Sunday, April 22, 2012

Saying goodbye to Tanzania and the return to Cape Town

Wow. Well first things first, I am now all the way back in Cape Town, South Africa. At the southern tip of the African Continent. Where I began this trip nearly four months ago. With the original idea when I came to Africa being a cross-continental Cape-to-Cairo trip I guess you could say this puts me back at square one. That said, I am thrilled to be back in Cape Town and I see many good things in my future. Let me tell how I got back here first though:

When I left off last I was just returning from our amazing safari and back in Moshi, Tanzania I had a lot to think about. After all, in less than two weeks I'd be flying back to South Africa for the AfrikaBurn festival and then I'd be on my own, flying solo with no plans what so ever.

With this in mind, I stayed up until about 3am reading the guidebooks overview of every single country in Africa. That is not to say I necessarily follow the guidebooks like a bible as some do, but when you read that one country requires a 'letter of recommendation' from someone inside the country, is currently at war and only gives a 7-day visa, while another is peaceful, friendly and gives a 90-day free of charge, it tends to affect your plans. So what are my plans? Right now they involve Botswana and a bicycle, but it is still in the idea phase and I'll reveal more about it as the time comes.

I was sitting on the internet taking care of some business, when I walked outside and saw a police truck blocking the main road and a large crowd gathered. Naturally I ran up to see what was going on, after all this is Africa and it could be anything: a wild animal, 'street justice', a performance, I just didn't know. What I found, was a rally car race! While I'm not a huge motor sport fan, I do like cars and knowing that the rules of rally fandom say 'thou must get as close to the action as possible without being killed' I stood at the apex of the corner with my camera on high speed burst, close enough to touch the passing cars.

I followed where the cars were coming from and eventually found the pit/starting area. Being white the guards assumed I belonged, or at least that I wasn't there to cause trouble (sad but true facts) and I was able to wander freely. There was even a VW Beetle in the race (I have a 1970 Beetle myself) but it was embarrassingly slow... As the race wound down, hooligans took over the crowded streets and I expected mass carnage. Luckily the locals are good at dodging speeding cars and motorcycles but for a little while it was a very exiting place to be.

Oh look, Mt Kilimanjaro again!

The next day Weon and I were off to a small town 40km east called Marangu where one of the entrances to the Mt Kilimanjaro Park is. Those of you with sharp eyes might have noticed someone new in the truck, and that would be Jenna, a girl from Scotland. She was staying at the same place as us and because she was headed in the same direction we were, Weon invited her to join us.

Marangu is a very small town, that in itself has absolutely nothing to offer. That is not the reason to come however. The reason is that it has an interesting cave, a series of waterfalls, nice views of Kili and a cool, green climate.

We ended up staying at a place called Bismark and the old man who ran the place happened to also be the village chief. Also, his grandson was being baptized so a celebration was setup and he was in his finest cloths. Here he is blowing the traditional antler-horn to call the village people together.

See? I told you the place was green and beautiful.

Later that afternoon the festivities began and we were shuffled into the food line, in front of many people who I can only assume actually knew the child and the family and thus we were the only non Tanzanian Chaga-Tribe people in attendance. It was a bit awkward, but the food was delicious and the beer was free so who am I to complain.

The Chaga people are known for bananas. It is a key export for the region, a staple of their diet and a source of alcohol as well. Thus, it was time for me to try what they called 'banana beer'. Let me just begin by saying I love trying local food and drink and that when someone offers me something I will do everything I can do either enjoy it or at least to suffer my way through it and finish it.

With this stuff it simply wasn't possible. Imagine an oil drum (and they had a 40-gallon drum of the stuff) full of peeled bananas left in the sun to rot and ferment for a week. Then it's all stirred together, then the biggest bits are strained out. Then you drink it. I'm not exactly sure how they make it, but it's probably not far off from that. It is served in the traditional way, in a 'sausage tree' seed pod with a handle. I managed to drink half of the seed pod worth, having to chase every gulp with another gulp of western beer to cleanse my mouth so I wouldn't puke. Meanwhile, the 60 year old women in front of me are drinking it non-stop out of a little plastic bucket. I guess it is an acquired taste.

The next day it was off on a little walk to one of the waterfalls in the area and that meant a nice peaceful walk through the village. We intended on doing it on our own, but we were sort of coerced into having someone act as a guide and paying him...

The Ndoro waterfall was beautiful though, even if we did have to pay 5,000 shillings to go see it. We stayed their for over an hour just relaxing, watching and listening before heading back towards town.

