Thursday
Apr142011

Off to the strange land of knives and forks

View from the bus to Salima. Vendors await the next bus where they'd reach up to windows and sell their waresOne early morning, we boarded a bus south with our Norwegian friends and Pierre, the promiscuous swede. We were all heading for the town of Salima where the Norwegian contingent would catch a bus to Monkey bay, a backpackers magnet and Min and I would meet up with a charity contact. Pierre was to remain on buses of some sort for another 24 hours to Joburg.

It was in Salima that we were to commence our filming for Starfish.

Last year my Aunt took part in a schools linking project. Her school in Maidstone,UK was linked with Chipoka school, Malawi.

We knew she'd had an amazing time and had felt that the experience and the linking was an incredible thing but aside from that we knew little about the charity. We were pleased to be able to offer our services though. We are so glad we did. 

Another amazing experience for us and we hope, a film of value for them.

Starfish is based in the UK and seems to be very effective in fundraising to assiting the improvement of education in Malawi.

The charity has a genius technique of getting teachers (and school workers alike) out to Malawi to see what conditions are like and experience education in this very different country.

This naturally results in the teacher arriving back in the UK having already plotted on a piece of paper on the plane how they could help improve the standards of that particular school.

On their return, with the weight of a whole school of kids to support them in their quest, they can fundraise and aid their linked school in Malawi. A tangible, personal, 'seeing the problem first hand' charitable thing. Brilliant.

We met the two Emanuels (Big Emanuel and small Emanuel) who ran the charity at the Starfish offices and got to work.

Big Emanuel (as we did not call him) explained that linking schools in the UK with schools in Malawi was an exchange that aimed at benefiting both schools culturally and hopes to create an even better bond between schools that may lead to the improvement in education in Malawi.

As we chatted to Emanuel and got to know all the different facets of the charity, we were struck at how well run it was and how well things were going. (Our experience in Mali and other places were that things were acheinging slow to implement) This charity seemed very far along in it's development.

We were priviledged to sit in on a meeting that day, a special day it turned out and were to have a great introduction to the charity's more personal side.

The meeting was for a group of Malawian teachers who were about to head to the UK as part of the schools linking programme. In fact it was only a couple of days before they departed.


The group seemed nervous, there seemed to be a distinct lake of excitement. The reason, we discovered, was that most of these teachers had never been out of Malawi. In fact, the majority had never ventured out of their region. Now, they were heading to the UK, an incredibly daunting trip. Of course they felt privileged to go, it's just that these people had never even been to an airport.


At first, the group seemed suspicious of us, the strange people in the corner filming this meeting that for them was a purely functional one. How the hell are we getting to the UK safely?

What an amazing thing for us to witness. The teachers were full of questions about their trip ranging from the basics of airport travel (how do we know when to get on the plane) to questions about the British and fears of acceptance in the scary foreign land where people eat with knifes and forks not hands and where people all drove, one person to each car.

Some of the questions left Min and I with wide eyes, amazed at what this trip meant to the teachers. This was not just a school exchange, this was a total cultural 360. Going to an airport, let alone boarding a plane to a foreign country was alien to them. Emanuel at Starfish did his best to answer any questions posed but there were a few questions about Britishness that had Min and I twitching in our seats.
 
To my initial horror, and a shocked look on the face of the Starfish leader, Min broke the conventional silence of an observational documentary filmmaking team and decided that it was more important to answer the questions herself. Something I will never forget and will always love about her.

I've never seen Min more animated and interested. After the initial confusion at Min being a black woman and from the UK, the teachers warmed to Min being open to answering their questions and it was as if she was made to be there, to put them at ease.

It was fascinating and amazing how invaluable Min's advice was, being from the UK (and I suppose being a black woman from the UK). There were questions like 'If i eat with my hands will that be accepted'? Should I bring very thick clothes?

A member of the group was nominated as leader. This was Rabson, headmaster of the Chipoka secondary school.

Our story of Starfish was off to a flying start. We decided it was a good idea to focus on Rabson, heading to the UK in a couple of days for the first time. His school was also involved with, and benefited from Starfish in numerous other ways. After discussions with Emanuel and Rabson, it was decided that we should head to Chipoka and off to school we went.


 

 




Thursday
Apr142011

Norwegians, they're all Seal-clubbing maniacs

On the contrary, The Norwegians we met three of the nicest people we've ever met.

In fact, it's there fault these pages have been so blank for so long now. Damn them.

So focus your blame on the faces in these cheesy portraits please... (publishing the photos of them will be punishment enough)

Johan, blog killer extraordinare but ruddy nice blokeJohanes, Seal-mauler but all-round funny guyErling, the destroyer, up a tree. It was to be with these three Scandinavians that we'd travel around Malawi and into Mozambique over the next few weeks.

Johan and Johanes were medical students. Erling was an engineer. A genius move on our part to have a constant team to consult in the event of a crisis. Joining us on our quest (more accurately, we joined them on theirs) was Pierre, the cliche of a good looking Swede and all round nice guy. Pierre had been travelling for a number of years, a few months a year and was clearly the professional in the group. He was also rather good at interacting with the ladies, into his music and well dressed. I could feel a bromance brewing. 'What a guy Min'.

The world is a very small place as we discovered when we met Emma, from the UK. From Richmond in fact. Close, so close in fact that she knew Sky. Her brother worked for sky. Paul from Sky.  Paul that works in Creative? Paul that Min interviewed and gave a job to. Amazing. Here we were in the middle of Malawi hanging out with his sister. It was a relief to realise she was lovely and someone else to get to know.

And so the band formed.

We spent our days by venturing to the beach (on the lake) swimming out to bits of the lake that terrified the bejesus out of me and cliff-diving (don't even go there - I did it once) but the best times shared togther were in the evenings. We shunned the busy bar where we were staying, deciding to be more adventurous and heading out to find local food. 

The local food was good. Beef curry, beans and rice all for a fraction of the price up at our hostel (although the food at Mayoka was phenomenal and the price reflected that).

After dinner, the daunting task of walking into local bars, heads turning, became a group adventure.

On the first night, as we walked into an unfamiliar dingy bar, the Norwegians suprised us all by wasting no time. Within two sips of a cuchi cuchi (the local beer) they were on the dance floor; in the mix with the locals. The mood would change instantly. The locals' confused frowns ('why are they in here, what do they want') morphed into smiles and laughter as the Scandinavian boys danced outrageously, arms flying in the air.

This was truly the power of people enjoying themselves, no holding back. It lightened the mood and united us all. It was very un-English. We loved it and followed their lead.

As the people in the bar realised that we were there simply to do the same as they were, to drink and enjoy ourselves they became more and more friendly.

By the end of the night we were patting each others backs, swapping hats and we were being taught dances. What a night.

Remember, if in doubt. Dance.

