Category Archives: Africa Trip 2013/14

Durban

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It was refreshing to see a modern city as we coasted into this port, the first since Dubai. But, while the infrastructure is superior to the previous cities we visited, it still felt primitive in comparison to western cities of comparable size.

We took the shuttle across the port area and then caught the “People Mover” a bus service for which you can purchase a daily pass and hop on and off wherever/whenever you want. It’s not just for tourists, locals use it also because it is cheap and convenient. The ship was only docked for half a day in this port so, unable to walk the city, this provided us with a bit of an overview in the short time that we had.

Our first stop was the Victoria Indian street Market, recommended by our guide from the previous day (a Durbanite). It was an interesting market but we actually enjoyed the rougher and dirtier market across the street (that wouldn’t have been on the cruise-line tours!) more. There we saw everything from 50s-style dresses to unwrapped rolls of toilet paper for sale. It was, at the same time, sad and homey.

It being a Saturday, the streets were teaming and we enjoyed the various local people, produce and goods along the street back to the bus stop. Then we headed to where I think half of the city of Durban (total 3.5 million) were spending their day off…the beach!

It was such an amazing mass of humanity – it really blew us away! People (probably 99% black) completely obscured a few sections of the beach where they seemed to be playing a game of ‘dare the waves’. The sound as they all raced into the surf was loud and happy and friends and family watched with delight from further up the beach. Some lucky families huddled under tall thin palms for the meagre shade they provided, others stuck colourful umbrellas in the sand. Young children paddled in the large wading pools which offered reprieve from the extremely hot sun. They were all having the time of their life!

Cape Town next…and then to see the big 5!

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Richard’s Bay, South Africa

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There’s nothing here to recommend this port city (built up in the 70s) but, once away from the industrial area, the surrounding countryside is quite beautiful.

With a bit of trepidation we joined three other couples to go to Shakaland – a Zulu “cultural village” that was actually built as a set for a TV miniseries. Our previous experiences with cultural villages and shows didn’t bode well but it was highly recommended by others, so we all decided to check it out.

Upon arrival, after a spirited greeting by the local Zulu chief, we were given a lunch of African curries and vegetables which we washed down with the local beer and wine – quite delicious. Following a 15 minute video which explained Zulu history through dramatic scenes from the miniseries, we met our Zulu guide who gave us a cultural tour through the village, aided by various people who enacted the customs and traditions of which she spoke. Finally, we were treated to some amazing Zulu dances, accompanied by great drumming and a fascinating instrument that was quite new to me. It was a drum, open on one end, with a stick poked through the drumskin on the other end. After dipping his hand in water, the musician rubbed a watery hand up and down the stick, making a noise that I would characterize as a rhino in heat! Perhaps I’ll find out on our upcoming safari if I was right 😉 I made a video of it but can’t, unfortunately, attach it to this page until we get home.

In the end it was a positive experience. The people were genuine – sincerely interested in highlighting their historical and cultural traditions, using this “village” as a means to retain some of those traditions. Although they didn’t actually live there, most were from a nearby village that, through their elders, did maintain some of the traditions of old. On our way back to Richards Bay, Debbie, the guide whom we he hired to take us there, told me that Shakaland really is very authentic but that many similar “villages” were of the “tacky touristy” variety and she would gently try to discourage her clients to go.

I was lucky enough to sit beside her as we returned and she gave me a bit about her life – growing up in Kruger National Park (her father was a ranger) and then going to a private school near Durban for high school. It was, at the time, an all white school but she said that in 1992 (2 yrs. before apartheid was lifted) they began integration. She talked about the real concern for the country – 40% unemployment and more and more people pouring over the borders every day from countries such as Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique where unemployment is as high as 95%. Reduced job opportunities for South Africans increases racial tensions and many former soldiers from war torn countries bring guns with them, further fuelling the already high crime rate. It is a sad situation and you wonder what the future is for this country. The lecturer on the ship (an economics professor from University of Cape Town) has not managed to increase our optimism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nosey Be, Madagascar

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Eight kilometres from the northwest coast of Madagascar, Nosey Be (“Big Island” in Malagasy) is the area’s largest tourist destination. Here we found another haven of beautiful beaches, lush vegetation (much of it floral), and lovely people.

We joined a group of 14 who hopped on a bus to be taken to the southeast side of the island. But, first we had to check out “Hell-ville, the main port on the island with a lively marketplace. It was named to honour a former French Governor and it certainly doesn’t reflect the character of the town.

The road to Andranogoaika, where we were to walk to a beach and hop into outrigger canoes, cut through great fields of Ylang Ylang trees – used to make perfumes and essential oils. The yellow flowers gave off a wonderful scent and it was interesting to see that they topped all of the trees to ensure easy access for the pickers. The bus stopped so that we could check out the flowers as well as the huge chameleon a man was carrying along the side of the road.

