A Travellerspoint blog

17. Zanzibar – a Different Africa

Stone Town, Slaves, Spices, Snorkelling and Shopping

We abandon our camping way of life for three days of comfort on Unguja. It’s the main island of Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous series of islands off the mainland coast of Tanzania and East Africa in the Indian Ocean.

We begin the colourful journey from the camping ground on the mainland to the hotel on the island by cramming ourselves and our gear in two miniature three-wheeler tuk tuks for the trip back to the harbour ferry. There we join the surging mass of humanity crowding onto the boat as walking passengers for the 10 minute crossing. The din of voices and motors, the pungent body smells, the vibrant colours of the women’s attire – all threaten to overwhelm one’s senses, but I actually do enjoy it. A taxi takes us from downtown Dar es Salaam to the Zanzibar ferry. I am relieved, in the light of some recent ferry disasters, to see that ‘Kilimanjaro 3’ is a fine looking modern tourist ferry, which should cope well with the two hour trip across the reasonably smooth water.

The island presents a very different Africa, with the Arab and Moslem influence unmistakable. Although Zanzibar is today mostly inhabited by ethnic Swahili of Bantu origin, with some Arabs and Indians, more than 99 percent of the population are Muslim. I look forward to our tour later in the afternoon around Stone Town. It’s the old historic centre of the city, now a World Heritage Site. We are met at the ferry terminal by Tim, who is to be our Zanzibar guide, and we head for our three-star hotel, Mtoni Marine, four kilometres from Stone Town. It proves to be a very pleasant and comfortable place. The swimming pool is splendid and we enjoy a wonderful dip between lunch and the tour, the first of a number of swims.

Our visit to Stone Town is a walking tour, so we have the opportunity to get up close and personal to the sights, sounds and smells. Tim walks us through the meat and fish markets. Plenty of beef, goat, sheep, but no pork. The strong smell of fish fills our nostrils – and attracts the buzz of flies, but we are fascinated by the variety of shapes and sizes of fish including the numerous squid. The black eyes of the vendors follow me as I inspect their wares, aware that our worlds are so very different. I wonder if they mind this daily intrusion into their everyday activities.

With the teacher’s permission, Tim invites us into a nearby primary school and says we can take photos of the children in their blue and white uniforms, but most of the girls, their hair scarved in white, duck down under their desks to avoid being caught on camera. I glance around the walls and note the absence of colourful stimulation, a taken-for-granted item in any New Zealand school.

In the narrow back streets Tim points out several of the 50 mosques around the town and shows us the difference in the beautiful doors that issue straight on to the street – the Arabic doors have square tops and the Indian ones are rounded. We walk through the Old Fort, now a centre for craft stalls, and past the house of Princess Salme, daughter of a sultan, famous for eloping with a German merchant. More on her story later.

We arrive at the harbour front and the huge National Museum, closed for renovations. There’s a fascinating story around every corner. We see the house that used to be the British embassy. David Livingstone’s servants brought his body, salted and dried in the sun, here before it was returned to England for burial in Westminster Abbey. Freddie Murphy of Queen fame was born nearby. We see the beautiful interior of one of the sultan’s palaces with its Arabic décor, now an up-market hotel.

It’s all so interesting, but perhaps the most remarkable, and certainly the most sobering monuments are the remainders of the former slave markets. The slave trade in Africa goes back many hundreds of years, but in more recent times, after several centuries of Portuguese influence, Zanzibar fell under the control of the Sultanate of Oman in the late 1600s. Arab traders continued the lucrative slave trade, leading expeditions into the interior to acquire villagers; they were often used to caravan ivory to the coast, and then sold in the slave markets for good profits. By the mid-19th century, thousands of slaves passed annually through the port.

Control of Zanzibar eventually came into the hands of the British Empire, part of the political impetus being the movement for the abolition of the slave trade, against which David Livingstone was a prime force. In 1873 the British forced the Sultan to abolish the trade in his territories, resulting in the closing of markets and the protection of liberated slaves; in 1890 Zanzibar became a protectorate of Britain, gaining its independent in 1963. Subsequently it merged with its mainland neighbour to become Tanzania and though the archipelago remains a semi-autonomous region, its recent politics have been marked by tensions and violence between rival groups.

We sit in one of the restored slave holding cells, where up to 50 men or 75 women and children were kept on arrival at the port. Our party of five seems to fill half the narrow low-ceilinged room. How could that many people possibly fit in here, I wonder. I am reminded of my visit to Auschwitz several years earlier, and the horror of man’s cruelty to his fellows. Too dreadful to contemplate. St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral has since been built in the slave market grounds. We are shown a wooden cross inside, apparently fashioned from a tree under which David Livingstone’s heart was buried. Nearby is a poignant memorial to the slaves – a sculpture of five figures standing in a pit, manacled together around the neck.
The memory of the dark past of Stone Town lingers as we end our walk at Africa House in a much more pleasant setting, joining Eddie on the terrace overlooking the harbour. We watch the sunset and enjoy a dinner of prawns and avocado fried in bread crumbs, a delicious end to a day filled with such a range of experiences and impressions.

The archipelago is sometimes referred to as the Spice Islands, for one of the main industries besides raffia and tourism is spice production, particularly cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper. So a visit next day to a demonstration spice farm is part of the expected tourist undertaking on Zanzibar. We are introduced to numerous spice plants, including turmeric, cardamom, ginger and star fruit. A young man entertains us by scaling a towering coconut palm with great ease to provide us with a drink of coconut milk and the visit ends with a sampling of some of their beautiful fresh fruit.

On the third day we take a dhow to Changui or Prison Island and snorkel in the clear turquoise waters below the island cliffs, viewing the coral and small fish. Later we land on the island and wander through the old prison, built in 1893 but apparently never used for that purpose; instead it housed cholera and yellow fever victims. Today the island’s most well-known inhabitants are tortoises, originally brought from the Seychelles Islands, given refuge and allowed to multiply. Most of them have their age painted on their backs and the eldest appears to be 155 years. Goodness, that means it was born in 1859! If only it could tell us about its world then.

