This journal documents my activities, observations and thoughts on a tour of East Africa organized by Advantage Travel and Tours, Poway, CA. I requested a pre-tour to Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, and Zanzibar before joining Cathy Prada’s designed tour.
In order to more deeply understand what I saw I have included in some cases detailed descriptions from: my tour guides descriptions, plaques at the sites, brochures provided by the sites or the government, and descriptions from tour guidebooks and online.
Overview of the trip route:
• Fly from Los Angeles to Nairobi, Kenya, via Portland, OR and Amsterdam
• Tour Nairobi
• Fly to Lilongwe, Malawi
• Tour Lilongwe
• Fly to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
• Tour Dar es Salaam
• Fly to Zanzibar
• Tour Zanzibar
• Fly to Bujumbura, Burundi via Nairobi
(Join up with Mike who I have travel with in the Middle East,
South American Islands and South Pacific Islands)
• Tour Bujumbura
• Fly to Entebbe, Uganda, via Nairobi
• Travel to tour Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda
• Travel by van and tour:
o Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
o Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo
o Kigali, Rwanda
• Fly from Kigali to Entebbe
• Fly from Entebbe to Maputo, Mozambique via Johannesburg, South Africa
• Tour Maputo
• Fly to Durban, South Africa
• Travel by van and tour Lesotho
• Fly from Durban to Los Angeles via Johannesburg and Atlanta
MAPS of THE TRIP
Apr 01, 2010 (Thursday) Fly to Amsterdam via Portland, Oregon
It was no April fool’s joke. I had to get up at 02:00 for a 06:00 flight from LAX to Portland, Oregon. Why was I going due north to Portland when my final destination was Nairobi, Kenya? I was trying to save a few bucks by using American Express points converted to Delta Frequent Flyer Miles. Last summer the best Delta could do to meet my schedule was to route me on Alaska to Portland and then Northwest to Amsterdam and KLM to Nairobi.
I naturally woke up at 01:55 which was more comfortable than being jarred awake by an alarm after only four hours sleep.
Judy woke up while I was in the shower and then the dog woke up so I had plenty of early morning company to send me on my way. The car service was schedule for 03:30. I had finished packing by 03:00 so I put my bag outside by the driveway light. At 03:20 as I was checking my email one last time and shutting down my computer, Judy informed me that it was raining. Great, I am starting the trip with wet luggage. I scurried out in the rain and moved the luggage under the garage overhang, open the garage door and got a rag to dry off the rain pools from my bag.
The car arrived on schedule and the driver backed the car up the driveway so we didn’t have far to go in the rain to load them in his trunk. The driver was familiar and had transported me before. The drive to the airport was easy and as suddenly as it had started to rain it stopped and the airport area was dry. It took just thirty minutes to arrive at the Alaska Terminal (#3) and the check-in counters were just opening.
The Security queue was short but after I passed through the metal detector I had a long wait in the glass cage waiting for “Male Assist”. The TSA Agent at the metal detector kept calling out “Male Assist” but even though there were a lot of male agents milling around they appeared to be more concerned filling out forms on clipboards than patting me down. When one of the male agents started to mark on a clipboard next to my cage, my agents convinced him to put down the clipboard and check me.
The Alaska flight left on schedule and arrived on schedule at 08:25. My next flight had been converted from Northwest to Delta and it was not scheduled until 12:35 so I had four hours to kill. The Portland Airport has several wings. Alaska arrived in one, Delta was schedule to depart from the next one over and United has the third wing. I found the United Red Carpet Club and settled in to have a free light breakfast and read the morning papers. At 11:30 I left the Red Carpet Club and walked to the Delta wing. My flight was scheduled at the next to last gate on the wing. Alaska had checked my bag through to Nairobi but had not issued me a boarding pass for Delta or KLM. When I got to the gate to get my boarding passes the agent told me the flight was on a mechanical delay waiting a part for the APU to be flown in, installed and checked out.
Rather than walk back to the Red Carpet Club I stayed in the area and found an outlet to charge my Cell Phone so it wouldn’t die on the long flight to AMS if I wanted to play games on it.
The Delta flight was a flight from HELL! First there was the two hour late departure; then in coach were several dozen junior high kids from the "Portland French School" three of them were sitting behind me and kept talking, giggling, banging my seat, running up and down the aisles and changing seats. Every time I would fall asleep they would wake me. Several times I jumped up and yelled at them which would then wake up their chaperons who would apologize to me and tell them to behave but another group would move into the seats behind and the whole process would be repeated.
I had been the “April Fool” for trying shave a buck by using points for the flight. When I decided to use the points I tried to use them for Business Class and Delta didn’t have them available for the date.
Apr 02, 2010 (Friday) Fly from Amsterdam to Nairobi, Kenya
I was nervous about my connection in Amsterdam and I was able to get the Purser to move me to the first row just before landing. I ran through the airport (Delta and KLM are in different concourses) and was able to get on the KLM flight to Nairobi before the gate closed.
It was an all day time flight and the people around me left their window shades up so I wasn’t able to sleep and instead watched several movies. I attempted to watch The Assassination of Jessie James but it was slow moving and in the middle they had to reboot the inflight entertainment server and I didn’t bother to fast forward to the spot where I had last watched and instead watched The Men Who Stare At Goats which was a faster pace and amusing. Then I watched The Lovely Bones. Stanley Tucci was good and it wasn’t that scary, although he was a creep.
I waited almost an hour as they slowly unloaded the bags at the airport and then went to the baggage claims desk and when the agent looked up the claim number he said “your name Reynolds, your bag will arrive tomorrow morning”. (Thanks, Schiphol baggage handlers!) I filled out the forms and exited the arrival hall where I saw a young man with my name on a sign. His name was Gerald and he drove me to the hotel in a light rain. By then it was dark so I didn’t get to see the sites he pointed out along the way
Cathy booked me into the Sarona Stanley Hotel. It is a city landmark since 1902. Hemingway wrote the Green Hills of Africa, The Snows of Kilimanjaro and The Happy Ending while staying at the hotel. Several movies used the hotel as a setting.
I am glad I carry a spare razor and was wearing the Ex-Offico underwear which I quickly washed and had them drying in the closet.
Apr 03, 2010 (Saturday) Tour Nairobi, Kenya
I awoke to discover that it was raining. In my laptop backpack I had a spare cheap razor, tooth brush and a small tube of tooth paste, so I was able to shower and shave. My underware had dried just as advertised so I was good to go.
The breakfast was a standard hotel buffet. I was happy to find good whole oranges which I prefer over orange juice. They had a nice omelet and pancake bar. I had an omelet. The bacon was a little strange but tasted O.K.
After breakfast I packed my rain jacket, Lonely Planet Guide, sun screen and a few other things in my new Rick Steves lightweight back pack and proceeded a little early to the lobby to await my city tour guide. While I was waiting I had the desk clerk call the Baggage office to see if my bag had arrived on the early morning flight from Amsterdam. No one answered the phone on either of the two numbers I was given. Just as he was informing of his calls, Chris from the local travel office arrived. He told that my guide would be John and he would arrive at 09:00 and stay with me all day through the scheduled dinner. Since I had been told the previous night my luggage should arrive at the hotel around 9am, the delay from 8:30 to 9:00 was great.
At 9am I had the desk clerk try the numbers again. He still found that no one answered either phone. John arrived wearing a New York Yankee hat. (Luck has just not been on my side so far). He asked me if everything was all right and I told him about the luggage situation and kidded him about his hat. He told me he would remove it if it bothered me that much. I laughed and let him wear it. He was a jovial sort and we were getting off to a good start for what would turn out to be a long day.
The scheduled tour was to drive around the city to get an understanding of the sights. Our first stop was the Kenyatta International Conference Center (KICC) - the landmark of Nairobi. The rain had stopped and the plaza in front of the KICC was configured for the start of a two day car rally around the country. The start had been delayed due to the rain and I saw only one of the rally cars, a white four door sedan with a wing attached in the back and sponsor decals on all sides.
On the main floor of the KICC we obtained a ticket to the observation point on the roof of the building. With our tickets and an escort we entered the elevator that took us up 27 floors. There the escort unlocked a door and we climbed three flights of stairs to a heliport pad on the roof.
From the highest spot in the city I could see the whole city and the surrounding area. John pointed out some landmarks and I took a bunch of pictures. As I was using my camera I realized that the battery was low and I had neglected to bring a spare.
After our tour of the KICC I had John stop back at the hotel so I could get a spare camera battery and check on my luggage. The bag had not arrived and the phones were still not being answered. I was very discouraged. John continued my tour of the city visiting the Parliament buildings, the University, the Norfolk Hotel dating back to 1904, the Central Market, the Railway Station and the memorial park at the sight of the 1998 al-Qaeda bomb blast that killed 250 Kenyans at the American Embassy.
When we passed by the hotel again we stopped to check for my bag. No luck and they were still not answering the phones. The Concierge suggested that I have my guide drive me to the airport to retrieve my bag.
John was game and on the way we stopped at the Public View Point which was a park with a viewing platform that overlooked the park at the city beyond. The city is on a flat plain. It was originally a workers camp site for the building of the railroad from the coast to Uganda. When the workers moved on to the next camp site they left their tents and a small settlement started around the tents. Other than the rail station there was no particular reason to locate a town at this point. Eventually, the town grew and became the capital of the region and declared a city in the 1950’s.
While I was taking pictures of the view John tried the baggage office numbers again without any answer so we drove on to the airport.
At the airport I had to exchange my passport for a security pass to get into the baggage claim area. There were people at the Baggage Counter and when I asked them why they didn't answer the phone they would just shrug. Then one of the men asked my name and told me that they had sent the bag out an hour ago and had called the hotel to confirm that I was still there. I had them call the hotel and when they got the receptionist on the line they handed the phone to me and she receptionist told me the bag had not arrived. The baggage agent told me that it should be there soon. I got the receptionist's phone number and had my guide call her and give her his number and instructed her to call him as soon as the bag arrived.
It was now after noon and lunch was not included in the tour so I asked the guide to find us a place with local food and I would treat him to lunch. We ended up in a Cinema/Shopping Center Mall Food Court only to find the local food place was closed so we went to a Chinese sit-down restaurant and he ordered a chicken dish and I ordered fish in garlic sauce and we split an order of fried rice. It was a good meal. As we were finishing he received a call from the hotel informing him that the bag had finally arrived!
After lunch we drove to the National Museum where there are excellent displays of the early man, tribal regalia and flora and fauna of Kenya. I was assigned a guide at the entrance to the museum. She was a young Intern from the University majoring in Tourist Service. The museum was divided into several halls and Galleries. The first room was the Hall of Kenya Gallery which was being set up for a dinner function. From there we entered the Great Hall of Mammals. My guide had me stop at every display in each hall we visited. In the Great Hall of Mammals they had displays that showed the relationship between various mammals that you would not think of such as Porpoises and Hippos. The next hall was The Cradle of Humankind which traced the evolution of mammals to current man. That hall was followed by the hall of Hominid Skulls, which displayed the skulls discovered in Kenya that are dated as the oldest discovered human skulls. From there we toured the Cycles of Life Gallery with displays of life from the first human beings to present day. The last hall was an extensive display of the Birds of East Africa.
The tour took me exactly one hour and I skipped the adjacent Snake Park and had John drive me to the Langata Giraffe Center run by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife (AFEW). At the Center they had the rare Rothschild giraffes. AFEW was founded by Jock Leslie-Melville, a Kenyan citizen of British decent who rescued the endangered Rothschild giraffe in Western Kenya. His American born wife, Betty discovered that there were only120 of this breed of giraffes living on an 18,000 acre ranch scheduled for a sub-division resettlement. She transported two young giraffes to her estate in Langata and created the Center.
At the Center I was able to have the giraffes with a long purple tongue eat out of my hand and lick little kid’s faces. It was a lot of fun and I was able to get my picture taken with the tongue licking my palm.
Next we stopped at the Karen Blixan house which was the setting for her book “Out of Africa”. In the same general area was the Utamaduni Craft Center, which had a large mansion turned into shops sell various Kenyan handicrafts.
The last stop before dinner was at the Nairobi National Park and in it the Nairobi Animal Orphanage. There I was able to see various East African animals wandering around their natural habitat.
I had now visited all the recommended sites in Nairobi and was ready for the last adventure: dinner at the Kenya’s most famous restaurant: Carnivore and its Samba Saloon. Carnivore has a large barbecue pit where real swords of beef, pork, lamb, chicken, and farmed game meat are cooked and then brought to your table and pieces sliced off for your eating pleasure.
We were early for my reservation so I sat in the bar where they served me a Dawa (a mixture of Vodka and honey with a lot of ice cubes). You are given a short stick about as big around as a stubby pencil which you are supposed to kept stirring the honey until it is fully dissolved. By that time the ice has melted so you end up with a sweet vodka and water in a short tumbler. At the bar I met Brian Allen, a young American Doctor completing his Residency as an Anesthesiologist by working at a Kenya Hospital that has an exchange program with Vanderbilt University. It was Brian’s last night in Kenya and the Carnivore was recommended as a must visit before he left the country. Since we both were scheduled to dine alone we asked to be seated at the same table.
He was good company. The meal started with a Carrot and Mint soup and a circular tray holding various condiments that you could use with the offerings like mint sauce for the lamb. On top of the tray was a flag in a stand. When you have had enough meat you are supposed to remove the flag to signal that you are ready for desert. The meat was served like a Brazilian Churrascaria except instead of a BBQ spit the meat is cooked and taken to the tables on swords where the waiter slices off as much as you want. They served lamb, rump steak, pork, turkey, ostrich meat balls and chicken.
It was very interesting and after an hour and one half we removed the flag and had Pineapple pie with ice cream for dessert.
John arrived at 20:00 and paid the bill and drove me to the hotel. My bag was there wrapped in saran wrap. When I got it to my room the handle would not retract so I had to completely dump the contents and find the spot on the handle tube to press the catch so I could retract the handle. In the morning I towed the bag by a strap and had the Concierge tape the handle shut so no one would try to extend it.
I was able to wash my undies in Tide and have my CPAP machine. It was a restful night.
Apr 04, 2010 (Sunday) Fly to Lilongwe, Malawi via Lusaka, Zambia
I awoke at 04:30 in order to shower, shave (with my regular razor, yea!) and pack for a scheduled 06:00 pickup to drive to the airport for my 08:25 flight to Malawi (The next stop on my adventure). As I was packing I found an envelope from the hotel under my bag that must have been slid under the door and across the floor under my bag. Initially I thought it was my room bill and since I had not charged anything to my room or used anything from the mini bar I set it aside and continued to pack. When I finished I opened the envelope to find a message informing me that the airline had called to tell me my flight had been rescheduled to 10:45.
It was too late to notify my driver and just then the phone rang telling me my driver was in the lobby. I told my flight had been delayed but I would be right down. As I was leaving the room at 06:00 the phone rang again informing me that my driver was in the lobby.
When I arrived in the lobby I was surprised to see John, this time he was not wearing his Yankee hat. I had the Concierge tape the handle on my bag shut so no one would try to extend it. Just like the previous morning it was raining as my bags were loaded in John’s car. As I got in the car Gerald appeared and asked me why I wasn’t riding with him to the airport. John and Gerald spoke and later John told me their boss, Chris, had asked him to drive me to the airport. He didn’t know why Gerald had not been told.