We'd planned on skipping it, but as we walked back towards town we saw the sign for the caves in the area and decided to check them out. They wanted 10,000 shillings each which is frankly way too much, but we managed to get all three of us in for 10,000. I was expecting natural caves, but what we ended up seeing was man-made caves, around 300 years old, that were dug to protect locals from attacks by other tribes. Some parts you crawled on hands and knees almost, some parts had spots for defenders to hide and ambush possible invaders and some parts had cooking areas and once held cows. While the 'tour' only lasted about 5 minutes, they claim the system was 4km long.

Making a stir-fry for dinner after buying some veggies at the local market.

The next morning it was time to set off towards the coast. We passed the Usambara Mountains again which gave some time to reflect on our visit their two weeks before. As we drove, Weon happened to get caught in a speed trap (we saw a few that day in the towns, which often consist of just a dozen buildings; the speed limit drops suddenly from 100km/hour to 40km/hour or something). The fine was for 30,000 shillings, but Weon ended up simply bribing the officer for 10,000 off the books (about $6.30).

We got to the city of Tanga on the east coast of Tanzania and checked into the Ocean Breeze Inn, a cheap but perfectly functional place to spend a few nights. While the car was parked there, someone happened to see it and left a note for us. It was some other South Africans, and they wrote that they were heading south on a Cairo-to-Cape trip and that we ought to meet them at the Tanga Yacht Club that evening if we wanted to chat. We did en up meeting them and while we told them our Cape-to-Cairo trip had fallen apart it was very interesting to talk to them about what north Africa has in stock and it defiantly kept me interested in heading that direction at some point while I am out here.

After breakfast I went for a walk around Tanga, which while there isn't really much of anything to do, it is a pleasant little place that has some public green space and while they are all a bit run down, I can't say I've seen parks in any other cities/towns I've been in so I appreciated it a great deal.

I was walking around town looking for an internet cafe when a car pulled up next to me and asked where I was going. I told him I was just wandering around and he offered to show me around town. I hopped in the car and he told me his name was Shabbir. He grew up in Tanga, born to Pakistani parents and runs a bed and breakfast in town. We had a nice time driving around town while he showed me around, including driving past the school he went to as a child. He told the same story as all the other locals I've met, about how everything has gone down hill so quickly since nationalization and how sad it is to see what Tanzania has become as a result. On the bright side, we got drinks and sat in the park while I showed him photos of my travels, home and family. A truly friendly person I feel glad to have met.

Oh, also on the subject of public parks, this is another of them. In the evenings tables and chairs are put out and you can eat dinner there, which is very nice.

The thee of us played a lo of cards together.

We had intended on going to the Amboni Caves which are just outside of Tanga, but when we asked how much it cost now and was told 20,000 shillings we simply said no. They used to be 3,000 and we simply were not willing to pay what they now wanted. Sorry, but I have to rant for a minute.

The problem is that this is happening all over Tanzania, the government is jacking up the price of EVERYTHING tourist/foreigner related. The government is corrupt, incompetent and short sighted according to literally everyone I've talked to and what I've seen seems to support that belief. Let me give some examples: The tourist visa for the country is $100 for a one year multiple entry. Last year they raised the price of a volunteer visa to $500!! To volunteer, aka, to work for free in Tanzania, they charge you an extra $400! The thing is, many of these volunteers end up paying the organization to volunteer as well, then do tourist activities in the country after their project ends. Volunteers do a lot of work and bring a lot of money into the country, and the government is simply going to push them away. There are dozens of other countries in Africa with an equal or even bigger need for volunteers that will be happy to take you, and you can do it for free, without throwing an extra $400 into a corrupt bureaucrats pocket. Another example: the government wants to turn the coast around Tanga into a 'protected marine reserve'. It sounds good in practice, but the real reason they want to do it is to charge foreign visitors more money. As part of this 'marine reserve' that could reach from the northern border south to Pangani or more, and go inland as well, they want to impose a $20 a night fee on all visitors who sleep in the area! To put this in perspective, we were paying $5 a night to camp. If the government has it's way, that will suddenly become $25 and NO ONE will come. The government is doing the same thing with nearly every tourist attraction, no matter how small and uninteresting. 

Ok, and here is one last example Chris just posted on his facebook, I'll let him tell it: "Today my blood was really boiling.... We saw how fisherman were catching dolphins in the Mnemba marine reserve, during this the Marine park rangers came up to us and asked for our passes. Hearing this we asked them what they are doing about the fisherman. They had no reply. We replied by giving them the finger. A sad day on Zanzibar ...."

