Monthly Archives: February 2012

So Long, Farewell…

February 18, 2012
Stone Town

I woke up this morning knowing it was my last sunrise in Africa and that in just a few hours I would start my journey back home, back to Toronto, my husband, my darling cat. Breakfast on the beach was lovely and after eating and packing up we all boarded a shuttle van that took us back to Stone Town.

Instead of taking the ferry back to Dar es Salaam I had decided to take a small plane off Zanzibar and fly directly into the Dar airport. I had some time to kill so a few of us wandered around Stone Town one last time and indulged in a delicious lunch at a hotel I could only dream of staying at.

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When it was finally time to go the group said goodbye with promises of open doors and dreams of future travel plans. It was a sweet, earnest moment filled with hope and honesty. And then it was over. The hugs stopped, a cab pulled up and I was on my way home.

Zanzibar airport was a sweltering, sweaty, crowded mess. I sat myself in front of a fan and waited until my flight number was called (no displays or loudspeakers in this place), there was just a guy at the door who called out airlines and numbers over the din of the crowd. Luckily I didn’t have to wait too long and when my plane pulled up everyone just walked across the tarmac where a moment ago another plane had landed. Crazy!

From Zanzibar I flew to Dar es Salaam, then onto Nairobi, followed by Amsterdam. I had an 8 hour layover in Amsterdam (and I arrived at 5am) so I checked into their airport hotel (called Yotel) for 6 hours and was able to shower, catch a nap and watch some tv. It was awesome and for $100 totally worth it.

Feeling all fresh from my shower and change of clothes I boarded my last flight home and 8 hours later arrived in Toronto, into the loving arms of my husband. 24 hours earlier I had been on the gorgeous island of Zanzibar, not wanting it to be over and now, in the midst of a Toronto winter, finally home with my husband and kittycat, I didn’t want to be anywhere else.

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Day 29 – Under the Sea

February 17, 2012
Nungwi
Sunset Bungalows

After breakfast this morning a small group of us took a walk along the beach, visiting some of the shops and collecting shells. We made it to one of the pricier resort areas before security told us we couldn’t go any further. I guess they are very protective of their fancy-schmancy clientele. Grumbling, we headed back, we had snorkelling to do anyways!

A small boat picked us up and we headed to one of the reefs off the coast of one of the smaller islands close to Zanzibar. The ocean here is an incredible blue colour that is really hard to believe and saltier than I ever thought possible so a solid seal on the mask was essential. I jumped in and realized conditions were a bit less than ideal; it was a bit cloudy and the water was choppy. I managed to see some eels, clownfish, zebra-like fish, a few large schools of fish and crazy looking coral – but nothing totally spectacular. By the time we headed back to shore I realized I had burnt the back of my legs. Rookie mistake.

When we got to shore we had just enough time to shower all the salt away before the sun was setting. I decided to take a walk along the beach alone tonight. This being the last night I wanted time alone to reflect on the last month and what it had meant to me. I won’t recap all my thoughts here (they’re just for me), but I will say that the last month has been a dream come true. I saw more than I ever thought possible, I’ve done more than I thought I could do, I’ve made great friends and eaten some amazing food. I’ve been bitten by the travel bug and will always remember this first big trip that started it all.

With some solemnity I walked back to the group and sat on the shore to watch the sunset as friends splashed in the water.

We had a farewell dinner on the beach where we got to talk about our favourite (and not so favourite) moments of the trip and make promises to keep in touch. I reluctantly went to sleep tonight with the wish that one day I’ll come back and get to do it all over again.

Breakfast: toast, fried egg,, juice, coffee/tea
Lunch: spring rolls
Dinner: cheeseburgers and chips

Day 28 – Spices & Sunsets

February 16, 2012
Nungwi
Sunset Bungalows

This morning we left Stonetown behind and headed to the North Coast of Zanzibar. On the way we met a local guide named Ali T (who had a crazy Brit accent) and we stopped at a Spice Plantation for a lesson on all the island has to offer.

While on the tour we tasted fresh cinnamon and lemongrass, peppercorns and ginger. Everything tasted so different because it was fresh. Halfway through the tour we stopped for a snack and enjoyed avocado, passionfruit, pineapple, jackfruit and lemongrass tea – all of it super fresh and super tasty.

Near the end, one of the guides climbed a coconut tree to the very top and dropped a couple coconuts for us. They then opened them up so we could get to the sweet, sticky milk and chopped up the insides for a coconutty snack. Yum!