On the way to the airport we encountered a heavy down pour and then entered an area that was dry with no sign that it had rained there at all. The airport area was dry. John unpacked my bag and was surprised when I only gave him $3. He thought I should be paying for the ride to the airport. I showed him the agreement that Advantage Travel had with his company so the transfer to and from the airport.
The Nairobi Airport is similar to many International Airports where you go through Security before entering the terminal. It makes sense but most terminals are not designed to handle the queue at the curb with passengers unloading. I made it through and didn’t have to take off my shoes but was patted down extensively. They let me bring a bottle of water in.
I stood in the Kenya Airline line and when I reached a check in counter I was told that since the flight was delayed I would have to wait. Normal check-in starts three hours before departure and it was now 06:44, which meant I would have to wait with no chairs to sit on for an hour. The agent was sympathetic but could not open the check in screen for my flight. As I removed my bag the agent told me to stop, they just opened the flight. She checked me in and told me to go to the Premier Executive Lounge where they would give me a breakfast ticket for the Transit Restaurant.
My flight was scheduled to leave from the Domestic Terminal but the lounge was in the International Terminal. It took me some time to clear Passport Control and find my way to the Lounge. When I checked in at the Lounge the agent told me to return to her at 07:30 to get my Breakfast ticket. They were staggering the people to the Restaurant. In the meantime I was able to set up a free wireless connection, check my e-mail and continue to document the previous day’s events.
At 07:30 I packed up my laptop, obtained my Breakfast ticket and took an elevator to the Transit Restaurant. There was no choice for breakfast except tea or coffee. Everyone received a fried egg one breakfast sausage, baked beans and fried potatoes.
After breakfast I returned to the Premier Lounge where I had some difficulty finding an outlet to plug in my computer. The only one open had such worn receptacles that my plugs kept coming loose. The Lounge Attendant finally came up with a fix. He folded up a newspaper and jammed it between the coffee table and my plug. It works (I think he had done it before because the folded paper was on the floor under the coffee table near the outlet).
I wrote until 10:00 but I had not finished and wanted to make sure I didn’t miss the flight, so I packed up and proceeded to the gate in the other terminal. I didn’t see very many people in the waiting area and there was no plane at the gateway. The agent checked me in and told me that I had to go through Gate Security and wait because the plane was delayed until 12:40. I said wait a minute! Can I come back at 12:00? He took my boarding ticket and gave me a laminated card and told me I could come back.
So back to the Premier Lounge and this time I found an outlet that didn’t require a Rube Goldberg fix to keep my plug in. I was able to finish my message and sent it out by 12:00.
When I returned to the Gate there was a different agent but she had my boarding ticket and told me the plane had arrived at the gate and we would depart on the revised 12:40 schedule. As I passed through security again they wouldn’t let me take my bottle of water on board, but they did let me finish drinking it. Even though the gate had a Jet Way we had to walk down to the ramp and use Ramp Stairs to board the plane. Almost every seat was taken and there was a man with a broken leg that wanted to sit in the front row creating a ripple effect among a number of passengers. It was finally sorted out and we took off at 13:05 with a stop in route at Lusaka, Zambia. I didn’t get to Lilongwe, Malawi until 16:25 – four hours and ten minutes late. Easter Sunday was shot – spent in the airport or on the plane.
My bag arrived, but it was one of the last so I was a little apprehensive. No hotel transfer had been arranged so I took a taxi. The driver appeared to speak understandable English until we got in the car and I had a hard time communicating with him. There is a set fee of $30 from the airport to the city.
The drive was surprising. The area is a generally flat slightly rolling plain. The road was smooth and there were various crops growing along the way. We past a lot of corn fields, coffee trees and in one area there were a number of roadside stacks of pumpkins for sale. But I saw no houses or shops. When we passed a sign welcoming us to the city there was a traffic light. We passed some gas stations and then a lot of high walls, some with rolls of barbed wire on top, and some with electric wire on top. In some places I could see the roofs of large houses. Every wall and structure was set back from the highway. We passed a number of people walking on paths 20 feet from the edge of the road. Many of the women were balancing large packages on their head. We did pass an industrial area which was set back a fair distance from the road and eventually I saw some high rise buildings. The taxi deposited me at the Sunbird Hotel and drove off. When I checked in the Receptionist got the phone and then told me that I was at the wrong Sunbird Hotel. My reservation was for the Sunbird across town. Next time I am going to get more than a few words in English before I hire a cab.
They called a taxi to take me to the correct hotel. The driver was named Patrick and spoke excellent English. He outlined a number of options for me to do the next day and we bargained a price for him to pick me up at 08:00 and drive me to Lake Malawi with stops in several villages and a tour of Lilongwe.
The hotel is pleasant but the room is smaller and you have to purchase a card to use the Internet. After the big meal I had Saturday, I just had a sandwich for dinner and hoped to get a good night’s sleep.
Apr 05, 2010 (Monday) Tour Lilongwe, Malawi
We had a very strong rain storm last night but it was wet and cool when I awoke at 06:00. I was the only one eating breakfast at 07:00. It was the standard buffet but since I was the only one there the staff was not to be seen and I was unable to get an egg cooked. I don’t need to eat many eggs a week so I settled on bran cereal. It was a little on the soggy side from the high humidity. By the time I returned to my room to freshen up and pack my light weight backpack and return to the lobby it was close to 08:00. The Concierge informed me that Patrick, my tour guide and driver for the day, was waiting in the parking lot.
I had contracted for a brief city tour and a drive to Lake Malawi. There was not much to see in the city. The high rise buildings for the most part are government offices. Several banks have large buildings, but only a few floors high. The other commercial buildings were not very high. As I mentioned in yesterday’s e-mail, the roads are wide and the buildings are set back from the roads. There is no feeling of a city. The roads do not have sidewalks with a curb to the road; rather there are paths in a grassy area, sometime paved with asphalt, 10 to 20 feet from the edge of the road. Around the city are cornfields, grassy areas and trees and except for a few buildings with adjacent parking lots every building is ringed with a high wall.
A quote from a guide book has the following:
“Lilongwe became the capital at independence in 1964 and in the mid-1970s the capital city was built from virgin bush about 5 km from the original settlement. Lilongwe is a town with two hearts-a typically African old town with a vibrant market and rowdy street culture and a very untypical modern section with well-spaced buildings and plenty of parkland. The British have had a very strong and surprisingly positive influence in Malawi since the days of the famous missionary and explorer David Livingstone who introduced the 3 C's of Christianity, colonization and commerce that eventually succeeded in defeating slavery. Even today, most of the country’s elite consists of graduates of the old mission schools.
Undoubtedly the most important attraction of the country is Lake Malawi, the most southerly of the great lakes of the Rift Valley and probably the prettiest and most important in terms of biodiversity. UNESCO has realized that this is the most important freshwater fish sanctuary in the world (over 1,000 fish species with more being discovered every year) and made Lake Malawi National Park a World Heritage Site. Its beaches will remind you of Pacific Ocean islands, with the added pleasure of fresh water.”
We drove east toward the lake. The road was wide and smooth most of the way. It was Easter Monday Holiday in Malawi. Both sides of the road had a steady string of people walking mixed with bicycles. It was strange because we would go for miles between buildings, huts, schools, churches or market stands. It was difficult to understand where these people were going or coming from. There were few roadside buildings like you see in other third world counties. Many of the people, especially the women, had things on their head like baskets, large bags of grain, pots and pans and bundles of firewood.
The bicycles were also loaded down with either a second person, bags of grain or firewood. Many had two vertical poles behind the bicycle seat so the load would not hit the driver. For firewood they would have four vertical poles to stack the firewood and not have it fall off the back. Patrick pointed out to me that almost all the bicycles had a padded seat behind the driver and that they served as local taxis carrying people around the local area. I did not see any motorcycles that serves that same function it many third world countries. Patrick told me that motorcycles were too expensive for Malawi’s.
We were stopped at about six Police check points. At some of them we were waved through; one checked Patrick’s Driver’s License and his Taxi Registration decal; others just asked him questions and the last one, a female Police officer, asked him for money so she could buy a drink. He didn’t give her any money and she just checked his Taxi Registration and waved us through.
The lake is about 100km east of Lilongwe. Along the way on a map the road passes through Dowa, Salima and Senta Bay but from the road it is difficult to determine if you are passing through one of those places. I hesitate to title them cities, towns or villages because there were few commercial establishments, few signs or buildings. In two places there was an open market along the road. One was thriving and the other was deserted. Patrick told me the deserted one is referred to as the “Thursday Market” since it is only open and is very crowded on Thursdays.
As were approached the beach (I guess after what was Salima the road narrowed to almost one lane and with the bicycles with wide cargo on their back it became a little more thrilling when oncoming traffic appeared. The stream of people and bicycles still was present.
On the edge of Lilongwe there was a small industrial park, a warehouse complex and a large government owned grain elevator. Occasionally there were people selling fruits, vegetables, chickens, fish, firewood, charcoal, bamboo shoots and grass shoots alongside the road. Maybe the steady stream of people and bicycles were going and coming from these ventures but I didn’t see very much activity at the ventures themselves.
At 09:30 we arrived at the Sunbird Livingstonia Beach Resort where Patrick parked the car and we walked through the resort to the lake. I was surprised at the look of this huge lake. It had a wide very sandy beach and some surf with occasional white caps. There was a sign cautioning swimmers that there is an undertow a few dozen yards from the edge that can get very strong during storms. The resort had a large pool but all the activity was in the lake. About a dozen young boys and girls (4 to 6 years old) were having a great time in the water under the watchful eyes of four or five women. On the patio were two groups of Asians, one group of men playing cards. I was the only white Caucasian in the area.
I walked around and took some pictures and then invited Patrick to join me for a drink. It was somewhat embarrassing since he had an orange soda and I had a Coke-Cola Light. The bill was 380MWK (Malawi Kwachas) which was around $2.70. I had no local money and the bill was too small for a Visa charge. I gave the waiter three US dollar bills and planned on tipping him with the change. After a long wait we left our table in search of the waiter and as we passed the resort front desk he appeared and told me that he couldn’t take the one dollar bills. Patrick paid the bill and took my three dollar bills. He told me later that dollar bills are often exchanged one for one 100 MWK bill which shorts the Malawi by about one third of the value (the street rate is $1 to 141MWK – the official rate is $1 to 150.49MWK).
On the road out of the resort there were two men selling fresh fish. Patrick stopped and bargained to buy some but decided that they would not sell them for what he could buy them in the Lilongwe market. A little while later he stopped again to bargain for some larger fresh fish caught in a river that feeds the lake. The minute he stopped a half dozen boys descended on the car. Two were holding live chickens and two were selling a form of fruit that I could not identify (it looked like breadfruit). This time Patrick got a good price and bought two fish which he hung on his side view mirror until we reach Lilongwe. There he stopped and put the fish in his trunk to prevent someone from ripping it off at a traffic stop.
Patrick finished my tour with a drive around Lilongwe. It covers a large area and is divided into numbered Areas and Sections. There are two business districts: Old Town which includes Areas 1 through 4, and City Center. He would drive me through an Area and tell me that this was where the wealthy people lived and all I could see were high walls with either rolls of barbed wire or electric wires on top. My hotel was in the Old Town area and it was the closes area to a concentration of shops, restaurants and markets that the city has. He dropped me at my hotel at 12:30.
I think I saw whatever there was to see in this part of Malawi. There is another larger city in the southern part of the country named Blantyre which is more compact and has the National Museum. It is the commercial and industrial capital of Malawi and as the Lonely Planet guide book states “is a more happening city than Lilongwe, although that’s not saying much.” If one was to tour the country for several days it should be included in the itinerary along with a visit to the National Park and Wildlife Reservations southwest of Blantyre.
For lunch I had their tuna sandwich. It was good but they cut off the crust of the bread and it made the sandwich very small. It did come with French fries, a whole tomato cut in quarters and a few pieces of lettuce on the side.
After lunch I walked around the grounds and then wrote up the day’s activity in my journal. I also took a thirty minute nap. Around 16:00 the maid sprayed my room for mosquitoes. I had just emailed out my journal entry and decided to escape the bug spray smell so I walked around the hotel neighborhood to see if I could find a restaurant as an alternative to eating in the hotel. I passed by several Internet Cafes and at least one Pub that was full of Caucasians. I didn’t see any restaurants except a fast food KFC rip-off but I saw a lot of Super Markets. It all of a sudden got dark so I didn’t walk up all the side streets and quickly returned to the hotel and had a nice bowl of mushroom soup in the dining room.
After dinner I checked email and tried to confirm my flight. Kenya Airways did not answer their phone
Apr 06, 2010 (Tuesday) Fly to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania via Nairobi
Kenya Airways is frustrating. I awoke this morning before my alarm and got ready for a 10:00 taxi ride to the airport.
When I checked my email I had one from Judy telling me that she had spent two hours on the phone with Dell support trying to determine why her Dell cannot connect to the Internet. The Dell Help Desk Agent thought the problem was with Norton and tried to get Judy to uninstall it. She wanted to send a program to her laptop and have her copy it to a disc and then install it on her Dell. Judy couldn’t find where I store the blank discs so I called her to tell where she could find them. She is very unhappy not being able to connect to the internet with her Dell, but she does have her laptop to use.
After talking to Judy I went to breakfast and asked the Receptionist to call Kenya Airways to check on the flight. This time she kept getting a busy signal. After breakfast the Receptionist was busy checking out customers so she suggested that I go to the Travel Office in the building. The travel agent tried many times to reach Kenya Airways with no success.
I returned to my room and finished packing and at checked out at 09:45. This time I asked women in the Business Office to call Kenya Airways. Again the lines were busy so I left and was gathering my bags in the lobby when she called out to me that she was able to get through. I talked to the Kenya Airways representative on the line and asked if my flight was scheduled to arrive on time. She replied that it was feeling better I thanked her, hung up and lugged my bags to the parking lot where Patrick was already waiting, polishing his car.
Airport security was performed at the entrance to the terminal. They had no x-ray or metal detectors. Uniformed agents checked the bag and me with a wand and when it buzzed I told her that I had a medal knee and she waived me through to check-in. When I arrived at the check-in counter I was told I was too early. About ten minutes later the agent said he could check me and informed me that my flight was estimated to be two hours late! He still checked my bag through to Dar es Salaam, issued me a boarding pass for both the flight to Nairobi and Dar es Salaam explaining that there was a later flight today from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam if I was not able to make the connection.
In the departure lounge I was able to find an outlet and to use the time left on the WiFi card I had purchased at the hotel. Sharing my outlet was a young documentary film maker from Brooklyn, NY. He heard about a young boy in Malawi that learned that wind mills could generate electricity and went about building a wind power generator for his village. The film maker has been traveling back and forth from New York to visit the village to document the young boy’s activities.
I had a great conversation comparing my experiences and observations with his. This is truly a poor country with a lot of needs. His flight to Johannesburg left and I went back on the internet and discovered on MSN that Madonna was in Malawi dedicating an orphanage in a village west of Lilongwe.
As it got close to the estimated arrival of my flight at 14:30, I packed up and proceeded downstairs where I had to pass through a more detailed security check and pat down. Whereas there had only been a hand full of people in the upstairs lounge after the South African flight had left, down stairs there were two waiting rooms full of passengers. It was close to 15:00 when the aircraft arrived. Eventually we were bussed out to the aircraft, B-767-300.
