Connect the dots

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Giraffe, Hornbill, Monkey

Alex & Henry
United States, 2008- & Tanzania, ?
Giraffe, Hornbill, Monkey
Crayon and marker on paper

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ninazungumza Kiswahili! Kidogo.

Primarily a Bantu language but due to trading along the coast, Swahili eventually evolved to include Arabic, German, Portuguese and French. As Tanzania's official language, you cannot be here for one day without speaking a word of it. It is easy to pick up and locals are tickled when they hear it coming from a foreigner. Here are some words and phrases to get you started. Hey, you probably already know some - think Kwanzaa (first).

Jambo - Hello for foreigners
Si jambo - Fine (response to jambo)
Mambo - How are you?
Poa - I'm fine, okay, cool

Habari? - Hello or How are you?
Habari za asubuhi? - How are you this morning?
Habari za leo?- How are you this evening?
Mzuri - Fine (reponse to Habari)
Kwa heri - Goodbye
Usiku mwema - Goodnight

Ndiyo - Yes
Hapana - No
Sawa - OK
Samahani - Excuse me/Sorry
Tafadhali - Please
Asante (sana) - Thank you (very much)
Karibu - You're welcome

Kidogo - Little

Shikamoo - greeting for young children to adults (they loved it when Alex said this!)
Marahaba - (response from adult)

Iko wapi...? - Where is...?
Choo - Toilet
Benki - Bank
Daladala - Mini bus

Moja - One
Mbili - Two
Tatu - Three

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Indian Ocean Island Gems: Zanzibar

The name alone is inviting. Say it a few times and you can imagine what it was like here in the 18th and 19th centuries when Swahili life was at its peak: spices, sultans, dhows, and lots of wheeling and dealing.

It’s cultural heart and capital lies on the more popular island of Unguja: Stone Town, a narrow maze of bazaar filled streets where bicycles ring for you to move aside, lattice balconies hang high, craftsmen still carving wooden furniture, doors and brass lamps and people around every corner ready to greet you with a “jambo”. Many of the buildings underwent renovation in the 80’s when a movement to preserve its unique architecture took place. We were able to stay in the Shangani area where many of the restored buildings turned into hotels are neighbors with multigenerational Zanzibari family homes.

We were told over and over again how quiet it was since we landed on the island with Ramadan in full swing. Most restaurants and shops were closed during the day, only open in the evenings.

A former volunteer visiting gave us the Zanzibari Ramadan recipe: sleep in until mid-afternoon/wake up a few hours before sun down, break the fast with family and friends with a feast, return to sleep after the meal, wake up again around 3am for dinner, and return once again to sleep at sunrise. Repeat for one month.

Alex's first henna

Speaking of food...So delicious, we ended up dining there twice; Beyt-al-chai or "house of tea" prepared exquisitely simple, fresh and local foods.

Slipper lobster with avocado

Passion fruit can be found everywhere, all the time

Homemade vanilla ice cream, cashew crisp and rum soaked cardamom

And for dining on the cheap, head to Forodhani Gardens along the water for Zanzibar's version of "pizza". What you actually get: a meat/veggie/fish omelet filled crepe. Don't forget to wash it down with some freshly squeezed sugar cane/ginger/lemon juice!

Many to choose from but the locals go to him

But it wasn't just good food and relaxation. There was reading, studying and tests to take. I finally got certified to dive.

Although we loved Stone Town, we decided to explore the Northern beaches with its white sand beaches and swimming at all times. And although we were warned about how touristy it was going to be there, we still decided to go to Kendwa...

"Buon giorno!" was the initial greeting from the Zanzibari vendor on the beach. Where were we again? Were we mysteriously transported to the Amalfi coast?

It seems that the Italians have taken the all-inclusive and brought it to the beaches of Zanzibar. Every lodge and resort on the beach was Italian owned, run and filled with tourists from Italy. Lingua franca: Italian. You barely heard Swahili. At first it appears positive with resorts filled to capacity, but in reality, the money goes right back to Europe with many not spending a single shilling in the local economy.