After the tour we continued North and made it to Sunset Beach Bungalows. The accommodations here are spectacular; a big bright room with draping fabric, a balcony and air conditioning. There’s a small restaurant on site with ok food, but a distinct lack of change at the bar. The beach is the really spectacular part of this area. The water is Gatorade blue and the sand is soft and powdery. There isn’t a lot of people around which sort of makes it feel like you could have the whole beach to yourself if you wanted.

I spent the afternoon relaxing in a hammock with a beer in one hand and my ipod in the other. Later on, most of us opted to take a sunset cruise ($15pp) on a rickety wooden boat that cruised up and down the coast of the island.

We got some lovely views of the more expensive resorts up the beach and the sunset was beautiful. With the boat rocking gently back and forth I could have drifted off to sleep, despite being worried the boat would start sinking any second.

Breakfast: toast, scrambled eggs, juice, coffee/tea
Lunch: traditional lunch – potatoes, beef stew, rice, cabbage mix
Dinner: hawaiian pizza

Day 27 – Getting Lost

February 15, 2012
Stone Town
Safari Hotel

This morning we left our big truck and tents behind and headed to the island of Zanzibar…and that involves taking a ferry. A very crowded ferry from a very crowded port city. Our guide had gotten us tickets the day before so all we had to do was walk all our gear through a small town and onto a gigantic ferry that was swarming with people. Luckily we had one really tall guy in the group so I kept my eyes on him as we all got mixed up in the crowd. This first ferry took us across a small bay where we then had to get on a local bus to a second port and get on another (much nicer) ferry. The trip to Zanzibar took about an hour and a half and it wasn’t that bad. When we got to the island we had to go through customs and get our passports stamped (even though it’s part of Tanzania). I was really happy to go through all this as a group because I don’t know if I could have handled the logistics of this crossing by myself.

Once we checked into our hotel (with real beds!) a few of us went off to explore Stonetown. The architecture in Stonetown is really something with Moorish, Persian and Indian influences everywhere. The streets are more like alleys and the buildings are so tall it’s difficult to tell where exactly you are. Needless to say, we got lost. And it was a great way to see the city. We ended up wandering for hours before finding a great bar right on the beach.

After killing a couple hours with cold beers we headed back to the hotel to shower before dinner. The sun seems so much more powerful in Zanzibar than any other place we’ve been and it’s easy to sweat just by standing still.

For dinner we went to an Indian restaurant which had terrible service and average food. Sort of a bummer.

Breakfast: toast, fried eggs, baked beans, muffin, juice, coffee/tea
Lunch: hamburger, french fries, coke
Dinner: chicken masala with rice

Day 26 – Drive to Dar

February 14, 2012
Dar es Salaam
Kipepeo Camp

Today we made the 400km drive to Dar es Salaam. We left camp before 6am and rolled into Dar around 6pm. It was a crazy long trip and I managed to sleep through most of it. This trip has been really great for teaching me to fall asleep almost anywhere.

Halfway through the drive we stopped at a mall complex so we could stretch our legs. It was so strange going from the crazy heat outside (and believe me, it was hawt!) to a totally air conditioned mall. I really can’t get over the differences in the land and the classes here. We can be in the middle of a small village, with mudhuts and cattle all around, then hop in the truck, drive 30 minutes and find ourselves in a modern city much like you would find at home. I feel like I was really ignorant before this trip and have really had my eyes opened.

Our camp tonight is literally right on the beach and it is lovely. It’s called Kipepeo Camp and has both flush toilets and warm showers. After setting up the tents (and I switched tent mates) we made our way to the beach and the Indian Ocean. Only a couple of us chose to actually go swimming and we found out the undertow was really strong.

After our brief dip we had a great buffet dinner provided by the Camp and many of us stayed up rehashing our favourite moments of the trip. I can feel everyone winding down and the trip coming to a close, but I refuse to accept it just yet.

As I was falling asleep tonight I started thinking about the Swahili I had learnt on the trip. Granted, it’s not much, but it’s more than I came here with.

Jambo – Hello
Asante (sana) – Thank You (very much)
Karibu – Welcome (as in ‘welcome to my shop’ or ‘you’re welcome’)
Hapana – No
Ndiyo – Yes
Sawa – Ok
Habari gani? – How are you?
Mzuri/nzuri – I’m fine.
Pole pole – Slowly, slowly (like when you’re walking through a store)
Hakuna matata – Don’t worry about it/ everything’s going to be fine (yes, they really say it)
Tembo – Elephant
Simba – Lion

Breakfast: toast, coffee/tea
Lunch: (packed lunch) sandwich, banana, apple, juice
Dinner: rice, chicken skewers, chipati, chicken masala, potato salad, coleslaw

Day 25 – End of the Earth

February 13, 2012
Lushoto
Lawn’s Camp

Bright and early this morning we went on a hike through a local village to the Irente Viewpoint. It took a few hours to get to the viewpoint and when we got there it was a little…ummm…cloudy.