On our final morning Martin and I sneak a visit to the large rambling ruins of the Mtoni Palace, next door to the hotel. Earlier I referred to Princess Salme, daughter of a sultan, famous for eloping with the German merchant, Rudolph Heinrich Ruete. She was the youngest of the 36 children of Sayyid Said bin Sultan Al-Busaid, Sultan of Zanzibar and Oman, and spent her early years in the palace. While living in Stone Town in 1866 she became acquainted with her German neighbor. When she found she was pregnant to him, she fled on a British ship to Aden where she married him and the two relocated to Hamburg. She later wrote ‘Memoirs of an Arabian Princess from Zanzibar’, telling of her adventures.

We wander into the ruins. The first guard we meet allows us to continue when we say we are staying at the hotel. Most of the roof has disappeared, but tall walls surround spacious rooms, issuing from one to another through high Arabic arched doors. Smaller rooms contain steps and bathing pools for washing. Just as we are enjoying our visit to the past, another guard interrupts us to say we should have purchased a ticket. But by then we have seen as much of the site as we need to, and we retreat to the hotel, happy with our tour.

Our Zanzibar visit is rounded off with a bit more retail therapy at the Memories shop where every price is stipulated and you know what you are going to pay from the beginning. Not so on the street. As it begins to rain, a young vendor waves in front of us a highly coloured piece of fabric bearing African motifs. A scarf, a table cloth, a beach wrap – so many possible uses! He wants 28,000 Tanzanian shillings. We offer 10,000 and then feign complete lack of interest, walking into Memories to undertake some straight forward shopping. He is still there when we exit and he comes down to 20,000.

“No,” I say, “12,000 is as high as I will go.” We walk away, knowing that is what Judy paid the previous day. He really wants this sale and calls out 15,000. We keep on walking.

“Okay, 12,000,” he says, and the deal is done. We are learning how to trade in Africa.

As we arrive at the ferry building for the return to Dar es Salaam, the rain intensifies, thundering down on the tin roof and drowning out our conversation. I look at the rough surface of the sea, take a travel pill and sleep for the two hour ferry journey.

Posted by rhinospin 17:31 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

16. Into Tanzania: The Road to Dar es Salaam

Trucks, traffic and speeding tickets

From Lake Malawi it takes us four days in the land rovers to reach the continent’s east coast and the city of Dar es Salem. It is a distance of about 1150 kilometres, which includes repeating 100 kilometres into one town to find vehicle parts. It’s a long way on some of the busiest roads in Africa, where we constantly compete for space with the many trucks and buses. The weather becomes very warm, and as we near Dar es Salaam we are continually sticky and hot.

From Malawi we cross into our sixth country, Tanzania. Organisation on the Malawi side is chaotic; we meet Margreth and Werner again, trying to understand the complications of passport control, and we are grateful for our guides who lead us slowly but smoothly through the bureaucratic process. The Tanzanian side is more straightforward and we are away into the damp hill country of southern Tanzania and the town of Tukuyu, high enough to be out of malaria territory. With more rain threatening and the ground soggy, I am pleased we are not camping and have a hotel booked for the night.

The Landmark Hotel is an establishment with a few glitches; my shower is fine, but by the time Martin takes his, the hot water has disappeared; there is no toilet seat and the door of the room is hard to shut. Later Eddie reports that in his room there is hot water going into the toilet. He orders dinner on our arrival to make sure it is ready at 7.00pm. In the meantime Martin and I wander into the town; only the main roads are sealed and the rest are very muddy with the recent rain. In the narrow lanes of the semi-permanent market, everything is dirty and everyone is a trader. The labyrinth of lanes goes back into a tangle of roughly built shops and constricted passages, and we retreat to the road, afraid of getting lost.

Dinner is good and very cheap – the equivalent of $5NZ each. Over the meal we discuss the various Europeans we have met in Malawi and their adaptation to the African way of life. It seems that the men can adjust reasonably to living in Africa, but it is the women who struggle; after some years, they return home, unable to cope with the lack of congenial company and the loneliness.

Day two provides us a lovely drive at about 2500 metres above sea level – clear mountain air, clouds on the peak tops, pretty hydrangeas, rugged judder bars, and lots of people along the road sides. When we turn east onto the main road to Dar es Salaam, the volume of trucks increases dramatically; many carry wide loads and huge pieces of machinery, which we presume are for the mining industry.

The police check points continue. But there is a difference in Tanzania. Many of the police are armed with ‘hair dryers', speed guns, and they are skilled at pointing the gadget at your vehicle and recording your speed. Eddie blames the Danish government for donating a container load of speed guns to Tanzania. At one check point, the man in uniform asks if we are able to help with schillings or dollars. What does he mean? Does he want to change money into another currency? Is he asking nicely for a bribe? Martin points to Eddie ahead of us on the road and says he is our guide and has all our money. Well, it’s a partial truth, and he lets us go with a smile.

Jan’s vehicle begins to cough and splutter, and we all stop on the road side. Jan believes the problem is dirty fuel, for he has recently filled his tank from one of the emergency containers carried on the top of the vehicle; it probably had sediment in the bottom. We wait while he cleans the filter and that seem to improve matters. Meanwhile the trucks dominate the road, unceasingly one after the other.

Our camping accommodation is at the very pleasant Old Farm House, worth mentioning for some of its unusual features – stables converted to bedrooms, hot water showers heated from a fire, thatched roofs, impeccably clean long drop loos, and the mud walled café. The road continues through the Kitanga Gorge, with sharp bends and steep descents as we drop down the escarpment. The combination of lines of slow moving trucks and overtaking speeding buses increases our danger on the road. Both driver and navigator find it nerve wracking as we toss up whether to pass on a blind corner or continue the slow crawl behind a labouring lorry. Eddie and Jan in the lead land rover provide help over the radio,

“All clear – nothing coming. Safe to pass.” Or, “Bus coming; don’t pass; we’ll keep you posted,” and we sit behind the truck a bit longer.