 

Thursday
Apr142011

Lonely travel blog seeks love and attention

We've loved writing this blog.

So much so that when we haven't graced it with daily words a genuine feeling of frustration takes over, it feels like something is missing. It's been part of our trip.

Rightly or wrongly, having blank pages day after day has been, well, annoying as hell.

Yeah of course the trip is about experiences not writing but sometimes on a trip like this, there are just too many experiences for a little brain like mine to retain. You find yourself forgetting names of lovely people you've met, struggling to remember all the places you've been and losing whole days to 'well we must have gone to the beach'.

Throughout our time in Africa is got harder and harder to keep up to date. 

Sometimes it was internet caf charges that would assault even the biggest of travel budgets, sometimes there would be no power of course let alone internet and sometimes we were simply too busy doing stuff to think about getting on the internet.

We restorted to investigating the primitive and ancient ritual of what, in olden days they called  'the pen and paper'. This strange way of writing meant that we could keep track on what we hadn't yet typed up.

Thanks to this truly magnificent invention we can now retrospectively take a look back and update the blog.

Mayorka village, a backpackers place on Lake Malawi is where it all started to go wrong (or right depending on the way you see it).

It was here that we would start to be true backpackers. We were to have a group, a daily meet up time, we were to do things together.

There was nothing wrong with this, it was brilliant, it's just that it was different. The blog came out of it badly, like a neglected digital pet we forgot to feed because we now had others to play with.

The days would pass quickly. We had a great time, hanging out in a group, true backpacker style.

Although at the end of the day we'd head back to our hut happy after a beautiful day, the experiences would, well, not really be as good to read about.

We would visit beautiful places, hanging out and having a heck of a lot of fun but it wasn't the same sort of non-stop whirlwind life-changing experiences that we had experienced on our solo adventures.

On a personal level, we met some fine people. The bond you strike up with people whist backpacking is remarkable. A few days on the road with the right people is an amazing thing.

In fact, it's only now that I realise that in fact there was plenty of things to write about; The politics of a group of travellers, the bonds you make with people who are from very different backgrounds, the reasons why you don't bond with some, the bromances, the annoyances, the brilliant drunken discussions way into the morning.

If you think about it, your group of travelling friends becomes a microcosm of your social world, your views in life, the people you surround yourself with you get on with or you wouldn't hang around with them. It's a beautiful thing.

And so on with the introductions...

Where we met our new friends

We arrived in Nkhata bay from Mzuzu excited about the prospect of getting back onto the shore of Lake Malawi. Mzuzu was a nice town but it was inland Malawi and it felt like the lakeside towns were where we should be.

The view out to Lake Malawi

Mayoka village was a huddle of huts clinging for dear life on the cliff. It really was a little village. A rickety bridge, steep rock steps and little paths linking each hut. It really did have a village feel.

Mayoka had a brilliant and busy bar, a 'lets meet each other' attitude but unlike othe backpackers places it wasn't like you had to do so the second you walked in the building. We got chatting to people when I entered the darts competition. Much as this sounds like an activity mum forces you to take part in on a butlins holiday, it was beer-fueled and enhanced by the prospect of a free oven-baked pizza.

An old man who sold late night chocolate snacks to revelers falls asleep as the party continues around him, The Bar at Mayoka village

And so with a throwing of darts and some embarrasing holes in the wall later, we met our companions...

 

 

Thursday
Apr142011

Mzungu (Whiteman)

I am a minority. I walk, I get stared at. It's an amazing thing and odd that I've had this feeling so little in my life. It feels good to be out of that comfort zone.

From kids stuck with a look of amazement on their faces, the slow raising of a finger to the under-the-breath mutter of a group of ladies as we appear in their line of vision. Heads turn, they stare.

Most of the time a smile will diffuse what may seem like tension and leave me feeling like a postively interesting thing. Occasionly a stern look will not budge.

I've made kids cry.

My favourite was when a women walking in front of us in a group, somehow felt our presence behind her. The word 'Mzungu' was deployed, and instantly the group of women moved out of our way - In this case, Mzungu meant 'crazy white fast walkers coming through'.

At times I've had to shake myself into doing things - walking into a bar full of faces you know will turn and stare at you, but it becomes fun. The challenge being, as with any stranger, particularly a rather pale one, is letting people know you're ok. You're here because you love their country, you want to get involved. If you can do that, its seems you'll be welcomed with open arms. Dancing, in Africa seems by far the quickest route in!

It's been a great thing for me to have been the one stared at. I'll never be able to understand what it's like to live in England as a minority but being a minority when we're way at least gives my a small insight as to what it's like, for a short time of course and not a lifetime. Min likes me experiencing it a great deal. Very happy to now and many more times in the future.

-------

At times on this trip you can turn almost apologetic. I am a plunderers' ancestor. No need to blame yourself but I think at all times you need to remember that in some peoples eyes that's all you are. A rich benefactor of all that history.

We heard a story of a young traveller in Zambia being brought before a local commitee and charged with attempting to steal the land from the African owners. He had set up his tent there innocently but the owner thought this was an invasion and that he was here to stay.

All this, you can understand. You can't blame anyone for the attention you get, the hassle, the fast-buck quotes (10 times that of the locals).

Whatever happens, be it in Swahilli or another language, in Africa 'You are most welcome'.

Even as a Mzungu, with the stares coming from every direction, I feel so welcome it's going to be hard to leave this place.

------

I've learnt a lot about my beautiful lady on this trip.

Before we left Min talked of hoping to find a connection in Africa.

We've both come to realise how difficult and bizarrely unrealistic that actually turned out to be.

She came away in search of roots and some meaning in Africa.

The thing is though, Min gets stared at in Africa. In fact sometimes even gets judged in Africa - A rich sellout. Just for being her, A black woman from the UK. What a difference from the way we thought it would be. We thought that for once, as a 'majority' things would be different but actually Min is of course, as 'foreign' as I am.

Of course this is not always the case and there have been many calls of 'sister' and 'you are like us' but it's left me realising that the world is a ruddy complicated place.

I'm sure Min will tell you more.

 

 

 

Thursday
Apr142011

Livingstonia

Livingstonia was founded in 1894 by missionaries from the Free Church of Scotland. The missionaries had first established a mission in 1875 at Cape Maclear, which they named Livingstonia after David Livingstone, whose death in 1873 had rekindled British support for missions in Eastern Africa. This location proved extremely malarial and the mission moved north to Bandawe. This site also proved unhealthy and the Livingstonia Mission moved once again to the higher grounds between Lake Malawi and Nyika Plateau. This new site proved highly successful because Livingstonia is located in the mountains and therefore not prone to mosquitoes carrying malaria. The mission station gradually developed into a small town.