We took off at 15:55, 2 hours and 40 minutes late. My seat was an inside aisle and it turned out that the other two seats on the row were not occupied. It was good thing, because my assigned seat and the middle seat TV monitors did not work so I spent the flight sitting in the middle seat watching some lame movie The Invention of Lying with the British comedian Ricky Gervais.
When we arrived in Nairobi, an hour and a half after my scheduled flight to Dar es Salaam, I was directed to the Transfer Desk to get rebooked. There was a very long line waiting to be serviced by just two agents. After about 15 minutes in the line, a Supervisor arrived with a hand full of boarding passes. He asked each person in line where they were going to and their name and when he got a match he gave them their new boarding pass and the queue was quickly reduced to a small line. The Supervisor then started to work one of the stations and another agent arrived and opened a terminal and all of a sudden it was my turn. It took just a minute for him to print me a boarding pass for the 22:00 flight to Dar es Salaam and I was on my way to the Transit Lounge where I had spent so many on Easter Sunday.
I was able to sit near one of the outlets that would hold a plug (I had learned on Sunday which ones were good and which ones were worn out from so much use they would not keep the plug in contact). The lounge had free WiFi so I was able to catch up on low priority stuff like Facebook and updating my World’s Most Traveled Person list and reading some of the gossip items on MSN.
At 21:00 they called my flight and proceeded to the gate where I encountered a long line. Each gate performed security and the terminals were not designed to handle the queue very efficiently. Things like counter space to remove your laptop and baskets to put your laptop and other items in where not efficiently handled. They were very serious about liquids and they removed six packs of beer from a number of passengers traveling in a group. I learned later they were on their way to attend a football (soccer) match.
The flight was only an hour long and we had a jet-way to exit the aircraft to the terminal. I was sitting near the front so I was only about a dozen passengers back from the first person. When he reached the door to Passport Control it was locked and there was a female agent on the other side calling on the phone. She then left and we were stopped with the line of passengers all the way back into the plane. After a ten minute wait, one of the passengers behind me started to bang on the glass wall to get somebody’s attention. At the sound of the banging a man sleeping on a row of seats jumped up looking very startled. We all laughed and then almost cried because it turned out he was the man with the key. He embarrassedly opened the door and quickly exited the scene.
Down in the Passport Control area I had to complete a visa request and hand them my passport and $100. As I was waiting I struck up a conversation with a Dutchmen carrying a large TV camera. Apparently, the Princess of the Netherlands was going to visit Tanzania and he was with a reporter and the Princess’s advance party. We joked that it was too bad that he did not have his camera on to capture the scene of the security guard jumping up from his sleep.
After a while my name was called and I was handed back my passport and was able to pick up my bag and exit customs/immigration where a Holiday Inn representative was holding a sign with my name. He drove me to the hotel. When I checked in the desk agent told me that I would have to pay for the transfer to the airport the next day because they had sent a driver out to meet the originally schedule flight.
I had a voucher for a city tour the next morning at 07:30, so I left a wake-up call for 05:30 and went to bed at 01:00.
Apr 07, 2010 (Wednesday) Tour Dar es Salaam and fly to Zanzibar, Tanzania
When I awoke to the alarm and the phone at 05:30, I didn’t feel very well. It seems that I had caught a head cold and awoke with a stuffy nose and sinus headache. I showered and repacked some of my belongings and went to breakfast at 07:00.
My BlackBerry was acting strangely. When I turned it on at landing the night before it did not indicate a connection but sometime during the drive to the hotel I received my emails but in my room I could not get either a data or voice connection.
When I returned to my room after breakfast I started to receive GSM voice but no data. I tried to manually acquire a network connection and even tried a battery pull with no success.
At 07:30 I went down to the lobby to meet my guide from Winglink Travel. He was not there. At 07:45 I had the Desk Clerk call him. He got no answer so I went up to their offices in the Holiday Inn building and discovered all the offices were closed. A waitress from the Coffee Bar told me that it was a holiday and they would not be open that day.
I called Judy to inform her that I could not get email for at least a day and if she had any pressing problems. She had discovered that she could still print from the Dell she was having Internet connection problems on, so we concluded that Norton’s Firewall was the problem. She told me that she was getting used to using her laptop and was not going to spend a lot of time on the Dell problem.
It was now close to 08:00, so I asked the front desk to call the guides number again. After not getting an answer they call the cell phone of the Winglink Travel Manager. I told him that I had been waiting since 07:30 and the guide had not arrived. He told me he would look into it. Right at 08:00 the guide arrived. When I got in his car he showed me his order to provide guide services from 08:30 to 12:30. Boy, the way I was feeling, another hour’s sleep would have felt good.
Off we drove around the city of Dar es Salaam. The first area was the Fish Market. The way I was feeling I told him to skip stopping. From the car it looked like so many of the Fish Markets I have visited throughout the world.
From the Fish Market we drove along the coast past the two ferries departure terminals (Zanzibar and the Southern Beaches) with large crowds at both. Ten kilometers north of the city center we stopped at the Village Museum. It was set up in 1966 to demonstrate and preserve the traditional cultures of Tanzania’s many and varied ethnic groups. The museum displays 22 different style homes and buildings. Most have grass roofs and walls of mud and grass. The varied in size, shape and interior design.
As we were walking around and taking pictures it started to rain. I had not worn my rain jacket or hat for this visit, so I cut it short and we returned to the car. For some reason my guide who didn’t understand my questions and didn’t communicate very well in English drove me by every major hotel in the city. Many of them like the new Doubletree had beach front but were down very bad roads. The roads in Dar es Salaam were as bad as I have ever experienced. Some were washboard dirt and the paved streets had flooding, pot holes, utility holes that were just patched with gravel, etc.
Between the rough roads, the rain and the lack of anything to really see I was getting very discouraged. I asked when we were going to stop at the National Museum which I expected to be the most worthwhile stop on the tour and was listed the contract he showed me that had him starting at 08:30. The guide told me it was closed for remodeling. I was not happy since we had reviewed the schedule when he showed me his contract. I told him to take me back to the hotel.
On the way to the hotel we passed by the National Museum, (now renamed The Museum and House of Culture) and there was a wall of corrugated metal surrounding the buildings, but sprayed on the wall like graffiti where signs pointing to the entrance. As we approached an entrance in the wall the sign said: “Museum Open - Enter Here”. Inside the wall were a small car park and a man sitting on a platform with a table and a large log book. He motioned for us to get out of our car and approach him. In a light rain we climbed the steps to the table and were asked to sign my name and home address in the log book. There was no doorway in sight but the man gave my guide some instructions and we climbed down and walked around the corner of the building. Amount 20 yards along the side of the build was an outdoor stage with a group of school children in Muslim headdress singing a song to tribal instruments. As we walked toward the stage we came upon a door and that proved to be the entrance to the museum. (A weird setup)
The museum was not the best but it had interesting display halls:
The Hall of Human Origins: with the story of human origins including findings from the Olduvai Gorge and the famous Zinjanthropus Bosei , dating back some 1.75 million years and the famous 3.6 million year old Laetoli Hominid foot prints.
The History Hall: with photos and documents of Dar es Salaam and Tanzania. There were details of the slave, Arab, German and then the English colonial periods.
The Biology Hall was located in another building.
Between the buildings was a car park with a row of two Rolls Royce, a couple of British Austin Minors and Mercedes Benz that were driven by government leaders over the decades Near the car display was the twisted remains of an automobile, bicycle, and motor cycle around a column memorializing the 1998 al Qaeda bombing the American Embassy. It was not as fancy as the memorial in Nairobi for the 1998 bombing in that city, but it was better than no memorial at all.
From the museum we returned to the hotel. It was time for lunch which turned out to be a buffet in the hotel dining room. The lobby was full of the Zanzibar Football team and they went in first when the buffet opened. Since I usually eat salad for lunch I had no problem but the hot selections were quickly depleted by the footballers.
After lunch I checked out of my room and had the Bell Man tape my handle shut again. There was some confusion over my transfer to the airport. Holiday Inn was supposed to arrange it but since they had gone to the airport twice the night before and I was going to have to pay for it they didn’t make the arrangement. After some discussion they got the Rental Company driver to take me to the airport and I paid him the $20 transfer fare.
Everything at the airport went rather smoothly since I was on a domestic flight. I still had to go through security and Japanese in front of me had his cans of beer taken from him. I kidded the Security Agent about having a party after work and he asked me if I wanted the beer. He implied that since I was not the one trying to bring it on board the aircraft it was all right for me to take it. I laughed and declined the offer.
The aircraft to Zanzibar was an ATR commuter size aircraft. It was only about one third full, took off before the scheduled departure time and landed in 20 minutes in Zanzibar. My bag was the last off again. The flight had landed twenty minutes earlier than the scheduled 18:00 arrival. When I exited the terminal at 17:55 I did not see anyone holding a sign with my name on it. I was surrounded by aggressive taxi drivers. I told that I was looking for a scheduled transfer driver. Most left but one was persistent, telling me to us him to take me to my hotel and have the hotel cancel the arranged transport. When I asked him if he would drive me at no cost to me since the transfer had already been paid for in advance, he backed off. Right at 18:00 a car pulled with Zanzibar Unique (the transfer agent) painted on its side and the driver held up a sign with my name on it.
It was a short ride from the airport to Zanzibar Town and then into the Stone Town area. My hotel was the Tembo House (Tembo is Elephant in Swahili), right on the Indian Ocean. The original building dates back to 1895 and a new wing built in the 1990’s. My room was in the old wing with antique furniture, a canopy bed surrounded in mosquito netting. The shower/tub enclosure was a blue title hot tub style structure with a seat all around. There was no closet or armoire, but in an alcove was a hat rack with 5 hooks and one hanger. I had to unplug the refrigerator to get power near my bedside table for my CPAP machine.
Diner started at 21:00. I sat three feet from the beach sand on a boardwalk and watched the boats being moored for the night and a group of young men doing tumbling stunts. Once the sun set the crowd left and the beach area became very quiet.
I had their fish special which included a creamy vegetable soup, a salad with thin strips of tuna, a baked fish with French fries and a fruit cup for dessert. Zanzibar is 95% Muslim and the hotel did not offer any alcohol drinks.
At check in I was told that there was no WiFi in the rooms but there were two computers for guest use in the lobby. After dinner I tried to get to the internet on one of the hotel computers and was told the network was down.
Back in my room I discovered that a platform over the air conditioner was very warm, so I spread my under shirt and a pair of soxs on it so they would be warm in the morning.
I was hot and sticky from my travel so I changed into my bathing suit and decided to take a refreshing dip in the pool. As I was about to jump in one of the desk clerks can out and told me that the pool closed at 21:00 and they put in chorine. I returned to my room and took a shower and went to bed.
Apr 08, 2010 (Thursday) Tour Zanzibar, Tanzania
Breakfast was interesting. A buffet of various fruits and small cakes and bread was setup in a large room. At the end of the line was a platter of rolled up crepes which they titled Pancakes. I think I could have requested eggs or cereal from a waiter but the banana, pineapple, water melon, mango, guava slices and grapes was enough.
After Breakfast I found the lobby computer to be available so I checked my email and wrote some responses.
At 09:00 my guide Salum arrived to take me to Prison Island. He told me that we would be going in one of the boats moored just off of the hotel beach and I would have to remove my shoes to wade out to the boat. I quickly returned to my room and changed into a bathing suit and water sandals which was much more comfortable for the adventure to Prison Island.
Prison Island is just off the coast of Stone Town and it’s a small boat trip from the hotel beach. The historical Island, also known as Changuu, was first used by Arab slave merchants to detain unruly slaves. It was then owned by an Arab and continued to be used for the confinement of refractory slaves. It was bought by General Matthews, a British Naval Officer who helped train the first Zanzibar Army and was commissioned as its leader. He built the jail in 1893 and hence the name Prison Island. The building was never used as a prison, though later it did become a quarantine station for Zanzibar, Kenya, Uganda and what was then Tanganyika.
We rode a small wooden boat with a canvas canopy and a 15hp motor to the island. Along the way we passed several large ships that were without crew. The first one had a burned out superstructure. Salum explained that the government was trying to save the cost of sending the ship to a dry dock in Dar es Salaam and attempted to overhaul the ship in Zanzibar when a welder set it on fire and they didn’t have the resources to extinguish the fire so the just abandon the ship and it stays moored off shore. A little farther out was a dated cruise ship that Salum told was owned by the government but they didn’t want to spend the money to repair or to scrap it so it was just moored.
When we approached Prison Island there was a beautiful sandy beach. We waded ashore and climbed a stone stairway to a beautiful tiled area with a large pool. There was a sign stating “Pool For Guests Only”. A short distance from the pool was a large building that was described as the villa for the former owners of the island and now serves as a hotel during high season. This was not high season so the hotel was closed.
A short walk from the pool was the entrance to a game preserve and a giant tortoise farm. The farm had many giant tortoises like I saw in the Galapagos Islands. They were imported from Aldabra in the Seychelles in the late 19th century. They stand up to a rather staggeringly one meter high, and many are hundreds of years old, and are frequently seen copulating!
It was feeding time and we were encouraged to grasp a handful of greens from a big bag and feed the tortoises. While we were feeding them, wild turkeys were running around making a lot of noise with their “gobble-gobble”. All of a sudden we heard a load grunt and a male tortoise had climbed on the back of a female and they were copulating. You have not lived until you see a hundred year old tortoise climb on top of a female tortoise. We could not tell if the grunting was from the male or the female. Someone or maybe both of them were having a good time.
After the feeding we walked along the edge of the preserve to the old prison. It had a number of cells with iron rings embedded in the floor that were designed to shackle the prisoners. On the back side of the building was a platform over the water and we could see the crystal water and coral reef below. It looked very inviting in the hot humid weather. The tour of the island was complete so we (there was another tourist who had ridden over in the boat) were given some free time and the crystal clear water was very appealing. I removed my sandals and shirt, loaded them in the boat with my back pack and dove in. I swam around the area until Salum, the other passenger and the boat owner were ready to return to Stone Town.
It was 11:30 when we arrived and I agreed with Salum to break for lunch and start the Stone Town walking tour at 13:00. Before ordering lunch I took a shower at the hotel pool and swam a few laps. Back in my room I changed into shorts and my walking shoes for the afternoon walk.
Lunch was a delicious prawn and avocado salad. I finished before 13:00 and was able to check email in the hotel lobby. Salum was a little late but I was absorbed surfing the internet.
Zanzibar has lured traders, adventurers, plunderers and explorers to its shores for centuries. The Assyrians, Sumerians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Indians, Chinese, Persians, Portuguese, Omani Arabs, Dutch and English have all been here at one time or another. Some, particularly the Shirazi Persians and Omani Arabs, stayed to settle and rule. With this influence, Zanzibar has become predominantly Islamic (97%) - the remaining 3% is made up of Christians, Hindus and Sikhs. The earliest visitors to Zanzibar were Arab traders who are said to have arrived in the 8th century. The earliest building that remains on Zanzibar is the mosque at Kizimkazi, which dates from 1107, and is a present-day tourist attraction.
For centuries the Arabs sailed with the monsoon winds from Oman to trade primarily in ivory, slaves and spices. The two main islands, Unguja (normally known as Zanzibar Island) and Pemba, provided an ideal base for the Omani Arabs, being relatively small, and therefore fairly easy to defend. Indeed, in 1832, Sultan Seyyid Said, of the Busaid dynasty that had emerged in Oman, moved his Sultanate from Muscat to Zanzibar.