Then it happens. Given the number of check points and ‘hair dryers’, it is bound to take place sooner or later. We get a ticket for speeding. Martin is going 63 kilometres per hour in a 50 village area. Though he drives with care, it is hard to know where villages begin and end, for the houses are often strung out along the road, and the speed zones are not well marked. I try to warn him, but this time, I am not quick enough. The male uniform and his female accomplice are very pleasant as they indicate we pull over and stop, and as they begin to write out the ticket, a large A4 sheet, before Martin can protest, there is nothing to do but to pay up the 30,000 schillings and accept the A4 document as a souvenir of Tanzania. By the way, that amounts to about $18US. One tactic, if you are quick enough before the ticket writing begins, is to claim you don’t have sufficient schillings. Then the uniform may accept what money you have, or even your US dollars, but he doesn’t issue you a receipt. Your unreceipted payment may then disappear into a grateful pocket.

Over lunch at a truck stop, we recount our experience to the rest of the group, our irritation and discomfiture vanishing in the telling and laughter. Eddie has bought us fried buns, goat titbits and samosas; the latter are very nice, but the goat is on the tough side. We pass through Baobab Valley, with its splendid large specimens. At the camp site, the plumbing is poorly maintained, with brown water flowing from the taps and broken showers. However the bar area is very pleasant, a cool escape from the draining heat, and we enjoy a drink and read for an hour at the end of the day.

Our final day to Dar es Salaam is 398 kilometres. We continue through the mountains, early morning low cloud hanging picturesquely over the steep peaks. We drive through Mikumi National Park without stopping, seeing impala, baboons, zebra, giraffe and an elephant from the road. Beyond the bush are numerous plots of bright yellow sunflowers, almost ready for harvesting. Then it is Judy and Graham’s turn to be rewarded with a traffic ticket. Their misdemeanour is crossing over a no-passing line in the centre of the road. I think all three vehicles do the same, but as they are the last in the line of land rovers, they get caught.

A hundred kilometres from Dar, the traffic volume increases and soon we slow down to a crawl. We continue our protracted travel into the city, where road works add to the traffic problems. They are constructing new bus lanes and loading stations in the centre of the long main street.

We go through the ‘United Nations’ area with its international schools, embassies and a university. Nearby is the President’s palace, surrounded by walled security, and close to the harbour, the fish market. Our camping ground is across the harbour and the fastest way is on the 10 minute vehicle ferry. The cars ease on to the ferry followed by the swarm of walking passengers and we make our way across the water.

Once the tents are up, we try to cool ourselves from the heat with a swim in the salt water pool overlooking the sea, but the relief does not last long. We are so hot and sticky and everything feels damp. We repack into smaller bags for the trip on the morrow to Zanzibar and enjoy dinner of delicious calamari rings in the camp restaurant. I am intrigued with the novel choice of guards at the camp site. They are young Masai warriors, tall and slender, in full dress with red and blue blankets, spears in hand and sandals made out of rubber tyres. They add an interesting flavour to the camp site and increase our anticipation of Masai territory in days to come. But first there is the excitement of visiting exotic Zanzibar.

Posted by rhinospin 01:44 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

15. Surprising Livingstonia

The road, the view, the historical past

Livingstonia is our next goal. So much about it amazes me – the atrocious road up to the town, the fascinating history, the beautiful stained glass window in the English style church, the modern university and significant hospital, the children at the waterfall, helter-skelter would-be tour guides. The town of Livingstonia, in northern Malawi, is not to be confused with Livingstone on the Zambezi River in Zambia. However both towns are named in honour of David Livingstone, the famous missionary, explorer and campaigner against slavery in 19th century Africa.

We continue north from Mzuzu up the escarpment, through hilly terrain, then down the escarpment again. We pass through a rubber plantation managed by a Dutch company. Some of the plantings are quite young, under planted with sweet potato. Lake Malawi beckons us, blue and calm and beautiful, and when we arrive at Hakuna Matata (a Swahili phrase meaning ‘no worries’, ‘no problem’) Campsite, near Chitimba, we are into the water for a swim.

The local fishermen haul in their fishing net onto the shore. They have taken it out into the lake between two dugout canoes and have slowly drawn it back towards the beach. We stand waiting to see the contents of the net as the fishermen pull it on to the white sand, but we are as disappointed as they must be, for the catch of pint-sized fish is insignificant . Eddie tells us that once the haul would have included much larger fish and unfortunately the lake is nearly fished out.

Our purpose in staying at Hakuna Matata, other than enjoying the lake again, is to visit Livingstonia, located on top of the escarpment. Our guides are setting us loose today, for we are on our own, which could mean the possibility of getting lost. Bu it is only 15 kilometres from the main road to Livingstonia, with no other side roads and we are armed with their instructions.

The road is bad. It takes us over an hour of slow travel but Martin enjoys negotiating the20 steep hairpin bends up the escarpment. He’s in his element navigating the rough rock and gravel surface of the narrow road. This is what he came to Africa for. It’s like the road to Haratonga on Great Barrier Island 30 years ago or the Skippers road in Central Otago, except that thick bush on the side of the road disguises the steep vertical stomach-in-your-mouth drops.

Fortunately we meet only three vehicles on the way up, and each time we hug the cliff or the edge and allow each other to inch past. There is another access road to Livingstonia from the south, but it is also in poor condition. Both roads become almost unusable in the wet season. Amazingly there are no public buses to the town. Locals and intrepid travellers do walk the hill, but it takes up to four hours and is, of course, physically challenging.

It is a great surprise when we reach the top to find that the terrain levels out to a flat plateau and there is an active community there. Its story goes back to 1874 when the Free Church of Scotland and Dr Robert Laws established the Livingstonia mission at Cape Maclear on the southern shores of Lake Malawi. The site proved problematic from both the tsetse fly and the malaria mosquito and the mission eventually shifted north to the higher ground above Lake Malawi in 1894. Dr Laws worked in Nyasaland, as Malawi was then called, as a missionary for 53 years, establishing a leading school and a prestigious medical work.

We stop by the stone cairn marking the spot where he and Uriah Chirwa camped on their first night there and chose the site for the church. Robert Laws’ stone house remains as a museum to his work, and we just manage to spend an interesting half an hour there before it closes for lunch. Other brick or stone houses line the roadway, former European homes from the colonial past. Nearby is the David Gordon Memorial Hospital which opened in 1911 under Dr. Laws. It continues its medical work today, serving a catchment area of 100,000 people. I later learn that its 4 wheel drive ambulances travel the arduous and mountainous routes to serve the remote villages and rural health clinics that depend on the hospital for medical care.

