A Travellerspoint blog

April 2009

Zenzational Zanzibar (despite the rainy season)

View The African journey on Ofelia's travel map.

Some places have always had it in their name - Burkina Faso, Patagonia, Easter Island, Zanzibar- that slight exotic tinge that so makes me want to travel there. Zanzibar has always conjured up a fairytale setting of narrow cobblestone streets, ornate, heavy wooden doors with shiny brasshandles, women swathered in colourful scarves, brightening the narrow alleyways like peacocks, fragrant spices I've never smelt before. And for once, it was just as I imagined it.

We arrived to Stonetown late, and immediately decided to stay for a few days. The Polish Mafia was heading up north to the beaches the next day, but not before they introduced us to the foodstalls by the beach- dozens of vendors selling seafood snacks, samosas, kebabs, zanzibari pizza, sugar cane juice and spicy masala tea.

I was possibly most excited about shopping (OK, I was most excited about photography, but shopping was a close second), and after dragging Rich to all the possible shops to look at sandals, bracelets and fabrics, I told him the following day to go and do boys' things, and I'd go shopping on my own. Oddly enough, he decided to lock himself in the hotel room, and not come out while I checked out the local markets. Men, huh?

I really didn't do much in Stonetown- just watched the old-fashioned sailing boats, dhows, coming in from the sea after sunset, eating (lots of really good) ice-cream, drinking cocktails on a plush hotel balcony overlooking the sea, and getting lost in the winding little streets (whilst occasionally stopping to look at a bracelet, of course). It felt wonderful to have some unhurried time, and it almost felt like a holiday.


We headed up north on a rainy, damp morning, with a vague idea of going to Nungwi where our friends were. We got a ride on a dala-dala, a new thing to me- half-truck, half-bus with an open back and bright plastic seats, full of chickens, children and firewood. Oh, and lots and lots of people. Beata and Anya were waiting for us, and after a big of haggling, we found a little guesthouse that suited my low bank balance, and we settled in.

The next three days were equally lovely and frustrating, the guesthouse being only half-built and therefore not having a reception, or any sort of a contact person anywhere in Nungwi. So we had no one to complain to when we discovered there was no water whatsoever. Teaches me to pay for a hotelroom in advance, I suppose...Despite of being able to only flush the toilet three times, and only washing my hair once under the weakest drip ever (all fours on bathroom floor, nevertheless), Nungwi beach was lovely. Possibly too resorty, but it had fine, white sand, turqoise water, and it didn't even rain very much. I didn't get my usual seafood-related foodpoisoning, which was an added plus. Rich might have malaria, though.


As we left, the man supposedly looking after the guesthouse magically appeared, demanding money for the 3rd night which we had yet not paid for. I refused; after all, the deal had been that we would not pay unless the water was turned on (which it wasn't). It was, at least, a slightly amusing exchange, one of those where two people are just so far apart in what they're saying that no middle ground can be found. It was established that although it was agreed that we didn't have to pay unless water came on, we still had to pay, although the water wasn't on. Why? Because we had to pay.
We left with our token polish people, without paying, and arrived to a very rainy Stonetown where the haggling started all over again, now over the ferry tickets.

The rainy season has well and truly started. I am currently holding a one-way ticket to Mombasa, purchased this morning with an idea of "I'll get a first direct bus, wherever it might be going to", and watching the non-stop rain beat the empty streets. A sidetrip to Kenya seems appropriate, as anyone who spent their childhood listening to Finnish pop music knows, but I have fond feelings for Tanzania, and I'm sure I'll be back in no time.

Posted by Ofelia 02:21 Archived in Tanzania Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

A Slow Zambian Get-Away

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The day of leaving Lusaka for good finally came, and oddly enough, it didn't feel like much; it didn't feel real, leaving my lovely family, and especially the kids.
Rich and I took a bus to Kapiri Mposhi, a nowhere town on the copperbelt fringe, where we met Beata and Anya, and started our 50-hour train journey to Dar es Salaam.

After being picked up and fed by an overly-excited nun in a preschool (don't ask), we arrived to the sterile-looking, utterly un-African Tazara station, in the middle of a field and at the end of a bumpy dirt road (and this is the most important railway in Zambia). We wait. I hand over our tickets (I'm forever in charge of tickets, hostels, taxis and haggling, but I kind of like it); they are handed back, and taken again. We are at the platform ten minutes before departure time, expecting hours of delay- really, we are lucky if the train leaves within the first eight hours. Three minutes past four, the train nudges and we all nod cynically; yes, it's just pulling up to the top of the station.
We are all incredulous when it actually starts on full speed- it's unheard of- the Tazara has left on time.

Rich and I hadn't, oddly enough, found a single vendor by the station, and so we are a bit concerned starting a long journey with no water, until Beata pulls up two twelve-packs of water, donated by the happy nun. The conductor brings in more, and suddenly the compartment is half full of backpackers, half full bottled water; we have thirty bottles, and so we do the only thing possible, and head for the restaurant for beer to balance things out.

