Stories and Photographs of my travels, Tales of friends, family, animals and my life
Cocktails on the Balcony. Stone Town. Zanzibar
If you don’t have a friend willing to pick you up from the airport or Stone Town, there are a number of ways to travel to Pingwe Beach. Taxi – at least 40 – 50 dollars, the most convenient and expensive way. Shared van – 10,000 shillings each (about $6.50) to Pajae then a dalla dalla (local bus) from Pajae to Pingwe – you should pay no more than 500 shillings each. Two dalla dallas all the way – no more than 15000 – 20000 shillings in total or hitching (not to be recommended).
Wash Day. Stone Town Harbour. Zanzibar.
Bearing in mind that we were on a budget, a taxi was out of the question and having been in dalla dallas before we decided that a walk to the bus station, catching a bus to the central market (about 3 km out from the centre) then catching another bus to Michamvi Kae, with luggage, in the heat, was too hard. So we booked into the Princess Salome in Stone Town for a couple of nights and organised a shared van. The Princess Salome is a good budget option, nice people, substantial breakfast included, a rooftop sitting area and, because we have stayed there on a number of occasions, an upgrade at no extra cost.
Watching the Football. Old Quarter. Stone Town.
Stone Town is worth exploring for a few days. The old quarter consists of a maze of narrow alleys lined by shops, bazaars, spice houses, mosques, schools, markets and coral stone houses. The seafront has wider streets, more hotels and gardens where a seafood night markets takes place every day. Arab, Persian, European, Indian and African culture influences the architecture. A prominent feature of many of the old multi-storied buildings are the elaborately carved Zanzibarian doors and verandas protected by wood carved balustrades.
Streets of old Quarter, spice house and a Zanzibarian door
Stone Town also has many historic buildings some of which are the former palaces of the sultans, an old fort, the old dispensary, churches, the slave market, churches and mosques, Turkish baths and many restored spices/tea houses. Stone Town is also the starting point for trips to Prison Island and the UNESCO World Heritage Marine Park. If you plan to stay a few days, a word of advice. Zanzibar has a prodominently Muslim population. Short skirts, spaghetti strapped tops, crutch hugging shorts, see through clothing are OK for beach/muzungo areas but wear something more appropriate for towns and villages. Not only will you feel more comfortable but you will get a much more welcoming reception from the locals if you respect their culture.
The Old Ford and The Dispensary
After two days sightseeing, hitting up the atms (none on the East coast that I know of) and balmy nights drinking cocktails whilst watching the sun set, we left our excess luggage with the hotel, caught an early van and headed up to Pingwe and our friends Ame and Phil.
Sun Set on the Beach. Stone Town. Zanzibar
Once a week I will dip into my old English Oxford dictionary and pick a word on the page that it falls open at. The challenge is to post a photograph, poem, story – whatever the genre you like best to describe of what that word means to you. Put a link back to my challenge page so others can take part if they wish.
Sitting at a cafe in Morocco tucking into my breakfast I spotted this game of cards taking place inside the building opposite.
Do you have any photos, memories or stories of that you would like to share for this week’s challenge?
Zanzibar. Assassination, revolution, Sultan’s palaces and Princess’s eloping. Historically central to the slave, gold and spice trade ancient Stone Town remains a thriving centre (world heritage site). Stunning white beaches, fresh seafood, wild dolphin, swimming in aquamarine waters. The allure of this island is undeniable. Yet we returned for another reason. Our friend Ame and his amazing grilled lobster invariably accompanied by a huge plate of chips ground over with smokey, sharp hot and tangy Zanzibar peppercorns.
Of course that’s not the only reason. Our original plan to head up through South Africa into Mozambique, swim with the whale sharks then return back to Zanzibar to help Ame and Phil, another friend, with the beach bungalow build was cancelled. Due to internal conflict in Mozambique; bullets fired into trains; villagers fleeing; army escorts through the Tet corridor, early return to the spice island seemed like a much safer alternative.
