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Day 253 Holi

Happy Holi! Today is the full moon festival of colour, celebrating Spring and the end of the harvest and the warding away of bad spirits. The city shut down and the roads were near empty, save the men drinking rum and smudging coloured powder onto each other’s faces. We were warned that it was safer to stay off the streets during the festival as people would often throw water bombs which may be entirely innocuous or may contain numerous kinds of dodgy substances, including acid, eggs or toxic paint.

The early "clean" hours

The early “clean” hours

Abhi, our guide

Abhi, our guide

But we celebrated ourselves and played Holi with the other tour groups on a hotel rooftop, with rum and coloured powder and water. Such larks! We found out later that the blue Holi water that was used was in fact dye and does not wash out…hmm. I am a smurf.

I am a smurf

I am a smurf

Staying close to our hotel, we wandered into the street afterwards and Happy Holi’d the locals much to their and our delight.

The aftermath

The aftermath

Unfortunately, some of the men were becoming gropey in their drunken holi state. There were a couple of nasty incidents that left me feeling violated and disgusted, putting a rather sour edge on the day and of my opinion of Indian men. Not that they had a fabulous reputation to begin with.

We boarded the night train into Rajasthan in the evening, admiring the delightful state of Delhi station (note the sarcasm) and snuckering down in our small hard 3-tier bunk beds in attempts of sleep while the train rocked us like babes.

Sleeper train

Sleeper train

Day 251-252 Delhi, India

The lead up to India was highly stressful starting from Check-In at the Nairobi airport. On arriving well before time, I relaxed at the airport and waited for the Etihad counter to open. When it did, I was one of the first to go through. The staff asked for my yellow fever vaccine certificate and my one for polio. Polio??? I discovered that the India government had recently introduced a new law, starting 1st March 2014, requiring passengers to have an oral polio vaccination before travelling from Kenya to India. The Etihad staff said they were very strict about this and would not let me on the plane without it. They said I could get my vaccine done at the airport clinic.

So, begrudgingly, I marched over there to this little bare concrete room with a grumpy Kenyan woman at a desk full of papers and told her my situation. Exasperated, she told me that I had to have had the vaccine at least 6 weeks but no more than a year from the date of travel. I got a bit upset at hearing this and she said that I could pay her 1000 shillings and she would give me the vaccine and change the date on the certificate to 6 weeks before. Turned out I only had 750 shillings, so she said I could give her that and she would stamp my certificate but not give me the vaccine. So dodgy.

I traipsed back to check-in and they let me through. Sitting at the gate I realised that if Indian immigration looked at my passport and Kenyan visa they would see that I had only been in Kenya one day and was actually stamped in Namibia at the supposed time of vaccination. Freaking out, I fretted over the next 13 hours about whether I would be deported or held in quarantine when I arrived in India. I finally arrived and went through immigration – they didn’t even ask to see my vaccination certificate. Success!!! Flushed with relief, I scampered out and was greeted by a pre-booked taxi driver whose car was a hotbox of hash smoke – Welcome to India.

Delhi metro

Delhi metro

SO. Namaste from India! I got to the hotel and my farjah at 5am and had a brief snooze. We then met up with my cousin, Harriet (!), and her friend, Kerry, and explored a little of the chaotic madness that is Delhi. We bargained with tuktuk drivers, haggled for clothing purchases (restraint is proving impossible for me – this is shopping paradise), wandered the tranquil escape of Lodi Gardens, explored impressive ancient tombs, sucked on cardamom ice lollies, sampled chilli pakoras and dined on delicious curries.