The next morning we headed back towards Peponi. Between Peponi and Tanga however is the Tongoni Ruins. I was curious to see these because there isn't a lot of 'built history' in Africa in the form of ancient buildings and whatnot so I was curious to see the place. We decided to check that out but when we got there and the price had been raised from 1,000 shillings to 10,000, we simply turned around. I need to give them credit for the fact they actually improved the infrastructure at the site, having built a new bathroom and ticket office which is a step in the right direction, but the price was just too high, especially when you could see it all from the road as you drove past.

In the early afternoon the three of us arrived back at Peponi and Jenna and I set up camp. Weon on the other hand moved into one of these bandas because he was settling in to work at the resort for the next two months. Back when Chris and I were still on Zanzibar, Weon had returned to the mainland and ended up staying at Peponi for about two weeks, befriending the owners in the process. They happened to be going on vacation shortly after and offered him a job as supervisor at the resort while they were away. With Chris having gotten a job on Zanzibar and then my heading back to South Africa, the timing couldn't have been better and Weon accepted the job.

In the early afternoon the next day Weon, Jenna and I set out on the resorts dhow boat for a snorkeling trip. I knew it would be my last time in a warm ocean for a long time, so I was excited to get some water time.

It turned out to be a windy day and the visibility underwater wasn't very good but the aquatic life was fairly good and I saw a few nice things including this nice lion fish.

Clown fish and a few others around a sea anemone.

The sailing dhow was really cool to be on. These traditional boats are hundreds of years old and are still built and widely used today. To get to be on one and see how the rigging works, how the sail is hoisted and adjusted and just how the whole thing works was very interesting.

A while back I met someone who said they'd run into two travelers that had actually bought one of these boats in Tanzania. Obviously they had never sailed one before had a lot to learn, but were going to attempt to sail down the east coast of Africa. This sounded like an awesome adventure to me and had I not already bought tickets to AfrikaBurn and plane tickets back to South Africa I would have gotten their contact information and tried to join up on that trip!

Oh look, another group of Norwegian nursing students! (I wasn't kidding when I said they were everywhere). On the left is Gregory, a Swiss guy who has been working here in Tanzania as an architect. Greg and I had a lot of interesting conversations late into the night, it's too bad our schedules didn't match up, he would have been a cool guy to travel with.

The next morning it was time for me to head off to Dar es Salaam to catch my flight, so it was time to part ways with Weon. As you know the original idea for this tip was for the three of us (Chris, Weon and I) to do the full Cape-to-Cairo trip in the 4x4 over as much as a year. Well, it lasted three months and while it hasn't always gone perfectly it's been quite a rewarding experience. We had a lot of good times together (and some bad ones of course) and I have to say that this last part with just Weon and I in the north of Tanzania has been one of the most enjoyable sections of the trip. Weon, it was good to meet you and I bet we will cross paths again at some point.

I caught a bus that picked me up just outside Peponi, and while the ride wasn't too bad, it took nine hours.

I arrived in Dar around 5pm and tried to get a taxi into the city center to find a place to sleep. The taxi far was pretty expensive, 20,000 shillings, so I sat down for something to eat and make a better plan. I happened to see two other foreigners, a newly wed couple from Brazil, and we shared a cab into town.

I am sharing this particular photo because one thing I noticed right away about Dar is that it has new construction everywhere. It is said to be the fastest growing city in East Africa, and I certainly believe it.

We ended up going to the YWCA, which had single rooms for 10,000 shillings which wasn't too bad, then headed out together to get dinner. It turned out a group had reserved all the rooms in the YWCA for the next night and we'd have to move, so we walked a block away to the YMCA to check it out. As we were walking towards the door I saw a familiar face, it was Esther (on the left of this photo) who I'd met in Moshi! She was heading out to dinner with Mary (on the right) who is from Ohio and has been in Tanzania for about three years with the Peace Corps. So we all joined forces and went out to dinner together at an Indian place that was quite good.

The next morning I had to move into the YMCA, and was rather displeased it cost a a full 25,000 shillings for a room that is no better than the room at the YWCA that only cost 10,000. I sucked it up and paid, since I didn't feel like wandering all over looking for another place (and I knew there were not many choices anyways) and it was only for one night. While there I ran into Mary again and we spent the morning walking around Dar running errands and chatting.

Interesting architecture in the city. On a side note, people told me Dar was a big nasty dangerous city. Maybe I am missing something, but it didn't feel that way to me at all. In fact, I wish I'd had a few more days in the city to walk around and explore...