The leading missionary for 52 years was Dr Robert Laws. He established in Livingstonia the best school in his time for the whole region, and Livingstonia graduates became influential in several neighbouring countries, right down to South Africa. Dr Laws wanted Livingstonia to develop into a University, but his successors did not pursue the dream. In 2003 the Livingstonia Synod of the Church of Central Africa, Presbyterian (CCAP) renewed the vision and started Livingstonia University.

The houses in Livingstonia are characteristic in that they are mostly constructed with red bricks.

Livingstonia, a Scottish mission in Malawi

Low cloud of Livingstonia

Reading at Dr Law's house, Livingstonia mission

 

Cave behind waterfall where slaves hid from their captors, nr livingstonia, Malawi

Monday
Mar072011

Mzoozoozoo

What a name, what a place. 

For the last couple of days we've stayed at 'The zoo'.

In the town of Mzuzu, this is the best name for an establishment i've heard since I myself coined the name for my future sandwich shop (a place which is friendly and you can sit and chat about your problems) -  'What's Ciabatta with you?'

The Mzoozoozoo. A backpackers place would be a very simplistic way of describing it.

A crazy no-holes-barred rollercoaster of a night with agening rockstars would be better.

A bit like being in a film. Brilliant.

We were greeted in the rain by a tipsy owner of the establishment –Gerard.

Gerard was Swiss by way of Napoli.

With his yellow glasses and permanent fag-in-mouth, Sean Penn could play him perfectly (think Carlito’s way character he plays if not slightly older)

Next came Ray, an instantly likable white hair and bearded Englishman originally from Potter’s bar.  Ray winstone could play Ray, in his first ever soft and friendly role.

Next, Thomas, the German. The incredibly good humoured thick accented brute of an old man - Dolph Lundgren.

Carlos, the drunkest of the bunch, was Argentinian, an artist and obsessed with Salsa (especially when greeting new guests it seems) Al Pacino in his younger more sprightly days maybe.

Finally there was Phil. Phil was an ageing rockstar. His voice and mannerisms could quite possibly have been the basis for Bill Nighy's character in Love Actually.

Between them, these ageing rockstars ran the Mzoozoozoo from their whisky bottle adorned table.

Tonight was extra special, Gerard was flying to Switzerland the next day so an 'almighty pissup' was in full swing.

The group had known each other forever and had all been in Africa for a long time, 30 odd years and no amount of backpackers or American Peace corps volunteers was going to get in the way of that and their goodbye celebrations. Too right. 

The music was incredible (Ray Charles to Led Zeppelin), the banter aplenty and the stories (both good and bad) flowed as freely as the quadruple whiskies. 

I set up camp on the table next to Phil (Bill Nighy aka rockstar from 'ammersmith') and bedded in for the night.

It was going to be a late one...

 

 

Monday
Mar072011

The preacher, the badger and the hairpin bends

As we boarded the bus from Chitimba, all seemed normal. The packed bus pulled away from the rain soaked bus stop as we stumbled with our bags down the length of the bus, zigzagging and apologising on our way to our seats.

My seat was broken, that was about all there was to report. It was just another bus ride in Africa.

I noticed a man standing at the front of bus, clinging to seats on both sides of him with a wide stance. He was well prepared I thought, but why? There's a seat right there.

All was revealed when the man turned to face what was to be his audience.

He was a preacher. And this, was to be 3 hours of church, on a bus. 

He wore a huge over-sized tan suit (the sort of suit normally reserved for racists standing for election in the UK)

The holymans gesticulating grew with every town be drove through, his arms swinging wildy, unperturbed by the flurry of newly boarded passengers behind him searcing for a seat.

 

The man was passionate to the extreme, his face determined, his eyes as white as the holy ghost.

Soon he was being ignored by passengers,as they arrived at their destination, his sermon blocked from view apart from the sight of a head jumping from side to side.

From where I sat, I couldn't make out what the man was saying, only that he was saying a lot, very quickly and very loudly. It turned out it was a somewhat comical spattering of English religious terms like slogans in amongst the local chichewa. 

After half an hour of listening, no clue of what was being said, but unable to concentrate on anything else, I amused myself by making up a story that the preacher was telling.

With every arm movement I painted the picture in my head. I went a bit mighty-boosh.

'And then the cocunut (arms round in a circle) said to the badger'

It was ruddy good fun. But I guess you had to be there.

As the bus clinged on around hairpin bend after hairpin bend, the preacher did a remarkable job of standing on the same spot, only occasionaly needing a little stumble to steady himself. These roads were some of the craziest we'd seen in Africa yet.

Just when it seemed that church was over, we were pleasanty suprised to discover that in fact it was only just getting started.

Then came the singing. Full pelt singing of hymns for an hour, spurred on by the suit with a small man in it at the front of the bus.

It was amazing, almost all of the bus sang, a few older men at the back refrained. At one point I think I may have even started humming a tune.

After what seemed like 239 hymns, the singing wimpered out finally (it had threatened to do so for some time but just when you thought it was over... Ethel from seat 23 aisle 2 would find something deep inside and belt out another classic, motivating the rest of the bus.)

The preacher looked content as heck as we left the bus. I could hear his sermon starting again.

'Jesus is on the bus with us now'

Strange I thought. Must have got on at Chilumba with those banana sellers.

I wonder if his seat was broken.

 

Monday
Mar072011

Chitimba

We spent the day in the town/village of Chitimba.

The stares are different here.

With one big smile and a ‘hello, how are you’ from Min or I, a stare morphs into a beaming smile and a response 'I’m fine, how are you?' 'Where are you from' 'my name is…'

Malawi certaintly lives up to the hype. 'The warm heart of Africa'

We reached Chitimba unsure of our plans.

We jumped off the bus at the junction with Livingstonia, 15km up a very tough mountain pass, named after David Livingstone, home of a Scottish Mission.

Last night's almighty storm meant it was even trickier to navigate than most days.

A local 4x4 which would stop at the junction to load with a mass of people was the only way to get up there.

We decided to sit and wait, having lunch at a Rastafarian (Haile Selaise) restaurant.  3 hours later we were still waiting, but we didn’t mind one bit.

We had witnessed some amazing and terrible things. 

A mass of people came marching toward us on the highway on which had only seen the odd passing truck or bicycle before.  As the body of people approached we thought it must be some sort of protest.  They were carrying something.  30 people close together, arms aloft had above them a mattress. A scattering of kids and others followed.  This was an ambulance. 

On top of the mattress was a woman, clearly in a  lot of pain.  The crown below was moving with urgency, with determined faces, the stragglers faces were concerned.  It seemed like half the village were amongst this urgent procession.  This was humanity at as the mattress and it’s bearers went off into the distance.  We hoped the hospital or refuge they were looking for was not far away.

An hour later and after meeting a German volunteer with a bandaged face and finger who talked a great deal, another procession.  We couldn’t have been prepared for this one.  It was a funeral.

 The wailing of 20 women led the tiny wooden coffin.  The men and women singing an African gospel, with more wailing women.  The local boy we’d befriended telling us that this was one of 2 people who died yesterday.  2 people died today too.