The church Dr Laws built is another surprise for it would easily be at home in any town in Britain. Built in brick, it features a bell tower, ecclesiastical windows and even a splendid stained glass window, showing David Livingstone with his sextant, medical chest and his companions, against a background of Lake Malawi. The church seems now firmly in the hands of indigenous leadership, for we meet the present minister, Timothy, outside the church craft shop and spend a few moments chatting together. I take the opportunity to look around the craft shop and purchase a wooden African nativity set to add to my nativity collection at home.

The town of Livingstonia also has a university, we discover. Dr Laws dreamed of creating tertiary level education, but it wasn’t to be in his time. Run by the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, the university was established in 2003 on two campuses in northern Malawi, one being the Livingstonia campus, which includes the headquarters, a college of education and a technical college. We wonder how the students find their way to Livingstonia with the roads so bad and the complete lack of public transport. But they certainly have new and modern facilities in which to study.

It is very pleasant relaxing outdoors in the town café, enjoying a late lunch, watching the view across the farmland and out to sea beyond the coast, and soaking up the historic atmosphere. This is a place where the local people have benefited from their colonial past, both medically and educationally; it’s by no means all negative, as is sometimes the picture presented.

The children at the Manchewe Falls are a pack of entrepreneurial scallywags. They take our entrance fee of 500 kwachas each (about $1.40 NZ) and scamper along the 400 metre long path to the viewing places where we can see the several impressive drops of water descending into the valley below. When we return to the car, they demand their fee as tour guides. We laugh and refuse; after all, the waitress at the café only got 200 kwachas for each bottle of Fanta that we purchased at lunch time, and we have already paid 1000 kwachas to see the falls.

Our last port of call is Mushroom Farm and its café/bar, just below the top of the plateau. It’s an interesting place, with its location on the edge of the cliff, its sustainable accommodation, and its composting toilet reached by stairs. The view over the bay is fantastic. Imagine waking up in the morning and stepping out of your safari tent to the sparkling sea, the sweep of the bay and the luxurious green of the bush and crops. Wonderful. The day finishes with another great swim in the lake back at our camp site.

Posted by rhinospin 01:21 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

14. Malawi, Nation and Lake

Traders in potato chips, tee shirts and postage stamps

I look around me dubiously. On the bare dirt ground in front of several rough brick shelters stand a couple of BBQs and some metal trestles. I inspect the chips on one of the tables with a critical eye. The tables look clean and there are no flies around. The chips seem well cooked, crisp and golden. On the recommendation of our guides, we have pulled into a roadside stall manned by several young Black Africans and the inevitable crowd of children. Jan and Eddie insist the fried potato chips for sale are very good. As we hesitate, Jan leads the way, buying a generous helping. Martin and Graham summon the courage to follow suit, while I take a photo of the transaction, certain that without Jan and Eddie’s example, we would never purchase, let alone eat, food from such an operation. The chips taste delicious and we suffer no problems afterwards.

We have crossed another national border into Malawi, our fifth country after South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia. Everything seems accentuated – more people on the roads, more police check points, more frequent villages, more trading of charcoal, firewood and crops. We enter Malawi near the capital, Lilongwe, and head towards the long narrow Lake Malawi, following its western shore north. Malawi shapes itself along the lake, wedged between Mozambique in the south and east, Zambia to the west and Tanzania in the north and east. The Great Rift Valley runs north-south through the country with the lake to the east of the valley.

Another ex-British colony, known then as Nyasaland, Malawi gained its independence in 1964. Of course the British heritage continues to have advantages for us – English is widely spoken and its people drive on the left hand as we do in New Zealand. It is one of the world’s poorer nations, with a large rural population dependant on subsistence farming. Many of its people struggle with problems of low life expectancy, high infant mortality and the prevalence of HIV/Aids. But they are a friendly welcoming people.

From my vantage point in the land rover, I view the green lush landscape dotted with crops of sorghum, millet, cassava and sugar cane. Sixteen million people live in this narrow strip of land. No wonder there are people everywhere. They walk along the side of the road, carrying their firewood, charcoal or market purchases. They crowd in the back of large lorries or small pick-ups; they peddle their cycles laboriously up the hills, laden down with heavy burdens. There seem to be so many more than in Botswana or Zambia.

We stop on the roadside for lunch, setting up our chairs and table on the rough ground, but before we can begin eating, crowds of children materialize, gathering around to watch the muzungu. Perhaps they are hoping for a gift of sweets, but we have made the conscious decision not to offer such, for the children have no way of cleaning their teeth, and we also don’t want to encourage the hand-out mentality. I cut up several apples and offer them around.

At each police check point we slow down and each time we are waved through. Mind you, the judder bars we saw in Zambia at each end of a village continue in Malawi and they ensure a drop in speed. Nevertheless, I encourage Martin to drive with care, for our guides have warned us that in Malawi, you don’t pay a fine on the spot. Instead you go before a court. This could delay our journey considerably, especially in the weekends, when we would have to wait till Monday morning for an open court. We see a speed camera in a 40kph zone on our way out of Lilongwe, and take comfort in the fact that, according to Eddie, it is one of the only two in the country.

We stay four nights right on the lake, the first two at Kande Beach and the second two below the mountain top town of Livingstonia. At Kande Beach, Judy and Graham take the opportunity to go on a village tour, but Martin and I are lazy and decide to spend the day relaxing – reading, swimming, an iced coffee in the camp ground café, walking on the lake shore. The lake water is warm and a little murky after the recent storm and heavy rain, but we enjoy the dip and the scenery, with numerous dugout canoes on the beach or in the water. The Lonely Planet warns of the dangers of bilharzia, caused by parasites in freshwater lakes entering the skin and passing on to the bladder or bowel. Our guides think swimming in Lake Malawi should be fine, but, just in case, advise us to take a simple medical test when we return home.