Back in October 2013 whilst staying on Zanzibar we’d become friends with Ame, restaurant owner and wannabe hostel proprietor. He showed us over his property and at the back of the kitchen was a tract of land that contained a shack (where he lived), two conjoined run down bungalows and the foundation of another. He wanted to develop but, like so many locals, had no capital. He also wanted wifi. Not much to ask one would think until you understand the political climate and cultural obligations towards family and friends, which seem to make even the most simple task complicated. For example, after registering the business the government requires payment of a tourist tax which is approximately7 dollars a day per person. This makes budget accommodation something of a rarity on the island therefore backpackers tend either not to visit or linger long.
At the same time we met our friend Phil at the hostel we were staying in. Phil, had been working as a volunteer, teaching local students tourism studies. He was helping Ali, the bungalows owner, to develop and promote the business. Unfortunately things weren’t going too well as Ali generally spent the wages, profits, food and drink budget on women, cocktails and dope. So Phil was up for a new project. We introduced Ame to Phil hoping that Phil could pass on some good advice. After an impressive lunch of garlic prawns with rice and side salad we toured the property again and from that meeting the concept of Pweza |Beach bungalows was born.
Five months later we were on our way back to help with the project. Little did we know that our original plan to stay three weeks would extend into two months. Over the next few months I will
write about our part in the Beach Bungalow Build, the joys and trials of living with a local community and Ame and his 13 brothers.
Chocolate sponge, with chocolate mousse filling, topped by chocolate ganache. Extra fattening, extra delicious with an extraordinary amount of chocolate :)
Magical, mystical mountains, verdant forests and valleys, plunging waterfalls and towering trees, bathed in sunlight or enshrouded in white semi-translucent mist, make this a welcome break from the beaches. Good food restaurants abound but the slightly eccentric theme of fairies, elves, standing stones etc can be a little twee for some people’s taste. But get away from the main drag and be transported into a kingdom that Tolkien would be inspired by. We stayed at away with the Fairies run by an Englishman, Dan, and his South African girlfriend.
Dan picked us up at Chintsa, although he looked a little confused when we dropped first our backpacks down by the truck and said hello. No one had let him know that he was supposed to be picking us up and he had booked a weekend away in East London. We called into the shopping mall and picked up food and alcohol supplies for the hostel and ourselves then headed off to meet Dave who was driving down from Hogsback to meet us halfway and pick us and the supplies up. Now this is where Chris comes back into the story.
“I had a staff member staying in Chintsa” Dan told us
“We met him” we replied.
“I had to send him away to get his head together after he took a two day trip on magic mushrooms and lost the plot”
“Oh we thought he lived there the way he talked”
“He’s been working just over a month and he’s been tripping most of the time.
“I think he still is” I replied “we also met ????? said he was doing work for you.
“He was building patios, and we had to take them down as they were dangerous” said Dan
“Ahh I heard him talking to you on the phone. You refused to pay him”
We met up Dave and left Dan to enjoy his holiday. An hour and a half later Dave decided to divert to the township in Hogsback to check to see if a car was ready to be picked up from the garage.
“If it is” I pondered “who is going to drive it?”
Luckily it wasn’t so I wasn’t called upon to drive it up the mountain. Later when Dan returned and told us he was relieved that we’d made it as Dave could be a little unreliable at times I told him about the unscheduled stop that added another ½ hour to the journey, including my panic when I thought I’d be asked to drive one of the cars.
“That wasn’t the plan” Dan replied “What on earth was he thinking?“
And that’s what I love about travelling. People.
Rugged cliffs, green forests and mountainous regions, deserted white sand beaches, plunging seas populated with whales and dolphins. Stretching 350 km from East London to Port Edward, home of the Xhosa people. Known as the Transkei, name of the apartheid era homeland that gave birth to Nelson Mandela and became his final resting place.
Chintsa. Where lagoon meets sea and wind whipped sand scuds along the beach. Comprising of two small hamlets, East and West Chinsa that have a basic supermarket, reasonably priced food, camping grounds and a hostel.