Some time later as we tried to take it all in, the ambulance procession could be seen returning. The group was not as dense, walking slowly.  Two carried the mattress half rolled up awkwardly.  They walked almost like zombies, arms throwing to the side.  There was no sign of the woman, but we convinced ourselves that was because she was at the hospital safe.  The figures say it’s not likely. 

This is Malawi, people die (like flies)everyday.

 

A transport finally turned up.  The only one going up the mountain.  A medical 4x4 donated by the Norwegian government.  The villagers who’d been waiting huddled around attempting to squeeze in.  There were people with drips and bandages, very ill people.  Suddenly, our Urgency to get up hill was put in check, we decided to turn around and leave it until tomorrow. The locals packed themselves in and off they went, the ambulance, the only way up the mountain tonight.

***

We deciced to stay the night at 'Hakuna Matata' a campsite nearby run by a 64 deeply Afrikans gentleman. 

‘I only like 2 English people’. was one of the first things he said. This was going to be fun.

He'd only opened since May last year.  This campsite, right on Lake Malawi is in the making. 

The storm last night meant all was soaking.  There was only one free tent, it was battered.

Maggie, The Malawian/Zimbabwean Woman welcomed us and made a spectacular effort of making our tent look like a 5 star hotel suite with a mattress and pillows. 

That nigt we sat around the dinner table by torch and candle light.  Bugs flying over were almost unbearable. We met fellow campers - A Dutch couple who had driven their 4x4 from Cairo (from Holland in fact)  A German couple who are volunteering in Dar es Salaam. An Israeli guy who was going up from Cape Town.  Together we ate Beef, Rape (greens) and Ugali and talked politics, bugs, East Africa. 

Our South African host held court. In a typically African way, he made no effort to hold back the gory details of life. There was a death in the lake recently 'Da body came rrrriggght ere'

'Loads of snakes by the tents sometimes'  ‘cobras here’ 'and sure, Scorpians'

I liked his bluntness. Why would he make us feel better about anything. It's the reality of living here. He’s African. 

As the night went on, he continued talking about the harsh realities of the bush but then summed up everthing with one sentence. ‘ Aggghh but Africa is still the best ehh’  'This is Frontier land. You go through all of it, the tough things, then you come out the other side (and holding his fists clenched, arms up) and you can say...I'VE DONE IT!'

 

 

 

 

 

Monday
Mar072011

Malawi 

An old man on a BMX is a good first sight when entering a country. I like this place.

As we zoom past on the clunky bus, men huddle under trees for shelter, watching  the women pass. Bicycles, the transport of Malawi, lie in bits scattered around them awaiting a drop in temperature to allow the lifting of a spanner.

Half built or half destroyed buts scatter the horizon. Billboards are a common sight here but not advertising COKE side of life but AID foundations. UNICEF, US AID  and company sponsored messages of ‘don’t give HIV a chance’ are the adverts here. Kids roll wheels down the road and seem as content as any playstation gun slaying UK child I’ve ever seen. It’s swampy here in the north, and for these few months, the greenest of lands.

Huge unexplained gatherings of women in coloured Kangas leave you wondering.

Every half an hour the bus stops for policemen to inspect

leaving you gasping for air and desperate for more of the natural aircon that is a bus going at 130 kph.

Police search seem to be a hangover in Africa from the time of dictators and suspicious leaders fearing an uprising at any point. Instead of guns it seems now the police don’t have anything to look for. They are just looking, it’s a job and as with anywhere in Africa, if it provides a job then why stop it.

The wofts of cow and goats remind me of home bizarrely, nostalgic thoughts of farm visits as a child and holidaying in Devon and milking a cow.

Huge Baobab trees, like the ones we’d seen in Tanzania dominate the roadside with their lumpy masses. Some are either so important or so stubborn that building work has gone on around them with excavations underneath and around, a land prepared for construction when the funds arrive.

In Malawi it hit me what we were doing.

It  sounds mad two months in but it’s true. An overwhelming sense of freaking happiness.

Why didn’t we do this before?

Mothers breast-feeding on the side of the road, another walks down the street, breast exposed turns to look at our bus zooming past. Her child struggles to keep hold of boob as the does so.

This place is so green. If you squint, it could be home. Then it becomes hard to squint out mountains and a lot of water and the comparison is lost.

This commuter bus we’re on is the most comfy we’ve been on since our travels began. Long may this continue because on first impressions, Malawi is an amazing place to be.

Monday
Mar072011

Mbeya? Mbastards

We were done over.

A scam.

The old classic where you are befriended by a lovely chap with perfect English. You doubt them at first as you’re suspicious after two months of travel. Then you think, this guy seems to be going quite out if his way, this doesn’t feel like a scam. Let’s ask the guesthouse manager…

…The guesthouse manager says this guy is a genuine tour guide in Tanzania and very nice chap. Ok well, we’ve registered with the guesthouse and that’s government regulated so cool, let’s except this guys help.

Damn.

The story is a familiar one, pages and pages of the same story are placed on tripdvisor each year. We normally check for these things but in Mbeya we hadn’t

We arrived in the transit town of Mbeya as it was getting dark. ‘Transit town’ is a byword for get in and get out or you might get robbed, so we had our wits about us.

I must say at this point that in an entire month in Tanzania, this was our only experience of this kind of madness, it’s a friendly place and yes as a mzungu you will be overpriced and they’ll try it on to get more money from you but scamming, not so common.

We were helped to a guesthouse by the bus conductor, aware that the area opposite the bus station was relatively dangerous and fearing for our safety, or at least for our money.

So as you can tell it was all a bit tense. We were over the moon to get to a guesthouse where they had a room and thanked the conductor for his concern. The guesthouse seemed bog standard but we were used to that. One night in these sorts of places was cheap and necessary for the early morning bus ride out of town.

We were then approached by ‘James’ who told us of the horrors awaiting outside at the bus terminal.

A bit like the devil telling you that you should wrap up out there in hell as it’s a bit nippy.

After we had checked him out as I mentioned previously we were happy to have James accompany us to the bus ticket office to buy our tickets for tomorrow. It’s always good to have some local knowledge and even if he was going to take a commission it helped us out so no worries.

We met James’ friend who told us that it was possible to get a bus all the way to Chitimba in Malawi – a good thing as there wasn’t much else to see on the way.

We took our tickets and handed over our cash pleased that it was all sorted. On our way back in to the guesthouse, the bus ticket guy told us to be wary of a ‘rasta guy, very high talking rubbish, tell him you’re going to Dar es Salaam instead’. A bit odd.

Things got odder.

Whilst sitting down for dinner at the guesthouse, we were approached by the rastaman. In my experience of observing people who’ve been smoking they’ve never been so articulate and well, not stoned. The guy told us that we needed to be careful and inquired about the ticket we’d bought from the guys.