The alley within which lies our guesthouse. Note the guy using the public urinal on the left (you can just see his back)

The alley within which lies our guesthouse. Note the guy using the public urinal on the left (you can just see his back)

Lodi Gardens

Lodi Gardens

Delhi is a sensory explosion. The colours are fantastic – bright saris, coloured bindis, red and yellow spices, young people smudging pink and red and green and yellow powder on our faces for the Holi Colour Festival… The smells are overwhelming – meat cooking, incense burning, beautiful flowers, curry spices, petrol fumes, piling rubbish, public urinals (that’s right, as in, on the street)… It’s loud – horns honking, dogs barking, people yelling, horns honking, hawkers calling, horns honking, horns honking, horns honking… And hot – hot hot hot, but actually so much cooler and less humid than I was expecting, really quite a bearable temperature… And the food, oh the food… mango lassies, sugared aniseed, beautifully spiced curry, street pakoras, papadoms, garlic naan, roti… aaaaaah…

Our first holi play with a group of young students

Our first holi play with a group of young students

Our second day, Dad and I caught a tuktuk to Humayun’s tomb, a gigantic marble masterpiece in a vast parkland. The tuktuk drivers almost got into a fist fight over who was going to take us there, pushing each other out of the way. The guy who ended up taking us stopped on the side of the road about a minute into the journey and, flushed with victory, rolled tobacco together with some white paste and stuck it into his mouth. He then spent the rest of the trip trying to convince us that he was the best tuktuk driver, despite the fact that he didn’t actually know where this place (the #2 attraction in Delhi) was.

Afterwards, we walked in search of Hazrat Nizamuddin’s shrine, through a park filled with a community of homeless people, down a maze of narrow alleyways filled with live chicken crates, DIY hardware, knockoff shoes and sweet smelling red flowers. There were lines of taps and washing rooms dotted along and shopkeepers calling for you to leave your shoes with them. Discarding our sandals, we walked along the mats into the shrine area which was packed with religious pilgrims burning incense and offering flowers, praying and singing and chanting over the tomb. We felt very much like tourists as we couldn’t see any other white people there but it was an amazing, if slightly awkward, experience because of it.

Hizamuddin's shrine

Hizamuddin’s shrine

We met our G Adventures tour group in the evening and went out for more yummy curry in the evening.

Note: Many of the photos I will include in the final parts of my travel blog are thanks to the fabulous photography of my father

Day 41-42 Nairobi, Kenya

Population: 44 million; Languages: Swahili, English; Currency: Tanzanian Shilling; Life Expectancy: 55 years

Dinner at Carnivores...

Dinner at Carnivores…

Crossing into Kenya was relatively event-free. I had a mad trading fest with the Maasai women at the border crossing with some stuff I was leaving behind. As we drove through Nairobi, we passed an immense slum, home to 1 million people, between towering sky scrapers. I’d expected Nairobi to be more developed for some reason, and I was shocked to see the reality.

The poverty seemed more harsh here compared to the villages, the contrast so stark between high rise and ghetto. I couldn’t help wondering what people think of us as tourists, as Westerners. And what do they think when they watch crappy superficial materialist American television (those that have them)?? I can only imagine.

The traffic was atrocious, not helped by the unmade dirt roads riddled with potholes. We passed a man running down the highway pulling a cart piled high with plastic trash, just another vehicle. People had made small rough shelters on the sides of the highway, where they were cooking. Turned out they lived there.

It had been raining and the roads were muddy. And by that I mean deep sludgy red mud. People walked to work in suits and heels, picking their way carefully through the thick sludge as cars battled through it, passing stranded vehicles that had got stuck, unable to stop to help for fear of the same fate. It amazed me that, during rush hour, so many people were walking – all along the edges of the highway.

We met a local, Barack, at the campsite and were reminded that Obama is half Kenyan. We splashed out at the famous Carnivores restaurant for dinner, where you’re brought meat continuously until you take down your flag. Wo. Never eaten so much meat… beef sausage, lamb sausage, chicken, chicken wings, chicken gizzard, chicken liver, ostrich meatballs, ox testicles (yeeuurrk!), lamb liver, crocodile, roast beef, roast pork, pork ribs, lamb chops… the list goes on. Needless to say, we rolled out of the restaurant – after dessert of course – with rather sore bellies.

The next morning brought sad goodbyes as I left early for the airport after my last night in the tent and my last night in Africa.

The next adventure awaits!

