Friday, 2 May 2014

Easter Adventure

Our party consisted of me and Emily and our Australian friends James and Angela. Our trip began in the flooded, gridlocked streets of Dar Es Salaam where twice we had to give up on our taxis, getting out to walk in order to make it to the train station on time.

We were taking the TAZARA express, a three day trip across the Tanzanian countryside and on to Kapiri Moshi in Zambia. The station would have been quite a sight when it was built in the sixties but as with many of these well intentioned projects there hadn’t been the investment to maintain it and it was now a leaking relic. There have been very few occasions when I’ve refused to drop the kids off at the swimming pool but that station bog was extraordinarily grim. I crossed my fingers that the train would have improved facilities particularly because we were in ‘first class’, though these things are relative and the cost of the ticket  for the trip was only 100,000 shillings (£40). If we arrived within a week we could have no complaints at that price.
On boarding the train we were pleasantly surprised to find the standards were much better than in the station, we had a cosy cabin to ourselves with top bunks that folded up to create our living space. Also the toilets, although basic, were bearable.

The train left on time or 2 hours late depending on whether you live in Africa or Europe and we spent the remainder of the daylight hours staring out of the window enjoying the verdant countryside passing by as we sipped cold beer. We were very happy; it was a promising start to our adventure.

The next day was spent staring out of windows and playing a few games of Bridge, all very relaxing until later that evening we reached the border from Tanzania to Zambia. The process should be straight forward as the immigration officers come onto the train and do the stamping in your cabins. That is of course only if your papers are all in order. Emily’s weren’t, she’d overstayed her tourist visa by one week and her work visa hadn’t yet come through. We’d forgotten this and now we were staring at the largest most intimidating man and he was licking his lips thinking ‘pay day’. He started with his spiel saying the fine is $600 and how dare Emily think she could behave outside the rules. It’s the same with a lot of misdemeanours in Tanzania, we weren’t in any danger of having to pay the full amount but a sizeable donation to the immigration officers’ beer funds was in order.  I won’t say exactly how much we paid but it put a fair old dent in our holiday funds. That said, it was only money and it was our own silly fault not to have checked so we carried on to the (much friendlier) Zambian check point already smiling again and over the hiccup.

Emily had her head out of the window nearly all of the last day, waving at local children who ran alongside as the train chugged through small villages. She would have made a good royal; she was most content just smiling and waving.

We left the train at 8pm, with some sadness but also excitement at the thought of a shower more substantial than a baby-wipe wash. The minibus from Kapiri Moshi to Lusaka insisted they could drop us off at our hostel which of course they didn’t. They didn’t even take us to Lusaka, instead stopping at a town en route where they found a coach heading to the city that could squeeze us on. All part of travelling in Africa and splitting a taxi four ways from the bus station was not expensive.

After a night spent in the Lusaka backpackers we spent 9 hours on a bus to Livingstone. And that’s all I have to say about that day as we were early to bed in preparation for one of the highlights of the planet Earth: The Victoria Falls.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Zanzibar. Days 3 and 4

Day 3.

It rained a lot so we played several games of scrabble, thankfully I won one because when Emily repeatedly beats me at games I am an embarrassingly loathable character. I’m a terrible loser. Our play was interrupted at one point by a cockroach who made me shudder and make a funny ‘uhuhuuh’  noise as he clung to my flip flop. This was little compared to Emily’s scream a minute later when she found herself face to face with him sitting on her shoulder. I did the brave boyfriend thing and pissed myself laughing as she brushed herself down for the following half an hour.

Day 4.

Having sort of wasted a day we made sure we were up early to meet up with Captain Fruit who was taking us out on a snorkelling trip. As we walked through the shallows our captain said ‘pole pole… snake’. Pole pole means slowly slowly and snake is an English word I wasn't delighted to hear as we waded through the seaweed. I asked what he meant and I think the gist of it was that we should walk slowly like a snake and not because of a snake. Apparently Emily missed this part of the conversation and so spent the wade out to the boat petrified that the weeds were crawling with sea snakes.

The dhow boat trip was wonderful, cruising along with the sun shining followed by a swim around a coral reef is a chuffing splendid way to spend a couple of hours. We headed back for fruit with Captain Fruit then bought a shell like one we’d seen whilst snorkelling from Captain Bush Doctor (everyone in Jambiani is Captain something or other).

We wanted to make the most of our last evening on the coast so went back to what was now our favourite restaurant where we accidentally consumed a lot of cheap, tasty wine. The wine took us on to the bar of an Italian restaurant that was just closing and we kept it open, joined by a guitar player and a man with a djembe drum. Emily sang along and I was tiddly enough to think I could play the harmonica.

We had to stay in the bar longer than we were welcome because a cyclone over Madagascar had blown its back end our way. By the time we were leaving at 3am we got our first sight of the beach at high tide, or rather, there was no beach at high tide. We got a fair way back towards our villa climbing over the fences of various hotels then Emily decided she’d try to outrun a wave. She did manage to outrun the wave, getting to safe ground about a second before the wave crashed into the concrete embankment. I waited for the next gap and ran after her calling her a bloody idiot. She seemed oblivious to the danger of the situation until I turned her around to watch the next wave smash into the concrete easily powerful enough to send a human head into the wall.

