Whitlocks Round the World - Travel Diary for November 03

Click here to read the latest newsThe diary of our trip round the world. You can view other diary entries by clicking the highlighted months at the bottom of the page or by clicking on one of the countries visited so far. Click our logo (on the left) to see the most recent news entries. We are adding new entries from Internet Cafés as we travel, so updates may be irregular. Please check back often to see how we are getting along.

Countries visited so far: UK Latvia Lithuania Poland Slovak Republic Hungary Romania Bulgaria Greece Egypt Tanzania Malawi Mozambique South Africa Swaziland South Africa (again) Argentina Bolivia Peru Ecuador Vietnam China Mongolia Russia England

6th November Greece
Athens: a summary of one month in Greece
Nick can't believe he is at the Acropolis - Click to enlargeWe have spent a total of four weeks travelling around Greece. This section of the trip has had its share of rich rewards, mainly in the form of magnificent ancient ruins and breathtakingly beautiful scenery, together with sweeping bays and aquamarine seas. We have also had our share of frustrations and testing moments, not least because of the extent to which the Greek economy has stretched our budget. It quickly became clear that 42 pounds (64 Euros) was not sufficient to eat and sleep even adequately here, not to mention travel, too. Increasing this daily budget to 70, then 80, and eventually, in Athens, 95 Euros per day proved more realistic, but every day we have felt under extra pressure as a result.

Greece is also frustrating in other ways. There is a general lack of organised tourist information. The 'Tourist Police', present in many large towns, are helpful at least in intention, but do not really constitute a comprehensive source of info, and are not always easy to find. Public transport has been notably less efficient here than in the Eastern European countries we visited. Due to the extremely mountainous geography of the country, transport tends to be by road rather than by rail, except in and out of Athens. This in itself was no problem (except that our children seem to have developed a tendency towards travel sickness as a result!), but the location of bus terminals was. Each sizeable town seems to have at least two bus stations, with buses leaving and arriving from different directions. We had particular 'fun' finding our way to the appropriate station, each time just a cafe with a separate ticket desk, in Lamia and in Tripoli.

Internet cafes cost about ten times as much here as they did in Romania, and because of our tight budget we have avoided using them in Greece unless absolutely necessary. For this reason we have all sat down together to condense one months' experiences into one diary update. Here goes!

Ancient sites (in the order we saw them)
Delphi: We spent two days exploring the archaeological site at Delphi. The site consists of the ruins of the Ancient Greek city of Delphi, the 'navel of the Earth'! We wandered through the gymnasium and baths and Athina's Sanctuary on one day, and visited the larger section of the site, Apollo's Sanctuary, the theatre and stadium on the next. The place held us spellbound and really captured the imagination, set amid mountains and with wide sweeping views of the valley below. Here Apollo handed out advice to leaders of nations from his acclaimed Oracle, performers competed in drama tournaments in the theatre (well-preserved today) and the ancient Pythian Games were held in the stadium, high above the city.
Olympia: Home of the ancient Olympic Games, Olympia is a vast archaeological site. In its heyday it must have been truly spectacular, and even today it is incredible to see how enormous the buildings and their supporting columns must have been. Every way you turn there are huge stones which were used by an ancient civilisation to construct something truly monumental. Somehow, though, Olympia did not capture our imagination to the same degree as Delphi. Still, it was fun to run a race along the ancient track in the stadium where the first Olympian athletes performed. (Esther won!)
Mystras: The ruined city at Mystras is a Bysantine site, ie: 13th-16th century AD. The children particularly loved exploring the ruins here; a medieval style fortified town and castle, perched on a steep mountainside. Walls and layouts of houses were intact, as were monasteries, churches and chapels, complete with frescoes on the walls and ceilings. The dull, rainy weather when we visited added to the atmosphere and we enjoyed the day a lot, helped by the availability of lots of information about the site in English.
Mycenae: We took the bus to Mikines to visit the ancient site of the city of Mycenae. It was excellent! We enjoyed wandering through the remains of the fortified citadelle, looking at old dwelling places and imagining the way things must have been there around 1500 BC. There were some fantastic tombs, huge round, dome-shaped chambers built into the mountain, where kings and queens were buried with all their worldly possessions; some of which we later saw at the museum. The walls of the citadelle were really impressive. They are 5.5-7.5m thick and built of enormous stones; one of those mysterious puzzles of ancient engineering. For us a highlight was finding the underground cistern, or reservoir. The way to it was not well marked, but we could see it on the map and were determined to find it. There was noone else there. The cistern was like a mine-shaft that went deep, deep down into the mountain rock below. Esther and I only went in a little way, but Nick and Tom, with Nick's torch, climbed down to the watery bottom, while bats flapped around their ears.
The Athens Acropolis: The Acropolis is amazing because of its sheer size and grandeur. To be honest we were feeling somewhat "Greeked out" by the time we arrived in Athens, but it had to be done. We explored the sites and were duly impressed!