Day 38-40 Serengeti National Park & Ngorongoro Crater

On safari! We drove “2 hours” African time (4.5 hours) through mud villages, baboons, red bananas (taste the same) and Maasai herders to the Ngorongoro crater. Stopping for lunch, we were swooped by huge black kites, ready to steal food off your lap if given half a chance. Gigantic Marabou Storks also visited (#1 of the Ugly 5) – probably a metre tall and certainly not people shy. We paused at a lookout spot where we could see large herds of animals (buffalo, elephant, zebra) grazing across the vast African plains.

Marabou stork

Marabou stork

Marabou Stork

Marabou Stork

We drove around the outskirts of the crater, passing Maasai villages on our way. Stopping to sign into the park, we walked up to a stunning lookout with 360 degree views of the seemingly endless Serengeti savannahs. The Serengeti was phenomenal. Slender giraffes silhouetted on the hillcrest, huge giraffe families beside the road. Warthog were rampant (#2 Ugly Five), as well as huge herds of buffalo, wildebeest, zebra and elephants, solitary jackals and hyena and many types of antelope – gazelle, topi, impala. We saw one hyena (#3 Ugly Five) feasting on an antelope carcass as vultures (#4 Ugly Five) circled impatiently and tried to snatch pieces of meat. Birdlife was also evident, with Marabou storks, white storks, black ibis, superb starlings, secretary birds (they look like secretaries!), kori bustards (biggest flying birds in the world and nicknamed horny bastards by us), crowned crane, rollers, egrets, vultures, fish eagle and black shouldered kites.

Maasai village on the outskirts of Ngorongoro

Maasai village on the outskirts of Ngorongoro

Kori Bustard

Kori Bustard

Mama and buba

Mama and buba

We were also lucky enough to see two leopards in trees. The first prowled through the long grasses before climbing the tree, hugging the trunk as it clawed its way up. It then draped itself over a branch and at one point jumped between them – wow.

Spot the leopard

Spot the leopard

[Close-up photo courtesy of Loz]

[Close-up photo courtesy of Loz]

Perched vultures

Perched vultures

[Close-up photo courtesy of Loz]

[Close-up photo courtesy of Loz]

[Close-up photo courtesy of Loz]

[Close-up photo courtesy of Loz]

Hippo swamp

Hippo swamp

Flushed with success, we started on our way to camp as the sun started to set. We crossed a stream in the 4×4, spotting hippo and crocs within – eek! On the other side, a lioness rested next to a fresh kill of wildebeest. As we watched, a second lioness emerged from the bushes and began to rip into the flesh. The first lioness walked right by the truck as she vacated the spot temporarily to digest, literally right under my nose as she brushed the side of the vehicle (by this point I had crumpled inside the truck in fear, hiding as our driver muttered, “jump on the truck, jump on the truck”). I almost peed myself. Stoked with our luck, we drove through a burning African sunset, passing thousands of buffalo crossing the road (massive animals).

[Photo courtesy of Loz]

[Photo courtesy of Loz]

Our second day, we were lucky enough to see two sets of lions lying in trees, male and female, at least 2 of which were pregnant and one which had a black bloody wound on her side, presumably from a feisty prey. We also spotted 3 young male lions by the side of the road, one chewing on a piece of rubber.

Lions in trees

Lions in trees

[Close-up photo courtesy of Loz]

Digestin’… [Close-up photo courtesy of Loz]

[Close-up photo courtesy of Loz]

The wounded hunter [Close-up photo courtesy of Loz]

Munching on rubber

Munching on rubber

[Close-up photo courtesy of Loz]

[Close-up photo courtesy of Loz]

And we saw the migration! Probably the highlight of the Serengeti for me. Thousands and thousands of wildebeest and zebra moving in great herds across the Serengeti plains. Every year, about 2 million wildebeest make their way around the Serengeti and into Maasai Mara national park in Kenya in a circular migration following the rains. Wildebeest are strong, but their eyesight is not so good so they are joined by hundreds of thousands of sharp-sensing zebra in a fantastic symbiotic relationship. Together they are a sight to behold. Marching in long lines over the horizon line, they run in synchronisation in great stampedes. Wowowow. And what a lot of noise. The wildebeest make a grunting kind of nasal cow-like sound, while the zebra make more of a violent high-pitched chirrup.