The Tanzanian side looks immediately more lush; the grass is taller, leaves on trees bigger, the bush more dense. I stare through the dirty window and watch villages, elephants, sunsets pass. I shower in the tiny cubicle out of a bucket while the train jumps, like a rollercoaster.

We sit in the cramped compartment, sheets wound around ankles, watching trees and foliage pass, playing inane games and eating scarps of leftover, tossing and turning.
We sit in the unflattering, artificial yellow light of the lounge cart, eating cold fish, cold chicken from plastic plates. The miles tick past in the slow clanking of the train, and the scene is like an American small town roadside diner. The mood is somber, and we stare out of the window into the darkness seeing nothing but our tired reflections.

Food stop. Everyone becomes more alive; the train is running late, and the restaurant is almost out of food. At the station, the frantic scramble for food begins even before the train has come to a full stop. The train screeches, and the vendors, mainly small boys and women clad in bright, happy chitenges of pink, green and turquoise crowd both sides of the train. Everyone carries a bucket of something on their head; fried chicken, frittas, coconuts, bananas. Furious exchanges take place. Anya is practically hanging off the train, shouting, waving, her whole upper body beckoning a man with chapattis wrapped in newspaper to come closer. How much, she shouts. Two hundred. Too much, she says, I want five for five hundred, she says, displays five fingers, and the man nods, wraps the chapatti, and takes the dirty note from Anya. I push away from our first-class carriage, quickly, there's no time, into the third class where the majority of the vendors prop their baskets up to the windows. A woman demands 1500 shillings for a chicken drumstick; the train nudges, starts heavily, and the price suddenly drops to one thousand. Last newspaper parcels are passed, and we return to our little cocoon compartment to examine all this strange, new food.

The train pulls to Dar only a few hours late. It's hot, sticky, dusk- Dar is full of people, bicycles, women in hijabs and mullahs calling their flock to the evening prayers. The hotel smells like spices, the breeze comes in from the sea, and I think I'm in love with Dar.

We spend the day wandering around the city, looking at the organised chaos of it all, the colourful colonial buildings with peeling orange paint and lime green shutters, all with lacy balconies; the fragrant Indian food, the colourful African fabrics, the cacophony of cultures.I eat ice-cream in a Disney wonderland, and spend an hour trying to finally send my parcel to Finland, wrapping and re-wrapping it till it meets the approval of the lady in the blue sari, manning the counter.

The next day we follow the girls to Zanzibar. I haggle with the gag of ticket sellers, sometimes shouting, sometimes laughing. I buy the cheapest ones, and we go on a slow, uncomfortable cargo boat. I watch the men load the ferry; maize, chicken feed, unidentified canisters. We get on. Rich and I are the only white people on board.

Zanzibar. My camera finger itches whenever I hear the word. I'm expecting a fairytale land, something out of my childhood leather-bound story books. I have no idea what it will be like, but as the ferry pulls up and the buildings come into focus, I'm pretty sure that's what it will be. I'll tell you all about it later.


Posted by Ofelia 02:19 Archived in Zambia Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

The Ku'omboka

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Kuomboka is one of the many traditional ceremonies of the 73 tribes of Zambia, and quite possibly the biggest- certainly the best-known. As the plains around Mongu flood, the Lozi king is moved in a large barge and in an elaborate ceremony from his palace in Lealui to Limulunga, together with the royal family, their staff and belongings. The ceremony is incredibly important to not only the tribe, but also to Zambian tourism. Almost half the people in Lealui were white tourists.

The fantastic thing is that in a true Zambian style, it was incredibly difficult to get any information of the event. No one know when it was; how close to Mongu it all took place; what was the best way of getting around. I'd stumbled upon the original date by accident, and once the ceremony was moved (but no one informed) it didn't surprise me in the slightest. Also, the king had actually already moved palaces the month before because of the extent of the floods- it's just that it was suitable to have the ceremony collide with the easter weekend. But of course.

We got to Mongu two days early- I'd recruited Rich early on in Namibia to attend with me, and neither of us had much of an idea where we'd be arriving to, going to, or doing, really. Mongu seemed dead at first glance, at the brink of its biggest annual event. We'd pre-booked a hotel, not realising we could've easily camped, and paid an extortionate amount for a room.

On Friday, we got picked up randomly by a hung-over policeman, who gave us a tour of the still-deserted Limulunga palace, and, oddly enough, the local abattoir. Hmm. Call me paranoid, but I always get a bit suspicious when a stranger takes me to a slaughterhouse. Later on, I strolled to the harbour, full of excited Zambians wearing all sorts of Kuomboka paraphernalia. The crowd was certainly getting into the whole thing, and even I gave in and bought a special chitenge.

On the main day, we got to the harbour early, with a bunch of American whipper-snappers, and hired a boat to the island of Lealui- the slowest thing ever. I was worried we'd miss the whole thing, but I don't think I've still quite grasped how late everything starts. We saw the massive barges, complete with the elephant on the top for the king's barge, and a bird for the queen's one. ( I was sadly disappointed that the catering barge did not have a massive knife and fork on top) The king arrived, and everyone went mad- people rushed to follow him through the island to his barge, and it was hilarious- the walkway is reserved for the king only, and as the island is flooded, people were stuck in mud, negotiating reeds and looking filthy. We saw the barge off, and went to find that our boat had gone- the guy probably got a better price from someone else. We stood there for a bit, feeling lost and sunburnt, until we eventually hitched a ride from another boat- we left some of the others behind, but on that island, it was every man for himself.