Luckily the clouds cleared while we were there and we got some great views of the valley and surrounding areas.

To get the best views you jump onto a large rock that juts out over the valley and when you stand on the edge it feels like you’re at the ends of the earth.

It was nice to sit on that and appreciate what was around us and where we were. Most of the group wandered to check out another view and I stayed on the rock alone with my thoughts. I’ve really appreciated the quiet moments, where I can just sit silently and soak everything in.

By the time we headed back to camp the sun was really high and it was killer hot. A few members of our group got sun stroke and spent the rest of the day resting and rehydrating.

Breakfast: toast, scrambled eggs, sausage, coffee/tea
Lunch: cucumbers, carrots, bread, cheese, onion salad
Dinner: chicken masala, rice, chipati, spinach, mango

Day 24 – On the Slopes of Kilimanjaro

February 12, 2012
Lushoto
Lawn’s Camp

I must have been so tired last night because I totally forgot to mention the camp we stayed at last night is located on the slopes of Kilimanjaro – which is just stunning. We bumped around while travelling up the tiny dirt roads and when the truck pulled over we all hopped out expecting to be at camp. We weren’t. The road to the actual camp was too precarious for the truck we were travelling in so we had to carry all our gear down a winding road, up a hill and over a stream to make it to camp. There were some local kids who helped carry the tents which was awesome because it had already taken me two trips to just get my sleeping bag, sleeping mat and gear.

The facilities were fantastic, super clean washrooms and warm showers (always welcome!). The camp provided dinner and it was delicious. The grounds were extremely lush and we pitched our tents on a small overlook. Underneath was with a natural-fed stream and as we fell asleep we could hear it gurgling away.

All proceeds made from this campsite go towards the Kilimanjaro Village Education Project – http://www.kiliproject.org, which is just another reason this camp is so awesome. This morning we got to see what the Kili Project is all about with a guided tour of the area and the work they do.

The Project helps the local villages and focuses on training teachers and providing decent educational opportunities for the local kids. We stopped by a fully stocked library and their new internet centre. We toured through some primary classrooms and our last stop was the local vocational school. They had a woodshop, masonry classroom and arts and crafts (beads and printmaking). The project really focuses on building income generating skills for these kids which in a rural area is super important. At the end of the tour we stopped at a curio shop filled with beautiful items made by the local students.

While on our hike to Project headquarters we got a partially clouded view of Kilimanjaro, which just makes me want to come back and climb it! I’m thinking maybe 2013?

After we finished our tour we got back on the bus and headed to Lushoto and the Usambara Mountains. It took over an hour of driving up the side of the mountain just to make it to camp, which was about 1500 metres above sea level. My tentmate and I decided to upgrade to a room at this camp because we were spending 2 nights and really needed a break from the tents.

Breakfast: bread, cereal, banana, crepes, coffee/tea
Lunch: rice, beef, veggies, beans, spinach
Dinner: pasta, spicy meat sauce, green beans, carrots

Day 23 – Many in Amani

February 11, 2012
Marangu
Chem-Chem Camp

Intrepid, the company I’m touring with, strives to be a socially responsible company and makes sure to include a lot of local interaction on its tours. This morning, en route to our next camp, we stopped at Amani Children’s Home for a couple hours to meet some of the children who benefit from a company like Intrepid.

Amani is a large building with classrooms and dorm rooms for it’s growing population of streetkids that it takes in. It is not an orphanage, most of the kids here have a family, but for one reason or another have turned to the streets. Amani finds these kids and offers a safe place for them to live while they go to school for a few years and works with their parents (or other family members) to reunite them when school is done.

Currently the school has over 80 boys and less than 10 girls. They have about a dozen teachers, cooks and a nurse. The building was in great condition and as we toured through the classrooms, kitchens and dorms I thought the facilities were very clean and well maintained.

After the tour we were sent to play with some of the kids who swarmed our group as soon as we stepped outside. It seemed like soccer/football was the sport of choice (like most of Africa) and the kids had a great time making us run around after the ball.