Sun, sea and sand
We stayed in a number of places within walking distance from the beach. On our first night in Greece, after arriving by train in Thessaloniki, we found our way to Plaka Litohoro, actually not really a place at all, but one under construction, or would be if all the money for construction wasn't being channelled into the efforts for the Olympic Games next year! We stayed in a bungalow at a camp site, actually more like a garden shed, but in view of Mount Olympus. The beach was stony, but the sea was warm and we swam, thinking how incredible it was to be here, in the warm Aegean Sea, having travelled the length of Europe to reach this place.

The beaches around Kala Nera, on the Pelion Peninsula, were gorgeous. The sand was course, shingly stuff, but fine enough to build rudimentary sandcastles, and there was mile upon mile of it. We sat or played on quiet beaches and swam in the sea, and wandered back to our apartment as the sun set across the bay.

We spent a week on the island of Zakynthos, where the beaches were soft and sandy, although packed with British tourists! (Yes, I know, us included!) The children had lots of fun there, appreciating the opportunity to play in the sand with other English kids.

On the 2nd of November we sat on the beach at Tolo, near our camp site at Ancient Assini in the region of Nafplio. This would be our last swim in the sea before leaving Greece.

There is lots more to add, about people, food and the best and worst of where we stayed, but I fear I will have to keep you in suspense, as dinner - my last Greek gyros - beckons temptingly, and I've been here ages! Another update very soon, I promise!

7th November Greece
They say it is the people who make a place, and Greece has it’s fair share of them! The Greek temperament can make for interesting interactions. In the first instance many Greeks can seem quick-tempered, and they certainly don’t suffer fools gladly. They defend themselves quickly if questioned, eg. over price / misunderstandings over tickets, especially childrens’ fares! However, if you are persistent and stand your ground you discover that they quickly soften and become amazingly helpful. We have encountered countless kind people.
Shopkeepers often gave something to the children (a biscuit in a bakery or, in one case, a pair of sunglasses; the woman practically ran after us to give these to Esther!), and many people were very ready to offer lifts, whether we asked for them or not.
On Zakynthos we headed for Alikes to try out our new tents. After taking the wrong road and walking 2km in the hot sun towards a non-existant campsite we met Mrs. Theodopolis. She gave us directions and sent us on our way, but then had a brainwave and came after us on her moped to tell us we could camp in her olive grove. Our neighbours there gave us water, firewood, and eggs for breakfast, and one woman was so worried about us out in the dark and cold (it was dark; it wasn’t cold), that she offered us the entire upstairs of her house!
On the night when, camping near Mystras, we found ourselves struggling to stay afloat in our tents during a terrific thunderstorm, Mrs. , who happened to live in the nearest house, took us in readily and, while we dripped mud on her floor, she dried Esther’s hair with a hairdrier, poured us all a glass of orange juice, produced a big box of biscuits and phoned a taxi to take us to a nearby inexpensive hotel. The following day a nice man who spoke no English stopped in a pickup truck and gave us a lift back along the road to collect our damp tents.
And then there was George, cafe owner in Tolo, who drove us to Nafplio because we had missed our bus.
Many more people were kind and helpful, and only a few were grumpy or uncooperative, notably the man from whom we rented a ‘bungalow’ at a campsite on our first night in Greece, who, I believe, still has my Maglite! Grrrr!!

We have eaten countless Greek salads, and Thomas has developed a real taste for feta cheese. We have also sampled ‘gyros’ (Greek kebabs, and the cheapest way to boost your cholestrol levels while here) in several of the towns we have visited. The best gyros we had was in Patra, where 4.5 Euros bought us a huge plateful of tasty meat, salad, tzatsiki and pitta bread, and the worst in Olympia - the less said the better! One morning in Kala Nera we bought fish freshly caught from a fishermen at the quai. It took me ages to prepare it (I had to gut it myself and Nick wouldn’t get his hands dirty), but it was good, and very fresh. During our time here we have also sampled many traditional dishes, including the old favourites; calamari fresh from the sea, moussaka, and stuffed vine leaves, but also kleftico (a dish of lamb, baked in a pot until it falls off the bone, with garlic, tomatoes and herbs), pasitsio (Tom’s favourite, like lasagne but layered with long tubes of pasta instead of the flat variety), and Greek wine, retsina, preserved using tree sap; an acquired taste. Serve well chilled!