Salum started my tour with a discussion on the architecture of the buildings. The buildings were originally white washed but the heavy rain and humidity had turned many of them black. One would think at first glance that they had suffered fire damage but Salum said that was not the case. The country is not very prosperous and most of the building owners do not have the funds to maintain the buildings. One reason he explained is that the Arabs used to own and live in the buildings but left the island in a hurry when Zanzibar overthrow the Arab government. The new government then gave the abandoned buildings to the Zanzibar natives to live in.
There are two very distinct styles of buildings. The Arab style with square door tops and the more ornate Indian architecture with curved decorations above the door and carved ornate balconies. The Indian teak doors retained the elephant spikes as decoration, even though the islands have no elephants.
As we navigated the narrow walkways and streets, Salum described the slave trade in which the Arabs traded with the African Village Chiefs, goods for slaves selected by the Chief. The slaves were held in chambers and then put on display where they were whipped to determine who was the strongest and most resilient. We arrived at the Slave Market site and I took a tour of the slave chambers.
My Slave Chamber guide was named Elvis and was wearing a t-shirt that said “Go US Army”. He told me he could sing, play the guitar and write music. So I told him he needed to join the US Army like Elvis Presley had done.
In the chamber there were two areas about four feet high and then a large trough which I was walking in to see the two chambers. Elvis told me that during the slave period the ocean was closer to the building and at high tide the trough would fill with water. It was where the salves relived themselves and their waste would be washed out to sea when the tide receded.
From the chamber we walked toward the Cathedral. Elvis took me bye a pit that contains the full size statues of slaves chained together by their necks. It represented how they were treated. Bishop Steer built the large Anglican Church of Christ in 1873. The wooden cross in the Cathedral is made from the wood of the tree under which Dr. Livingstone died.
When Elvis finished my tour I rejoined Salum walking to the Central Market opened in 1904, with a variety of fish and fruits from the island. The fish auction was an interesting high light and that was followed by walking past first the fish stalls, then the beef stalls where Salum explained the meat has to be inspected daily before it can be sold; then the lamb stalls, the chicken stalls and finally the fruit and vegetable stalls. The next area was the hard goods and clothes.
The Market is on the edge of Stone Town so people in automobiles can park outside the area and shop in the market. From the Market we strolled toward the water past a building which, during the First World War, was used to shelter the German Embassy. Next to that building was the Africa House Hotel, formerly the English Club, which Salum explained has a license to sell liquor and a fine restaurant which he recommend that view the sunset from the hotel terrace. We also passed the Tippu Tip House just next to it and the House of Dr. Livingstone.
At the water front we walked through a park and passed the tower of Beit-El-Ajaib, House of Wonders, the old Arab Fort, to the hotel. At the hotel I asked Salum where was the Museum and he said “Oh, you want to see the Museum, it is in the House of Wonder, I have a ticket for you.” I replied that of course I wanted to see it and he drove me back to the House of Wonder and dropped me off.
The House of Wonders is an imposing structure along the seafront built by Sultan Seyyid Baragash (970-988) for ceremonial purposes. It was called the House of Wonders because it was the first house built in Zanzibar to include indoor conveniences. It was one of the first houses in East Africa to use electricity and tap water. Two Sultans lived in the house and then during the colonial period it was used as the headquarters of the colonial administration. It was converted into a school and a museum for the ruling party after the Revolution, designed by the North Koreans in their typical ‘Great Leader’ tradition. The entrance steps are guarded by two old bronze cannons which have Portuguese inscriptions. It is thought that these cannons were made in Portugal sometime in the early 16th century, but the Omanis probably brought them to Zanzibar, after taking them from Persian forces that had originally captured the guns from the Portuguese in 1622.
When I entered the building the first thing on display was a full size replica of a dhow. Around the walls of the three story atrium were displays of the dhow trade indicating they traveled as far as Kuwait and the east side of India. The most traffic was to Mogadishu and Mombasa. Continuing around the first floor were displays of the history of the region including the shortest war in history. The British had become the Protectorate of Zanzibar in 1890 but in 1896 Sd. Khalid b. Barghash tried to declare himself Sultan. The British bombarded the places and the war was over in 45 minutes.
The second floor of the museum was dedicated to Sayyida Salme, Princess of Zanzibar and Oman. She was born in Zanzibar in 1844 and grew up a privileged life and taught herself to read and write, one of the first women in the Arab world to do so. When her Sultan father died and her brothers battled it out to become the new Sultan, she moved into Stone Town and next door was a German businessman who she became involved with. She was smuggled out of the country and married in Germany. Under her German name of Emily Ruete, she published several books describing the lives of men and woman in the Arab world. She died in 1924 on her first attempt to return to Zanzibar.
The third floor of the museum contained a library of her writings.
Following my tour of the Museum, I walked next door to the old Arab Fort which has vendor stalls lining the interior parade field. Back at the hotel I relaxed and tried to dry my clothes. I was soaking wet from the walk. I couldn’t have gotten wetter if I had walked in the rain. I took the opportunity to wash my clothes and lay them outside on my balcony to dry in the sun.
After putting on some dry clothes I checked my email in the lobby and as the sun was beginning to set I headed out to the Africa House Hotel. As I approached the sea front side of the hotel (which is the back side) some men in a pickup truck directed me toward a circular iron fire escape stair up the side of the building. I climbed the stairs and found myself on the bar terrace which was crowded with tourists drinking and watching the sun set. It was a pretty sight.
When it turned dark I asked the waiter if I could eat on the terrace. He produced a menu and told I could order from him but I should go up one level top the dinning terrace. I ordered a prawns dish and walked around the hotel (fascinating old place) and up the stairs to the dining area. I was the first to be seated and I had a great view of the water front. My waiter from the bar soon arrived and turned in my order. I then heard drums beating and looked over the balcony and saw that there was a native dance show performing on the bar terrace below. The noise was such that I was glad to be on the dining terrace.
My meal was served and it was a very delicious: Prawns in Garlic Sauce. During the meal a family with several sub teen age girls arrived and with them was a woman with pet very small monkeys which climbed around the families table much to squealing the delight of the young girls.
When my meal was over and I was walking down the stairs I could see that the show in the bar now had a native with a large snake around his neck. The woman with the monkeys was in the hall and asked me why I wasn’t staying to watch her show. I lied that I had an early flight and needed to retire (I was worn out from the day’s activities).
I walked back to the room and retired by 21:00.
Apr 09, 2010 (Friday) Fly to Bujumbura, Burundi via Nairobi and Kigali, Rwanda
Hotel check out time was 10:00. At 07:00 I awoke to a pouring rain. Fortunately, I had brought the clothes in from the balcony before I went to bed.
Breakfast was a zoo because the people normally sit outside or along the beach boardwalk. There weren’t very many tables in covered areas so I shared a crowed table with a 40 year old woman from Seattle who had been in Nairobi on business with a non-profit organization and decided to see Zanzibar before returning to the states. We shared stories about foreign travel, Seattle and what I had seen in Zanzibar. She was scheduled to visit Prison Island that day.
I returned to my room, packed and had a porter carry my backpack down the stairs. When the trip had originally been planned I had a 14:45 flight which would have had me transfer at 12:30 to the airport. The plan was for me to follow-up visiting some the walking tour sights that I thought were interesting, but the rain killed that idea. Since the original schedule, my flight had been changed to 16:45 and my transfer to 14:45. The hotel management would not let me have late checkout since they were expecting a large group. As I was discussing my options with the desk clerk he informed me that there was secure WiFi in the lobby area. He gave me the password and I set up in the dining room were breeze was felt.
At 14:30 my guide arrived to drive me to the airport. The airport was small and the wait boring. The plane was a small ATR 42 but it was not crowded. The flight was just over an hour long and they served a delicious sandwich. I had a row to myself and was able to take some good pictures from the window of Zanzibar Island and of Mount Kilimanjaro as we flew to Nairobi. My camera started to act up. It would not turn off.
It was a little after 18:00 went we landed in Nairobi and I returned to “my home away from home”, the Kenya Airways Transit lounge. I settled in the chair next to the outlet I knew would hold my adapter. I Google my camera problem and discovered it was a known defect with the Sony DSC-W300 models. Apparently the switch that shows the pictures stored on the Memory Stick, sticks and keeps turning the camera on. There was no known fix except to replace the cameras electrical board or replace the camera its self. I could still take pictures but with the camera on all the time my battery would run down fast.
Mike Bidwell arrived to for the rest of the tour. Mike and I have been on three previous Advantage Travel tours. He had flown in from Indianapolis. We had five hours before our flight to Burundi.
At one point I went down to the concourse and stopped in an Electronics store to see if I could buy another camera. They had some nice Sony cameras but the batteries were different than the one in my camera and I had four for my DSC-W300 and decided it was not worth buying both the new camera and the batteries. To further help my decision the store had no batteries and I learned a long time ago that it was not safe to be on tour without spare camera batteries. My work around was to remove the battery from my camera when I was not going to be taking pictures.
Around 22:30 I arrived at the gate for the flight to Bujumbura. I had to go through security screening at the gate and sit in a waiting area before we walked down to the ramp and across the ramp to board the Embraer EMB 175 plane. I had an empty seat next to me. We took off at 23:45
Apr 10, 2010 (Saturday) Tour to Bujumbura, Burundi
We arrived at the Bujumbura airport at 01:10 in a small Embraer 170 commuter aircraft. The plane didn’t hold very many passengers and it was not full so there was not a long wait to get our visa and pick up our luggage. We were booked at the Hotel Club Du Lac Tanganyika, right on the lake’s beach. Lake Tanganika, is the second deepest lake in the world after Lake Baikal at 4708 ft.
The rooms had a few oddities. First over the air conditioning unit there was a window with no drape so as soon as the sun rose the light streamed in. The shower had no tub or basin, just a slight indentation on the tile floor so I not only flooded the bathroom floor but the water flowed into the hallway. When I left for breakfast it turned out that the maid’s storage room was catty cornered to my bungalow and one of the maids saw the water and rushed over to mop it up while I was at breakfast.
We had a 09:00 start on our tour of the scenic country. Burundi claims to be the center of Africa, roughly equal distance between the Atlantic and Indian Ocean coasts and the Mediterranean Sea and the Cape of Hope. It is sometimes called the Switzerland of Africa for its spectacular landscapes.
Our tour took us on a drive through scenic mountain areas past villages and towns to the city of Gitega, the second largest city in the country and home of the Burundi National Museum. Unfortunately, the museum was closed when we arrived. It was after 11:00 so our guide suggested that we stop at the restaurant he had scheduled for lunch, make our lunch selection, and then drive to see the native drum show. He said they were a little slow in preparing meals and this would give them time.
The road to the village was very rough and up a small mountain. When we arrived we were greeted by two old men, one in tribal costume with a head band. He was introduced as the leader of the Drum Corps. Adjacent to the car park was a compound with several large grass huts. We were invited into the compound and the tribal leader started to tell us a long drawn out story in his native tongue, translated by our guide about how a King from the mountain across the valley hid from his enemies in this village and rewarded the people of the village for protecting him when his enemies searched the village.
We then entered the large hut and were shown in detail where the king would sit and sleep and were his wife would prepare for bed and were each Prince would stand or sit.
Eventually, the compound tour ended and I never did get the point if there was one, and we moved on to an area where there was a row of chairs under a shelter. In front of the shelter was a grass field with a semi-circle path.
Soon after we sat down, the tribal leader emerged from our left chanting and dancing, followed by about two dozen drummers with large drums balanced on their heads. When they were all in the area along the path, another group arrived and assisted in removing the drums from the drummer’s heads and setting them on the ground, all without missing a beat. (A very impressive show) Following the assistant was a group of small children with small drums.
Next each participant took turns dancing and chanting in the center of the semi-circle including the small children. As the show went on a large crowd formed behind us. They just appeared out of the tall grass and trees. We hadn’t seen many huts on the road up to the site so I wondered where they all came from.
When everyone had their turn, the drums were again balanced on the drummer’s heads without missing a beat and the troop exited. We complemented and thanked the leader for the show and learned that they have toured 42 cities in the United States and that the energetic leader was 75 years old and had been performing since he was 5 years old. The crowd disappeared as silently as they had come, and we were off to lunch.
The lunch restaurant was across from a traffic circle. In the middle of the circle was a huge umbrella tree which our guide claimed was the center of Africa.
The road was rather smooth, not as smooth as Malawi. There was the same steady stream of walkers and bicycles on both sides of the road but there was more buildings closer to the road than in Malawi. Burundi had been caught up in the Rwanda conflict between Hutu and Tutsi in the 1990’s. It had a very good coffee business until the government had the farmers replace their plants with a new type that would grow more rapidly and thus produce more beans per year but the plants had not been adequately tested in the region and the beans turned out to not be usable.
We were back in the city around 17:00 and were shown the city sights including the beach where young men were practicing tumbling and stunts in the sand.
After some time at our hotel we were picked up again and drive to a fancy restaurant in the Embassy Row area near the President’s House. The restaurant over looked the city and we initially sat at a bar with a city view and ordered our dinner. When the food was ready we moved to a table. It was very enjoyable. I had a delicious fish baked with parmesan cheese.
We returned to the hotel and I retired early since we had a short sleep, long drive and and early scheduled departure in the morning.
Apr 11, 2010 (Sunday) Fly to Entebbe, Uganda via Nairobi
I awoke at dawn. I had run my air conditioner all night aimed at my damp clothes hoping they would be dry in the morning. Again at dawn the light came streaming in around 05:45.
The airport transfer from the hotel was scheduled for 07:40. I had just enough time to shower, pack, and process my email before breakfast and check-out. Mike was in the lobby and had already eaten breakfast. I left my bags with him and walked to the dining area and ate a small breakfast of cereal and fruit. Just as I was finishing Mike walked in with a paper for me to sign. He told me that the hotel wanted to charge us for the rooms and when he showed them our voucher they claimed that it was not enough. After some discussion they called the Travel Agent and discovered that they had been paid in Euros and not dollars and that in fact Advantage Travel was due a small refund.
When the time to leave for the airport neared, the hotel bus was at the end of the lot being washed. Mike walked over to get them to start the bus and was told that the driver hadn’t arrived. In a few minutes he did arrive and we were on our way.
At the airport we had to run our bags through the x-ray before entering the lobby. At the end of the lobby was a Policeman that checked our Passport. Mike breezed through to check-in but I was stopped because I didn’t have the receipt for the visa fee in my passport. I had to dig into my laptop back to where I filed my receipts and show it to him. It turned out that the receipt was the Burundi Visa with only the entry stamp in my Passport.
Once inside the check-in area I had to complete a Embarkation card as I waited my turn to check in. I had my bag tagged to Entebbe and was issued two boarding cards. From check in I had to hand the Embarkation Card to an Immigration official get my passport exit stamp. From there I had to pass through another security point. This one was run by two women and when I set off the alarm as I waked through the metal detector I pointed to my knee and told them it was metal. They didn’t have a wand and took me at my word and let me pass, but then they discovered I had a half bottle of water in my backpack which they let me finish drinking in front of them.
The morning flight from Bujumbura to Nairobi runs the reverse route to the evening flight that we had taken from Nairobi via Kigali, Rwanda. Therefore we had to stop at Kigali again on our way back to Nairobi to connect to our flight to Entebbe. The was a one hour time change between Kigali and Nairobi so it was close to noon Nairobi time during the leg from Kigali to Nairobi so they served us a hot lunch on the one hour leg.