When everyone was thoroughly exhausted and sweaty we got back on the truck and headed to Marangu, located close to Kilimanjaru and a really picturesque campsite high in the mountains. We met our host, Mr. Dilly, who spoke briefly about the Kili Project, which we will be touring tomorrow.

It must have been the kids that tired me out because I couldn’t keep my eyes open during dinner and went to bed at 830pm.

Breakfast: french toast, chicken sausages, baked beans, cereal, papaya, coffee/tea
Lunch: sandwich from cafe – chicken, pesto, avocado
Dinner: rice, beef stew, beans, spinach

Day 22 – Kill Pussycat Kill

February 10, 2012
Karatu
Kudu Lodge and Campsite

After the success of the last two days in the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti everyone believed we wouldn’t be able to top what we’d already seen. Our morning game drive started as normal as we came across a couple cute jackals (like foxes) and giraffes. We drove on and after a bit it started to seem like all the animals had gone into hiding.

We came upon an open stretch of plains and saw an antelope wandering by itself in the grasses. A dark shadow was moving towards it and quick as lighting a lioness pounced and took that antelope down in a cloud of dust. We barely had time to realize what was happening before it was over. The lion took her kill in her mouth and disappeared into the grasses.

We started to move on when someone noticed two more shadows moving in the grasses. It was two more lions who could probably smell the blood from the kill and wanted to know what was going on.

They split up and while one went to the kill site the other took refuge in the shade.

We were so close I noticed how one closed her eyes when she smelled the air, how sharp their teeth were and how large (and terrifying) their paws were.

Our time in the Serengeti had come to an end, but everyone was more than happy with what we had seen. As we drove along the lone road out of the park our driver noticed a male lion laying beside a wildebeest, looking quite proud of himself. Walking in the opposite direction was a couple lionesses and their cubs. It looked like everyone had enjoyed their alfresco meal and were heading to the shade for some relaxation and digestion time. Just another awesome sighting in the middle of the Serengeti. It has been an amazing couple of days and I don’t think I’ll soon forget all the amazing things I’ve been so lucky to see.

Before heading to our camp in Karatu we stopped at the Olduvai Gorge where 3.6 million years ago 3 hominids left their footprints for us to find. The hominids were Australopithecus afarensus – part of the direct evolutionary line to Homo sapiens (though they walked upright, they did not use stone tools). It was neat to see this part of human history literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s crazy to think what else is still out there that just hasn’t been found yet.

Breakfast: toast, fried eggs, bacon, watermelon, cereal, banana, coffee/tea
Lunch: (packed lunch) sandwich, cookies, banana, juice
Dinner: mashed potatoes, spiced beef, mixed veggies

Day 21 – Serenget-it-in-ya

February 9, 2012
Serengeti National Park
Serengeti National Park Camp

Half our group opted to take the hot air balloon ride this morning ($500 pp), but I decided to stay on the ground and search out more animals. The morning is a perfect time for a game drive because it isn’t too hot yet and hungry animals are searching for their breakfast. We came across giraffes and gazelles, elephants and monkeys.

We caught the tail end of the wildebeest migration but the zebra migration was in full effect. Thousands of them were marching through the Serengeti, mostly in an straight orderly line, which is actually a defense mechanism. When zebras walk in a line their stripes are too confusing for lions to register so they are less likely to be attacked. Neat, eh?

Speaking of lions, as we were watching the zebras at a watering hole someone spotted a lioness in the bushes either trying to beat the heat or waiting for an unsuspecting zebra to separate from the group. Every once in a while she’d lazily pop her head up, scan the area, then lay back down.

In Africa, the Big Five are the lion, the wildebeest, the elephant, the rhino and the leopard (the hardest to spot of them all). We had already seen the first four so we started scanning the trees, a leopards favourite hangout. We drove for a few hours before spotting a group of trucks clustered around a lone tree. We headed over and stretched out on one of the low branches was our last puzzle piece, the leopard. She was gorgeous and it was funny how much this huge cat reminded me of my own back home, except where this cat could take down an antelope mine can only handle flies and moths.

By this time the sun was pretty high in the sky and it was getting pretty hot so we headed back to the campsite for a little siesta. In the afternoon we went to the Serengeti info centre and learnt about the area and the research that they do there. We had a short game drive as the sun was setting and spotted a family of giraffes, zebras and a herd of elephants having dinner. Everyone was pretty exhausted and it was an early night for most.

Breakfast: bread, cereal, banana, coffee/tea
Lunch: crepes, sausage, fruit salad, baked beans
Dinner: potato garlic soup, pizza (with nuts on it?), spiced beef, rice, beans