Altogether we have stayed in 14 different places while in Greece. Here’s the best and worst of where we stayed. 1, 2 and 3 were Kala Nera, Athens, and camping. X, Y and Z were the bungalow at Plaka Litohoro, miles from anywhere, even the nearest shop, with only the grumpy owner to provide a meal with a not-so-friendly “What d’ya want to eat?”, the Youth Hostel in Patra, which was dingy and overpriced, and camping in that awful thunderstorm between Sparti and Mystras!
At Kala Nera, on the Pelion peninsula, we found a fantastic apartment with a little kitchen and a balcony, and we managed to persuade the lady there to let us have it for only 30 Euros, when the price is usually 75. (She swore us to secrecy, so I’m not going to say exactly where!) This was still more than we were used to paying in Eastern Europe. Lucky that we came here at the end of the season. Kala Nera itself was a lovely village, with beautiful calm sea lapping up the shingle beach, and fantastic views of the sunset. It was one of our favourite places in Greece.
The first night we camped was before we had bought the tents. We slept under the stars, and an almond tree, on a mountainside near Delphi. It was amazing and peaceful and ancient and really really groovy! Tom says that it was quite uncomfortable, too, and I suppose he is right, but it really was special to wake at dawn and watch the sun rise over the mountains. We ate almonds from the tree for breakfast, and had the excellent luck to spot a tortoise on our way down to the village.
We also did some excellent camping at Ancient Assini, near Tolo in the Nafplio region towards the end of our time in Greece.
Here in Athens we are staying in a basic but clean hotel (Hotel Dioskouros) where they have done us a very good deal. We are in Plaka, which is Old Athens, right in the midst of all the ancient sites in the city, the Acropolis only a short walk away. A fitting place to finish our stay, and the European section of our trip.

Next stop: Africa!

8 - 14 November Egypt
The desert and the Giza pyramids
The Whitlocks at the Pyramids - Click to enlargeThe flight to Cairo went well and our arrival was fairly uncomplicated, although we discovered that actually we did need visas (obtainable on arrival)! At the airport Nick was approached by Hassan, from a company called Echo Tours, who said that he could arrange everything from accommodation in Cairo to guided tours of the Valley of the Kings in Luxor, all at a good price. We let him show us what he had to offer. We ended up booking a package for 200 GBP, to include all our accommodation in budget hotels, and trips to the Giza pyramids and the desert, and a two-day excursion to Luxor. How exciting!

We spent our first night in the hotel we had pre-booked: Luna Hotel on Talaat Harb Street (www.hotellunacairo.com), which I’d recommend, and the rest of our time in the rather grubby, less attractive New Palace Hotel.

On Sunday, two days after we arrived, we went on the desert tour to the pyramids of Memphis and Sakarra, and the Great Pyramids of Giza. Our guide, Ramadan, was excellent and knew loads about Ancient Egypt. Memphis, we discovered, was not only the home of Elvis in Tenessee, but was in fact the ancient capital of Egypt and home to another great king; Rameses II. Then we went on to Sakarra for the oldest of the pyramids, the step pyramid. Thomas amazed us all throughout the day with his knowledge of Ancient Egypt, and Ramadan was really impressed! He knew the names of all the gods, the different types of pyramid, even the meaning of some of the symbols; eg. the shape of the crowns worn by kings, which signify which parts of Egypt they ruled.
The Great Pyramids at Giza were so colossal it was totally awesome to consider that ancient people (2600 BC) managed to engineer them. At the biggest of them Nick and I stood and gazed up, wondering how engineers would go about building something like that today (should there be a demand, of course). One king, or perhaps one member of his immediate family, would be buried in each, sometimes inside the pyramid itself, sometimes deep under the pyramid. The pyramid itself would be constructed throughout the lifetime of its would-be occupant. We saw one “unfinished” pyramid which, it’s believed, was left unfinished because the king died before it was completed. At one of the smaller pyramids we climbed down the narrow passage way into the tomb itself. It was weird going down the narrow, low-roofed stairs, knowing that four-and-a-half thousand years ago, people did just that, with the mummified remains of their queen.
At a place called Panoramic View, aptly named for its view of the three pyramids all in a row, we took a camel ride. It was a gimmicky, touristy thing to do, but the children wanted a ride and it was fun, although I felt a bit sorry for the poor camels, resigned to their life of ferrying tourists from one car park to another, where your tour bus picks you up again.
Then we went to see the Sphinx. It is an enormous beast carved into the rock, which gazes out from its position in front of the largest pyramid over what must have been (before Cairo developed on the edge of the desert) a wide sweeping plain.

Of course, over the course of the day, we were taken to the obligatory shops! Firstly a place where papyrus is made, where we were shown how the paper is made from the plant, and then sold some pictures (we couldn’t resist - this time at least!). Later we went to a perfumery. It was lovely and we were treated to some hibiscus drink (“Egyptian whisky”) and some exquisite smells, but could not, this time, be persuaded to part with any more cash!

Perhaps the craziest thing was the weather. Yes, it actually rained on us (again) while we were looking at the pyramids in the desert!