The migration

The migration

[The following close-ups courtesy of Loz]

[The following close-ups courtesy of Loz]

Wildebeest (#5 Ugly Five) are known as spare parts animals: grasshopper face, warthog ears, buffalo horns, zebra stripes and horse tail. Babies have a gestation period of 3 months and mothers all give birth at the same time, within about 3 weeks of each other.

[Photo courtesy of Loz]

[Photo courtesy of Loz]

We spent a night camping in the Serengeti (no fences campsite) and woke to sounds of cackling hyenas, whooping zebras and lowing lions. Rather disconcerting…

[Close-up photo courtesy of Loz]

[Close-up photo courtesy of Loz]

Hyena munches on his carcass as a vulture comes to investigate

Hyena munches on his carcass as a vulture comes to investigate

I'm watching you buster

“I’m watching you buzzard..” “Who me?”

The second night was spent at 3000 m on the top edge of the Ngorongoro Crater. Both the Serengeti and the Crater were formed by volcanic activity millions of years ago, the mountain collapsing to create the flat savannah plains. The crater campsite was blissfully cooler and we had chance to wrap up. As soon as night fell, we were told not to visit the second set of (far nicer) toilets, a few 100m away from the dining area, due to the danger of lions…

No fences campsite

No fences campsite

Rolling cloud flows over the crater edge

Rolling cloud flows over the crater edge

As we waited for dinner, a gigantic bull elephant visited the camp. He was GIGANTIC I tell you! He walked right up to the kitchen, pushing his trunk against the wire grating protection windows, searching for food. A few stupid tourists put themselves in ridiculous danger (including a mother with her young child..?!?!?), watching as the elephant walked right up to them, metres away. They could have been crushed in a spilt second, as many people are, every year. But the bull was calm thankfully, and continued trying to break into the kitchen with his trunk and tusks, as well as the dining area, his huge head less than a metre away from me and separated only by an increasingly inadequate-seeming wire grate. The cooks banged some pots at him – we freaked out as we waited to see if he’d leave or charge… thankfully it was the former.

I woke around 3am to sounds of munching invading my dreams. As I gained consciousness, I realised with a start that there was something huge right beside my ear, chomping grass and blowing out of its nose in large gusts. Never will I forget that moment. Suspecting it was a buffalo, i lay painfully still, my heart pounding as I pondered the possibility of it crushing me in the tent if it decided to suddenly lie down next to me. It to’d and fro’d from our tent, grazing, then moved away. I finally mustered the courage to peek outside and saw a gigantic looming shape around ten metres away and an even bigger shadow passing slowly nearby. Buffalo! Elephant! Suddenly busting for a wee, I argued with myself as to whether it was safe to get out. I compromised and squatted next to the tent, too scared to venture any further. The next morning, everyone was buzzing about the nighttime visitors. One of our guys was stuck in the loo for 3 hours as he waited for a lion to move away.

We ventured into the crater that day and it was a beautiful day for it – rolling cloud over the edge of the steep crater edge, lush green plains thriving with wildlife, and sunshine! As soon as we got down the narrow track into the crater, we came upon two young lionesses with around seven cubs – cubs!!

Looking over the crater

Looking over the crater

The lions approached us, walking inbetween the 4x4s, cubs following behind. We watched one mother stalk an ibis as her cubs watched on, picking up tips.

Flamingoes!!!

Flamingoes!!!

The rest of the day was spent scouting out black rhino, admiring the stunning scenery and other wildlife, watching spotted hyena surround a zebra before deciding it was a fool’s errand, and searching for the elusive (too elusive as it turned out) cheetah. We picnicked on the bank of a hippo-filled lake and then made our way back to Arusha, sad to leave Tanzania’s most fabulous National Parks.