Martin's always friendly to whoever is around. He greets and chats with our adventurous neighbours, Gareth and Kirsty, who have their name, Aussie Overlanders, painted on their vehicle. They have shipped it from Australia to Durban and are now travelling through Africa.

Just occasionally Martin’s outgoing sociable nature gets him into trouble and one such incident takes place at Kande Beach. He meets an entrepreneurial young African on the beach who is very keen to sell him some tee shirts with a printed design of his choice.

“What about the words ‘Cape Town to Nairobi’ and a map of Africa?” Martin asks. “Yes, yes,” says the young man, and he persuades Martin to part with $7US as a down payment. The shirts are to be delivered at 5.00pm on our last evening when the rest of the money will be handed over. Five o’clock comes and goes, six o’clock, and still no shirts. We conclude that it is all a hoax and Martin has been had.

“Oh well, I only lost $7. It could have been worse,” he says. And we laugh it off. Then in the darkness at 7.00pm, the camping ground guard appears at our cabin (yes, we have upgraded for the Kande Beach stay) with Martin’s trader in tow, wanting to finalize the transaction. He indeed has two tee shirts and they are printed with a map and the designated words.

“Let’s have a look at them in the light,” says Martin, his suspicions roused. “Hey, this one is not new; look, the collar is frayed.”

“What’s the printing like?” I ask, fearing the worst. We stare at the poorly executed art work.

“I am not paying for this,” Martin tells the entrepreneur, where upon he dissolves into a shaking mess of imploring entreaties.

“Please, mister, please, mama, you must pay me. I did what you asked. I went to the market and I bought the tee shirts and I paid my friend to print them.” Out flows his sad story, with copious theatrical hand waving and much pleading. We wilt before his outpouring of self-pity.

“We’ll give him something,” I say to Martin, “otherwise we will never hear the end of it. Twenty dollars?” Martin nods to me.

“You are lucky to get $20,” Martin tells him. It’s only half of what he wants and he begins to object, then thinks better of it, accepts the money and departs. We realize we are late for dinner in the camp café, and we slink into our seats, too embarrassed to explain what we have been doing. Later in the trip, when we have had time to laugh about it as part of the African experience, we show Graham and Judy the shirts; they have a clothing business in Australia and they know about fabric printing. They agree that the quality is sub-standard. We dispose of the incriminating items somewhere along the way.

On the road to our second camp stay along the lake, we stop in the town of Mzuzu, a pleasant place with wide clean streets and gardens down the middle. I go to the post office to post some cards we have written to the grandchildren in NZ and Turkey. When I see the large size of the stamps and number I need to purchase, I tell that clerk that there isn’t enough room and they won’t fit in the allotted space.

“Oh, I can fix that,” he says with a grin. He proceeds very carefully and neatly to layer them on, one on top of the other, with just the price of each stamp showing. I think to myself that he has obviously had experience with his country’s large pictorial stamps and has done this before. I thank him for his efforts.

What a contrast there is between the town’s Shoprite supermarket and the outdoor market across the road. The supermarket is modern, not too different from those at home. Perhaps it is one of the string of supermarkets in southern and central Africa owned by an Indian South African.

We are the only whites in the outdoor local market, covering a large corner lot of bare red earth. As we wander along the rows of items for sale, spread out on sheets of plastic or woven matting, the women shyly smile and the men are happy to answer our questions about the crops or the fish. I ask some of them if I can take photos and all agree, though I notice at home a man pointing at me as if he is unhappy with the camera. A cute plump baby sits beside his mother’s stall of potatoes and cassava. I ask if I can take his photo and she agrees. But Baby objects, bursting into tearful loud cries at the strange white face in front of him. Mother laughs, and picking him up, produces a breast from beneath her frock, and the little one is happy again. Malawi is a very different from home, but babies are the same the world over.

Posted by rhinospin 22:04 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

13. South Luangwa National Park

Lions and leopards on the Luangwa River

We turn off the Livingstone-Lusaka-Lilongwe highway at Chipata to go west to South Luangwa National Park, entering near the village of Mfuwe. Though it is probably the leading park in Zambia, I have not heard of it before our trip. Serengeti, Etosha and Chobe are familiar names, but South Luangwa is not. It proves to a real highlight, the best national park thus far. It has the advantage of a high concentration of wild animals and birds around the Luangwa River, among the most intense in Africa, as well as more limited visitor numbers. When we arrive in mid-April the dry season has just begun, with winter approaching, and the wet season that finished in March has left the jungle lush and green.

We stay two nights at Croc Valley Camp, right on the Luangwa River, full of hippos, their throaty hrumps making us aware of their presence. I am glad there is a high river bank between our tent and the water, though further along they can come up out of the river at night and graze in the camp. I avoid going to the toilet in the darkness, hanging on until the light of dawn.

Our programme includes two game drives with Moses, our driver, in an unroofed open cart. We are joined by an American couple and their two young children and three South Africans. Moses tells us the rules allow him to travel 20 metres off the formed tracks, but he seems to drive anywhere and everywhere, keen to delight his passengers and hunt out the nearby wildlife. The first game drive begins at 6.00am and I am squeezy again, but fortunately it passes quickly.

We see lots of antelope – kudu, waterbuck, puku, impala, as well as warthogs, crocodiles, hippos, baboons and zebra. The latter are interesting in that they are a distinctive sub-species of the locality, known as Crawshay's zebra, and have narrower strips, very definitely black and white. We don’t see any of the Thornicroft's giraffe, which are supposed to be numerous in the area. The highlight of the morning drive is a pride of lions, about 20 females and 3 males and a number of cubs hidden in the bushes. Eddie says there are about 600 lions in South Luangwa, though Moses believes the number to be as many as 1000.

Moses gets wind of the pride and he is off, over the bumpy long grass and through the overhanging bushes. Other game drivers have similar ideas and there is a traffic jam of three or four safari vehicles all converging on the one spot. Moses is forced to reverse and backtrack. Suddenly we are upon the pride with several females sprawled at ease in front of us, surrounded by a circle of vehicles. The previous evening they have made several killings, the bare bones of one carcass evidence of an appreciated feast. Vultures hang around the skeleton, pecking on the remains. Moses shifts the vehicle to the other side of the clump of trees and we see the body of a water buffalo beside the stream and several lions still feeding. It’s wonderful to witness wildlife in action.