On Monday we checked out of the New Palace, leaving our two big rucksacks in their store cupboard, to take only Tom’s smaller sack with us to Luxor. During the day we visited the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. Unfortunately we only had a couple of hours there as, during Ramadan, they close early, and it was already about midday when we arrived. Fascinating stuff, though! The Ancient Egyptians were really fantastic at preserving things! While looking at the artefacts that were found in Tutankhamon’s tomb, Nick commented that it was as though he really has been preserved for ever, as these things were almost left to “give” him to future generations. There was so much gold! Items of jewellry and symbols of various gods were found wrapped in the bandages around the corpse, and hundreds of gold and brightly coloured items were elsewhere in his tomb. The solid gold coffin which is on display in the museum was itself inside five other sarcophagi of gradually increasing sizes, before finally being sealed into the tomb itself. Tom was in his element and was especially excited to see the infamous Mask of Tutankhamon, King Tut’s funeral mask.
The most bizarre, and slightly creepy, section of the museum is the room where actual mummies are displayed. It was pretty weird to be wandering among the mummified remains of people who lived thousands of years ago, some with portraits over the face. The mummified animals were interesting though. These were sometimes pets of the deceased, mummified along with their master, or were intended to provide food in the afterlife, or used as a sacrifice to the gods.

8 - 14 November Egypt
Tom studies the hieroglyphics at Karnak - Click to enlargeOn Monday night we took the train to Luxor. The journey was OK. We were in a seating compartment (no beds) but it was first class which meant plenty of leg room, and Tom volunteered to sleep on the floor! We shared our compartment with two Dutch men, who were very nice. We chatted and shared snacks.

On arrival at Luxor, at 7am, we were met by Khaled, an Echo agent, and were driven to our hotel, the Golden Palace on Television Street. We had little time to freshen up, as the excursion was leaving (for some unfathomable reason, as there was no shortage of time to complete the West Bank tour) at 7.30.

Tuesday's tour took us to the West Bank of the Nile at Luxor: The Valley of the Kings, the temple of Queen Hatshepsout, and the Valley of the Queens. The focus on the West bank is the setting sun, symbolising death, and therefore that is where all the tombs have been found, while the East bank was the centre of life, and worship in huge impressive temples.
The tombs were amazing. You could go down inside and see all the chambers, deep under the earth, where the kings and queens of Egypt were buried, with their treasures around them and their internal organs elsewhere! Inside the tombs the walls were cut quite smoothly and decorated from floor to ceiling with hieroglyphics and scenes depicting what was to be expected in the here-after. These pictures are intact and stunning, especially where the brilliant colours used still remain.

On Wednesday we were taken to see the temples on the East bank. The Karnak Temples were the most impressive, with immense columns, carved every inch with hieroglyphics and intricate symbols and designs. Tom is absolutely fascinated by these. He started to sketch some of the symbols for a record for himself, and later in the day I bought him a book on hieroglyphics.

We really liked Luxor! It was great to be out of the complete chaos of Cairo for a while. All of the Egyptian people we have met have been extremely friendly. You cannot walk a few steps down the street without people saying 'hello' or 'welcome' or shaking hands and asking where you are from. In Luxor there was a fantastic atmosphere. Children trotted along beside us and chatted in what little English they knew. Traders of many kinds wanted to make money out of us, but most seemed just as happy if we simply stopped for a chat!

On Wednesday afternoon we allowed ourselves to be talked into going for a felucca ride on the river. A felucca is an old-fashioned fishing boat, powered only by the wind. We were taken out for one hour by Raul, who is 15 and has been working on the boats for three years. There was not much wind. It was a still, hot afternoon, but it was lovely and peaceful on the river, and luckily, Esther didn't manage to spot any crocodiles!

We caught the night train back to Cairo. The journey was uneventful. Esther slept on the floor at our feet, and we all rested fairly well, arriving back in the city at 8.30. We checked back in to the not-so-palacial New Palace, and had a lazy day to recover from the journey.

8 - 14 november Egypt
Nick shopping in Cairo - Click to enlargeWe found some great fast-food in Cairo. It took us a while, wandering through the crowded streets on Thursday evening, but when we did stumble across a little local restaurant it was excellent. We ordered two full meals to share, as well as a plate of falafel (fritters made of potatoes, onion and spinach, perhaps!). We had chicken and shish-kebeb, rice, vegetables - stewed courgette, aubergine, onion, tomato and pepper - salads, pitta bread and, of course, the falafel. It was plenty for all of us. At the side of the restaurant they were frying crisps. A man brought over a small plate of them for the children to try, and they were so delicious that we ended up buying some to take away. The total bill came to 25 Egyptian pounds, less than 3 quid!