"Look right, then left, then right again..."

“Look right, then left, then right again…”

Reeeeeally heavy

Reeeeeally heavy

Buffalo grazing

Buffalo grazing

I wandered around the village in the afternoon and met two small girls on their way back from school – as they proudly informed me. After we’d determined they didn’t, or wouldn’t, speak much English, I had a go at the little Swahili I’d learnt and had a basic conversation exchange with the aid of some body language, which felt awesome!

Red banana

Red banana

Day 37 Maasai in Arusha

Maasai jumping

Maasai jumping

There is a large population of Maasai in Tanzania and many locals in Arusha. The Maasai are generally nomadic pastoralists, who move from place to place, following the rains and finding rich grasses for their cattle. They have retained their culture and dress in long shuka (blankets), usually in red or blue. The colour denotes age and stage of life – pre/post circumcision, un/married, mother/father, grandparent. A local Maasai man, Oli, took us to visit the nearby Maasai village and answered our questions about their culture.

Two headed camel..?

Two headed camel..?

The Maasai don’t believe in the idea of school and believe that the most important education is that of raising and minding cattle. Their cattle are of utmost importance to them and the children will start herding around 3-4 years old. When the boys reach around 14 years they are circumcised publicly with a sharp knife, as a test of manhood. No anaesthesia or painkillers are used. Cow blood is drained daily to be drunk by these boys (as well as women during childbirth) to replace that lost. The village people watch to see if the boy cries. Should he cry, the women will see and he will be deemed undesirable as a husband and forming a family will be difficult. The boys then go by themselves into the bush to heal. For 2-3 weeks, they stay in the bush, hunting for birds and squirrels, practicing dancing and jumping and making shelter. When they emerge, a big feast is thrown and the boy is named a warrior, now a man. They drink local brew in celebration, made from bee honey. Hives are constructed and hung from trees to collect honey for the beer.

This little guy wanted to trade my sunnies for his stick..

This little guy wanted to trade my sunnies for his stick..

The girls are also circumcised to reduce pleasure from sex so that they will remain faithful to their husbands. This happens at a young age, when the girl is too young to know what’s happening. The Maasai are polygamous and one man will have many wives and many more children. The first wife is usually chosen for the man by his family, while subsequent wives can be chosen by him.

Dowry is paid for the women in cows or goats, as it is all over Eastern Africa. Men with many wives and children are more respected because they will be rich in cattle and must be responsible to care for so many wives and children. We passed the home of one chief near the Serengeti, who had 15 wives and over 50 children. Each wife has her own house where she lives with her children. Though the Maasai are polygamous, they are known for being faithful to their spouses and infidelity is said to be low. All women will be married and if she is unable to bear children, she will adopt children from another wife.

The Tanzanian government is trying to educate the Maasai about the dangers of their practices and to encourage them to send their children to school. However, the people are resistant to change, though some kids do go to school. There is even Maasai in government. But these cases are rare.

We visited the local medical centre which provides free care for snake bite victims (sponsored by the snake park). There was a little boy of maybe 6 or 7 popping in and out while we were there. He was horrifically burned all over his face and body, so much so that his face was quite brutally disfigured. We stared at him in shock and asked our guide what had happened to him. He replied flippantly, Oh he’s just burnt. We found out later that it is a sadly common thing for young children to fall in fires in Africa and burns like the little boy’s were all too regular a sight.

We walked to a village close to the Snake Park, some of us on camelback, and were met by running children. The bright young faces beamed into ours as they grabbed our hands and jumped to hug us. Children passed us; boys carrying huge bundles of wood on their backs, girls with babies strapped to their backs, one looking no more than 5 years old. I met one small girl called Rose who was so excited to discover that we had the same name and ran to tell her mother.

We were shown inside one of the mud houses where there were three babies, looked after by mother, grandmother and sister. The women are responsible for building the houses, out of Acacia wood, mud and grasses, using palms for the roof.