Against Emily’s protests I took the decision that we would stay where we were until the tide dropped. Our location was someone’s rather beautiful house. With it still raining heavily we took shelter under their porch and set our alarm for two hours later (I know, some of you are thinking you’ve heard a story like this before*). It was uncomfortable so Emily didn’t sleep and was not impressed when we moved on and discovered that we were only 50 metres from our bed. She said ‘we could easily have made it’, I replied ‘Yes, we could and probably would have made it but we could also have drowned or had our heads split open on a rock’. I was being overly dramatic and Emily was being overly ignorant of the dangers of the sea.

For the rest of the next day I built up the size of the waves in my recounting of the night, so much so that Emily got fed up and said ‘you were probably right’ just so that I stopped going on.

*See Back to Wanaka and a bit of a naughty story. If you think I should have learnt my lesson from then you’re a wally because the lesson was: Sleep where you want humans are lovely.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Zanbizarre. It wasn't that bizarre but that's a good play on words.

Day 2.

The planning for the day had to include a trip to a shop because Emily had unexpectedly gone all… y’know… female and… I think it’s something to do with the moon… I’m being a  mumbling buffoon, I’ll cut myself short. We needed to get some tampons.

The nearest shop was up the coast in Paje so we set off north along the beach planning to reach the shops in an hour or so. At lunch time, half way in our minds, we stopped for a beer and found that in actual fact we were still about an hour and a half from Paje and should probably get a taxi. It was a good job we did because there was nothing left in the two shops in town. This left us having to explain our mission to the taxi driver which is an awkward enough conversation with a fluent English speaker. The conclusion was that our only real hope was to drive back across the island to the capital.

On the way I spotted one likely looking chemisty type place on the side of the road so jumped out to ask if they could help. I thought it would be quicker and safer if I went alone and so approached the lady at the counter armed with limited Swahili. We all know the international sign language for ‘can I have the bill please’ and ‘do you have a phone’ but picture if you will this idiot, blushing, stuttering and attempting the sign language for ‘do you have any feminine hygiene products’.

I repeated the Swahili for ‘month’ and ‘woman’ whilst pointing at what I wanted to convey as my lady parts. As I did so it occurred to me that in the climate of a devoutly religious place with a recent history of throwing acid in the faces of the disrespectful this might be poor form. I was pretty sure she had sort of understood what I’d asked for and didn't have any, so on we pressed before finding a shop that led to Emily squealing with joy and clutching a packet of tampons to her breast.

To celebrate the relief we took our taxi man for a couple of beers then returned to the East coast for a bloody pleasant dinner and a litre of wine.

N.B. Emily has read and approved (sort of) the publication of this post.

Monday, 17 February 2014



Day 1: We flew from Arusha airport which in itself is an experience. It’s a small airport only allowing light aircraft, although a month earlier that hadn’t stopped a Boeing 767 from landing there, much to the confusion of the air traffic control tower and the 200 passengers who were expecting to get out at Kilimanjaro International Airport some 50km away rather than in a field at the end of the short runway.

We had far better luck, we sat in the departure lounge with a couple of pilots I play cricket with and they found us a man who could walk us past the security queue much to the somewhat understandable annoyance of a German woman who’d been stood in the queue for some time. It was a queue she hadn’t yet been asked to join and it’s pretty obvious the correct behaviour in a small relaxed place is to join in and be relaxed. For us it was a breeze, 10 minutes after going through security our 12 passengers took off and waved goodbye to the German who was still determined to be first in the next queue she’d joined.

Taxi to the East side of the island we were staying in a simple private villa on the beach at Jambiani, with a front garden that opened onto the impossibly turquoise Indian Ocean.

So yeah, pretty sweet deal.

Took an evening stroll along the beach stopping at a most agreeable beach bar where we befriended a pair of puppies and (not on) a girl called Anastasia.
We were pleased when:
1: She turned out to be an interesting Canadian. And 2: She bought a round of shots.
We moved on for dinner and were disappointed when:
1: The food took an age to come out. And 2: We discovered that it hadn’t been that long we were just in a dry restaurant and time drags when you’re stopped from drinking just after getting to a lovely level of  conversational competence.

After the meal we said our good-nights and I mentioned to Emily how it was so strange that Anastasia had gone all quiet during dinner and almost a bit off with us for no reason. Being more perceptive than me Emily noted that it probably wasn't for no reason as her mood shift coincided with me insisting several times that ‘one of the musical instruments painted on the walls looks like a medieval abortion instrument’. On reflection I can see how one might misconstrue my witty repartee to be inappropriate table conversation with a stranger. 

Being left alone was most definitely a good thing because it allowed Emily and I to finish the night off with a romantic nightcap sitting on the sand, listening to the waves and watching the drunkest man in Zanzibar trying to get back to the pile of clothes he’d left on the beach. His legs and head were in strong disagreement about which was the best way to tackle the five yard journey and so he kept us entertained for the duration of a cold Kilimanjaro beer. At the end of day one we had already decided that we liked Zanzibar.