After traversing the Garden Route and encountering the South African equivalent of the Australian Schoolies’ holidays, an annual event where school leavers hell bent on getting drunk, laid, stoned, obnoxious and sometimes aggressive gather on the Gold Coast for a big 2 week long party, we arrived in Chinsa. On the border of the Transkei and at the start of the Wilderness Coastline, Chinsa is quiet and unspoilt with stunning beaches and a wild, sand whipping, wind,
Unfortunately, it was still school holidays (see the previous garden route post). We’d booked into a safari tent at one of the hostels, which just happened to be pitched below the bar that pumped out seriously loud, bad music all night into dawn. The tent also happened to be on a rat run from the bar to the camp site/dorms/car park. One night, about 4.30am in the morning, some revellers fell out of the bar and helped their friend into her car because she was so drunk then waved her off as she drove to hers or some other innocent bystanders potential death. They then proceeded to vomit, scream at each other, fight and have a piss next to our tent. Nice! Now I remember when one of my friends got hammered, decided to drive home and got decidedly shitty with us when we asked for his keys. Did we guide him to the car, tuck him in and wish him a safe journey? Did we hell! Five of us jumped him, wrested him to the ground and took the keys off him. Then I drove him home under the threat of killing him if he didn’t tell me to stop and let him out if he needed to be sick. Of course he threw up in the car. Now that’s what I call friendship.
Luckily we still had the 3 man tent so after two nights of no sleep we set it up at the bottom of the valley and at night moved down there. We could still hear the music but at least it was a faint thumping bass in the distance.
It was on the camp site we met two interesting characters. Chris, who walked around with large headphones clamped to his head with a dreamy smile on his face 24/7 and claimed to have a famous brother who was a DJ.
Mike, who claimed to be a builder who also had a famous brother – a helicopter pilot to the Australian Prime Minister and world leaders. Hmm last time I heard the PM moved around by plane and worked out of Canberra not Perth as he claimed. Too much dope and a vivid imagination I thought.
Chris told us that he lived and worked in Hog’s Back region and had been told by his employer to take a couple of weeks break and ‘get his head together’. Funnily enough Chris’s work place was our next stop Away with the Faries hostel at the Hogs Back. He asked us to say hi to his two best friends George and Chasey who lived there and then wandered off nodding to the beat.
Mdumbi and Coffee Bay. Many backpackers and travellers head towards Coffee Bay or Port St Johns to carry on the party. I heard one young volunteer say of Coffee Bay “I like to get away from the beaten track” which is rubbish. Overrun with tourists, full of rundown backpacker hostels, noisy, no views to speak of, lots of hawkers hassling tourists and a rubbish beach. If you really want to get away from the beaten track forget Coffee Bay and head to Mdumbi River Mouth and stay at Mdumbi backpackers 15kms further South which is perched on a hill with stunning views of the lagoon,beach and coastline. Sleep in traditional roundel huts, eat delicious and reasonably priced meals or cook your own in the fully equipped kitchen, check out the local catch of oysters, prawns and fish, walk along deserted beaches or check out the local village. All the adventures are community owned and the Mankowsi community owns part of the business.
The owners of the hostel assist locals to set up their own businesses and train and employ staff. They have a pre-school for the village children on site and are currently helping build a clinic. Your money will go to a very good cause and you can be part of it.
Christmas in Wilderness, The Garden Route, South Africa
Wilderness. Rolling breakers, lonely coves, national parks, tumbling waterfalls, white sands and stunning sunsets. Transport is needed to access most of the above as public transport is non-existent, a taxi costs a fortune and walking in the heat for long periods is not recommended.
Despite booking in advance for the tent site (a small piece of grass that accommodated two tents max it was already occupied and we ended up camping on the hostel’s concrete patio. Views from the balcony over the beach made up for it but the dirty kitchen and toilets didn’t. The owner after dealing with a complaint about the noise from neighbours confided in us that one review on trip advisor said that it was the dirtiest hostel he had stayed in and that included the ones in India. She felt that the review was a little harsh and that he only had to say something to her at the time and she could have sorted it out. Having been given licence to speak I said
“In that case, you might want to ask the staff to clean the toilets” There are half empty beer bottles in them, toilet roll paper pieces all over the floor, dirty showers and peanut butter covered knives in the kitchen that have been left for days” .