On Friday, our last day in Egypt, we met a man called Soliman who took us on a walking tour of the old part of Cairo. It was a fascinating walk. The citadelle itself, with the remains of its walls and gates from the 10th century, when Islamic people from Tunisia settled there, was not far from where we were staying and, on the way, we had the chance to watch craftsmen making traditional musical instruments, all intricately decorated in wood and mother-of-pearl. Nick had a go at playing an 'oot' and was sorely tempted to buy one, but the trouble and expense of sending it home, as well as the fact that we have already bought a souvenir of Egypt - the papyrus - led us to decide, reluctantly, to leave musical instruments for another day.
In old Islamic Cairo we saw the ancient gates which used to keep out invaders. The original iron-clad wooden gates still stand. As well as the old mosque with its beautiful minaret, which places the half-moon Islamic symbol high in the sky, we saw architecture influenced by the Turkish and the British colonials. In the narrow streets of Old Cairo, traders sold everything from ornate water-pipes (Nick was tempted again) to rat traps, to Ramadan lanterns. Soliman took us to see some traditional craftsmen using mother-of-pearl to decorate wooden furniture and boxes. It was amazingly intricate and beautiful. We admired the work greatly, but stubbornly refused to buy, although we were both tempted, once again.
At the end of our walk, Soliman took us back to where we had started in a taxi. We paid his very reasonable fee, thanked him and were on our way.

Hassan, from the airport, picked us up at 10.30pm, to return us there for our onward flight. We all really enjoyed our busy stay in Egypt. Especially, of course, the amazing artefacts and monuments left by the ancient civilisation which thrived there on the banks of the Nile, but also the warmth of the welcome we found there, here in the 21st century.

15 - 24 November Tanzania
Dar es Salaam
Nick, Pru, Chuwa and Lindsay - Click to enlargeThe journey from Cairo to Dar es Salaam was smooth and uneventful. Esther was asleep by the time the plane took off but Tom, excited as usual, stayed awake and even ate when they served breakfast at 3am! We had one stop, at Entebbe in Uganda. There was quite a lot of cloud about and I was a little disappointed at the lack of view over the mountains of Ethiopia, but we did get a good look at Lake Victoria as we landed and took off at Entebbe.

We had a little trouble obtaining visas on arrival in Tanzania, as we did not know the address at which we would be staying in Dar. Our flight came in a little early and Prudence, who was meeting us at the airport, was not there. The man at the visa desk did not believe that all we had was an email address. He marched me off to an internet café outside the terminal, although I’m not quite sure what I was supposed to do there! Anyway, Prudence arrived while I was there and a porter came to find me. In the meantime, though, another official (this one less officious) had stamped all our passports and ushered Nick and the children through the customs gate without any more fuss.

We stayed in Dar es Salaam with Prudence and Chuwa Eliapenda for ten days. They live outside the city in a village called Boko. Pru moved to live in Tanzania 19 years ago, having met and married Chuwa in England. By the time they came here they already had two children; David was 14 months old, and Ruth was 6 weeks. Pru had never been to Africa before! Those children are, of course, grown up now, and their third child, James, is 9. Chuwa is a local councillor at Boko, and Pru is involved with a variety of projects including the Britain Tanzania Society and Healthcare Christian Fellowship.

On arrival at their home we were first introduced to James, who wrinkled his nose at us, but shook hands when we told him who we were, and to Esta, the cook, and Costa, who works in the grounds of the five-acre holding. Then we went to meet Chuwa, who was having an informal meeting in a shelter in the garden with some visitors. We were shown to our house, a guesthouse near the main house, where the family lived for eight years, before the main house was built. The house was lovely; all on one level, with no glass in the windows, only mosquito mesh, and plain concrete floors. The breeze blows through the house making the temperature inside reasonably pleasant, although it is very hot and sticky all the time at this time of year. Pru told us that we are expected to eat our meals with the family each day. Fantastic!

James was still quiet at lunchtime, but after the meal we got him talking about football and mangoes and things, and then he and Tom went off to play, which they did happily for the rest of our time there. All we needed now was a playmate for Esther. As luck would have it, we had arrived one day before Chuwa’s cousin, a brigadier with the Tanzanian army, who has been posted in India for the last four years, and his family; Mary, his wife, and their children, Hudson, 16, Robert, 13, and Evelyn, 6. Evelyn and Esther struck up a friendship almost immediately, and played happily thereafter!

On our first major outing from the house our main priority was to buy cool clothes and mosquito nets. Pru took us into Dar es Salaam and suggested going to a second-hand market at Kariakoo - a chaotic place in the heart of the city, which we reached by catching a dala-dala minibus. We shopped with success, although the heat was taking some getting used to. Luckily we had been able to leave Esther behind at the house, playing (and getting up to mischief!) with Evelyn.

On Tuesday, our fourth day, we took a day-trip to Bagamoyo. Pru accompanied us there, and Evelyn came too. Bagamoyo is a historic town which is famous for its involvement with the slave trade. See below for Tom’s report on Bagamoyo. It was a fascinating place, and we really enjoyed the museum, and learning the history of the area. We had an excellent lunch at a hotel on the beach. Then we swam in the sea. The sea here is the Indian Ocean. The beach is white sand, fringed with palm trees and stretches for miles. The water was warmer than I would have believed. Tom was in first, calling “It’s as warm as a bath!” He was right!