The locals must have laughed as they saw such a group of intrepid travellers climbing into the canoes and paddling across the bay. It was 2.5km to Ambataozavavy and most of us paddled all the way across (with the local fellow in the back doing most of the work, of course). By the time we hit the beach I was ready for a nap and my arms felt like jelly. I wasn’t the only one to yelp when we found out that we had to go back the same way! But…we had the forest yet to conquer!

We were greeted in the village by singing and dancing children…oh so cute. As we walked there were successive groups of kids, some drumming, most dancing and all singing. I had brought pencils and stickers and they were excited to get them, despite the fact that the US$ was what was expected.

Donald, our guide, ushered us along, down a muddy path into the trees and almost immediately pointed out lemurs. The first ones we saw were brown lemurs and later we saw the nocturnal black lemurs asleep above us. We walked about 2 km along the path with Donald pointing out various creepy crawlies when his eagle eye spotted a rather large python. Susan, the fearless Winnipeger who organized the tour, draped it around her neck. I declined the treat 😉

The ship was leaving early that day so we had to decline the lunch that they had prepared for us back in the village (we offered the food to the villagers) and we hopped back in the canoes. All were relieved when we noticed the engine on the lead boat and we were to be towed, in convoy, back to the distant beach.

As we floated slowly along the water we noticed a beautiful looking house on the hillside overlooking the water and it’s own private beach. We were told it was owned by a French family who came from Europe often each year to enjoy the serenity of Nosey Be.

No wonder – it’s a magical place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dar es Salaam

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Dar es Salaam is the largest city in Tanzania (2.5 million people) and its name translates to “home of peace”. Although not our favourite port, we did enjoy a good three hour walk around the area close to the port with new friends from Toronto.

The city lacks a historic centre like Zanzibar, so we hopped off the shuttle at the first stop where we found the post office and took advantage of its internet station. Then we headed for what was listed as a main attraction on the map – the Botanical Garden. This was a decidedly sad looking “garden” – more like a small, scruffy park – with no information on the various specimens and a large number of plants in pots which were either waiting to be planted or readied for sale, we couldn’t tell which. Both Gail and I would have liked to find out the name of one tree in particular, shaped like our poplars but with lush, green leaves that totally hide the trunk.

We carried on to the National Museum, skirting around hordes of street vendors – many displaying shoes of all kinds. Although displayed in a relatively primitive style, the museum gave us good insight into the history and cultural aspects of the region. Displays detailing female circumcision and the government’s ongoing AIDS awareness campaign were sobering.

We then walked over to the Presidential palace where I was chastised by a local for taking a picture (which showed only the red roofs over white walls). I had thought that the big sign with a cross over the “P” was no parking – evidently it was no photographs!

As we walked back to the waterfront we enjoyed the colourful mixture of people, some on holiday, enjoying street music and food; others going about their daily business with goods piled high on their heads. Great people watching!

On our return to the port we noticed a huge shipment of UN trucks had arrived, ready to be dispatched….to South Sudan possibly?

Not a place I’d jump to return to, but an interesting stop nonetheless.

Zanzibar

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Zanzibar! The name has always conjured up exotic images for me and it did not disappoint! Meaning the “City of Blacks”, this group of islands became a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania in 1963 and I remember my Dad returning from a mission there (with the Canadian army) just around that time. He loved it and so did Tony and I.

We were fortunate to have taken a tour with a company called “Eco-Culture Tours” and they lived up to their name. We drove about an hour out of the city to Jozani Forest, a national reserve which includes areas of towering mahogany trees, lush mangrove swamps and local fruit and palm trees (providing plentiful food for the rare indigenous Red Colobus monkeys.

Mande, our guide, then took us to the east coast and his home village. On the way we stopped at an oceanside resort suggested by the Winnipegger who had organized the tour. The Rock was a restaurant built on a rock promontory only accessible by wading out to it. Owned by a European, the food looked delicious (with prices to match) but most of us opted to sit out on the terrace overlooking the water and have a cold beer ($5.50 – while one couple had their beer on land and paid $2.50!).

Mande’s village was charming – most homes were built of coral rock (the foundation of the island, so in plentiful supply) while a few seemed to have walls of straw mats. Almost all had thatched roofs. We had a demonstration of how they get the coconuts off the trees (shimmying up with only ropes on their feet) and a woman showed us how she grates the coconut and makes coconut milk (squeezing the flesh with a little bit of the coconut water before running it all through a sieve). And…as always, I couldn’t resist taking photos of the children who allowed me to do so. I brought pencils and stickers with me on the ship but kicked myself that I’d left them all on board.

A quick look at the ocean on the south side of the island with another beautiful beach and some lazy fishing boats, then we were off back to the main city of Unguja and it’s historic centre, Stone Town, a World Heritage site. Claimed to be the only functioning ancient town in East Africa, it was once the hub of the slave trade, the market processing 60,000 slaves per year.