When we arrived, Mike noticed that we just missed a flight to Entebbe, but when we arrived at “My home away from home” the Kenya Airways Transit Lounge, we discovered a group of people that were scheduled on that noon flight to Entebbe. The flight was on a long delay. I settle down in my familiar seat with the working outlet and hooked up my laptop.
As the afternoon wore on the group in the lounge learned that their flight had been cancelled and they had been rebooked on our 17:50 flight to Entebbe. At 16:30 we were told to check in at the gate. There was a long line and I wondered how two flights of passengers were going to fit in our schedule B-737. I soon found out when they assigned me another seat since they had replaced the 737 with a B-767.
Security again and with the crowd I was given a very quick pat down when I set off the alarm. We took two large departure areas to hold all the passengers. They had given us different colored Boarding Cards and we were directed to different buses and different entry stairs according to the color of our pass. I was issued a Blue Pass and told to enter through the rear stairs even though my re-assigned seat was 10B. I followed their instructions but had to fight the passengers entering from the front to gety up to row 10. Mike was issued a yellow card, yet he was assigned to 11D. Go figure! I was glad that it was my last flight on Kenya Airways and after four long waits in the Nairobi Transit Lounge it was my farewell to my African – “Home Away From Home”.
When we arrived in Entebbe we had to exit via stairs and walk almost the whole length of the Airport Terminal. Mike noted as we were walking that a KLM B-747 had just landed and was taxiing to a gate with a Jetway right over the Customs and Immigration door. We hustled to beat the KLM passengers and found that even though we were not in the first batch from our plane there was a short line getting Uganda Visas. We quickly filled out a Uganda Entry/Arrival Declaration Form and paid $50 to get a visa receipt. The agent would not accept one of my new $20 bills and I had to replace it with a more worn bill. I didn’t fully understand her concern, but she mumbled something about the series number on the newer bill.
Behind us the line had started to fill up with the passengers from the KLM flight. We were patting ourselves on our backs for beating the KLM crowd when we got to luggage retrieval. But, the KLM luggage beat us to the carousel. Mike and my luggage took 50 minutes to get to the carousel.
Outside the terminal we spotted a sign with our names. A smiling man named George was waiting for us. He was from Wild Frontiers and would be our guide for the next week. He had to retrieve a parking ticket from the only one of three vending machines working. There was a small crowd of taxi drivers and others attempting to use the machine and it would not validate George’s ticket on the first few tries. I thought we might be stuck in the airport parking lot. Finally he got his ticket validated after using different bills and the taxi drivers cheered. He smiled and took us to a large Toyota Land Crusier that looted like a Range Rover. It had two spare tires next to each other on the rear and a luggage rack on top. It was definitely a Safari wagon. We were ready to roll – if we could just get out of the airport parking lot. The vehicle was so large that he had difficulty maneuvering out of his parking space and driving to the exit where he had to insert his ticket to raise a barrier arm. He elected to get in the right lane (they have right hand drive vehicles and drive on the left in Uganda), and it was a good thing because a taxi in the left lane could not get the barrier to raise and there was all kinds of swearing and horn honking at him.
The hotel we were booked into was the Lake Victoria Hotel and it was just 5km from the airport. We had a foul up at check in. Both Mike and I had paid for single rooms and they had us assigned to one room. Our vouchers stated two singles, so the desk clerk got on the phone and it took some time but she finally gave us keys to separate rooms.
George bid us farewell for the night. He lived 35km away and would leave the Land Cruisier at the hotel and take a taxi home and see us at 08:30 in the morning.
I had eaten on the plane so I went to my room to set up my CPAP machine. Mike asked me to join him for a drink but I passed to send out some emails. He told me later that as he sat at the bar the bartender made a phone call and soon a young lady appeared and sat next to him and asked him he wanted a companion for the night. When he turned her down he could see that the bartender was disappointed, guessing that he was expecting a cut of the fee that Mike was sure he was going to be charged if he had accepted her offer.
To save time I used the Business Center computer to send out an email and returned to my room. My safe was locked and I called the front desk to have a security agent open it so I could use it. A woman soon knocked on my door fixed the safe and left it open. I set in my combination and turned the handle with the door open to check if it would work and then tried to open it and it didn’t work.
I went to bed discussed with the safe and the fact I could not get BlackBerry service.
Apr 12, 2010 (Monday) Tour Entebbe, Uganda
I was able to get a sound eight hours sleep, awaking naturally just before my 06:00 alarm. When I checked my BlackBerry, I was disappointed that it was not receiving service so I switched it to manual mode, linked to a different network and the emails started flowing.
Our schedule today was to be picked-up from the hotel by a Wild Frontiers representative and transferred to the Entebbe Pier to catch the 09:00 boat to the Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary where we would receive a briefing by one of the caretakers and then view the chimps during feeding time from a platform.
The hotel was undergoing renovation and breakfast was being severed up a level from the lobby. The stairs were blocked for repair so they had a sign directing us to the lift. When I arrived on the second floor there was no sign to the breakfast area and I wandered around until I ran into a guest that told me to go behind a wall at the end of a large room.
Breakfast was nothing to write home about. I had some fruit, cereal and a roll. From the breakfast area I walked around an outdoor terrace and saw that the pool and several other areas were blocked off and under renovation. (Too bad because it looked like a large pool) I got the impression that at one time this was a great resort hotel but it is in need of renovation.
When I returned to my room I set up my laptop and was able to connect, though very slowly, to the internet and get my email. I wrote some messages and shut down to pack my backpack for the morning adventure.
At 08:30 I met Mike in the lobby but George, our Wild Frontiers guide, was not there. The Toyota Land Cruiser that had been used to transfer us from the airport arrived at the hotel entrance and a porter started loading a couple’s bags in the back. Mike asked the driver if he had seen George and the driver told us George was stuck in traffic from his home in Kampala, 35km from the hotel, and he was tasked to drive us to the boat. When the couple with their bags loaded heard the word boat they realized the porter loaded their bags into the wrong vehicle. Their bags were removed and Mike and I boarded the vehicle.
It was not a long drive from the hotel to the traffic circle by the Presidents House and down one long block to a cross road were we turned and the driver explained was the old Colonial Manager’s area. On the left was a large building which he said housed the Colonials and on our right was a number of administration buildings where they worked. Just past the building on the left we turned down a dirt road and drove past the Jane Goodall Institute to a boat dock.
There were a number of boats tied to the dock but our driver told us that the boat to the island was not one of them. Two of the boats at the dock he told us were government party boats with a BBQ grill and speakers in front of a room that looked like it would house a disc-jockey.
Another couple (Robert and Janie Griffin) along with a lady from Wild Frontiers joined us as a 25 foot open boat with a canopy, powered by two 140hp outboard engines arrived. We had to sign a log book for the lady and she departed. The boat crew wore Wild Frontier t-shirts and yellow rain gear.
We left at 09:00 for an advertised 45 minute, barring rough water, trip to the island. The lake had 3 foot swells with white caps and Mike and I were soon soaked from the spray as the boat cut through the waves. The crew issued us each a heavy yellow rain coat and it helped but we were still getting a good drenching. Then the crew dropped side curtains on our side of the boat and we were free from spray but still had to contend with the pounding. We hit as hard as I have ever felt in a boat of any size.
By 10:15 we arrived at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary. It is a 100 acre island that was bought by the Chimpanzee Sanctuary & Wildlife Conservation Trust (CSWCT) and the fisherman who resided on the island were relocated to the another island. We were directed to a small Orientation Hut and given an educational orientation by a chimpanzee caregiver. He briefed us on the plight of the African Chimpanzee and how the CSWCT obtain the 44 orphans that currently reside on the island. Each chimp has a name and the caregivers can tell them apart.
As the 11:00 feeding time approached we walked passed some tents that can be rented overnight to a high platform along an electrified fence. In a two story observation area they had on display the picture and biography of each of the 44 chimps. When the caregiver learned my first name, he point to a picture of the chimp named Eddy.
Eddy had a story: He and Mikie challenged Robbie, the Alpha Male of the group, and when they overturned Robbie Mikie turned on Eddy and took on the role of Alpha Male.
At 11:00 the chimps started to come out of the woods and a caregiver and a young white girl volunteer, arrived with three buckets of fruits and vegetables. They handed one bucket to our caregiver and then the three of them spread out along the platform and started to throw the food over the fence to the chimps. Some were able to catch food, there were some small fights were a larger chimp would take food from a smaller chimp. I counted over 30 chimps. Our caregiver told us that some of the chimps were in a cage undergoing a series of test for some Graduate students, and other chimps stay in the woods and skip some meals or rummage around later for food that was missed.
With all the food distributed the chimps disappeared into the woods, so we returned to the Orientation Hut and signed a log book and asked questions of the caregiver. We also talked among ourselves and I learned that the Griffins were US State Department employees posted to Bangkok and were visiting fellow employees at the Uganda Embassy.
Mike briefed them on the Traveler’s Century Club and showed them the list and we discussed world travel. They had been posted in Taiwan, China and Columbia
We return to the mainland on the 12:00 boat, which was scheduled for arrival about 13:00. The boat ride back was a little bit smoother and drier, until we got close to the shore. This time the spray would hit the Griffins (the seats ran down the center of the boat facing outward, so Mike and my backs were to the Griffin’s backs).
George met us at the dock, right at 13:00, and we drove to a bank to exchange money and then to the hotel. I had lunch and retired to my room to write in my journal.
At 17:30 we received a briefing on our next week’s activities from a Wild Frontiers young lady. She had pictures of most of the camps we will stay at and we discussed side trips to Goma, DR Congo, and Kigal, Rwanda, to see the famous “Hotel Rwanda”.
At 18:00 Mike recommended that we dine at a Chinese Restaurant several blocks from the hotel that was recommended in the Lonely Plant Guide. We elected to walk passing many school children in school uniforms along the way. They must have a long school day or extracurricular activities to see so many after 18:00.
I ordered fried prawns and cashew nuts and Mike had sizzling beef. I would rate it fair. I expected larger prawns. We both had Hot and Sour Chicken soup and I liked it. It was after dark when we left at 19:30 and the plan was to hop on one of the many motorcycles that carry passengers around for a few cents but we walked all the way back to the hotel before any of them showed up. They park across from the hotel and were disappointed that we turned in the hotel driveway.
I wrote in my journal, processed email, and retired early.
Apr 13, 2010 (Tuesday) Drive to Lake Mburo National Park, Uganda
George arrived at the scheduled time of 08:00. I had fun checking out. First, at the Reception Desk where I got my bill and then I had to across the lobby to the Cashier’s Cage where she recorded the amount in a ledger, and then she left the cage and swiped my credit card at the alternative Reception Desk. After I signed the charge slip she returned to the Cashiers’ Cage and stapled to my bill, searched for and found an envelope and carefully folded the bill, placed it in the envelope and handed it to me. I didn’t time the transaction but I would not like to go through this check-out with a bus load of tourists.
We started out driving north to Kampala. The road was jammed in both directions and we could understand how George was stuck in traffic the day before. As we got closer to the city center George took a dirt road to the west and told us that it would drive around the city center jam. Eventually we intersected the road from Kampala to Kigali and we were on our way. George pointed out the area that he lived and it had taken us 40 minutes to get there.
It rained off and on as we drove southwest on a rough highway. Miles of the highway were full of pot holes and other miles were under construction. In some places they were actually doing work but for the most part it was raw road bed full of pot holes full of water. It was a very jarring drive.
At 10:30 we arrived at the equator where we had a pit stop and took pictures. At 13:00 we stopped at the Skyblue Motel to eat the box lunch prepared by the Lake Victoria Hotel. It consisted of a couple of hard boiled eggs, fried chicken wrapped in tinfoil, a piece of strange cheese and a sandwich of sliced beef. There were several pieces of fruit we couldn’t eat without a knife.
Not too many miles from the lunch stop we turned off the highway on to a dirt road that would lead us to the Northeast Entrance to Lake Mburo National Park. There were no people on the road and very few buildings. Initially we saw a herd of cows. The African Steer has very big horns and is quite a sight to see. Soon we saw a group of Zebra’s grazing to our left followed by a heard of Impalas to our right. We passed a Water Buffalo and many Wart Hogs before we arrived at the Park Entrance at 14:00. George had to sign in and we were able to stretch our legs. The bumpy ride was not setting well with me. Inside the Park we continued to see the same wild animals grazing, Zebras, Impalas, Buffalo, and Wart Hogs.
An hour later, up a hill with a great view of the lake we arrived at Mantana Tented Camp. I was assigned to the Buffalo tent. It had two beds with mosquito netting, an area with a wash basin, an area with a toilet and next to it a shower. Next to the toilet was a large container of water that you were to pour in the bowl to flush it.
There was a porch in front of the tent with a hammock two chairs and a table. After we had a chance to refresh ourselves we drove to the lake. There we saw a lot of Wart Hogs (I think some were Muslim because at 16:00 they would fold their front legs, lower their head with their rump in the air like they were praying). We boarded a small 15 foot boat with a 40hp motor and took a tour of the lake reminiscent of the Disney Land African Safari Cruise. We hugged the shore line and came upon many hippos that would suddenly rise out of the water and occasionally let out a load snort. In the trees along the shore we saw alligators sunny themselves, monkeys and many birds. At one point we stopped where a large Water Buffalo was resting on a small beach.
The lake is still fished by the natives that originally lived near it and we had to take care to not cut across their nets. The whole trip took less than an hour and we were soon returned to the Camp. I was beginning to suffer stomach cramps and had lost my appetite. There was no electrical outlet in the tents but they did have several in the lodge where I was able to recharge my BlackBerry and camera battery. I was surprised that out in this area I was receiving strong cell phone and BlackBerry network service.
The dinner looked delicious, a fresh baked fish from the lake but after one bit I could not continue. I excused myself and unhooked my chargers and headed for my tent. I decided to make myself throw up to get rid of whatever was ailing me, but not much came out. Since I couldn’t plug in my CPAP machine I used a devise like a chin strap to keep my mouth close and force me to breathe through my nose.
I think it worked but I missed the gentle noise of the air blowing from the CPAP machine that lulls me to sleep each night. The smell of the canvas tent brought back memories of my nights at summer camp in New Hampshire when I spent the summer in my own pup tent.
I did have to get up several times during the night which was a hassle in the dark with the mosquito netting. One time when I returned I let a mosquito inside the netting and its buzzing was an annoyance until I was able to kill it. We heard lots of animal noises during the night and at one point I was awakened by the load roar of a lion.
The Park Rangers have not seen it yet but they know he is there.
Apr 14, 2010 (Wednesday) Drive to Ruhengeri, Rwanda
At breakfast I was able to eat some cereal and drink some tea. The talk was about the lion. One of the Park Rangers was suffering a tooth ache so he rode with us to the city of Mbarara. It took us only thirty minutes to exit the park at the Sanga exit and forty five minutes to Mbarara. We stopped to get gas and the Ranger went on his way to the Dentist.
There were some smooth roads built by the Israelis but the other sections are deliberately not finish since there is an election in the fall and the reigning government had told the people their party was the only one that can complete the road work so if you want the road completed vote for them. I don’t understand the logic but that is the way George explained.
At noon we stopped for a pit stop at the African Pearl Hotel in lovely little town that appeared to be a popular rest stop for small busses and safari vans. It even included a Tourist Shop. I spent most of the time in the rest room. Next stop was the Muko Camp Site where we stopped to eat our box lunch. It was a pleasant spot on a small lake. I still had very little appetite.