The men danced for us, including younger boys who were newly anointed warriors. They sang and chanted and jumped – they can really jump pretty high – and our boys joined in, much to everyone’s amusement.

We visited the local market where we were encouraged into small mud huts filled with beaded jewellery, Maasai shuka, tyre sandals and huge earrings.

We also visited a Tanzanite shop. Tanzanite is a blue crystal found only in Tanzania and mined locally. It is thought to be running out and purchase is thus considered an investment. A few of us wandered around the village after, attempting to barter for local prices (to no avail) and purchasing beaded bracelets off an old Maasai woman.

Day 36 Dar Es Salaam to Arusha

Distance travelled: 700 km (14 hrs)

Seizo plantations

Sizo plantations – the fibers from this plant are used commercially

We left at 4am and drove North through the Tanzanian capital towards the Serengeti. We passed the muddy flooded streets of Dar, a man scooping water from a dirty puddle into a drink bottle, a boy trying to carry his two younger brothers on the back of his bicycle, Maasai tribespeople walking along the streets, dressed in wrapped red material with staff or spear, towering over everyone else in their oh so slim tallness. Handmade concrete bricks were stacked along the roadside, small mud houses built from wooden lattices packed with mud, open air huts used for cooking beside them, so many homes with the condemned X marking. There were some concrete and brick houses, the nicer ones equating to the worst of those you’d see in the poorest neighbourhoods at home. Farmers irrigated by hand with water buckets, women and children carried water from the river in buckets on their heads, people in burka, including infants, and full Islamic headdress, kohled eyes peeping out. Completely packed public transport vehicles, people squashed against the windows and hanging out the doors.

We drove along unmade roads for a large portion of the journey and passed a horrendous head-on truck collision, a car-upended in the ditch, not an uncommon sight for us by this stage. On one trip, we saw five flipped trucks/buses, one of which was on the news that night – 27 people died. African drivers are notoriously terrible, taking crazy risks especially when overtaking, going far too fast and way too overcrowded with passengers. Doesn’t help that the vehicles are not usually in fabulous condition either.

We passed stalls stacked with fresh pineapples, maize BBQs, vast green spiky sizo plantations and majestic mountain ranges, including Kilimanjaro (though mostly shrouded in cloud when we passed).

We got to Arusha Snake Park in time for dinner and peered into the snake enclosure – not the best thing to be doing just before bed in retrospect. After seeing giant python that have eaten people whole and snake after snake marked “neurotoxic”, “highly venemous” and “immediate death”, sleeping did not come easy in the campsite over the hedge from the tanks.

Day 32-35 The Beach

The following day, we visited Prison Island in a monsoon downpour, by rickety fishing boat. The island was idyllic: white sands, clear turquoise water, huge starfish and lush rainforest in the centre. More importantly, it’s home to mainland Africa’s only population of Giant Tortoises.

Local fishermen

Local fishermen

Prison Island

Prison Island

Wowow, I was hoping they’d be big, but it was an awesome sight to behold on actually seeing these huge creatures, the oldest 189 years old. We were able to touch them and massage the tough old skin on the long wrinkled necks. The tortoises seemed to like it and one kept ambling laboriously up to me to lift its head for me to scratch. Quite intimidating actually cos these things are BIG.

The bigger one was about 130 years old

The bigger one was 130 years old

In the afternoon, we visited a natural aquarium where we swam with the resident turtles there. There were around 20 turtles and they were also BIG. The oldest was 28 years old and he was massive, a similar size to the giant tortoises. They live to over 100. The water was rather stagnant, though it supposedly rises and falls with the tide, so the water was murky. Turtles would suddenly appear out of the haze and swim between your legs or under your feet which was a bit scary. I felt fine about it until I was bitten on the foot about 30 seconds into the water.

The turtles aren’t aggressive, but there was a lot of seaweed food being thrown in (they eat around 100 kg/day each) and their eyesight isn’t great. It was amazing to potter around on the surface with the snorkel and swim alongside them and also the GIGANTIC fish also in there. I ended up in a massive group of them at one point and one of them mistook my green bikini top tie for food and took a good chomp into my ribs. They may have no real teeth, but they definitely have a strong snap. The local guys called it a love bite and it certainly looked like it… ouchies.