He left as we ate dinner and when he returned, his phone in hand told us that he’d spoken to his friend in Malawi and there were no buses tomorrow leaving from Malawi. We should go with him right now to the police station.

Now our heads were spinning. Nothing had felt perfect with the guys before but this was Tanzania and things are like that. We’d been told by everyone that it was dangerous out there and now this guy wanted us to go out ‘there’ to the police station with him. This guy had been incredibly friendly, before he’d got on to the subject of the tickets I felt nothing but genuine interest about him. But maybe he was this crazy rasta guy they’d told us about?

What if he’s right? What if he’s going to rob us? What the hell is going on?

As the rasta headed off to buy credit to call the police, I went to check on our bags in the room, now another concern brought on by the general unease of the situation we were in. As I stormed past, the guesthouse manager, a small, softly spoken man followed me and gently said ‘He is a bad person, do not trust him. Maybe you should stay in your room tonight, it’s safer and wait for the bus man to pick you up in the morning’.

Much as suspicions were now up for anyone and everyone, getting into a room with bars on the window and where we could lock the door behind us seemed like a logical step in this hellish situation.

We sat for some time discussing who may have been telling the truth like anxious detectives in a murder mystery and then gave in to the fact that the only thing we could do was to try and sleep and sort it all out in the morning.

The bus man was supposed to pick us up at 5.30 am. Sure enough, he arrived, a few minutes late but he was there. We had no real other choice than to silently and suspiciously follow him to a bus.

We got on the bus, the small ‘coaster’ we had been told would take us to the border where we’d catch a connecting AXA bus to Chitimba, Malawi.

We knew at this point there was no bus waiting for us in Malawi. Sitting on that bus at 6am, watching the bus guy smugly wandering up and down the bus ‘hacuna matata!’ he smirked to me. ‘No worries’

The best I could manage as a response was a fake sarcastic smile. Still 10 percent unsure (there could still have been a bus there was the though that tried to cling on in our minds) and unprepared for a risky argument on a strange bus in a foreign land, we sat in silence and prayed for the border to come quickly. Out of this situation, out of Tanzania.

The smug bus conductor left us half way to the border, a full confirmation of what had happened the night before.

The next part of the story needs little explanation. After crossing the border on foot, we headed straight for a taxi rank, not without of course, the occasional glance around for the bus that was, and never has, been sitting there awating passengers from Mbeya.

 A new country meant we could concentrate on that and not the anger brewing inside us.

As for the rasta man who tried to help us, we never saw him again.

We can only hope that his single handed quest to bring down the scammers of Mbeya will continue.

What a nice guy. We think.

We weren't the only ones. One guy even went back to try and get his money back...

http://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/thread.jspa?threadID=1982392

Monday
Mar072011

Just another Sunday afternoon

You know, those chilled out ones;  where you do nothing, a beer in the afternoon  and a nice Sunday roast...with the villagers of Kikwalaza, Tanzania.

Now mum, you’re not under threat of anything, your lamb roast with extra gravy, mint sauce on everything is safe but what a meal they made. We had been offered

We spent the day with our guesthouse owner and her baby in her bar, in the centre of the village, a prime spot for people watching and soaking up the goings on of an amazing day.

The day had started off with a trip on a piki-piki (a Swahili rickshaw) to get our onward bus tickets.

The village we were staying in was set quite far back in the bush and the ride to the ticket office was an amazing off-road experience. A rickshaw rally, winding through the village huts, through the tinyiest of gaps, chickens squawking in our wake, goats running for their lives and thoroughly uninterested kids who’d seen it all before. It should really be a sport. It beats lapping round a dull tarmac Formula one track. Amazing.

On our return we were greeted by a very drunken local who was determined to befriend us to fund his day’s drinking. The other locals were shaking their heads as much as we were.

The day passed with now familiar sights of kids on bikes that were far too big for them. A comedy match up that would have been very amusing if the kids weren’t so proficient on the oversized machines.

A Masai walked past, stick in hand. Chickens and goats roamed.

A village meeting was going on in the room behind us, a huge motorbike with a local sunglassed-old biy bellowed through the village. Music blared from tiny bars and homes and merged together , bizarrely well in the centre of the village square.

‘Karibu’ You are welcome! Repeatedly could be heard as my white mug was spotted.

A beautiful day and we did indeed feel  most welcome.

Just before heading off to bed (at our African bedtime of 9.30 – The days are 5am to 9.30 pretty much although we’ve found a way to sleep in) we went for a walk, and what a walk. They tiny village is set around a central square. A shoe shine shack, a bar, a bread shop, another bar, bikes for hire, a video shop (VHS), one more bar and numerous food stalls that looked like they could be wheeled away at any point even through they were permanent stores having been there for years.

We were celebs. Heads turned and stares were aimed at us but this felt different, there was a lot of laughter and smiles. ‘Why are these Mzungus in the village?’ seemed  to be the question. 

It was dark by now and the village had an almost carnival feel to it, for such a small village they could make noise. We got braver and edged round a corner to discover the village cinema:

Rows and rows of plastic chairs set out outside the small entrance of an empty bar. On the bar was a small square Television, the point of focus for the village, settling down to watch the Sunday showing. 

Two huge flashing speakers dwarfed the Television and blared brashly and hinted at what really was the most important element of this evening, the music.

Tonight’s showing  - the incredible music videos of a Botswanan traditional dance/musician, one after an other bringing waves of villagers to their feet for a few sideways movements before returning to the comfort of their plastic

It seemed the entire village was here tonight, outside this tiny shack of a bar, the oldest of old ladies (for Africa a rare sight) sat on wooden benches behind the plastic chairs, as animated as any other viewer, they seemed to be in charge, keeping as much order as they could when the drunken men, their bellys full of Konyagi stumbled around and became too loud for them to tolerate.

Konyagi , the local brew is ………….. It can be drunk in bottles, in small plastic sachets or in the receptacle of choice for the elderly – a bucket. A few swigs of this stuff and your buzzing like a lake fly at divali.

The buckets were being passed round a plenty. Occasionally the dancing Botswanan was obscured by the silhouette of drunkenness, before a collection of shouts moved him on.

We were invited to sit by the old ladies, swilling spirit from their buckets as they gesticulated to us.

After a few minutes an old deaf man took me to one side to show me a dollar coin sealed away in what seemed to be a Russian doll of pouches in his wallet. His prize possession.

I felt awful telling him we weren’t English. I felt even worse at my relief on remembering he couldn’t hear me.

After some time debating it, I braved the walk to the bar (where all eyes where trained at the TV) and ordered a beer. It went down well, with the villagers it is and I was welcomed back to my plastic throne beside them.

Babies were asleep, tied, with squashed faces pressed against their mothers’ backs as they went about their work of collecting and refilling buckets.