Unfortunately they had no wifi so we couldn’t contact friend and family to wish them happy Christmas and had to send good wishes via ESP over a superb 4 course Thai Christmas meal that was so big that we shared. Tom Yum Soup, Chilli Prawns, Chicken Satay, Beef Masamum Curry, a version of profiteroles, tea and coffee.
A walk along the old disused railway that ran along the coast lead away from the main beach through a long tunnel and out into a small cove. Outside the tunnel was an adjoining cave occupied by a hermit who had decorated the adjoining cave. He gave us a tour, enclosed tunnels decorated with kitsch led to double beds, kitchens, lounge chairs and sofas . It was a place for homeless people he explained – except there was no one living there apart from himself! We gave him a donation anyway. I chickened out at the viaduct bridge – it looked very unsafe.
We headed to Plettenburg Bay for New Year. Same old same old, hostel was rammed, young drunk South Africans, dirty kitchen, etc etc. Again this place would be wonderful out of season for a short stay as the beaches and views are lovely. Plettenberg Bay. South Africa.
I can’t think of anything else to say about this place so let me relate a conversation I overheard whilst sipping my G and T.
8 year old pointing at swimmer in sea not swimming in between life guard flags – “He’s going to die”
Her 5 year old sister “Why’s he going to die?”
8 year old “because he’s not swimming in between the flags”
5 year old “how do you know?”
8 year old “Because Daddy told me” Daddy would die, I would die and you would die if you didn’t swim between the flags”
5 year old voice raised in wonder “Daddy would die”
8 year old “Yes”
3 year old brother who has not been listening “Who’s going to die/”
5 year old pointing at swimmer “he’s going to die” “But he’s a teenager and you know that they don’t listen”.
Final stop Jefferies Bay – surfers’ paradise and a run down town where we stayed in a hostel full of drunk, loud young men who partied all night.
With relief we left the Garden Route and headed to the Wild Coast.
Wilderness Bay. South Africa.
The Garden Route was a nightmare. Drunk, shrieking, over privileged, young white South Africans partying from the time they got up to dawn the next day. Camp sites that turned out to be postage stamp sized with tents joustling for position. Couples having sex in one of the two only the showers. Communal kitchens littered with left-over food and sinks overflowing with dirty dishes. Having travelled extensively in Southern Africa I can truly say that South African hostels had the dirtiest kitchens of all. The Mamas had the thankless task of cleaning up after them all the time. I don’t think I had one night of uninterrupted sleep in 3 weeks.
Luckily the scenery was amazing but you could have been anywhere in the world – the towns were sterile, public transport non existent and food expensive. My advice would be to travel out of season or give the whole coastline a miss and head up to the Wilderness Coast which is truly spectacular.
The first stop was Swellendam, a twee inland Germanic town, where we hoped to catch up on some sleep. Fat chance the walls were so thin they could have been transparent. I could hear every grunt, sigh, footstep and intimate toilet habits of the occupants next door. The owner, a sour faced white South African, who clearly had had enough of the trade, ticked guests off for asking for more washing up liquid and smoking, She woke us up early in the morning by shouting at her staff in front of our door.
However, the scenery was lovely but it was expensive to walk in the national park. There were a lot of houses of sale – the type of place someone night retire to and then realise that there was more life in a cemetery
Next stop Mossel Bay. The beginning of the Garden Route.
Sterile, over-crowded, no public transport to beaches close by. A bird park that had me contacting the equivalent of the RSPCA in England and a dodgy member of staff who took an acquaintances money for accommodation, gave them no receipt then denied he had ever received it.
We moved onto Wilderness Bay which was stunning and will be the subject of my next post
The group had bonded very well. Five wineries, 5 – 6 wines tasted per estate, a lunchtime BBQ with several bottles of wine thrown in and, as an extra treat, South African brandy and chocolate to end the day
It has to be said that South Africans take their tours very seriously and provide excellent value for money and whilst in Cape town we did several of them.