The South Luangwa area is rich in bird life and Moses points out a number of interesting fowl, just a few of the 400 species there. There’s a lilac breasted roller, saddle billed storks, a brown breasted snake eagle and some red billed hornbill – just some of the names I wrote down as we went. Martin, wielding a camera with a magnificent zoom lens, is in his element and snaps away with gusto.

We return to the camp for brunch and relaxation. Martin chats to our neighbours, Margreth and Werner who are true independent and intrepid adventurers, driving through Africa on their own in their vehicle which they had sent from their home country of Switzerland. We are to meet them again later at the Malawi border.

South Luangwa is one of the few national parks that allow night safaris and we are privileged to participate in one with some special highlights. We see several groups of elephants – though I understand poaching has placed the elephant population under serious pressure. A group of three elephants cross the boggy land below the road, mother in the lead and two younger ones of different ages following behind. When they level with our vehicle the mother and the older young one turn around to the smallest elephant as if to encourage it and they allow it to go in the middle. The second group we meet includes several young elephants and as they move close to the vehicles, the adults draw the babies in under their wide legs, sheltering them from possible danger. It is delightful to see - I wish that all human adults would protect their babies with the same care and attention as the elephants.

The climax of the evening is provided by a group of leopards. We drive into an open clearing, and before our amazed eyes, a wildlife drama unfolds. A leopard is chasing an impala across the rough short grass. My heart thumps and wills the impala to escape. Though the leopard is very fast during short bursts of energy, the impala has greater speed over a longer period and he out runs her. The leopard gives up the chase and slinks off to the centre of the clearing where she sits down, apparently unfazed by the audience in the watching vehicles. I hardly dare to breathe; she is so close to us, sitting there with her handsome spotted coat.

I expect the impala to disappear, grateful for his reprieve. But no, he is about to teach the leopard a lesson. As the leopard rises and wanders over in the direction of the impala, it dashes towards the cat, emitting a spitting sound loud enough for us all to hear. Several times the impala retreats, before again chasing the leopard and repeating the spitting noise. I am astonished at the courage and tenacity of the impala. Perhaps he is protecting a nearby herd. At last, the leopard moves away, conceding victory to the impala. She eyes some guinea fowls as she goes, but they move quickly beyond her range.

We move to the river bank for a snack break and watch the pink sky of the sunset reflected in the Luangwa River. The spot lights go on as darkness falls and Moses finds a group of leopards in a tree – one adult up the tree, two cubs a little lower down and another two adults on the ground. We peer through the night and pick out the animals caught in the spot light. One of the leopards on the ground has killed a baboon, and is eating it; we assume it is the same one which had the confrontation with the impala an hour earlier. Moses circles the tree allowing us to get a better look at the leopard family. I drink in the experience and the wonder of it all.

The night game drive is not over. With the aid of the spot light, Moses finds other animals like bushbuck, genet, hyena, mongoose and hippo. He stops the game vehicle and we sit in the darkness of the forest, darkness so complete that there is not the tiniest hint of light. We listen to the sounds of the bush and stare at the stars, all the brighter for the absence of light. Moses indicates the points of the Southern Cross – alpha, beta, gamma, and delta - and shares some of his knowledge about the heavens. A wonderful ending to a great day.

The following day is Easter Sunday. Our Swiss neighbours come over to wish us Happy Easter with chocolates they have brought from home, and as we drive north to the border with Malawi, we see the Zambians walking along the road to church in large numbers, dressed in their Sunday best. Back to Chipata, we call in at the supermarket to stock up on supplies, and are greeted at the entrance with a large poster announcing the resurrection of Jesus. These people aren’t afraid to wear their Christianity on their sleeve.

Posted by rhinospin 21:44 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

12. On the road through Zambia

Police checkpoints and the dangers of driving

I grew up knowing Zambia as Northern Rhodesia, named after the empire builder, Cecil Rhodes. Towards the end of the nineteenth century it became a British protectorate, but its days as a colony ended in October 1964 when it gained independence. Kenneth Kaunda became president, ruling until 1991 under a one-party government. KK is still around. As we drive through the capital, Lusaka, we see signs wishing him a happy 90th birthday, so he obviously still has favour. Four other presidents followed him, with increasing multi-party participation and economic development. However Zambia grapples with major problems of poverty, corruption, HIV and Aids, maternal and infant deaths, economic dependence on copper and high urban population densities.

We spend a week in Zambia, crossing the south in a north easterly direction from Livingstone to the border with Malawi near Lilongwe, detouring to South Luangwa National Park near Chipata. The first two days beyond Livingstone comprise many hours of long distance driving - 480kms from Livingstone to Lusaka and 590kms from Lusaka to Chipata. But I do not find it dull. The scenery is varied; rural subsistence farming with crops of maize, millet and sugar cane; pretty wooded grasslands with the mountains blue in the distance; excellent wide roads with well-kept surfaces near Livingstone, deteriorating to pot holes, uneven tar seal and road works further on; thin winding roads through the hills, with grass as high as the land rovers; narrow unstable looking bridges across swampy rivers, and other bridges considered so grand and strategic that they are guarded by police and no photography is permitted. On the second day, we pass fields of tall bright yellow sunflowers, ready for harvest.

But it is the people, the people, the people who create the main interest. The roads are highways of people. They carry on their lives and their businesses on the roads of Africa – walking, talking, buying and selling, going to school, cycling, crowded in minibuses, standing in the gravel trays of large trucks, or driving their herds of cattle or goats. A large bag of maize has fallen off a vehicle and lies spilt on the side of the road, free food for those who quickly collect it into containers of all shapes. We pass a small truck with its tray full of young women going to work, and every one has a baby on her back or in her arms. Other women walk, heavy objects on their heads, like buckets of water, bags of corn, cast iron saucepans with handles, firewood in bundles, and baskets of produce. Their little ones walk beside them, doing their share of bearing burdens, objects on their heads.