On Wednesday Tom spent a day at school with James, who goes to an English medium school. He really enjoyed his day, although he was surprised to find that children were routinely spanked with a cane when naughty! Everyone there was interested in who he was, where he came from etc. He seems to have joined in well, putting his hand up to answer maths questions and singing a song in a music lesson. An excellent learning experience for Tom, I think!

On Thursday Pru and Chuwa were busy with meetings to attend. We planned to walk the 3km to Boko village centre. In the heat of the day this short walk required preparation as if it were a long hike. We applied suncream, put on sunglasses and hats, and packed water for the journey. It was very hot, but we enjoyed the walk. Lots of people greeted us; “jambo” (hi), “habari” (what news), or “karibu” (welcome). We arrived unscathed and bought cold drinks at the bar. We spent some time at the internet café, and then went back to the bar and had lunch. Tom and Nick played pool and Esther went on the swings for a while, and then we set off for home. We decided to catch a dala-dala bus back, which we did with success. Back at the house we had cool showers and chilled out until evening.

On Friday Nick had the unexpected opportunity to accompany Chuwa to visit a remote village, Kidogozero, 100km from Dar, to see how aid from the Britain Tanzania Society has helped to provide a fresh water supply, safe from the crocodiles in the river. See below for Nick’s report on Kidogozero visit. I stayed behind with the children and Pru drove us to the ‘Village Museum’ on her way into town. It was really interesting and excellent for the kids. The open air museum consists of twenty or so houses built in traditional ways to show how people from the many tribal communities of Tanzania live. We could go inside the houses to see traditional furniture and tools. I felt as though I was looking at something from centuries ago, and had to keep reminding myself that this was not a museum of history, but one showing traditions which continue to this day. Before catching dala-dalas home we sat in the shade and sketched some of the houses.

That evening, Nick and I and Chuwa and the Brigadier went out for a drink. Tom stayed with James, and Esther stayed with Evelyn. It was really nice to get out and relax for a while, and we had a good few Safari lagers!

On Saturday we had planned to go to ‘Wet and Wild’, a water park nearby, as a special treat. Tom woke Nick and I up at 10.00, but we didn’t feel at all energetic. After we had drunk some tea and had a few sweet potatoes for breakfast, Nick decided that it wasn’t really his thing, and that he would stay behind and get on with some more profitable activities (like sleeping!). The park was great for the kids. There was a well designed kiddies area that Evelyn and Esther liked, and Tom and James had a fantastic time going on fast slides and flumes where you had to sit in a rubber ring. Later I took Esther and Evelyn on those too. Mostly, though, Pru and I chatted in the shade, which was nice!

It was with sadness that we packed up to leave on Sunday. We really feel that Pru and Chuwa went out of their way to make our introduction to Tanzania comfortable and enjoyable. It was perhaps the most relaxed ten days we have spent so far, and we appreciated the warm and un-fussy welcome we received. It really was ‘just what we needed’ after a busy few weeks travelling. Thanks to the Rawlins for introducing us, and to the Eliapendas for all that they did for us in Dar.

Bagamoyo, by Thomas

Bagamoyo is famous because of its history of being a slave town.

Sometimes people would be captured whilst working in the fields and sometimes people would be invited into houses for food and captured to be sold. Also people would be tricked onto dhows and taken away.

If you were captured in the fields whilst working you would be put in something called a slave caravan. A slave caravan is lots of people tied to each other by their necks being marched to Bagamoyo. When slaves got to Bagamoyo they would be either sold or shipped to Zanzibar to be sold to different countries.

In 1890 slaves were granted*

*religious freedom.
*freedom to marry.
*free food and lodging.
*two days off every week.
*the right to get salary for the work.
*the right to possess property.
*the right to inherit property from the master.
*the right that families should not be separated by being sold to different masters.

In 1922 slavery was abolished in Tanzania and Bagamoyo became a freedom village.

22nd November Tanzania
Nick's visit to Kidogozero
Chuwa with fresh water at Kidogozero - Click to enlargeStaying at Pru and Chuwa’s house gave me a special opportunity to see how aid work can help Tanzanians. Chuwa and I left the house this morning for Kidogozero village 60 miles west of Dar. The Suzuki jeep was our mode of transport; apparently we were taking a bit of a cross-country hike 5 miles off the main road. On the way Chuwa explained to me the reason for the personal visit to this remote village out in the Tanzanian bush. Chuwa Eliapenda, local councillor for the Boko area, is also an active member of the British Tanzanian Society (BTS), which has links with the village. Today all his council duties, of which there are many (getting him to find some papers on the BTS took me about 5 days), were put aside. As project leader his time was needed to assess the situation at Kidogozero and to generally talk with the residents on issues such as education and healthcare. The project was aimed at a problem of water access. The river is easily accessible; that was not the problem. It was the fact that mothers and young women we being taken by crocodiles while collecting their much needed water. This situation became too regular and the village chief, Selemani Isba Kamkunje contacted his friend Councillor Chuwa for some help in resolving the current problem. Now, 6 years later, due to aid actions of the BTS, this problem has been resolved.

