – but ok with it!

The next morning, we were up at 5 a.m. singing the “9 to 5” theme-song and hurriedly packing to catch the Mozambique border officials who were supposed to be in by 6 a.m. (they did pretty well by showing up at 6:30, opened the office building, but kept the doors to their car open so we could all dance to Mozambican music while they completed our passport exit stamps. No corrupt Mozambican officials on our whole trip! No attempted bribes! This is the new Mozambique. (ask Andrew about his trip to Mozambique 13 years ago… That’s a whole ‘notha story!)

Posted by: bjhansen74 | June 25, 2010

The Perfect Beach Stay – Pangane, Mozambique

It’s a good thing we didn’t skip Pangane as we had originally intended… After all, what would a place like that have to offer that we couldn’t find on any other Mozambican beach? Well, it was the most perfect beach any of us had ever been to. So, good thing we didn’t skip Pangane…

It was described as a tiny fishing village on the ocean on a nice beach with a place to camp at a place called “Hashim’s Campground”. Really no other description… After getting off of the main north-south highway in Mozambique, we were literally driving for 10 km’s on sand-dune roads. It made us at some points feel like we were moving in all directions at the same time – never quite sure if we should hold on or just let the momentum move us. We drove through tiny villages with houses made of wood frame but with 80% coconut thatch. Most people literally stared as we drove past – a few of the children called “Hello Blancos!” (“Hello White People!”) 

We drove past women harvesting rice and men out on their fishing “dhows” (hand-made sailboats) and a majority of the people in these towns were Muslim, so women wore colourful head scarves and also long sarongs (capillanas in Portuguese)… Amazing colour combinations! Allison and I began to really appreciate the brightly coloured fabrics and had our own capillanas made on Ilha de Mozambique (under $4 each for fabric and tailoring!) and we felt quite proud to show off our fabrics in Pangane J

We pulled into Hashim’s and weren’t sure if we had even arrived. It was literally at the end of the sand-dune road when we dead-ended into our campsite. Unassuming and in the midst of beautiful coconut palm trees on one side and flanked by the most beautiful white sand beach on the other, it was perfect. The beach had gorgeous seashells that I have only seen pictures of – big conch shells, huge pink coloured snail shells, and hermit crabs in multi-coloured shells.

There were six bandas (coconut thatch palms) – 2 of them were bathrooms with toilets, 2 outdoor showers, and 2 that were available for enclosed camping. We had our deluxe tent, so opted to stay under the stars and palms. We were greeted by Eva and Martin – a Dutch sister and brother – who were to be joining us having taken the latest bus into the campsite. Not 10 minutes later we were joined by 3 guys on motorbikes (Evan, Graham, and Carl) and silently cursed that our little paradise was being interrupted by young South African males… It winds up that we enjoyed everyone immensely and wound up pooling resources to have some beautiful days and culinary experiences. The 3 motor-bikers had their own 3 month journey going on from Johannesburg to Dar es Salaam and were doing it on cheapy bikes with almost just literally the clothes on their backs! They had their own website at www.traveldiaries.co.za if you want to check it out…

At this writing, my memory of the 3 days in Pangane appear as if through a glossy-edged lens. It was so perfect. We woke up in the morning, went for a swim in the crystal clear water, walked for miles along the shore to check out the shoreline, napped in hammocks strewn between palm trees (thanks to the South African motor-bikers), and had fishermen dropping by with fish + sea critters for our lunch and dinner options. Our camping buddies were travelling lightly – so they were really impressed with our food stash and refrigerated cooler in the back of the truck. We became the hit of the camp with our fresh garlic, butter, olive oil, chocolate, South African wine, etc.

Our most memorable meals include very fresh seafood pasta for lunch on the first day which consisted of calamari + clams + garlic, tomato paste and pasta. Sooo good! None of us had ever cleaned or prepared fresh calamari or clams so we had quite the learning curve as the fishermen showed us how to de-eyeball and de-bone the squid + knock open the clams and scoop out the innards. (Sidebar: I was super grossed out at first by this process, but it was quickly lost as the food was being prepared and the smells reached out of the cooking pot and beckoned to my hungry belly)

On our last evening in Pangane, we literally had a 12 pound barracuda brought to our campsite as some of the guys from camp had gone spear-fishing during the day with local fishermen. They brought back the fish, had it cleaned, and we prepared a marinade made of soy sauce, garlic chilli, honey, salt and pepper. We placed the fillets on our grill over fire coals brushing the marinade on throughout cooking and had it with fresh pasta, olive oil, and salt. Simply the best fish I have had on our whole trip! We finished off the meal by introducing the crew to S’Mores which they all groaned with delight over… Sometimes simplicity really is the key to happiness!

Posted by: bjhansen74 | May 27, 2010

Mozambique: A strange experience in Mocuba

We started out early in Gorongosa… Or so we thought… Up at 630 to find our tent was the only one left in the campground. No water left in the ablution block so Allison had to take a bucket shower. Great place though, I look forward to going back at some point.

There was a real shift in the “feeling’ of Mozambique as we were driving further north today. It felt like people were somehow happier – more people out on bikes and selling a series of wares. Bikes were piled high with anything and everything. From whole families (mom on handlebars, dad pedalling, young girl on back holding baby brother) to huge piles of wood to buckets of water on both sides – anything goes! And bicycle repair shops to be found in the booths lining the sides of the road.

It was Saturday night as we were travelling from Gorongosa on to Mocuba so we saw many young men carrying their girlfriends / wives on the back of their bikes. In a couple places, the women were carrying the men (!) J It was right about then that Andrew let me drive the bakkie, so I felt like I had him on the back of my bike.

We drove for 8 hours before arriving (road weary) in Mocuba where we had decided to spend the night. It generally isn’t a good idea to drive in Moz at night because it is so hard to see the many potholes, people and animals out after dark. Our Lonely Planet guide and 2 other guide books said that there were plenty of places to stay in Mocuba, so we didn’t make any reservations. We just showed up. We drove around using the hand-drawn map in one of the guide books and went to each of the establishments. They were all FULL. Allison asked in her broken Spanish about rooms and finally someone politely told us that there was a BIG meeting the next day and all accoms were full. Shoot. We were all tired and didn’t want to drive anymore. So, we decided to stop for dinner and discuss our options.

Enter Fayaz’s Café. We had passed it 3 times already and agreed that it looked like a good place to eat. Clean, new, green neon lights – does it get any better? The waiter tried so hard with us in our more than broken Portuguese to help us order. We finally figured out that arroz + meat was about the best we could do and sounded good because we were HUNGRY! The owner’s wife, Faz, came out at that point and said that we were each getting one of the rice dishes – fried chicken with rice, chicken curry, and fried rice. We were fine with that.

On the off chance, we told her about our plight and asked if there were any other places to stay in town. Faz didn’t skip a beat and said, “You can stay at my house”… And we all looked at each other not believing our good luck. We ate our dinners and then Faz’ husband Fayaz entered the picture. In our truck, we followed his Toyota Land Cruiser which was hard to miss with “The World Is Mine” printed in large decals on the back window. Winds up that we are staying at the original “Villa Mocuba” which was built in 1946. Crazy! We work our way through an alley-way where Fayaz lays on the horn about 20 times before a harried car guard opens the door and ushers us into the courtyard where we park and are showed our quarters. It was being restored and not worth the money we paid, but we had a safe place to park our truck and a bed to sleep on, so worth it in the end 🙂

Older Posts »

Categories