We’d been laughed at, then laughed with, stared at then welcomed.

Sitting there watching that film in the tiny village we wouldn’t have found unless we’d gone off route made us so darn chuffed. This was exactly what we were hoping for.

One of the best experiences of the trip so far.

Pass me that bucket. 

Monday
Mar072011

Safari. On the cheap 

(Back in time to Tanzania)

They say it's not possible but it is, a cheap safari.

'You have to pay a lot to make it worth while' But ha! we saw the lot. Well sort of.

We're on a budget but we were determined to do a safari. We couldn't be the only people to have come to Tanzania and not been on a safari, it seemed like our duty so we pursued a cheap option...

Go to Mikumi National park south of the country as opposed to the Serengeti or Ngorogoro.

Stay at the budget Genesis guesthouse as opposed to an expensive lodge inside the park.

Hire a driver per day when your there instead of pre-arranging.

It worked.

Even these cost saving hints weren't enough for us. After arriving in Mikumi, we took a walk and found a tiny local guesthouse. 3 GBP a night.

4 days they say, to see everthing. In one day we saw the lot! (No leopard)

We were over the moon.

So it was no Serengetti or Masai Mara, with their abundance of animals and mass migrations. But the thing is, with that comes an abundance of tourists and migrations of obese Americans. A theme park ride, with cars backed up waiting their turn.

In Mikumi, smugly, it was just little old us. There was one other car for most of the time, and for a large chunk of the day we were on our own. That is of course, apart from  the whole heap load of beautiful animals. Very very chuffed.

Don't listen to what it says in the brochures, safaris can be cheap.

DID YOU KNOW. 'SAFARI' is actually a Swahilli word, adopted incorrectly by us silly Anglophones. It has absolutely nothing to do with animals. It means 'journey'.

PHOTOS APPEARING HERE WHEN OUR COMPUTER IS FIXED

 

 

 

Monday
Mar072011

TransTanz 

 

Miono, Tanzania, 22nd February 2011

 

Sitting under a mango tree in the village of Miono, we are surrounded by mud huts (the term does not do these amazing homemade brick constructions justice).

The sounds of drums and cymbals can be heard now and then from an unknown source.

With no warning, Cocounts drop to the earth with a thud. A noise followed almost instantly with the squeals of the local children taking part in an excited race to be first to the fallen treasure.

 

A hundred different species of flies land for a fraction of a second on your exposed skin, just enough to make you doubt they were even there and then their gone, having done their job of utterly frustrating you and leaving a flurry of expletives and cursing behind them.

They rub their feet together, plotting their next victim like an evil villian and then they're off.

 

We've been here in Miono, For the last two days we have been working with TransTanz, a charity started by friends of ours in the UK.

Until now, our involvement has consisted of designing bits and pieces;  a logo, flyers for fundraisers, the odd donation and our attempts at attending the fundraisers inbetween our 'sorry-too-busy London lifestyle'. It's a brilliant charity, we should have been more involved a long time ago.

 

http://transtanz.org/

  

 

   

We hoped to be able to offer our services to help them out if we could.

To correct what might sound like back-patting on our part, it was also enjoyable and perfectly convienient for us on our way through East Africa.

As you all know, we both thoroughly enjoy (and sometimes obsess over) documenting our trip for our future selves, kids and the lovely feeling it gives us of taking so many at home 'along with us' on the way. With the decision made to take camera and kit with us, we thought offering our services along the way would be a good thing to do.

 

As opposed to walking into a village, as westerners, saying naively and innapropriately 'Hello, we're here to help what can we do?', the opportunity to film for transtanz, meant (almost selfishly), we could assist whilst avoiding what we both consider to be the murky waters of volunteering in Africa - not knowing if what you're doing is helping, or merely an exercise of back-patting and self congratulation. We have, unfortunately seen a lot of that on this trip.

 

Filming the story of Transtanz seemed to be something tangible and could have many uses we hope.

Only time, and the TransTanz trustees will be able to tell if in fact that is the case.

 

We hope at least to hound you lot into supporting them.

 

We won't go into it much now as hopefully the film with tell the story far better

but here is my incredibly simplistic attempt at explaining what they do...

 

 Anti-retroviral drugs for people with HIV are free at CCT's (clinics). Now if you're a sufferer, you'd simply go get the treatment right? (The dr's tell you you can live a relatively normal life if taking them).

First, you've got to get past the stigma. A very big problem in rural Africa.  

Then you've got to get to the clinic. You live 16km from the clinic, it's over 30 degrees not to mention the fact that you are sick. Words cannot explain how crazy that journey is (we hope the film will go some way to representing it) You simply cannot make it, you'd rather stay in your village. Then you hear about a bus that takes you to the CCT. It's full of people like you, the same symptoms, the same stigmas. 

 

Suddenly, you feel that there's hope. You can get to the clinic to get your ARV's. You're over the stigma, you have 'family' support on the bus of people who are in the same situation as you, it all seems possible again.

 

It's just a bus.

A bus that means you get to the Clinic, the clinic means you get your ARV's, ARV's mean you can live. It's as simple as that.

 

This bus is a superbus. It's very presence changes the lives of the passengers more than any other piece of transport I've ever heard of.

 

We met Rose, the project manager at the TransTanz office in Dar es Salaam. It was amazing to see something that I had designed, painted on a building in Tanzania. I've had ads in papers and on billboards before but this moved me so much more.

 

I stared at it for some time in amazement (what did the artist think when he painted it? Did he like it?) before it was time to go.

Off to Bagamoyo, rural Tanzania where TransTanz do their work.

As we drove into the bush, iron roofs turned to reeds and stone walls to mud.

 

It's was a truly emotional and uplifting couple of days, meeting people suffering with HIV is always going to be an experience but we came away feeling overwhelmingly positive and amazed at what TransTanz do, what a difference it makes and how simple the equation can be.

 

Meeting people with HIV, your mind races, your childhood fears of this scary think talked about on TV creeps in momentarily, then it seems something more powerful takes over and you make a point of making physical contact with the person, much more so than you would in any other normal meeting of new people in Africa. We interviewed Dr's and patients. It was hugely emotional hearing peoples accounts. We spent two days on the bus. We filmed it's routes (and how unfeasibly long they would be to walk) and got to see first hand what a difference it made.

 

We very much look forward to getting into that edit suite when we get home to tell their story. It's an incerdibly moving one but one that, thanks to TransTanz, has much more of a happy ending.

 

[INSERT DOCUMENTARY HERE]

 

****

 Whilst we will wait to tell the story of TT, there are several incredible and sad stories we heard on our travels with the bus.

 

At the CCT (clinic) we learned of a man who had died that week. The family could not afford to pay for the petrol needed for an ambulance to take his body away (This is the way it has to work in Africa). Instead, a family member was forced to take his body away by bicycle.