In about an hour we reached the boarder in pouring rain. What an inefficient operation on both sides. We were handed forms to fill out with no table to write on in the porch of the Immigration Office and then inside they had to transfer the information from the form to a large ledger book before they would stamp our passport.
Americans did not have to pay a visa fee to enter Rwanda but we still had to go through the fill out the form and have them transfer it to a large ledger routine. It was after 15:30 before we were finally able to enter Rwanda. There the roads were smooth and well kept.
One thing I noticed in all these East African countries was no graffiti or trash along the roads. The roads might be in terrible condition put you rarely see a water bottle or plastic bag that is so common in the Middle East countries I just visited. In Rwanda plastic bags are outlawed and you can receive a heavy fine if you carry them across the border. I didn’t see any of the abandoned cars or farm implements rusting in the fields like you see in the US and other nations.
In less than an hour from the border we arrived at The Mountain Gorilla View Lodge in Parc National Des Volcans. My stone cabin was very large and cold. It had a small fireplace (too small for the size of the room) a couple of chairs and a bed. I immediately put on extra clothes and went to bed. Normally, they shut off the power to the cabins at 23:00 and do not turn it on until 04:00. For those going on the Gorilla Track they have to get up at 04:30. They charged me $100 a night to keep the electricity on all night.
The staff tried to wake me for diner at 19:00. I did let a man in to start the fire but I did not feel well at all.
Apr 15, 2010 (Thursday) Drive to Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo
I slept most of the night and awoke at 05:30 to discover that I had soiled myself and the bed. I washed my soiled clothes and hung them to dry. I went to breakfast with George at 07:00 and had some cereal and tea but I still did not feel well.
After breakfast we headed to the DR Congo boarder. The road was smooth and I was hanging in there. At the boarder George parked the van behind a new Dodge Station wagon with Cobb County Georgia license plates. It was raining and again we encountered an inefficient operation where we had to fill out a form and with no table to write on and stand on the porch in the rain outside the Immigration Office while they transcribed our entries in a large ledger. A small man named Emmanuel arrived from Goma and escorted us across the no man’s land where we repeated the procedure at the DR Congo Immigration Office. There were a fair number of Americans and Canadians in line. I was so miserable with my stomach problems and the rain I didn’t talk to any of them. We had to pay a $100 fee for the visa and they were very particular on the series of hundred dollar bills, they had to be greater than 2000. They also checked our Yellow Fever Card.
At a little after 10:00 we were on our way in Goma. I did not know the history of the city and my copy of the Lonely Planet didn’t describe it. The city is on the shore of Lake Kivu and is on the west side of the volcanoes next to the Rwanda resort of Gisenyi. In 2002 Mt. Nyiragongo erupted covering the city in ash. Most of the people fled but many stayed. In a residential area of the city there was a lava eruption that created a flow that crossed the airport, flowed through the downtown, flowed around the Catholic Church were over 500 people had taken refuge and burned the church and all the buildings along the way into the lake. The lake front in now smaller and the government has allowed people to build villas on the land fill. Elseware lots had been marked off with lava stone walls and wooden shacks erected. The roads are really terrible especially in the rain. The city center has rebuilt many of the stores but it is an eerie moonscape atmosphere. Because of the unrest in the DR Congo, Goma is the Quarters for a number of UN Troops and they have camps built around the airport. It was a busy airport with a lot of unmarked or UN marked planes taking off or landing and a lot of them parked. There are high fences around the airport so I couldn’t count how many and of what type of planes were parked there. We drove (bounced) past the beach and harbor where they had ferries to islands in the lake. Our tour took us a little over two hours and then we had to complete the passport drill again.
It was an experience I don’t think I will ever forget. Other places I have been like in the Caribbean when the area was overrun by lava they just evacuated and moved to a different area. In Goma they just rebuilt on top of the lava.
Even though the road back to the Lodge was smooth the bouncing around in Goma had left me ill and I had to have George stop once along the side of the road. I was speculating that I was suffering from motion sickness so when we reached Ruhengeri, the town closes to the Lodge, I asked Mike, who was going to visit an Internet Café to buy me some sea sick pills.
I returned to the Lodge and barfed again when we got there. I decided then that I could not handle three more days on these roads and asked George to make me a reservation to fly back to Entebbe the next day.
I retired to my cabin, had them build a fire and went to bed. They tried again to get me to dinner at 19:00 hours. Mike had returned from town with the motion sickness pills and told me George had been able to make a reservation. He was going to stick to the Itinerary so he could report to Cathy the accommodations she had selected.
I went to bed by 17:00. At 21:00 the maid delivered a hot water bottle for the bed and I had her get the fire maker to restart the fire.
Apr 16, 2010 (Friday) Tour Kigali and fly to Entebbe
I awoke to a chilly room and was happy to discover that I had not had an accident the night before. The fire was cold but my clothes were dry. I showered, shaved and packed. I walked to the main Lodge at 07:00 and Mike had beat me there. He told me that the new hotel in town that we had dropped him off at was more his style and their internet was fast. I think it cost him $1 per thirty minutes. We are the only customers in the hotel and they had left over spaghetti from the prior night for diner that didn’t make Mike happy. Since we were the only people in the place there was no breakfast buffet. I ordered cereal, toast and tea and was able to eat most of the cereal and finish the tea but the toast was not appealing after the first bite.
I paid my $200 charge for the electricity and again they would not take my older $100 bills. I tried to get the cashier to credit a refund for the night that I was not staying toward the electricity charge but she said she couldn’t do it. I was too weak to put up a fight.
We headed south from Ruhengeri on the road to Kigali. It was not as smooth as the road from the border to Ruhengeri or the road to the DR Congo border. We made a pit stop about 09:30. The restaurant had a beautiful statue of a native woman holding two water jugs standing in a basin with two swans. I think it was supposed to be a fountain with water pouring out of the jug she had tilted but it was dry.
By 11:00 we had reached the airport terminal and I went in to purchase my ticket from Rwanda Air. What a fiasco! First they would not charge the ticket to my Visa even though they had a Visa symbol on the window. Instead I had to go down two windows to a Visa bank and take out a cash advance paying a .036% conversion fee and then I will be charged interest in the states on the money. Next, I saw that my reservation was in the name of Mr. Edward/Evans so I asked the clerk to issue the ticket to agree with my passport. I showed her my passport and even wrote out on a separate pice of paper my full name. The ticket was printed Edward/EvansMR. I wouldn’t accept the ticket and she claimed she would correct it. Instead what she did was print an amendment that stated “CORRECT NAME IS REYNOLDS JR/EDWARD EVAN”. I was not happy but too weak to protest further and we were on our way.
Next stop was the Hotel des Milles Collines for lunch. This was the hotel that was Hotel Rwanda. The movie was shot in South Africa but the story was about this hotel. I was not hungry and neither was Mike. He ordered a large beer and I ordered a Diet Coke. The Diet Coke cost more than the beer and almost twice the cost of a regular Coke. It is a nice hotel, not as isolated as in the movie, with a nice swimming pool which had several cut kids swimming around in it. George had disappeared and when he returned he told us he had to buy some emergency reflectors for the van. It is a law in Rwanda and that all vehicles have them and the van didn’t have any.
We drove around the city and stopped at the Kigali Memorial Center dedicated to genocide. The bottom floor is very touching with pictures and videos of the Rwanda genocide. The next floor displays other genocides: Jews, Cambodia, Bosnia, etc. and the top floor is dedicated to the children of genocide. Outside is a mass grave site containing 300 bodies. Mike and I spent an hour and one half walking through the displays and listening to the videos. It was heart wrenching that people could do such things to their friends and neighbors while the whole world and the UN stood by.
From the Memorial Center we drove back to the airport where I had a five hour wait for my flight. I sat in a booth in the coffee shop and ordered a bottle of cold water and just sat there with my head in my hands for three hours when I could check in. The name on the ticket caused a little confusion at security but they finally let me in. I asked the agent to print the correct name on the boarding pass but she said she couldn’t and sent me to the Supervisors’ office. After a lot of hassle it came down to I would have to purchase a new ticket in my correct name and I could not get a refund for the old ticket. It had to stay in that name to give the agency I Ruhengeri their commission.
The flight left five minutes early but was a Dash 8 which was slower than the originally schedule Regional Jet. It was full and it was open seating which was a good thing since my assigned row didn’t exist on the plane. I had to pay another $50 for a Uganda visa. They don’t issue multiple entries at the airport. Again they refused my older $100 bill.
A taxi driver had my name on a sign waiting for me and drove me to the Victoria Lake Hotel. Wild Frontier had paid him in advance so I tipped him a couple of bucks and checked in. I was in bed by 22:00.
Apr 17, 2010 (Saturday) Rest and Recuperation at the Lake Victoria Hotel, Entebbe, Uganda
I slept late and spent most of the day in my room. For lunch I had a bowl of French Onion soup and was able to keep it down. For dinner I also had just a bowl of soup.
Apr 18, 2010 (Sunday) Rest and Recuperation at the Lake Victoria Hotel, Entebbe, Uganda
Again I slept late but I did go to breakfast and was able to eat a bowl of cereal and had some fresh fruit. For lunch and dinner I had soup. I was starting to get back to feeling normal.
Apr 19, 2010 (Monday) Rest and Recuperation at the Lake Victoria Hotel, Entebbe, Uganda
I awoke feeling normal. After a good breakfast I received a call from the local Wild Frontier manager. She made an appointment to meet me at the hotel. I stayed in my room to await her arrival. When she finally arrived she didn’t have very much to say. We discussed the fee for electricity at the Mountain Gorilla View Lodge and she was surprised but didn’t offer any recourse. I asked her where there was a market in walking distance. She gave me directions to a small shopping center. It was lunch time when she left and I had a bowl of soup.
After lunch I headed out of the hotel compound turning left up to the main road and then turned left again. As I walked down a hill two English woman approached me with shopping bags. I asked them if I was headed in the correct direction to a market. They told me that I was and at a clock in the highway medium I should turn right and there would be several markets and a road to other markets.
When I got to the clock I saw two markets and entered each one. I was hoping to find Gatorade or a similar product since I thought I still might be slightly dehydrated. No such luck but it was interesting to see what was available in these stores. In one I purchased a small bag of nuts. On the trip last fall I found that eating nuts seemed to help my digestive system.
I walked down the road from the main road and entered an area of mini busses surrounded by strip malls. There was a big crowd around a car with four men. There appeared to be a heated discussion taking place so I ducked in to another market and didn’t emerge until the crowd had dispersed. As the car started to leave the area through one of the side exits it stopped and the driver appeared to be explaining what had transpired to another group of men and then he drove off.
There was an interesting mixture of stores surrounding the bus parking lot. I took some pictures and then exited the area to another street that pointed back towards the hotel. I was wearing my shorts and “Tilly” hat and as I walked towards the hotel a young man overtook me asked me if I was a golfer. When I replied that I didn’t play he said I was dressed like a golfer. He stopped at the bus stop as I continued on to the hotel.
I had a snack of nuts when I returned to my room. Soon the phone rang. It was George telling me that they had safely returned and inquired about my health. He was happy to learn that I was feeling back to normal. Mike then called me and told me that another Wild Frontier manager wanted to meet with us to debrief the trip.
When we met with the Wild Frontier manager she gave each of us a Wild Frontier - Uganda Safari, ball cap.
Apr 20, 2010 (Tuesday) Fly from Entebbe to Maputo, Mozambique via Johannesburg
I had a very early wake up in order to pack and take the 05:30 hotel shuttle bus to the airport for our 07:25 flight to Maputo via Johannesburg. There were several others on the bus including the flight’s co-pilot. At the airport were had the usual security check prior to the check-in counter and then immigration control and another security check to get in the departure lounge. My flight was on South African Airways which is a Start Alliance partner so I was able to use the lounge. They wouldn’t let me take a guest because it was an independent operation and was reimbursed by the airline for each passenger. There was only two other passengers in the lounge. I had a cup of tea and a roll and then watched CNN. The news was all about the volcano debris over Europe. I am glad that didn’t happen last year when I had a lot of European travel.
We were bussed to the plane and I was in row 18 and they directed me to use the aft staircase. About row 20 I ran into a jam. Apparently a large group of Saudis sitting in the back of the plane had boarded via the front stairs and were having difficulty passing the passengers moving up from the rear. Eventually it sorted its self out and I settled in.
We took off five minutes before scheduled departure for a four hour flight. I attempted to watch the movie but neither my seat nor the others in the row could get the sound to work and as a matter of fact the whole armrest console at my seat came apart. So much for A-319 entertainment systems! I closed my eyes and slept. Mike told me later that the movie had been Amelia. I would have liked to have seen it since it played during the time I was out of the country last year..
When they served a snack after the movie, I took out my BlackBerry to play a game and was told by the flight attendant that it was prohibited to use any cell phone applications or functions in flight including listening to music.
When we landed in Johannesburg only a few of us were International Transit and we had a long walk to the Departure Concourse. We set about to find the Start Alliance lounge and it turned out to be at the far end of the concourse. This time they let me take in a guest. Mike had a beer and I had a Diet Coke. The lounge was huge and very modern design with lots of space, chairs and tables. We had a three hour wait for the flight to Maputo. After a while we got tired of sitting in the lounge and decided to walk around the concourse shops. We went in separate directions and at the appointed boarding time I arrived at our gate. The door was closed and in a while some agents showed up and opened it and we had to walk down a long ramp round a corner walk down another long ramp to the boarding agent desk. I was one of the first in the right hand side line and the agent had a lot of trouble checking me in. First his computer did not read my Passport information so he had to manually enter the information in his terminal. We he finished he got a message denying boarding. He had to call someone to get it fixed. At the same time two people in the left-hand side line had the same problem. The common denominator for all of us was our boarding cards had been printed at other airports. Finally we were cleared to board but we had caused quite a backup. When I got to the door of the plane an agent quickly put a tag on my carry on laptop and said I had to check it. I asked why? And see replied I was only allowed one bag and I had my lightweight Rick Steves backpack on which just contained my rain jacket a Lonely Planet guide book. I argued with the agent and at the same time stuffed the lightweight backpack in the carryon and ended saying “I now only have one carry on” – she begrudgingly let me pass.
I was two rows behind the exit row and in the exit row was an elderly Muslim couple. A flight attendant asked them if they spoke English and when they didn’t respond he told them they had to move. The old lady by the window exit was very indigent, but her husband understood. Eventually they took the seats behind me. All the joys of International travel!
The flight only took 45 minutes and since it was not a large plane the lines at Passport Control were not long and it didn’t take long to get our bags. Outside the terminal a man had a sign with our names printed. Mike asked where the best place to exchange money was and the driver told him right there at the airport. The official rate was $1 equaled 31.7 MZN according to my BlackBerry application but Mike found they were giving 33 MZN to the dollar so I exchanged $20.
The ride to the hotel took about 20 minutes and we saw in Maputo a far different city than the other cities we had visited in East Africa. There was a mixture of 1800, 1930 art deco and modern Mediterranean-style high rise buildings. There was more trash but still no graffiti. The streets are tree-lined avenues with sidewalk cafés, more of a European or South American looking city than African. The Portuguese left their mark on the place.