The towns are crowded with people especially if there is a market on. If I hadn’t been to Kampala, Uganda, in 2010 (to help build a house for Watoto) and experienced the shock of ‘wall to wall’ people in the streets of that city, I would have struggled when we reached Zambia. As it is, I take it in my stride and seek to capture the life of the road on my camera. Photos through a land rover front window screen, often dirty and smeared with dust, are a hit and miss affair. But every so often, one is reasonable, catching an aspect of African life that pleases me.

The signage is always worth reading: Aids is avoidable and preventable - abstain or practice safe sex; Ever Joy Restaurant; Faith Kills Fear Shopping Centre; Divine Blessing Boutique. A sign outside a quarry is written in Chinese as well as English. I assume Chinese finance and labour are involved, and wonder if it is connected to roading or copper mining. There are so many notices announcing schools and churches, or aid agencies –World Vision, Child Fund, US Aid. We begin to think through the issues of aid. There are so many organisations at work. Our guides make a few sardonic comments which we ponder. In a supermarket in Chipata, there is a large poster at the door portraying Jesus, in honour of the Easter celebrations.

‘Yes, they got that one right.’ I think to myself. ‘At home in the supermarkets it's all about marshmallow eggs and chocolate bunnies.’

We camp the night outside Lusaka, too late in the day to attempt entering the busy city traffic. An overlander truck comes in late about 8.30pm with its usual round of noise; they are up about 4.30am and away by 5.30am, making me so glad that I am travelling by land rover and not in an overlander. But this morning we are also up early. Eddie wants us through the city before the heavy traffic begins, so we are up at 5.15am and away by 6.30am. He and Jan give us plenty of instructions: forget your good manners, stick together and don’t get separated, lock all your doors including the back one, and if the light turns red ignore it and drive on. In fact, our dash through the city proves smooth and free from problems.

But some travellers are not so fortunate. Around a corner, the road is strewn with warning branches, and we find two smashed vehicles, a light truck and a van bus stationary near the centre line; as we slow down, we see the van is badly damaged on the front right, indicating that the driver may have been seriously injured or died. People are lying on the grass and there is a large pot hole in the road which perhaps contributed to the accident. I am silent in my own thoughts, as are all our team. Twenty minutes later we pass an ambulance presumably on its way to the accident. Later in the same day we overtake another accident.

Later I learn that over 1000 people every year in Zambia die on their roads and traffic accidents rank the third highest cause of death after HIV/AIDS and malaria. Is it dangerous to travel in Africa? Yes, but not so much because of political instability or crime, the things in people’s minds at home when they ask such questions. The roads can be hazardous and great care is needed.

Police check points are common now that we are in Zambia. We are having lunch on the side of the road near the town of Mazabuka, when several uniformed ladies arrive, set up their check point and begin to inspect drivers’ licenses. The first time we are stopped, I am not sure what documents to present.

‘Mamma has her passport out,’ the policeman says. ‘I don’t need that. Just Poppa’s driver’s license.’ As well as police check points, most villages have speed bumps in the tar seal at the entrance and exit. Not just ordinary ones such as you find in suburban New Zealand, designed to slow you down, but lethal judder bars, calculated to vibrate and shudder every loose item of your vehicle and in your body.

‘Watch the judder bars,’ calls out someone in the leading land rover, warning the others.

On the road up to the South Luangwa National Park, we stop at Tribal Textiles. It is Good Friday, a public holiday, and the factory is closed but we see enough to understand that all the brightly coloured textiles are handmade, including the clothe itself and the art work. The shop is open, displaying the beautiful finished products. It is Graham’s birthday and he buys Judy an attractive red leather hand bag. I buy a wall hanging with giraffe motifs to take home, and also a key ring at a stall in the factory grounds to give to Graham later. Alison from Tribal Textiles and a friend of Jan, joins us at the camping ground on the banks of the Luangwa River for a great dinner of steak, egg salad and tomato salsa, followed by fruit and birthday cake in Graham’s honour. We give him the key ring and Martin makes a speech. In reply Graham mentions that we have now travelled 5923 kilometres on our journey from Cape Town to Nairobi - just over half way.

Posted by rhinospin 02:54 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

11. Crossing the Zambezi into Zambia

The Victoria Falls, David Livingstone and the Royal

To get three land rovers across the Zambezi River takes all morning. It’s part of the majority world travel experience. From Kasame we cross into our fourth African country, Zambia, and taste of the uncertainties of travel in Africa. The two border offices of Botswana and Zambia are reasonably well-organized, but between them is the Zambezi River which we must negotiate via vehicular ferry.

When we line up to board the waiting ferry, belonging to a Botswana company, we can’t all get on. There is room for only two land rovers, and it is decided that Jan will wait for the next ferry. Eddie buys Botswana tickets for the two vehicles, his four charges and himself, and a separate one for Jan and his land rover on the next ferry, belonging to a Zambian company. We set off on the 10 or 15 minute crossing to Zambia, assuming Jan will arrive shortly afterwards.

But, oh no. The Zambian ferry instead chugs downstream to take some machinery to another ferry under repair some distance away, leaving Jan on the Botswana shore. The only ferries now crossing the river belong to the Botswana ferry company and Jan has a ticket for the Zambian company. We wait and talk and watch life go by around the river. We wait, along with all the trucks whose drivers have also purchased Zambian tickets. We wait and we watch the Botswana ferry dock with empty spaces on it. We wait, trying to deflect the vendors of trinkets and goods, whose attentions we don’t want.

More than an hour goes by, and Eddie decides we have done enough waiting. He buys Jan a Botswana ticket, hoping to get re-imbursement for the Zambian ticket. Soon he discovers the Zambian ferry office has closed – after all, there are no Zambian ferry crossings at present for which to sell tickets – and he is unable to get a refund. Eddie is frustrated but resigned. Jan arrives on the next Botswana ferry, frustrated but pleased to join the team.