Tony and I opted to leave the tour at this point in order to wander the narrow, crooked streets on our own. They are clean and colourful with a lively atmosphere. Numerous shops with beautifully carved wooden doors punctuate white walls.

Who would have guessed that Freddie Mercury was born in Zanzibar? It was a surprise to us to stumble upon Mercury House – with his story and pictures on either side of the doorway.

We walked for an hour or so and then wandered back to the Nautica, our home away from home, via the beach (where children were having a ball in the water) and a night market with all sorts of yummy looking food (including Zanzibar pizza). Sadly I don’t think my stomach can take street food yet.

Tony and I left this island with regret – it is a fascinating mix of cultures and the general feeling is laid back, friendly and tidy. We just didn’t get enough of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mombasa

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We awoke to our first taste of African drumming – a welcoming committee of dancers and drummers.

Despite all sorts of warnings about safety in this Kenyan city of about 1 million people, we felt no concern wandering in and around the backstreets with another couple (from Toronto). It was dirty and “rough” but by no means were we hassled or accosted.

I had downloaded a walking tour e-book at home, so we followed that most of the time – only deviating when things looked interesting down unmarked alleyways. We started at the prominent Fort Jesus, variously occupied by the Portuguese and the Omanis. Since it was a holiday for Kenyans as well, we enjoyed watching the local families touring the fort grounds and were impressed with how well behaved the children were. Being respectful of the ban on photos of Muslim women, I just had to ask a young mother if I could take a photo of her baby and another young women said she felt “like a star” when I asked to take a picture of her beautifully braided hair.

For part of the time in the city we had an unwanted “guide” but he stayed in the background and simply steered us a bit (most of the time in the right direction). We ventured into a rather minimal fish market and watched a fellow scaling a large frozen fish then wandered down to the “Levens” (British colonial office) and the dock from which, our “guide” told us, slaves were loaded into boats bound for Zanzibar. At one point he .told me that he wasn’t really a tour guide but a security person. We each gave him a dollar when we arrived at the central market.

The market was a huge contrast to the relatively quiet and drab streets. Men and colourfully dressed women competed with small vans and tuk tuks bringing wares to sell from the stalls that lined the narrow streets. The colours, smells and sights were wonderful – spices, coffee and perfumes side by side nick knacks, bras and textiles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seychelles

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Lady Luck struck twice this morning. I awoke feeling like a new woman – almost 100%. Second, we got a call asking if we would like to join a group going on a glass bottom, replacing a couple forced to cancel due to illness. I had already booked a snorkelling trip but we jumped at the opportunity for the more extensive tour, especially since we knew the three other couples and liked them all very much. We were so glad that we did!

Clean, lush and spectacularly beautiful – those were my first impressions of the country. Mahe is the largest island of the Seychelles and where the capital, Victoria, is situated.

We were met at the port by the mother of a family-operated tour business (Teddy’s Glass Bottom Boat Tours), whisked quickly to a dock where her son and friend awaited to take us out to the Marine Park. In the middle, with crystal clear water around us, Perry started throwing bread to the fish. They rose to the surface in unison, grabbing at the slice as if their life depended on it. Most were small, colourful fish but sometimes larger ones pushed them aside to get the treasure.

After mooring close to an island, we jumped in the water to snorkel. The water was delightfully warm and refreshing and the coral and sea life quite beautiful.

We next moored at a beach where a BBQ lunch of very fresh fish and chicken with salads was laid out by the daughter. The folding tables and chairs would later be packed up so that they left no trace on the island.

Nearby Moyenne Island is a national park willed to the country by Brendon Grimshaw a Yorkshire journalist who fell in love with the island and purchased it for £8,000 in 1962. During his over 50 years on the island he preserved the natural environment and ensured that the giant tortoises and various indigenous bird species were protected. We enjoyed patting the wonderfully leathery tortoise heads (they actually came up to us and ‘asked’ for a scratch) and walked around the island, noting the graves of Grimshaw and his father (who came to join him at 83 yrs old).

A short tour of Mahe by van (with Teddy driving and providing commentary) gave us an appreciation of the history of the Seychelles. Although the British assumed control in 1812, the French influence is still very strong, most evident in the accent and Creole language of the people. However, the landscape, architecture and style is reminiscent of many former British colonies. Others in the group had been to Bermuda and they immediately made the comparison. Tony and I found ourselves thinking of another Victoria as we wound our way up the mountain above the capital and the islands – that of The Peak in Hong Kong.

This whole experience was a dramatic contrast to all of our previous ports – the Seychellians truly understand the value of their environment and take care to treat it with respect. I’d love to return to enjoy the numerous hiking trails and see and experience more of the islands and waters surrounding them.