Our hotel, Pestana Rovuma, was a 12 story modern building with each room having a balcony. The rooms on the front overlook a large Catholic Church, Cathedral of Nossa Senhora da Conceicao, built in the shape of the cross in 1935. On the other side of the church was the large City Hall completed in 1945 and is an impressive building with massive pillars and portico.
We were assigned rooms on the 9th floor which provided a nice view of the church, city hall and the rest of the city to the ocean. It was around 16:00 when I got to the room figured out where I could plug in my CPAP and unpacked.
At 17:00 Mike and I left the hotel to see the city. We both had read several articles on the city that were in the current issue of the South African Airways Inflight magazine. One of the places recommended in the magazine was Gypsy’s bar for pizza. The front desk staff at the hotel had never hear of it so we had no idea where it was but they did recommend Mamma Mia’s at a large shopping center not far from the hotel. We walked down towards the water front where the shopping center was located.
The shopping center was similar to third world modern shopping centers with upscale stores and a food court on the top level. There Mike wanted a beer and then we descended toward the street level. Along the way I stopped in a cell phone store that advertised BlackBerry cell phones to find out why mine was not receiving the BlackBerry Network Service. They switched me to another service and my messages started to arrive.
Continuing down to the street level where the Mamma Mia sign was posted, there was a series of sidewalk cafés with different names and different specialties. One sold the pizza, another beer, a third deserts, etc. After we figured it out we sat in one and ordered our drinks and then a waitress came over from the Pizza Parlor with a different menu and we ordered our pizza from her. In the end we had a handful of checks to pay but it was good pizza with the most interesting hot-hot sauce in a little dish on the side. I dipped my fork in the sauce, shook it then cut a piece of pizza and when I put it in my mouth, it still burned all the way down my throat from just the association.
When we finished it was after dark so we hopped in an auto rickshaw or three-wheeler (tuk-tuk) for a cheap ride back up the hill to our hotel. It was a fun evening and after washing my clothes (somehow everything was smudged with a charcoal like substance), I retired at 22:00.
Apr 21, 2010 (Wednesday) Tour Maputo, Mozambique
I had a good night’s sleep and was happy to find that my clothes had dried overnight. At 08:00 I went down to breakfast. It was one of the better buffets I had experienced on the trip. There were several flight crewmembers’ eating and a group with name tags from a helicopter company. Soon Mike joined me. He was concerned that Delta had him on a different flight with a tighter connection, from Durban to Johannesburg than Cathy had told him. I pointed out that Cathy’s tickets were the official record and that we were both on earlier flight.
At 09:20 we descended to the lobby to meet our tour guide. Usually they are early waiting for us but there was no one there that morning. At 09:30 a driver arrived from our tour company but he was there to pick up transfers to the airport. He called the office and a car arrived in just a few minutes. A young woman got out and greeted us. Her name was Yvonne.
We started out heading south from the hotel. She explained that the traffic circle in from of the City Hall used to have a statue of Mouzinho de Albuquerque on a horse. He was the leader of the Portuguese that conquered the native tribes in the late 1800’s. From the traffic circle we drove a short distance and stopped briefly at the Iron House but then drove on to The Fortress – “Nossa Senhora da Conceição”, built in 1721, located next to the Maputo Fishing Harbor. It is considered one of the most important and historical monuments in the city. On our walk from the parking lot Yvonne described the large tree that bears heavy fruit shaped like large sausages. She called it the sausage tree and explained that a Portuguese tyrant that once commanded the prison in the fort was hung by a mob from the tree.
Inside the fort we saw cannon and the large statue that had been relocated from the traffic circle. There were also two bra reliefs on the wall depicting the killing of natives and the capture of Ngungunhane whom was one of the main leaders in the colonial resistance war. From the ramparts we could see that it was not far to the water and how the fort at one time was on the edge of the ocean.
We walked down out of the fort and crossed the road to get in our car for a drive along the waterfront to the Railway Station.
Just in front of the Railway Station there is the Praça dos Trabalhadores (Workers’ Square) which has in its center the unique colonial monument that remained in the City after the independence reminding the citizens of the effort of the Portuguese and Mozambican soldiers during World War I. The monument was conceived by the sculptor Ruy Gameiro and was inaugurated on the 11th of November 1935. On the upper side of the monument seats a statue of a lady holding a snake with her right hand. According to popular myth the snake lived amongst the trees in the square and it used to bite those who wanted to rest below the shadow of the acacia trees. Attempting to kill the snake a lady prepared a pot of porridge and while it was still hot carried it on her head. The snake tried to bite the lady’s head and instead fell into the pot of hot porridge and died. Therefore, it is believed that the statue standing in the center of the square was built in honor of the lady, popularly known as Senhora da Cobra (meaning snake lady).
Inside the station Yvonne describe the former hotel and the two trains on display. There was a large crowd waiting for tickets and Yvonne told us the train was the least expensive way (at $.15 a ride) for these people to commute from the suburbs and visit the villages of their friends and family.
There was a new plaque on the wall commemorating the 100th anniversary of the station. The construction of the “Department of Railway of Lourenço Marques” as it was called in the colonial era, started in 1908 and ended two years later in 1910. The project was designed by, Alfredo Augusto de Lima, a pupil of Gustave Eiffel. The bronze dome, founded specially for the building, was constructed in South Africa and its assembly was an innovation for that time. Its operational inauguration and opening took place on 19 March, 1910.
A popular night club with live music and an interesting old piano is located in the station. We walked around and then headed for our next stop, the Central Market.
The building of the Municipal Market or Central Market, or even the Down Town Bazaar, is situated in the downtown area of Maputo City. The Market was built between the years 1901 and 1903 replacing an old wooden market that stood previously in its place. The building has a “U” form design and it was built in the neoclassic style of Anglo-Saxon architecture. The roof is made of iron and is typical of many commercial houses existing in the same area. The building is believed to be a replica of Aster Hall, a building in the German Town of Hamburg. The Market building is one of the oldest buildings of Maputo City, with spectacular architecture; however, it was damaged some time ago by fire destroying some of its finer elements. Nevertheless, the market is still standing and is an important testimony of the presence of colonial architecture in Mozambique. The market houses a wide variety and diversity of businesses with commodities such as fruits, cashew nuts, fish, meat, aromatic herbs and spices as well as handcraft and souvenirs.
We walked around the market for over thirty minutes seeing the fruits, vegetables, fish, meat, prawns, clams, nuts and dry goods. It was a bustling place and outside we were hounded by vendors trying to sell us sun glasses and watches.
From the market we drove back to the Iron House for a stop and tour. The Iron House was originally constructed in Avenida Josina Machel and relocated near the Tunduro Botanical Garden and the Statue of Samora Machel. It is one of the most unusual and fascinating buildings in Maputo. The building itself is entirely produced of steel and was designed by Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (the same Architectural Engineer who designed the worldwide famous landmarks of The Statue of Liberty in New York and the Eiffel Tower in Paris). It was completed in 1892 and commissioned by the Portuguese Colonial Governor from Belgium to be the residence of the General Governor of Mozambique. Although designed as a residence it was never occupied as such due to the hot and humid subtropical climate in the City of Maputo. After completion in 1892 it was initially used as a judicial court building and thereafter found many uses varying from a teaching college for Nuns to a municipal land works and planning office. It was moved from its construction site in 1974 to its present location. Its present use is by the National Directorate for Cultural Heritage which has a large complex next door.
We could determine as we walked around inside that it could get very hot in the Mozambique climate. Fortunately it was a cloudy on the cooler side day.
It was now getting close to our lunch time and from the Iron House we headed east to the Ocean and then drove 7km north past villas and wide beaches to the famous Costa Do Sol. It is the place to have a seafood meal in Maputo. The restaurant is in a large Art Deco building dating back to 1938 with a large veranda dining area across the highway from the beach. Our tour included the three course seafood special. It started with a large plate of garlic fried squid, a Greek salad and a basket of garlic toast. That was followed by a huge platter with six broiled prawns and a large cape lobster bathed in garlic butter sauce and cheese. There was also a pile of calamari and French fries on the platter. It was a huge lunch.
Afterward Mike walked across to the beach and soon Yvonne arrived to continue our tour. Along the beach front was a series of shacks cooking chicken over half cut 55 gallon drums. Yvonne told us that is what the locals eat for lunch when they go to the beach. She also pointed out to us people getting baptized in the ocean. It is a ritual of a local religion. We saw a number of women praying on a sand bar. As we got closer to the city we turned westward and drove along Embassy Row. The buildings and homes in the area are on a bluff with great views of the ocean. One of the houses we passed belonged to Nelson Mandela which was a little surprising that he would have a compound in another country but I guess he is no different than the other wealthy South Africans that own homes in this area.
Our next stop was the Museum of Natural History, which was housed in an impressive building since 1933. The building was built in the Neo-Manuelino architectural of the early 20th century finished around 1911. Originally called The Provincial Museum, it changed name in 1913 taking the name of Dr Álvaro de Castro Museum (who was the General Governor of Mozambique) this name remained in place up until 1975 after which it was renamed as the Natural History Museum. One of the main attractions is the complete collection of elephant fetus, which is believed to be unique and show the gestation of the fetus from conception to birth. The Museum also possesses an important collection of antique sculptures and represents the various ethnic groups of Mozambique. It was only two stories and it didn’t take Mike and I long to walk through it.
Across the street from the Museum was the Hotel Cardoso with one of the great locations and views in the city. We walked in and took some pictures of the views. Back in our car Yvonne had the driver just drive us around the city. Mike wanted to see two places: the Havana Bar and Gypsy’s Bar. Yvonne knew where both of them were. The Havana Bar was a little seedy looking but Gypsy’s was right in the middle of the “red light” district along with a number of strip joints. It was by far the most attractive from the street of any of the bars in the area.
From Gypsy’s we drove back to the hotel. I retired to my room and washed some shorts and wrote in my journal. After such a large lunch I just had soup and salad for dinner.
Apr 22, 2010 (Thursday) Fly from Maputo to Durban, South Africa
I was up at the crack of dawn. My BlackBerry network service had not worked all night. I turned on the laptop to read my messages and found that the Username and Password provided by the hotel had expired. I did see that I had 15 messages waiting but I could not open Windows Live. I fooled around with the BlackBerry network options, pulled the battery and nothing seemed to work so I gave up and showered.
Before going to breakfast (on the 2nd floor) I went down to the front desk to get a new Username and Password. They didn’t have it and asked me to come back so I went to breakfast.
I sat at a table next to a window and all of a sudden my messages arrived on the BlackBerry. Ah, the mysteries of technology! After breakfast I checked with the front desk and they still did not have the new Username and Password for their service. They told me they would call me when the received it.
When I returned to my floor I heard the shower running in Mike’s room so I guessed that he had been able to sleep later than I had.
Our transfer driver arrived on time and it took a little over 15 minutes to get to the airport. He spoke very good English and commented on the sites we passed along the route. At the airport we had some confusion, the driver stopped in front of the South African Airways check in door, not realizing we were flying Airlink, the commuter airline. We moved over to their check in area and it was a window with sliding glass to their terminal office. My bag was over their 20k requirement but they combined it with Mikes and we evened out. It took some time to get our boarding pass because there was a man at the window purchasing a ticket. It was not an efficient operation. Next stop was Passport Control. Mike delayed to see what was in the terminal stores and when I passed through Passport Control I was in a hallway. At one end was the VIP Lounge and in front of me the security. I could not see if there was anything inside security so I attempted to enter the Lounge since South African Airways was a Star Alliance I figured I could use the lounge. The door to the lounge was locked and another passenger started banging on it. The open the door and I showed them my United Gold Card. The attendant was confused and left me to check with a supervisor. When he returned he told me that the card didn’t grant me access to the lounge and it cost $23 to use it.
When I returned to Security I asked them if there were places to get a cold soda in the waiting area and they told me yes so I put my bags on the belt and walked through the metal detector. They didn’t seem concerned that I set it off and focused their attention on a passenger that came through after me.
Once inside I found a number of shops and bought the first Diet Pepsi I had seen on the trip. Mike arrived and I bought him a beer to use up my Mozambique money.
I was having problems receiving BlackBerry service and I fooled around trying to get it. Mike was exploring and reported back that there was a waiting area upstairs with a cool breeze so I relocated. Eventually the BlackBerry network service connected and I was able to read the LA times and NY Times.
Our plane landed a little late. It was a 29 passenger Jetstream 4100. Twin engine turbo prop just like I had flown in in 2006 when I attempted to visit Lesotho and did visit Swaziland. We hustled down and had a long walk across the ramp to board the plane. They took my laptop backpack at the door. Mike and I were in seats 2C&D. He had the window and with no shade it was hot. The plane had only two empty seats. We departed 10 minutes after schedule departure for the one hour and 15 minute flight to Durban, South Africa.
During the flight they served a nice chicken salad sandwich and a candy bar. When we landed in Durban we were bussed to Passport Control. The line I selected was very slow and I ended up being the last person processed. When I finished Mike and a driver from the Transfer Agency already had my bag on a baggage trolley. We stopped and exchanged money and then were on our way. The airport is south of the city and our hotel was north of the city so we had over a 30 minute ride. Durban is a big sports city. We passed a horse race track and the driver told us there were three in the city, a cricket stadium, a rugby stadium, a track and field stadium and then the brand new soccer stadium. The new stadium was a site to behold with large arches with steps that you could pay to clim like the bridge in Sydney. A large group was climbing them as we passed and three were on the cross bridge between arches.
The driver told us the Brazil – Spain game was scheduled to be played in Durban. Passed the stadium was a bridge across a wide river and high on a bluff on the other side was our hotel with a big “RIVERSIDE” sign. We were a fair distance from the city center.
There was a little confusion at check in. Our vouchers ran our names together so there was some crossing out etc. to get the paperwork straight. They assigned our rooms and called to see if they were ready but when I got to my room it was not ready and the maid supervisor told me she had told the front desk it wasn’t ready. The bellman arrived and had the key to the room next door and told me to take that room.
The room was modern with very few outlets. I unplugged the bedside lamp to plug in my CPAP power strip and found a strange configuration – three large round pins. I didn’t have an adapter for it so I contacted the front desk and soon a young man arrived with one that worked.
They told me at check in that there was cable internet in the room so I went about to set up my laptop. There was a two pin outlet on the desk that I could use for power. When I connected I was greeted with a screen requiring that I purchase a connection for a minimum of one hour for about $8.
I still needed to confirm our pick up in the morning so I didn’t have an hour to use. I called the travel agency and the young lady that answered told me her computer was down and she would call back. I had agreed to meet Mike in the lobby at 15:00 to walk around the neighborhood. The travel agency had not returned my call by 15:00 so I walked to the lobby, met Mike and stopped at the desk to ask them to take a message if the agency called. One of the desk agents was on the phone and it turned out to be the call so she handed it to me and I confirmed that we will meet in the lobby at 06:30 for the drive to Lesotho in the morning.
Mike and I then set out to walk up the hill to what appeared to be a small shopping center. When we got there we found a KFC, a “Comics” (Kids Hamburger joint), a gas station with a convenience store, a Chinese take away and a Pub. We stopped in the pub. It had a row of slot machines and two men at either end of the bar nursing a pint. A technician from the slot machine vendor arrived and serviced the machines.