Nevertheless, you could see why it was so popular, the beach stunning and the water crystal clear and calm for swimming.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mozambique to Malawi: Part III

Part III: By boat from Monkey Bay to Nkhata Bay on the Ilala

Malawi was never originally on our minds, but rave reviews from fellow travelers and South Africans convinced us to make a detour on our way north. We immediately felt their trademark friendliness, in contrast to the hardness of the Mozambicans - okay, that's the time last I mention that. But that alone was enough to keep us here at least a few days.

We got our feet wet by going to Cape Maclear for a taste of Lake Malawi. In addition, it was close to Monkey Bay, the point of departure for the famed ferry. Weary of bilharzia, we heeded the Lonely Planet health warnings of steering clear of fresh water lakes in Africa. But when we asked the lodge owner of Fat Monkeys (whose kids were swimming in the lake) about it, she told it was easily treated by taking praziquantel, a drug that would kill the worms and worm eggs if we had been infected. She and her family were taking the recommended dosage every three months with no side effects. We bought our pills and into the water we went! And how could you not?

Marc goes for a snorkel near Thumbi island

A few days at beach and we were ready to embark north by boat. The Ilala has a choice of 4 classes (in descending price order): the formerly luxurious en suite owner's cabin, possibly formerly luxurious but slightly less than the owner's cabin and at best a basic cabin, 1st class top deck complete with rent-able mattress if any are still available or down with the fumes and cargo economy. With Alex in tow, we reserved the basic cabin to Nkhata bay. Two nights and three days by boat.

But the adventure began even before we boarded the boat. Again, the best quality to have in Africa is patience. Remember, just because there is a schedule doesn't mean it's a valid one. In the case of the Ilala, the Friday morning departure was delayed due to repairs and was now re-scheduled to leave on Saturday, as we were led to believe. But on Thursday, we were informed that the necessary repairs were finished and that the boat would leave on it's original Friday schedule...maybe. At first it was 10am, then 2 pm, then a very definite 5pm. As we were being dropped off, we noticed that with tons of cargo stacked high, the boat was nowhere near leaving and a closed ticket office confirmed that. New time of departure: 8pm. Right. Not far from the ferry dock, we noticed a sign for Mufasa's Rustic Camp and knew that a drink was in order for the inevitable long wait...

The 500 meter walk through palms and large boulders opened up to a quiet and idyllic spot on the lake.

Mufasa Rustic Camp

First order of business: reserve a room. My gut feeling was that the original delayed departure of Saturday morning was the actual time we would sail. A room ensured a few hours of comfortable sleep in a bed and some semblance of a normal schedule for Alex.

Slowly, the small group multiplied into a mix of Belgians, Americans, Brits who had taken this same voyage 26 years ago and a Scottish/Romanian family with a child Alex's age and a 6 month old son. We tried to forget about our delayed boat over beers and a spaghetti dinner.

A new friend also waiting for the boat

Youngest member on board

Those who didn't get a room, camped out on the beach. Somewhat rested, we awoke at 7am to hear good news - our boat was ready to take passengers and depart!

Here she is - the Ilala:

We were happy to be able to drop off our bags, have a place for Alex to nap and sleep in quiet quarters for the night. If you opted for the top deck, you slept with the wind and rose with the sun. Our (very basic) cabin:

We spent most of our waking time on the top deck, drinking, reading, and getting to know the other passengers on the boat. Alex made some friends with the "big girls" on board who willingly (and patiently) absorbed her energetic play.

Most of the time, you felt as if you were in the open sea, not seeing much land in any direction.
Some of the bays were so shallow, the boat, unable to reach the shoreline, moored in the bay and let passengers off in the smaller boats.

The boat was generally quite empty on top with only the tourists that came on at Monkey Bay. But after they disembarked at Likoma Island (a popular tourist spot), it seemed like all the locals at Likoma needed to come to the mainland for the next big stop (and ours as well) at Nkhata Bay. People camped outside our door and cargo bulged out of the lower deck as we rode off in the middle of the night.

Getting off the boat was another story. I couldn't understand what was taking so long, seeing from above not many people were neither getting on or off. With Alex in front of me, we nudged our way down the steps. What did I find when I could see the bottom? Stacked directly in front of the steps were crates of empties piled to the ceiling with only about a half-foot to squeeze through between the railing and the crates! And all along the path to the exit, were bags and boxes piled high and again leaving only less than a foot to maneuver your way out! The rage in me began as people from in front and behind began to push. My immediate instinct was to shout to let us out so that they would have room to enter the boat. People were taken aback by my shouting which then escalated to screaming and stopped to first let us out. I had gone mental and it worked. The problem: the officers were checking tickets and asking for payment for passengers that had not yet paid - all at the door.