Turtle love bite

My turtle love bite

We celebrated Jess’ 19th Birthday in the evening on the beach – the most beautiful beach omg. Again, fine white sand, crystal turquoise warm Indian Ocean, local fishing boats moored offshore, nets for mending on the beach, thatched sun huts, beautiful coral reef, frangipani flowers scattered over the sand, aaahhhhh…. And our bedrooms! Ahh pure bliss. Over the three nights we stayed, Loz and I were provided with roughly fifteen towels, which I made FULL use of. Luxury.

Zanzibar bliss

Zanzibar bliss

After an unheard of sleep-in to 9am, we lazed around on the beach, walking barefoot in the beautiful soft sand, snorkelling along the stunning corals  (with angelfish, moorfish, curious clownfish hiding in the anemones, huge schools of little stripy fish, moray eel, massive starfish and sea urchin, trumpet fish..), getting henna tattoos, chatting and bargaining with the locals for souvenirs and food. The food was good, lots of seafood, but omg TIA (This Is Africa) for food time, taking 2 hours for lunch to come.  We also met Kili, a local Maasai man who invited us to his shop and jumped and sang for us.

Getting our henna on

Getting our henna on

Our last day came too quickly and I spent it diving in the stunning Indian Ocean. I ended up going by myself cos my tour buddies weren’t feeling well, so I got the 1 on 1 experience which was pretty cool. After learning skills in the shallows, we boated out to the reef and, dropping backwards off the boat, descended 12m to the ocean floor. We saw octopus, giant shrimp (they can break your fingers or shatter aquarium glass with their claws), fatally poisonous spike fish, beautifully coloured trigger fish, crocodile fish, a fish with another fish stuck in its mouth (the victim expands itself on danger to prevent swallowing), school of gigantic  stripy angelfish, pufferfish, stunning brightly coloured tropical fish, stingray, territorial clownfish protecting their babies when you approached them (pretty brave really considering how small they were), trumpet fish, lionfish, massive starfish and beautiful corals. The fish weren’t much fussed by us and would swim right into my face to check out the weird intruder.

I had thought I might freak out being that deep, but it was so clear and beautiful so instead I revelled in it and felt pretty relaxed. On surfacing, my instructor, Adam, said I had really low air consumption and was very relaxed (*beam*) and so he could certify me in one more day. But alas, we ran out of time.

I met Joseph in the evening, a cool local who didn’t try to sell me anything and taught me some more Swahili.

Maasai with spear and cellphone.. ha

Maasai with spear and cellphone.. ha

The next day we left early with much sadness and made our way back to Dar. Another shitty stay in the shitty campsite. A major downgrade.

Day 31-32 Stone Town, Zanzibar

Donning our long sleeves and long pants, we crossed into the city by ferry, cramming in with the locals, swept along in a tide of bodies on the supposedly walk-on passenger-only ferry, the lower levels packed with cars, tuktuks and people. Huddled together in the stifling humidity, we emerged on the other side and walked through some of the worst smelling streets I’ve ever encountered, decomposing rubbish piled on all sides. Another two hour ferry ride saw us emerging through passport control and onto the sandy shores of Zanzibar.

We stayed in Stone Town the first night, the capital of the Republic of Zanzibar. What a remarkable old town, white stuccoed mosques calling prayer, old buildings with paint peeling and washing fluttering out of windows bordered by charming old wooden shutters. Little stalls selling limes, coconuts, bananas, kasava, sugar cane and Indian style sweets. Arab/African faces everywhere. We wandered through an amazing old spice market packed tight with vege and spice stalls selling cardamom tea, vanilla tea, ginger tea, banana tea and hundreds of spices.