The cape of good hope and surrounding area, a wine tour and a visit to Robben Island where the infamous prison the ANC members were incarcerated in (saw whales on the boat back to the harbour).
Robben Island, views from the Bay towards Cape Town, prison Life, Nelson Mandela’s cell, cell block d.
Robbin Island, Mandela’s Cell,
Cape Town and Table Mountain, Seal in Harbour, Harbour, Victoria Wharf, Long street Building.
We walked around table mountain (cable car not working due to wind factor) and saw the famous cloud formation called the table cloth (cloud pours over the top like a smoking witch’s cauldron). We also wandered the shopping malls and at markets at Victoria Wharf and the city, ambled through the parks and suburbs of Cape Town, checked out a variety of restaurants, were invited to dinner by a total stranger and visited the slave museum.
One story from our tour around the Cape sticks with me. When the British Soldiers were based at the cape they used to catch a train to Simons town to get drunk. At that time there was a Great Dane who took a shine to the life of a sailor and used to sleep on the deck of ships. He also used to ride the train with the sailors at night and they liked to have him around because when they fell into a drunken sleep he would wake them when they reached their stop and also guard them from thieves. The train conductors were not happy and tried to get the dog either banned or put down. When they protested the train management told them that the dog did not have the right to travel because he was not a sailor. So the company decided to adopt the dog as their mascot and make him a honouree seaman. When writing out his papers the Captain asked what the dog’s name was and the reply was “Oh he’s just a nuisance and that’s how the Great Dane became the only dog in the world to become a sailor called Able seaman Just Nuisance . There are other versions of this story but I like this one because it involved alcohol. By the way, they bought him a yearly travel pass so he was totally legal .
Pictures from around the Cape and Cape of Good Hope
We overstayed and still did not have enough time. Cape Town is an amazing city but we had to leave to head up coast (The Garden Route). We bought a tent and some camping equipment as Christmas was coming and all the accommodation was either booked out or extremely expensive. So with regret and vowing to return we headed off on the Baz Bus for the beaches.
Four hours after we arrived in Cape Town Nelson Mandela passed away. The news of his death did not reach us until the next morning. The 24 hour bus journey from Namibia to South Africa had wiped us out and we crashed as soon as we arrived at the hostel.
Those who are more aware of the portends than I would have known something was up. As we travelled towards the border the skies were full of dark and brooding clouds with oil slick coloured pockets of air shimmering in between. When I woke up, completely oblivious of the news that was breaking around the world, I found that my watch had stopped at 8.50pm the night before. Later that day it started working again. Apparently Mandela passed about that time.
Despite the lamenting of the world over the death of Nelson Mandela, mourning in Cape Town and most of South Africa seemed to be low key. Possibly because life support machines had been keeping him alive for some time and they had time to prepare. Also, many of those that I spoke to had become tired and cynical about Mandela’s family who they thought were determined to exploit his death to it’s max. Google for the facts on the legal wrangling if you want to know more – its a pretty sordid and depressing end for a great man. However one story did lighten the mood and hopefully Mandela would have found it as funny as we did.
One day we heard the Minister for Culture on the radio discussing the 9 meter statue of Madib commissioned by the government to commemorate his life.
“The rabbit in the ear of the statue was never part of the commission, it is a disgrace and needs to be removed” he raved “The rabbit needs to go. The artists had no right to place the rabbit in the ear. It was never agreed to. It is an insult to the memory. We never agreed to the rabbit”.
The interviewer then pointed out that the artists were not given permission to sign their work of art with their names and had placed a rabbit in one of the ears as their signature instead.
“I will say again, we never agreed to the rabbit and it has to go, it was never part of the original plan” he shouted. “The artists need to take the rabbit out of the ear as it was not commissioned or agreed to”. The rant continued for at least another 5 minutes but because he was in a fury by then his sentences started to run together and become incomprehensible. The only words that we could hear clearly was “The Rabbit” “Not agreed to” and “Needs to go” over and over again.
Seriously, who is going to see it – the ear of the statue is nearly 8ft high and “the rabbit” happens to be very cute!