A British firm placed a water pump using a bore hole taking water from the river bed (this was through trial and error as a first bore hole further up river was not so successful). The water pipe is linked to a collection tower some 500 meters away. The village is not connected to the national grid and, as Chuwa explained, this amount of infrastructure would be over and above the project’s budgetary capabilities. Because of this, and also due to environmental considerations, solar energy would be the electricity used to power the pump. Eventually the pumped/stored water reaches a number of stand taps placed within the village.

The dirt track was very bumpy as we made our way to the village. Our first port of call was the school. erected by the BTS in the 80’s. All the children were outside waiting, to be tested (I found out later), on their English. We were greeted by the head Sigsmund Pushal Woisso and invited into his office. This route of entry was accompanied by the hand shaking of the whole staff of the school. Visiting the children was such a pleasure and they made me feel very welcome with some excellent singing and clapping prompted by Chuwa who commanded their full attention. Sigsmund explained to Chuwa that attendance was not good at the school, and that he feels frustrated as he is a professional and too much time is wasted trying to get the message across to the parents that they must send their children to school. The children who were present were asked by Chuwa, “who has seen crocodiles in the river while their parents collected water?”, and there was a large show of hands. Then he asked, “who put in the stand taps”. They all shouted, pointing at me, “mzungu” (white man). I was told that the children are very happy with their safe water supply.

Then it was onto the village dispensary, again funded by the BTS, and a chat with the nurses, who pointed out to Chuwa the amount of wood rot in the building, but other than that were a happy three. Then the party which consisted of the councillor, the chief, the headmaster and the mzungu, went to the river to inspect the equipment placed there. Chuwa was eager to see whether the new wall around the solar panels had been completed since his last visit a year ago. Unfortunately these are a second set of panels the project has funded, the first having been stolen, after a programme on TV in Dar es Salaam showed the good work of the BTS and, of course, the panels. We arrived to see the completed 3 meter high wall surrounding the new panels. These were securely clamped to scaffolding and raised on concrete pillars. The whole structure was at least 4 meters high and Chuwa looked very pleased indeed. We checked the two pump control boxes as there was a complaint that there is sometimes no water from the taps, The chief said he could see nothing wrong with the boxes, but after a closer inspection we did notice the LEDs were not working on one box and this box could be the cause of the problem. Chuwa contacted the local engineer in Dar there and then on his mobile. We made our way back to the school in the jeep driving through the village, passing wattle and dorb houses with mothers and babies sitting in the shade outside them. Huge laden Mango trees everywhere and the smell of fire wood filled the air. It was another world! My visit with councillor Chuwa has helped me to see an actual aid project for real and it was fascinating. I also learned in the days that followed that there was a fault with the control box and it has now been fixed.

27th November Tanzania
Mikumi - Iringa - Mbeya
We travelled to Mikumi later in the day than planned. This was because we had discovered, on Sunday, that we had run out of money! We did not even have enough to pay Pru the balance for our stay. Our tickets were booked for 7.45am on Monday, but clearly we could not travel then. ATMs on the Cirrus network are either non-existent or very elusive in Dar es Salaam, and Mikumi is pretty remote, with only its National Park nearby. We had managed to contact the bus company on Sunday and had made a somewhat loose arrangement for a later departure, allowing us to change some travellers’ cheques in the morning. In the event the ticket change was uncomplicated, and at 1.45pm we were on our way.

Traffic jams in Dar es Salaam set us back a bit, and we did not reach Mikumi in daylight as hoped. The last part of the journey passed through Mikumi National Park. The light was failing by then and we thought for a while that we were not going to see any animals, although Pru had assured us that we should. However, in the end we were not disappointed. First I spotted a giraffe from the window. Then there were lots. At one point the bus had to stop for a group of them that were crossing the road. One of them stopped in the middle, lit up by the headlights of the vehicle. The poor thing was probably frightened, but we had an excellent view, and then the driver beeped his horn and the giraffe walked off the road to join the group. We could see them so close; it was incredible!

The bus driver kindly dropped us outside a guesthouse, which he said we would like. The Kilimanjaro Village Inn provided two rooms with fans and nets for 20000 Tanzanian Shillings (about 12 pounds).