In an unimaginable scenario, the body had to be made to sit up on the bicycle in order to move.

 

The reality of Africa once more. The sadest and least dignified way I can think of to go, unthinkable too for the family it's just that it simply was the only way.

 

 



Monday
Mar072011

Africa - Beauty and the beasties

Africa blows your senses away. In fact, it grabs your senses, stuffs them into a sack full of butterfish, chucks them onto the back of a speeding, out of control pickup truck packed with mad pecking chickens, that is then smashed into by a herd of elephants, your senses then into a bubbling sewage pipe that takes you out the sea where you’re smashed against rocks of Zanzibar. 

The bugs, oh the bugs.

As I write this I’m fanning my face, in an attempt to try and dissuade the literally hundreds of small flies from going up my nostrils. Before I finish, an ant will be crawling up my arm, I will hear the familiar hum of mosquito near my ear. That’s all before it gets dark.

When night falls the real beasts come out. Dive bombing insects 2 inches long - Big black balls of body with a see-through scaly set of wings as long as your finger.

When the rains come, the flies and bugs swarm. All light sources become the centre of the ancient insect ritual worship.  Hundreds dance around the lamps, their deities. From a far, it’s a beautiful light show to watch, up close it’s a frenzied horror show where only the brave (and all the locals who are less melodramatic than me) survive.

Crickets, being the least horrible in my opinion, I’ll occasionally permit a landing on my skin runway for a couple of seconds.

I spot that crumbs of bread beneath the table are on the move again, I assume evolution hasn’t taken a giant leap since I’ve been sat here and that the ants are back.  A Millipede, or is it a centipede, crawls around the tree trunk foundation of the building we’re in.

Soon the bats will circle again

No wait, they’re moths.

The noise of the poor soul who forgot his extra strength insect repellent yelping, the slapping of skin and the almost smug hum of bugs out for a midnight feast.

It’s time to get in and away from the light.

This is not earth that we know. 

This is the planet Insectia. A land where the ants are so big they have shadows.

 

Monday
Mar072011

The Fishing trip

The closest we were to get to experiencing the independent life of a village on our trip came in the form of a fishing trip of the coast of Jambiani beach. (How independent can you be if still need others to steer the boat, buy tackle, remove hooks and tell you how to fish)

It was incredible.

The strangely but appropriately self-nicknamed local tout 'Mosquito' had been buzzing around the beach for days, trying to net himself two tourists for a snorkelling trip. We decided that if he could take us fishing for our lunch then we'd be happy to be be bitten by the mosquito.

We sailed out on a traditional small boat made from, as far as I could see, entirely natural materials (apart from maybe the sail). I turned into a boat geek, admiring the Mango tree hull and plotting my (middle-aged) 'boyhood dream' of making a boat with my own hands. I even drew a diagram. I hope to add it here as soon as I find it. It's quite amusing.

The boat looked like this for your info (my future boat will be even more impressive)

The snorkelling was appalling, mainly due to the huge storm we sailed into and the panic that took over both my and Min's existence. We were back in the boat like a shot after seeing a couple of fish, some urchins but mostly just trying to stay alive in the big waves that had developed.

The storm got worse and the captain, Ali, brought the sail down and anchored the boat.

The rain got so heavy at one point that we all took to lying in tree hull, sail folded over us in our little cacoon in the middle of the indian ocean. Very good fun if not slightly hairy at times.

When the storm settled, we fished.

To our suprise, we were actually quite good.

The best part of the whole experience however, was heading back to shore, to Mosquito's home where a feast of the fish we'd cooked awaited us. Amazing.

The next day, mosquito was up to his old tricks again. He was a bit of a geezer you see, a geezer clearly drunk off his profits from our fishing trip.

I mentioned to Mosquito that as opposed to hounding tourists incessantly for 'cheap snorkelling trips' until they ran from the beach into their rooms, maybe he could offer the fishing and dinner experience we'd had loved.

I even made him an ad. The best design work I've done for some time I think you'll agree.

Mosquito seemed too drunk to understand what I was saying. As opposed to providing the warm and friendly experience we had, I'm sure he'll be back to hounding visitors and drinking the profits away. Shame. It was a nice thing in my head.

 

But what do I know, I have no idea what it means to work and survive in the village. I can just draw pretty pictures and come up with catchy slogans.

 

Monday
Mar072011

The illusion of independence

Many of us in the West take pride in being 'independent'. 'I'm a very independent person'. 'I love my independence'. 'I am self-sufficient'.

Well being in Africa, Nepal and India has made me realise how much even Beyonce talks shite.

We rely on so many. When you see things at the source in Africa and Asia you realise.

Every minute of our lives is spent using things made, planted, watered, picked, packaged, shipped, delivered, stacked by others. A whole world of people behind one small product.  Literally hundreds of men women and children supporting say, your cup of tea you 'just must have' in the morning.

It's an amazing feeling if you think about it (it should be enough to make the richest most powerful person in the world feel small - of course, it won't).

We are a tiny part of this world. We rely on so many. If it wasn't for them, well, we'd have to learn how to

It seems to be truly independent in this world, you may have to move into Africa or India, because only the very poor in this world seem to be totally free of anyone else.

They grow, they eat, they sell what they have left.

'Poor them' we say in the West. 'Freeing' people from poverty is a worthy cause but when anaylsing things in 'undeveloped' world shouln't we always remember, give credit and respect for the fact that if things suddenly went back to the year dot. They'd be the ones who'd survive.

While I'd be busy looking for someone to invent electricity, build a computer and develop the internet so I could wikipedia how to plant rice (or even what it looks like) They would just carry on with their lives.

They're the most independent people on this planet.

Sorry beyonce, you're not quite as impressive as you made out.

Monday
Mar072011

The people of Kendwa beach

Ok, so in fact there's loads to write about.

One thing I failed to acknowledge earlier was the fact that resorts are a great place to people watch and meet people.

It felt like our own daily soap opera, one we ourselves would occasionally star in.

There were some real characters on that beach.

Amongst the rich tourists, there were scrimping travellers tried to blend in:

-The Israeli guys who were sleeping on the beach as the dorm was too expensive (They cunningly kept their gear under the bed of their Austrian friend and occasionally would chance sleeping on the empty beds of the dorm, leaping over the balcony before the cleaners arrived in the morning).

- The Three Kenyan guys who had sailed all the way down from Lamu Island, Kenya. They'd made the voyage in their old wooden boat for what seemed to be half way between a buisness trip (they'd take tourists out for cruises) and a lads Ibiza on tour for Kenyans.

A cloud of hasish smoke shadowed the three of them as they moved around the beach as did the travellers seeking more of what they'd experienced in Keyna.

- The couples on holiday, some arguing

- The group of Elderley dutch ladies lugging around loungers as if they were feathers. 'No helpsh, we are fine shhank you' said clearly recently retired weightlfiters.