At the internet cafe, I met Todd, an Aussie guy and we hung out that evening. Once again, I ended up at an Indian place (there is a big Indian community in Dar, the previous night I seriously felt like I was back in India walking down one of the streets) for dinner and after dinner I was going to help him out by burning some DVDs of his photos as a backup for him to mail home. One of the disks he bought on the street was empty as it was supposed to be, but somehow the other was full of Indian pop music videos, which made us both crack up when I put it in my computer and it started playing.

I grabbed a taxi to the airport, another 20,000 shillings, and sat down to read my book for a good while.

Reflecting on my time in Tanzania, it really has been wonderful.  I've done great scuba diving, gone on an amazing safari, hiked up an active volcano, sat in the mountains surrounded in forest and trees, met tons of good people (locals AND foreigners)  and had a wonderful time overall.  Tanzania is definitely a country I could recommend to almost anyone.

As I checked in for my flight back to South Africa, they asked me if I had an onward ticket. Of course I didn't, because I didn't know my plans/schedule for my time in South Africa. They were not pleased with this answer, and I had to explain a few times what I was doing (uhh, being a tourist without a set schedule???) and wait a while for them to decide what to do with me. They ended up letting me through but said once I land in SA I may have to buy an onward ticket on the spot. When I landed in Johannesburg, I was again questioned by the immigration officer about why I didn't have an onward ticket (I was never asked any questions when I first came to SA from the USA...) but he ended up letting me through without further incident.

I landed in Cape Town around 11pm, and JC, the husband of Chris' sister was there to pick me up. Thanks JC!

When I arrived at the apartment of Chris' parents (who are not around right now, meaning I have the place to myself!), I found his sister Maresna had bought some groceries to get me by until I made it to the stores, once again wonderful hospitality! With this, I had a wonderful place to stay, (Running hot water! A clean bed! A TV! A laundry machine! It's been a while!), wonderful people to help me out and a place to simply decompress for a while until AfrikaBurn.

Cape Town and Table Mountain in the background, round two!

Naturally after a good shower and sleep, it was time to sort through my things again to decide what I will sell, what I will keep, what I will ditch and what I will send home. My things exploded all over the floor and it was time to get to work.

Maresna, JC and their kid, who also live in Woodbrige where I am staying. Thanks again you two!

So as part of going to AfrikaBurn, I had to find a group to camp with. It is 300km out of Cape Town in the desert, with no shops or anything so you have to be totally self sufficient. The result of that is I couldn’t just show up with a backpack and be taken care of, I needed to join a camp. Through the AfrikaBurn forum, I was invited by Paul Pickup to join his group Camp Nowhere, and through that group I was put in contact with other members of the group including Wim. Wim lives in Cape Town, and we set up a time to meet up and hang out. He picked me up on his scooter, and we set off to his place.

Wim and Hanlie are nomads themselves, but for now are here in Cape Town with a nice apartment and a beautiful view of the city and Table Mountain.

They were originally planning on going to AfrikaBurn, but with a three-week old baby Eland decided it was no longer feasible. Too bad they won't be coming now, but we had a nice evening together over pizza and beer, and I got a bit of advice about what to do and expect from the event. Thanks you two!

Clean laundry! These couple of days here in Cape Town have been pretty low key, just taking care of business and relaxing which you need every once in a while.

Sometimes I can connect to an open wifi connection from the apartment, but usually I can't. However there are two networks that I always see, and I wanted to find the owners so I could ask if I could get the password and use their connection for a few days so I can check email, facebook, do research, etc. I set about knocking on doors of the nearby units and was met with friendly faces but a bunch of 'no, that's not my network' or 'I don't know anything about computers.' I got that same answer from Hugo and Birdie who are directly across the street, but Hugo invited me in and we began to chat. We ended up drinking tea together and I grabbed my laptop and gave them and their son who happened to show up a slide-show of my trip up Africa so far. We had a great time chatting and I'll defiantly drop in again to see them.

I didn't manage to find where the wifi signals were coming from, but in talking to one neighbor I found out that the cafe near buy has wifi, so that will be good enough for now. With that (somewhat) solved, I set out via bicycle to swing by the local scuba shop to chat about selling my gear rather than shipping it back home. It was closed, but it was fun to get out on a bike again and I stopped by the grocery store to stock up for the next few days.

Looking back at this post, I'm amazed how many people I've met in the last two weeks! I haven't had any big 'events' during this time like a safari, or scuba diving, or crossing into a new country or anything like that but the time has been just as interesting and enjoyable. So next of course is AfrikaBurn that starts April 25th and goes to the 30th, and after that I have no idea. I'm leaving it open because I'm sure I will be meeting a ton more interesting people at the Burn and that it will probably lead to some new opportunities for me to choose from.

Stay tuned, the next post is going to be really good ;)