We spent Tuesday wandering around the village of Mikumi, hoping to arrange a cheap safari deal with someone or to team up with another couple and go as a group. Safari trips are expensive: $240 for a full day. At the inn we were quoted $150, and eventually the man dropped his price to $100. Unfortunately he didn’t tell us that, as the price fell, so did various other important details. The safari trip, in the end, fell flat on its face! We paid $100 for a day in the park, in a Land Rover with a driver to act as a guide. We got up at 5.30am on Wednesday, excited by the prospect of such an amazing experience. On arrival at the park gates, though, it turned out that all was not as it seemed. The day was going to cost us another $90, for entry to the park for us and the car (which was a very old estate car, not a Land Rover) and driver, and a guide. We took two disappointed children back to the hotel, and talked the manager into giving us our money back! If we learned anything useful from the experience it was that, with this type of day-trip, you get what you pay for! It was not an unmitigated disaster: on the drive into, and back out of, the park, we saw giraffes, zebras, gazelles, some baboons and a warthog!

The closest we got to wildlife at Mikumi was at the Snake Park, joined to the Genesis Motel. There we saw quite a few varieties of local snakes, and the man running the place gave us the run-down on which are poisonous, whether or not they are likely to bite, and how long you can expect to live once bitten! He also kept some blue monkeys, which were in a cage far too small for them. We were warned that they might grab us or steal things from our pockets as we walked by. Not surprising really; they must be incredibly bored. Likewise for the two medium-sized Nile crocodiles, which lived in a small algae-filled puddle. The younger crocs, from the local river, looked better, and we were told that they would be returned to the wild when they outgrew their enclosure.

After the disappointing safari episode, we checked out of the hotel a day earlier than planned, hoping to catch a bus to Iringa, halfway between Mikumi and Mbeya, our next destination. We met a large group of young men who were willing, for a fee, to find us a bus with space, however impossible the task! Every bus that passed pulled over, but was full to bursting point. They tried to cram us onto a couple of buses, but it was clear that there was no space, and it was a 200km journey. However, eventually they flagged down a very nice 4WD vehicle, whose driver agreed to take us. The agreed bus-fare was paid to our driver, Lawrence, and we set off in style! The journey was quite spectacular, passing through the Morogoro mountain range and through river gorges. Lawrence was very helpful and dropped us outside the coach booking office in central Iringa. We thanked him and headed off to find digs. We found a man running a stall who took us to the Santiago Lodge, where we landed in a basic but adequate room with two beds and a dubious-looking toilet. The night there cost us 4000Tsh, about 2.35 pounds. There was a bar downstairs, and the people were very friendly.

27th Nov - 1st Dec Tanzania
The Whitlocks with Kay in Mbeya - Click to enlargeAt Mbeya we stayed with Kay Rowse, an Australian missionary living there with her husband John, who was away at the time. Kay’s number had been given to us by Prudence. We were aware that Kay had rather a full house, but called her anyway and asked if we might camp in her garden. She said OK and came to meet us from the bus station. However, worried that it might rain on us, she had decided to make room for us in the house. With no reason whatsoever to be nice to us, apart from the fact that Kay is simply a really kind person, she had moved out of her own bedroom to sleep in a spare bed in the study so that we could have her bed.

We stayed with Kay for three nights and were very grateful to her for all her hospitality. While there we were lucky enough to meet Catherine and Robert from the charity Grass Roots, and to see some of the amazing work they are involved with, helping orphans to get a basic education and a decent start in life. I forget the exact number, but I think there were about 150 orphans who were involved with the Mbeya project, and Catherine, Robert and the team were in the process of providing them each with a school uniform, a pair of shoes, a school bag and some exercise books and pens. While we were there Kay’s house was full to bursting point with huge piles of these items which all needed to be sorted by size and packed in time to be distributed before the English team had to fly home. We were hugely impressed by their level of dedication and commitment.

One of the children involved is Amani, the young son of Pasia, Kay’s cook. Amani is classed as an orphan because his father died when he was just a baby. In Tanzania a woman without a husband does not generally have the means to bring up her children herself and therefore the children are expected to return to their father’s family, and are classed as orphans. When Pasia’s husband died of tetanus, not being able to afford proper treatment following a fall from his bike, his family took Pasia and her children to work for them in their household and treated them badly. Pasia was lucky, though, and through the work of missionaries, was re-educated to work as a cook. Now she works for Kay, her children receive an education, and she has a dignified life. To see the look on Amani’s face when he received his school uniform and (second-hand) shoes was really special. Thomas and Esther enjoyed playing with him, too!

Also at Kay’s we had the wonderful experience of going for a meal at her favourite restaurant. It was a Chinese, unusual in Tanzania, but not as unusual as some of the dishes on the menu. Among those we tried was “Tossed Assorted Stuff”, which was actually very tasty, although I couldn’t say exactly what it was! Among those we didn’t was “Squirrel-like Fish”. Hmmm!

It was with reluctance that we left Kay’s, but spurred on by tales of the lakeshore, we travelled on.

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