The barge arrived to Limulonga in an insane hassle- it felt more like a football match or a rock concert- although the atmosphere was jubilant, it all felt just a bit too commercial, with sponsorship flags flying around, radio stations having their own little platforms and shows going on.....and the entrance fee. Yes, an entrance fee to view a traditional ceremony. Bollocks.

Tens of thousands of people pushed to get as close to the water as possible, and as we were in Zambia, a lovely bunch of strangers pushed me in the front, as “this is the only Kuomboka you'll see, madam”, which I though was sweet. The barge went up and down, the dozens of leopard-clad paddlers showing their skills, and everyone cheered; I was going deaf from all the noise. The king disembarked in a cloud of dust, walked up to Limulonga palace, with the crowd pushing and cheering, and then it was all over. I bought a few baskets, again for the house I don't have, and tried to push in to see the palace. No such luck. Oh well.

A restless night later in a room with no running water, and after I refused to pay the full amount, we were in a coffee shop by the bus station waiting to go back to Lusaka once again, on another 8-hour journey (although no punctures this time). I flicked through my photos, and thought about all the things I will do differently in the next Kuomboka. It is, despite the heat, frustration and the cost, still something I'd do again- it is still an amazing experience, and if given the chance, go.


Posted by Ofelia 02:18 Archived in Zambia Tagged events Comments (0)

Welcome to the Next Tick-Box, Honey

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I left Namibia on a hot, packed bus, clutching a box of cheesecake and feeling slightly sunburnt, heading back to Livingstone, and my African motherland, Zambia.

Now, I wasn't hugely excited to come back to Zambia, but I did have a nice few weeks planned- it didn't include any working, eating nshima or fighting with men who wanted to pinch my bum. In fact, I was going to chill out in Livingstone a few days, see the falls again, and go to Mongu in the Western Province to see the famous Kuomboka ceremony. All planned, scheduled- well, scheduled a bit too much for my liking, but I am quickly running out of time-, and, hopefully, executed. Two weeks in Zambia, bye bye, off to Tanzania. Great, sorted. I think.

I keep going back to Vic Falls, because I'm a sucker for a bargain. Normally the falls cost 10 USD to view, but because I am a Zambian, I only pay about thirty cents, so really, there's no reason not to go. It was, however, Rich's and Fred's first time there. Unfortunately, we couldn't see anything. Nothing. We were faced with an impenetrable white wall of mist, through which you couldn't see anything. We crossed the rickety bridge linking the two sides of the falls, and, interestingly, I nearly drowned crossing the bridge, although it is about hundred metres above the actual river. Hmm.

Just as we were about to head for the Kuomboka ceremony, we met Liam and Gavin, few guys we'd run into in Tsumeb, who kindly informed us that the most important traditional ceremony had been moved because the original date did not suit the president's schedule.... Welcome to Zambia, I thought, and we quickly made plans to kill the week in between. We headed to Lusaka first, after I'd given Rich a long lecture about the reliability of Zambian buses, and how they never break down.
An hour after we left Livingstone, we had a puncture. Hmm. Seems Hanna's notoriously bad luck from Namibia was transferred to Rich.

Lusaka, Lusaka. The kids almost broke our backs when we got back to Chawama, jumping all over Rich and I, going through my bags looking for presents and generally screeching, dancing, and showing off all their new tricks; I loved it. It was at least good to be back in Chawama, seeing the family, and the new baby, Gracious, who was born while I was in Namibia.

To make matters more complicated (because, of course, travel in Africa can never be straightforward) it was my 30th birthday the following week, and I did not want to spend it in the dusty, hot Lusaka. So off to Siavonga we went, and two more punctured tyres later there we were, by the beautiful, lush Lake Kariba. I really just wanted a quiet room where I could spend a few days crying, feeling old, and feeling sorry for myself, mourning for my lost youth and lost opportunities. But it is hard to feel sorry for yourself in such a stunning setting, eating yourself silly and going on sunset boat rides. And in a way it doesn't change anything.
It will still get to you, even if you swear, kick and scream.
I am lying about my age from now on.
So I spent the 5th April making deals with the devil, cursing, crying and raging.
But the old age and the 6th came anyway.
Welcome to the next tick-box, honey.

And as far as 30th birthdays go, I had a great one. I sat by the pool by the palm trees, ate, swam and did nothing, and went on a sundowner boat ride with a bottle of sparkling wine.

And then it all ended, but surprisingly enough my life didn't, and in the hands of a mad minibus driver, we got back to Lusaka, and bought tickets to Mongu, killing a few days eating exotic food (read: no nshima) and spending time with my family. It's all coming to an end, but quite nicely so.


Posted by Ofelia 02:17 Archived in Zambia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)