When Mike finished his pint we walked over to the gas station so he could buy a bottle of water. Our cheap hotel didn’t provide one and I had one in my checked bag. We then walked to the back side of the building and found some more shops. One was a liquor store and next to it an Internet café. Mike went to buy a bottle of wine and I thought I could send off a quick message at a $1.20 for 15 minute rate. Unfortunately, they hadn’t download Windows Live on their machines and it was going to take some time to get them configured so I could get to my MSN mail box, so I didn’t use their service.
We walked back and agreed to meet at 19:00 for diner. When I go in my room I discovered that the TV didn’t have either CNN or BBC. No news channel that I could find. I did see that they had The Young and the Restless soap opera and two movie channels. This hotel will get VERY LOW marks from me.
Around 18:00 I took a walk of the grounds and hoped to get a good photo of the stadium. I found a place with an iron fence that I could steady the camera in the low light conditions. The first couple of pictures were a mystery. I would frame the picture with the arc lite up but the arc would not show in the resulting picture. Then I realized the lights on the arc were progressive and would be off when the shutter opened so I played with the timing and was able to get some good shots.
The fence was in back of the restaurant bar that I had agreed to meet Mike in at 19:00. As I turned to walk back to the front it started to rain so I ducked in the restaurant and found Mike was sitting at the bar. We decided to eat then instead of waiting and it was a good thing. During our meal it rained hard and the patio we were sitting on had a tin roof and the noise was deafening. Mike had a hamburger and I had fish and chips. It was good and we experimented with several hot sauces that we were provided in addition to catsup. We were wondering how wet we were going to get walking (running) back to the hotel entrance. We didn’t have pens on us and had to wait to sign our bills to our room. This took some time and when we finally settled the bill the rain stopped. We quickly exited the restaurant and walked casually back to the hotel entrance without getting a drop of rain.
I checked on the breakfast time. It officially starts at 06:30 and our tour is scheduled to leave at that time but the desk clerk told me they set up at 06:00 and unless we wanted eggs and/or bacon everything else would be available before 06:30.
Back in my room I wrote up the days’ activities and retired.
Apr 23, 2010 (Friday) Drive through the Sani Pass to Lesotho
I had to get up before dawn to get ready for our early drive to Lesotho. At 06:00 I went down for breakfast and did find it was already setup as the desk clerk had told me the night before. I had a large breakfast (my appetite had defiantly returned) since we were scheduled for a late lunch.
Princely, our guide arrived at 06:30 and we started out driving south across the bridge and then northwest past the sports stadium to the toll road to Johannesburg. The guide provided some commentary as he drove us through the suburbs past a large shopping mall and soon we were in the country. For an hour we drove past several chicken farms, many different crops and large wide open grassland. South Africa has rich land and abundance of agriculture goods. I could understand the motivations behind the Boer war.
In a little over an hour we drove past the city of Pietermaritzburg and turned off the toll road to the west. The crop land was now mixed with tree farms and grassy land with grazing sheep, goats and cows. We passed through a small village of Boston and by 09:00 arrived in the town of Underberg where we changed guides and vehicles.
Our Sani Pass guide was Steve, a young man with a lot of Sani Pass experience. Our vehicle was a 2001 Land Rover. I sat in the front left seat. Steve and the owner of Major Adventures, the Sani Pass tour agency loaded the back of the Land Rover with provisions for the Pub at the border. We started out at 09:30. About 20km out of town the paved road ended and we started to drive on road under construction. Steve told us that the government was planning on paving the road through the pass which would put the Sani Pass tour guides out of business. At 10:20 we reached a lookout point. There was already another group stopped there. We stretched our legs and took pictures of the mountain scenery. The only building we saw was the Park Rangers cabin.
When we left the lookout point the road continued to get rougher and the upgrade increased with a number switchbacks and the occasional crossing of streams. In about 20 minutes w reached the South Africa boarder. The boarder is actually 8km from the geographical boarder where the Lesotho border crossing is located. Steve had just gotten a new passport and needed to get a six month work permit so he would not have to get daily exit and entry stamps. Mike and I got our exit stamp and we were soon on our way. The progress was slow with the uphill rough road and switchbacks but the scenery was outstanding. As the altitude got higher we started to see ice on the walls of the road. At 11:30 we reached the Lesotho border post. The altitude was 9,400ft and it was cold outside and the mountain tops were covered with clouds. It didn’t take us long to get our passports stamped. Steve had to leave his there to get the six month visa. There were a number of interesting huts around the border post
We boarded the vehicle and drove into Lesotho for about 15 minutes past herds of sheep to a Basotho village. Several other tour groups were in the village. Steve told us that each family in the village had agreements to host tour groups. He stopped at the group of huts that host Major Adventures. Each family compound had a flag pole. Steve told us that they are used throughout Lesotho. The colors of the flags have significance such as a white flag indicates that the compound has local beer for sale.
We walked around the compound and Steve showed us their dogs, the outdoor kitchen area and explained the use of the various buildings. He then directed us to enter a round hut with a thatched roof. Inside was a young woman (late teens or early 20’s in age), sitting by a spread of woven goods, baskets, plates and hats on the floor. Soon an older woman entered and the younger one left. In the middle of the floor was a pot with coals burning on top. After some introductions in the Basotho language the woman poured the local beer into a large mug. She then removed the top of the pot to reveal freshly baked bread. We were each given a chuck of bread and it was absolutely delicious. The mug of beer was passed around and to my surprise it tasted more like applejack. Steve told us that even though the call it beer what the women make has a very low alcohol content. The men take the beer and add yeast and turn it into a more potent drink.
We were offered to purchase some of the woven goods but declined and put a couple of bucks in the tip bowl and bid farewell. As we left the village, Steve stopped to pick up a woman walking along the road. He told us that she worked at the cabins that can be rented for the night at the border crossing and was on her way back from a village council meeting.
As we approached the border we turned off and drove into a compound of well-constructed buildings. Steve backed the Land Rover into a parking spot and opened the back door as we got out and entered the large building. The sign on the wall of the building said “Welcome To: Sani Top Chalet Highest Pub in Africa 2874 meters”.
Inside there were several rooms: two rooms of souvenirs, a dining area, a Pub area and a lounge area with a stove. Steve handed us menus for our lunch. We ordered his recommended “Sani Top ‘Famous’ Mountain Sausage”. It was a foot long German Sausage and was very good. By the time we finished our lunch the clouds over the mountain tops had disappeared and we had a spectacular view of the mountains and the Sani Pass valley, clearly seeing the switchback road we have ridden up. Sveral other tour groups arrived to have lunch at the “Highest Pub in Africa”.
We left about 13:30 for the ride down the mountain pass. Steve was a talker and he told us how he and a friend had flown to the US several years ago and bought a second hand Ford pickup truck and tour and worked odd jobs through 27 states and all the boarding provinces of Canada.
He was engaged and was supposed to move to Banff, Canada to work generating environmental impact studies for development in the Banff area while his fiancée worked in the hotel. He has a sister that is a professional photographer and after he broke off his engagement he decided he wants to work for National Geographic as a photograper. He has been a Sani Pass guide for over seven years, conducting tours six days a week and has over 2,000 accents of the pass.
It took us about an hour and one half to return to Underberg. The scenery was spectacular with the clouds gone. At Underberg we switched back to the van for the drive back to the city. On the way back to Durban I had Princely stop to have my picture taken at the Boston sign. It took us about two and one hours to return to our hotel.
Mike and I had dinner again in the hotel Pub. I had a pizza while Mike had Bangers and Mash. It had been a long day and I had no trouble falling asleep.
Apr 24, 2010 (Saturday) Fly from Durban to Johannesburg, South Africa
I had shut off the air conditioner before I went to bed. During the night I awoke a little warm and instead of turning the air conditioner back on I decided to open a window. I used the flashlight application on my BlackBerry to navigate around the room and find the window latch. When I opened the window and turned toward the bed I noticed that my CPAP machine had turned off and the room was extra dark. I fumbled with a light switch and had no luck. Outside, I could see lights on in the rest of the hotel so I assumed it was just my room. I called the front desk and they sent a man up and sure enough the master circuit breaker for the room had tripped.
Back in bed I slept until 06:00, showered went to breakfast at 07:00. Mike was not there and after I ate I returned to my room to pack.
At 08:30 I started down the hall to the elevator to check out. I had left a $2 tip in the room for the maid. As I stood waiting for the elevator the maid ran down the hall and told me that I had left money in the room. She was really surprised when I told her that it was for her. I guess tipping was not the norm in Durban.
When I got to the lobby, Mike was there and had settled his bill. He told me that our pre-diner drinks had not been charged to our accounts and the desk clerk to him to forget about it.
At 09:00 a Thompson Tours van pulled up to the door and a big Rugby sized gentleman named Craig Oliver introduced himself as our guide/driver. He told us we were his only customers for the City Tour that day.
Durban is described as a sophisticated cosmopolitan city with a fusion of East, West and African culture. It has the largest population of Indians in any city of the world outside of India and is the busiest seaport in Africa.
Our tour crossed the bridge over the Umgeni River again and this time turned east to the ocean to the “Blue Lagoon” and then headed south along the beach on what is called the “Golden Mile”. The beaches are beautiful and there was good size surf. I was surprised that there were no surfers and Craig told me that they concentrate in an area further south. The sidewalk and medians of the boulevard were under construction with newly laid brick. Between the promenade and the beach they were constructing swimming pools, children’s parks and food concession stands. There were a large number of workers attempting to finish before the World Cup crowd would arrive in a little less than 50 days. A very ambitious under taking that Mike didn’t think could be accomplished. At several places we had to detour around construction.
We drove by some nice hotels, some very colorful rickshaws, and past the uSaka Marine World to the Vetch’s Pier. Here we saw many surfers. They save their energy by instead of paddling out to catch a wave they walk the pier and jump in at the end to catch a wave. There was a steady line of surfers carrying their boards, walking from the beach up the stairs to the pier and along the pier to the end and jumping off.
Past the pier was the Ski Boat Club, the North Pier at the end of the beach area. Driving around the point we headed northwest to the harbor, past the Ocean Terminal and the Maritime Museum. In this area we drove up to City Hall. The City Hall is an interesting story: In 1903 the Town Council invited architects to submit designs for a new town hall. The winning design was submitted by Stanley G. Hudson. On completion in 1910 it was considered a 'very bold and progressive design' and the people of Durban were very proud. One day a visitor from Northern Ireland remarked that the building was identical to the City Hall of Belfast, Northern Ireland. Stanley Hudson had replicated it.
It was an impressive building and was considered one of the main tourist attractions in Durban. Unfortunately, the building exterior was being cleaned for the World Cup and was covered with scaffolding so I was not able to get a good picture of it. From the City Hall we stopped at Wilson’s Wharf for picture taking of the Bay of Natal. From the Wharf we drove past the Sugar Terminal on a road which is in the Guinness Book of Records as the road with the most rail crossings (17). They are between the Sugar Warehouses and the railroad. The warehouses are specially constructed to accommodate the expansion created by the sugar stored in them and overall the terminal is one of the largest sugar terminals in the world.
From the water front we visited the Phansi Museum which is has a large collection of Southern African artifacts and traditions, including beadworks, headrests, Zulu clay pots and various other treasures. The Museum was opened just for the daily tour and closed as we left.
Our next scheduled stop was the Botanic Gardens, but Mike and I told Craig to skip the stop and substitute a stop at the Soccer Stadium. On the way to the stadium we stopped at Mitchell Park which was a great place to take pictures of the city and the stadium. At the park was a very interesting sculpture which is very large cube on a point with each scenes of the city on each side.
From Mitchell Park we drove to the De La Sol Restaurant for a “Taste of India”, unique “Bunny Chow”. “Bunny Cow” is a quarter loaf of square shaped white bread with the inside removed, the cavity filled with lamb curry and then plugged with the inside bread dough. Mike doesn’t like curry so he passed but I had a “Bunny Chow” and it was delicious.
From the restaurant we drove past “Restaurant Row” and down to the Stadium. We parked and walked to the Skycar which we found was not operating due to technical problems. We could see through the fence and the entrances to the seats and we could see the colorful seats. From there we walked around the outside of the Stadium. There were a lot of people touring the facility grounds. It was the last stop on the City Tour and we were back at the hotel at noon.
Since I had had the “Bunny Chow” I skipped ordering a lunch. We attempted to contact the tour agency to see if we could get the transfer to the airport to take us early since it was boring hanging around the hotel for two hours. Mike drank some beers and I repacked my carryon bags for the long flight to LAX.
At 13:30 I decided that I wanted to take a picture of my hotel room from the exterior and when I walked around the corner for the picture I discovered the transfer van parked there. It was the same van and driver that had met us at the airport. I asked him if he would leave early and he drove up to the door so we could load our luggage for the transfer to the Durban Airport.
Security and check in at the airport was no problem and they checked my bag to LAX. We were able to wait in the South African Airways lounge.
The aircraft was an A-319 and was surprisingly full for a Saturday afternoon. I guess there is a lot of traffic between Durban and Johannesburg. It took off close to schedule at 15:45 for a one hour flight. They served a sandwich meal in the one hour.
At Johannesburg, we had to walk from the Domestic Terminal to the International Terminal and check in at the Delta counter. I attempted to enter the Star Alliance lounge using my Durban to Johannesburg ticket but they would not let me in. I had three hours to kill before boarding my flight so I visited the shops in the terminal and was able to purchase some t-shirts for the kids and some jewelry for Judy.
I had 70 rand (ZAR) left (about $9) around 18:00 so I looked around for a place to get something to eat for the 70 rand. I found a Pizza place and they listed a Caesar Salad for 50 ZAR and drinks for 20 ZAR, so ordered the salad and drink. When they rang up my order they told me the drink was 21 ZAR because they put in in a large glass. I told them I didn’t have any more rand and to put the drink in a smaller glass. They told me they didn’t have the smaller glasses – Mexican stand off – they let me have the large drink.
At 19:00 I went to the gate to process through security. There was a long line and as I stood there I noticed the man in front of me had the seat next to me so I introduced myself. He worked for Volkswagen Assembly Plant consulting firm and was being sent to Knoxville, TN to consultant at the VW assembly plant there. Mike joined us and we told him about the sights he should visit in the Knoxville area.
When boarded the plane I had a middle isle seat and the consultant was in the middle seat. The flight took off twenty minutes late at 20:40.
Apr 25, 2010 (Sunday) Fly from Johannesburg to Los Angeles via Atlanta
I was able to sleep four hours after the meal, watched some movies: Amelia, which I had missed seeing earlier on the trip, The Darned United, which was interesting, and Did You Hear About The Morgan’s, which was a stinker. After watching the three movies I slept again for two hours, and then watched State of Play, which I liked but was not truly believable at the end.
The plane was fighting headwinds and we landed in Atlanta over an hour late for a total flight time of 17 hours and 10 minutes. By the time I obtained my bag and cleared a secondary check at customs I was too late to make my connection to LAX. When I re-checked my bag at the Delta luggage counter they told me the next LAX flight at 09:55 was booked full but I could standby.
I thought it was too early to call Judy so I called Robin and informed her that I would not be on my scheduled flight and might be on the 09:55 flight. I asked her to call Judy at 10:00 to tell her to reschedule the car.
They checked my bag on the 09:55 flight and I took the train to Terminal A and by the time I got to the gate they were starting to board the 09:55 flight. At 09:30 they issued me a boarding pass. The flight was delayed at the gate so I was able to call Judy and have her contact the car service with the new flight number.
The same driver that had picked me up for the trip was waiting for me when I arrived at LAX. I was home by 14:00. The trip was over.