- Posers of all nationalities

- The round Canadian who never ventured from the shade, proudly wearing a 'CANADA' T-shirt, like a 'made in' label on the side of a jar of maple syrup.

- The common sight of mixed-race couples.If you could read the eyes that followed them as they walked, there would be equal measures of 'oy, look at that!' and 'ah, that's a nice sight'.

- The American jocks at all times poised to jump up and play volleyball, like a dog awaiting the waggle of a lead. 'YEAAAAAH LET"S PLAY. I'll play! come aaaaan! yeah' 'Go team'.

- The ageing South African diving instructors strutting, chests out speaking over-loudly in Swahilli like stroppy teenagers with points to prove.

Occasionally, you'd see an African.

These main characters would play out the soap opera of Kendwa beach for pur next few days.

Of course I'm sure we were playing quite a roles ourselves in the eyes of others. They should have set Eldorado on Zanzibar, it would have worked.

A full moon party followed, I was propositioned by two African ladies in Min's absence. 'I have wife' being the most understood response.  I had made the mistake of following one of the Kenyans, on his mission to 'get sooo drunk'. Things deteriorated rapidly after Min's departure for bed.

At 4 in the morning I stumbled back to the dorm, I could still hear the slurred words of my Kenyan friend in the distance telling another Mzungu what he'd been repeating to me all night. 'If you cut hear (on our arms) we all bleed the same colour' A lovely sentiment but when you start repeating the same sentence over and over for 2 hours dude...it's time to go to bed.

*****

This is the last time I ever want to think about the next day. as I type it's making me shudder -

A very very bad hangover, a long walk with huge rucksacks, a ferry back to Dar Es salaam and a small shadow of a my former self in a ferry toilet for most of the journey. I even burnt my feet on the floor of the the bathroom. All in all, it's best forgotton... or at least told by Min.

 

 

Monday
Mar072011

Battle of the beaches 

Driving us through the villages to Jambiani on nearly empty roads, Mr Saif the driver did a sterling job of being a Tour guide, something we had not requested but from a such a distiguished fellow we were enjoying a great deal.

'On the right here, you may see Red colobus monkeys, if you so wish you can take a trip here and play with the monkeys, they are very friendly, unlike indian monkeys...'

He was right. Indian monkeys were to be feared not adored. As we past through villages, it felt like India. Women in Saris were now women in brightly coloured Kangas. Faces were now darker. Mangoes, coconuts and bananas were being sold on the road side as before. As we drove further, towards the coast again, mud huts became stone coral huts, many unfinished. As we arrived in Jambiani, it too looked like a village either in the process of being built or in a process of collapse as many African villages did. It was however  bustling with people, very much alive.

It's funny what you want out of a beach.

At first of course,the asthetic is paramount - white sand, turqiouse water...a barrier of seaweed.

We weren't to know it when we arrived but the very fact that this beach had ugly seaweed draped all over it like clothes on a teenagers bedroom floor was to make it far more enjoyable for us.

So we were to spend 4 days in Jambiani beach and then 4 at Kendwa rocks, a holiday resort - the pristine glorious postcard beach we all look for. And so retrospectively, the battle of the beaches commences.

The thing is, everyone goes for the same pristine glorious postcard beach. This pristine beach was packed, developed (tastefully and beautifully)  but it was a false facia squeezed inbetween the sea and the real world of Africa.  Kendwa beach was exactly that.

Kendwa was incredibly beautiful, there is no denying it and we would recommend it highly for holiday makers and honeymooners,

A faultless beach holiday in paradise.

But it is that and only that. If thats's what you're looking for, of course no worries. But it terms of travel, you will only encounter Zanzibarians as black flashes passing you as you drive into your gated resort.  I'm aware I'm spouting more travel snobbery here but it's raised a few questions for us on our trip about the balance of being in sheltered beauty and being, well, in Africa I suppose.

Jambiani beach was still sheltered of course but it's imperfections, it's locally run nature and the simple fact that there seemed to be no boundary between village and beach meant at all times, we felt we were in Africa.

A beach in a village not on a beach away from the village. At Jambiani we got hassled a lot more but they were doing it for a living. In Kendwa, being the ropes of the resort you'd be free to relax but I don't remember seeing one African child, there were no kids playing with toy boats in the water and no one wore traditional dress apart from the odd beach seller restricted to their slither of beach behind the security guard.

The four days of relaxed escapism at Kendwa was great, but I haven't got much to write about it...

 

 

 

Monday
Mar072011

Zanzibar

We felt like celebs arriving as we pulled into the ferry terminal. A sea of men crowed around our car, arms reaching in, tugging at us, a chorus of 'yes meesta' 'Mambo' 'Come fren' 'me sir, best price' could be heard. 

I was stern-faced an suspicious. 'We must be getting done over' 

After buying a ticket from a recommended tout, we were pushed into a crowd, moving step by step, like cattle, we were loaded onto the slaughter truck of tourists, off to Zanzibar where the butcherous touts would be waiting to bring down their cleavers of activity and taxi rate cards on our heads. 

Flying fish, sharks (or dolphins we 're not sure) and very vocal locals were all part of the experience as we cut through the tropical blue waters of the Indian Ocean.

As with everything, it took us a lot longer to get there than we were told but it was worth it.

The Zanzibar music festival was in town, we had not realsised so Stone Town, the centre of Zanzibar life was teeming with stumbling travellers on hashish fueled parties, huge groups of African-American tourists in the festival T-shirts. It felt good. We were sad not to have realised before as now despite our efforts, there was no accomodation left in town.

Instead we headed to Jambiani in the east of the island. We were greeted by an old beaming taxi driver, Saif. A gentle, slow man who walked neatly with his arms behind his back. 

He was to be our adopted grandad in Zanzibar he affectionately told us. 'If you have any questions on the way please ask, I shall drive you slowly and very well to your destination, thankyou'.

As we left Stone town past big bank buildings, I noticed that Saif had a small hole in his ear through which I could see light sky shining through the windscreen. Was this a Masai thing? I was too English to ask. 

 

 

 

Monday
Mar072011

YMCA 

I've never really got to the bottom of what the YMCA is until now. 

Not only is it a song written by a man locked in a dressing up box with only an alphabet book to keep him company, it is in fact also a very well-kept, affordable place to stay with great food, run by of course The Young Man's Christian Association. 

We stumbled through the door of the canteen after not having eaten for a long time and pleaded for 'whatever you've got'. Chicken, rice and coconut sauce served with a smile. Perfect. We ate with African music spattering out of a battered radio. Amazing.

A great start to our African Safari.

In swahilli, the word Safari doesn't have anything to do with animals, in fact, it simply means 'Journey'. 

***

The next day we planned to head to Zanzibar, a few hours on the ferry. The only difficulty was the infamous port hawkers... da, da, duuuh (my attempt at comic book tension)