Here's the chaos after leaving the boat and finally making it to Nkhata Bay!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mozambique to Malawi: Part II

Part II: By bike from the Mandimba border to the Chiponde border

After spending the night (in yet another overpriced motel) in Cuamba, we headed off early in the morning towards the Mandimba border. Our train buddies had a change of heart about remaining in Mozambique (due to the high price of transport) and decided to go with us to all the way to Mangochi.

A minibus going directly to the town just before the border picked us up bright and early and made its rounds through Cuamba until the bus was full.

On arrival, a crowd of bicyclists offered to take us to the border 7 km away. Unsure of how were were going to make it there with all the baggage, we haggled for a decent price in the minibus, but ended up paying too much anyway. (What a way to leave Mozambique!) Pauline got her fair share of money changers bum-rushing her for her meticais, but fortunately ended up with a good rate.

We swiftly got our stamp out of Mozambique and needed to make the 2 km trek to the Malawi side. Another set of bicyclists offered to take us and our packs over to the other side. I set a price for 4 bikes and we held on tight for the last ride through the Mozambique countryside.

And unfortunately, our last dealings with the Mozambicans ended in the same fashion as the rest: the original deal was not good enough for the bikers and they wanted more. We offered them the money but no one wanted to take it. We told them we would leave the money on the ground and it was up to them to take it or leave it. Frustrated, I walked away to let them make a decision. We were happy to leave the aggressiveness of Mozambique behind and immediately felt the difference at the Malawian border.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mozambique to Malawi: Part I

Part I: By train from Nampula to Cuamba
We made the effort 6 years ago to take the train from Dakar to Bamako. But when we arrived at the station a few hours before its intended departure, we were told that it would arrive maybe 2, 3, 4 days later. Alternatively, there was a 28 hour bus ride and clearly our only option.
We were a bit more optimistic this time when other travelers were also attempting to make the same 12 hour train trip headed towards the Malawi border. Arriving just in time to buy tickets for the following morning, I was told that 2nd class was sold out and that only 3rd class/economy was available. Having never taken the train, I returned with tickets and Marc shaking his head saying that we were better off taking a bus.
I bit my lip the following morning and hoped that getting there an hour earlier would ensure a seat, but it seemed like people had camped out all night rock concert ticket style. I held tight to Alex’s hand and used my backpack to shove our way onto one of the first cars, but the people and bags were so tightly packed already, we could barely find space between the two cars. We knew this was not going to work so we disembarked and headed to try our luck in the supposedly sold out 2nd class. Peering into the cars, we spotted the British couple (Rob and Pauline) we met in Ilha de Mozambique also making the same journey. (We would eventually catch up with them again later in our travels!) Their cabin looked nearly empty! I decided to approach a train conductor and told him that we intended on buying 2nd class tickets, but bought 3rd class ones (mistakenly, oops) and were willing to pay the difference. He gave the okay to find seats there and that the ticket officer would work out the difference. We were saved.
Deliriously happy for a 5am departure
Ample room for sitting, a large window, and storage above for our bags – what a relief.
Settled into our space, I decided to check out the dining car. What was once reserved for customers wanting to have a meal during the trip was packed with more passengers and their baggage. I slithered past the smokers and found the counter to place my order for breakfast. I wasn’t sure how I’d make my way back carrying coffee and egg sandwiches but that was easily solved by the fact that they delivered the orders to the passengers in our car. I opened the door for the server to find coffee and sandwiches in ceramic cups and plates!
The train had definitely seen better days and despite its high ridership maintenance was not a priority.
On my way to the dining car
The loo with a view of the train tracks through the seat
Every stop was also a chance for passengers to have the market come to them. Fresh bread, oranges, carrots, bananas and sugar cane were all for sale in bulk.

Villages dotted the green between the gorgeous mountains and the train tracks. Both provided stunning views along the way.
By 2pm, a snooze on a couchette
Our first trip on a train in Africa and completely worth it!