Spice market

Spice market

Vendors lined the narrow stone streets selling Maasai paintings on canvas, tablecloth, bed sheets and other questionable materials, as well as beautiful ‘kanga’ sarong material in bright African patterns. There were so many dreadlocks everywhere and numerous ‘rasta’ shops. During my time in Zanzibar, I was constantly approached for weed and to admire my hair. I regularly received relationship requests, much to the amazement of my tour buddies. Sometimes it would only take a few minutes or even less. After one minute of talking to one guy, he told me that I needed a Zanzibar boyfriend to go with my New Zealand one (watch out Cal) and that he should be the one to do it.

Zanzibar was a major port on the spice route and we explored the still existing spice plantations and slave market to learn a little of the history. Around the spice farm, we were shown clove trees, cardamom vines, vanilla vines, peppercorn trees, cinnamon trees, (bark, leaves, and roots – used for Vicks Vapor), cacao and coffee trees, ylangylang trees, turmeric and ginger roots, lemongrass bushes (mmchaichai in Swahili). A vendor sold us perfumes and lotions made from the spice plants and a local boy climbed a coconut tree to retrieve fresh coconuts for us, while singing “Jambo Bwana”.  We were able to try a few of the spices fresh from the plant, including ginger (wowee!), turmeric (oh so yellow), cloves (make your mouth numb), lipstick fruit (red lips) and cardamom seeds (sweet).

Lipstick fruit

Lipstick fruit

Vanilla pods

Vanilla pods

Coconut climbing

Retrieving coconuts

We visited the old slave market next to learn a little history. A harrowing and creepy place. Gave me the heebeegeebees. We were shown the slave holding cells, where slaves were held for weeks while they waited to be sold. There would be as many as 70 people in a small room. We had trouble fitting 10 of us in. The room would be so full that people would be on top of each other and would often suffocate to death. You could still see the cuffs and chains attached to the concrete.

The slave containment area - this area would hold around 70 people. We had trouble fitting 10 of us in here

The slave holding cells. The toilet is the trench you can see in the middle of the room which would be cleaned when the water came in at high tide.

Zanzibar was one of the largest slave ports in the Indian Ocean slave trade. The Arabs (this term is used loosely and encompasses Africans as well as those from the Middle East) took control of Zanzibar in the early 1700s and captured whole African villages from Tanzania out to the Congo. The villagers were brought as slaves to Zanzibar to trade and around 50,000 passed through the port each year. It is estimated that around 80,000 per year died en route. They were sold off to Arab farmers for work on the land or to be shipped all over the world, including Europe and America. Over 100 slaves were sold each day for $12/man and $8/woman. Although slaves were supposed to be cared for like one of the family, more often than not, this was not the reality.

We had drinks at a beautiful bar looking over the beach in the evening. We only found out later that it was a Whites Only bar. Makes me sick. We ate at the fish markets for dinner, a busy night food market pumping with life and haggling chefs trying to sell their Tanzanian pizzas (YUM), “fresh” seafood (questionable), naan and chapati for Best Price! The food was delicious and dirt cheap. We ate dinner for $2.50 including 2 Tanzanian pizzas and chapati.

Tanzanian pizza

Tanzanian pizza

We lavished in our beautiful four-poster wooden beds, complete with hanging mozzie nets and fresh towels eeeee!!

Day 30: Dar Es Salaam

Distance travelled: 550 km

Another freakishly early start saw us on the road by 4:00 for a 15 hour drive, stopping only for bush toilet and to fill up with petrol. We passed tiny mud houses everywhere, some with painted X’s on the front. I assumed that this sign was to indicate that these houses were unsafe for habitation (they certainly looked that way), but actually they were marked for demolition because they were illegally erected on council land.

Mad with cabin fever after 11 hours, we hit backed up rush hour traffic on the outskirts of Dar Es Salaam and crawled for the next four hours around the edge of the Tanzanian capital to the campsite. The campsite was easily the worst so far, with no working toilets and grubby cold showers. Unimpressed. Plus, it was stifling hot and humid and on arriving in the Muslim city, we (the girls) had to cover up in respect of the culture.