We all go off to be processed at the Zambian passport office, lining up in the hot sun on a narrow concrete platform outside an office big enough to hold the official, his desk and one passport customer. I note the new buildings under construction next door and assume improvements are on their way. The ‘all’ being processed includes the land rovers as well as the people. For each vehicle has to be checked for the correct Carnet de Passage en Douanes, an internationally recognised customs document allowing temporary duty-free vehicle importing into particular countries.
As we drive into Zambia, the lines of trucks continue. I had already counted 40 trucks waiting behind the Botswana border, and now I count 112 at the Zambian border. In addition there must have at least 30 around the river, waiting to cross or to be processed. Further down the road in Zambia another multitude of trucks wait around the weigh bridge. I cannot help admire the patience of African truckies but I wonder what all that waiting does to the economy of the countries involved. It can hardly be beneficial. At least the trucks are mostly in good order with well-treaded tyres. Eddie tells us that the Zambian government has tightened up recently on vehicle regulations.

Our destination is the well-known town of Livingstone and the celebrated Victoria Falls. They are known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, the Smoke that Thunders, by the indigenous people, a wonderfully apt description. It was David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary and explorer, who named them after his British queen in November 1855. He is believed to be the first European to set eyes on the mighty falls. Later at the Livingstone Museum, we learn a little more about his missionary and exploration exploits, including his momentous anti-slavery campaign.

If you want to get absolutely drenched and thoroughly saturated, despite wearing a raincoat, the Falls in April is the place to be. As we approach the mighty cataract, we can hear the overwhelming thundering roar of the plummeting Zambezi River as it descends into the First Gorge. It is the end of the rainy period, and thus the peak of the flood season. I have had visions of enjoying the spectacle of the full length of the Victoria Falls, as we did at Niagara last year. But we can get a good view only near the beginning of the walkway. Beyond that, thick spray covers the face of the Falls and the walkway, and it is impossible to see the foot of the Falls. We make our way through the shroud of mist and across the narrow Knife Edge Bridge, hanging onto the railings and peering down uncertainly into the hazy abyss below. We continue along the path as far as we can go, getting wetter and wetter and seeing very little for our efforts. Fortunately it is warm and we don’t take long to dry off.

We take the walkway towards the Victoria Falls Bridge and watch a number of baboons entertain the tourists in the scrub on the way. Because of the wet slippery conditions and the poor visibility in the gorge, we do not negotiate the path down to the Boiling Pot, but we are able to get some good views of the bridge when the mist parts. We also walk along the path above the Falls and view the pool near the lip of the descent where people swim in the dry season. No one is foolish enough to try it now, but even in the dry season I think it is a risky business.

Those wanting their adrenaline fix today line up on the Victoria Falls Bridge to make a bungee jump. We, concerned for life and limb, are quite content to watch. We walk out of the Falls area and down the road to the bridge where we chat to some of the prospective young jumpers, wound up in anticipation and excitement. A notice beyond the bungee jump area informs us that we are now entering Zimbabwe; if we want to go further than the end of the bridge we have to pay something like $50 US each for an entry visa. A photo of the famous Zimbabwean Victoria Falls Hotel across the gorge in the distance will suffice. We retreat to the Falls Café for lunch refreshments and an excellent view of the bungee jumping.

One of the vendors attaches himself at my elbow when we first approach the bridge and despite my best efforts, I am unable to shake him off.

‘Something for a dollar,’ is his opening gambit. I should ignore him then and there, but I am tempted to look. I find I don’t want any of his one dollar masks or carvings of a chief, but he now regards me as a prospect.

‘Where are you from?’ he asks, and when I respond, he says, ‘Kiwis. All Blacks. Auckland.’ He has obviously met others of my fellow countrymen. He is still waiting for me when I emerge from the café, satisfied and mellowed. Perhaps it is better to buy some of his products, giving him support, than donate to someone begging. He begins at 70 kwacha for one carved rhino but after some haggling, we agree on 30 kwacha. When I offer a 50 kwacha note, he says he has no change. I should have seen that one coming! I end up buying a rhino and a hippo for my 50 kwacha note.

On the return to our camping accommodation at The Grotto, we stop off at Zambia’s equivalent of the Victoria Falls Hotel, the Royal Livingstone Hotel, to enjoy a slice of the colonial high life. Giraffes and impalas set the scene as we drive in, grazing along the road way. Amid elegantly manicured gardens and beautifully mannered staff, we enjoy wild berry smoothies on the hotel veranda. Beyond the wide lawn and the classy swimming pool is a stylish wooden platform decked with lounge chairs and tables on the edge of the fast flowing Zambezi River. The low roar of the Falls in the distance does not diminish the genteel and peaceful atmosphere. We soak it up and write another postcard to three year Isaac at home. After all, we have heard that our last post card proudly did the rounds to kindy and every member of his wider family.

The following evening we dress up in what finery we have and return to the Royal Livingstone with Judy and Graham for pre-dinner drinks on the deck by the river. White and black stripped zebras, beautiful against the green lawn, wander around, controlled by a shanghai-wielding warden, who pings them on rump to keep them in place. We are told they can give a tourist a thumping whack with their heels, given the opportunity. We enjoy the atmosphere as we watch the glow of the sun disappear beyond the river.

‘Martin,’ I say, ‘if we ever come back to this part of the world, I want to stay a night here.’ He grins, knowing there is so much more of the world to see. We had hoped to have dinner at the Royal Livingstone, but there isn’t room and so we change to the neighbouring Zambezi Sun with its agreeable all-night band and African style decor. We have a most congenial setting near the pool and enjoy the buffet dinner that includes delicious bream and kudu steak.

The evening finishes with a very funny incident. On their way back to the Grotto, Graham and Judy stop at the Livingstone post office to post some cards. As Graham mounts the stairs to the post box, a gun-carrying policeman follows him.

‘What are you doing?’ the policeman asks.

‘I’ve just got a couple of letters to post,’ Graham says.

‘Oh no,’ says the policeman. ‘You can only post letters between 9.00am and 6.00pm. Look at the hours on that sign.’

Graham stares at the open slot in the wall with ‘International Mail’ over it. Then he looks at the gun and the rounds of ammunition, and he decides that discretion is the better part of valour. So he retreats with his letters, to be posted another day. We roar with laughter as he later relates the story.

Posted by rhinospin 02:32 Archived in Zambia Comments (0)

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