Journal 5

Music, Mosques & Mosquitoes

October 2005

Spanish Dancer Nudibranch

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Our first night in Tanzania was uneventful and we left early to head eastward. The first thing we noticed when driving here is that the bus drivers are absolutely mad. The brightly painted busses come flying past on blind bends going flat out. The front page of the Tanzanian times had a headline: "Another 18 die as bus hits truck". The next evening we stayed at an excellent campsite known as The Farm. Here I installed a fuse box to the rear battery, a good idea to ensure we don't get fried! I also noticed that the front shock mounting had snapped off, so at the next town the local garage welded it back on for us. The welding machine they used did not fill us with confidence, but it seemed to do the job. We also had some problems getting cash with my credit card, but thankfully my mother sorted it out for us. I tell you it is quite distressing listening to Mozart while making an international call on a mobile phone to the bank.

Crazy painted trucks. Crazy trucks. Mel needing TLC again. Fighting giraffe.

Anyway we then headed into Ruaha, a fantastic national park where the scenery was breathtaking, covered with blue hills and stately baobabs. There were loads of animals all over the place, especially giraffes (we even saw two fighting, they stand next to each other and take turns to head-butt each others chests!) Unfortunately to camp in the park would cost around 20 GBP, so we decided to camp outside the park and return the next morning. I wish we had just stayed as it turned out to be really bad nights sleep.

Sleeping in Africa is quite an endurance test. A lot of the campsites we stay at have big overland trucks also camping there (usually with about 20 travellers each). Many of these trucks have very impressive sound systems. There seems to be a competition between trucks as to who can drown out all the other's music. Queen fights with Kylie, then suddenly a track of Meat Loaf blasts them both away. If we are lucky by about 11 or 12 everything quietens down for the evening. Suddenly we are awoken by cock-a-doodle-doo and think it is morning, however, our watches reveal that it is only 1:15am. After about half an hour the cock realises it's mistake and shuts up. Just as we are about to doze off again the high-pitched whine of a mosquito brings us fully awake. Now this is actually quite fun since we bought a mosquito-killing device. It is about the size and shape of a tennis racket and gives out 2500Volts. As the mossie touches the mesh it explodes with a bright blue spark and a machine gun sound effect. Once the thrill of zapping the mossie has worn off the cock thinks it's morning again, then when that has finished at around 3am, the finals of the dog barking competition begins. This starts off with just two dogs barking at each other and then quickly escalates into about 30 dogs going mad. Once that has finished another mossie comes along and after that someone who is obviously very proud of there four-tone car horn decides to wake everyone with it BA DE BAP BEE!! repeated for at least half an hour. Unbelievable! I get dressed ready to use the mossie killer on the driver just as he stops with a cheery little tune. At 4am the 8 speakers attached to the roof of the local mosque all start their call for morning prayers (strange how mosquito and mosque both annoy at night). No wonder there are so many Islamic suicide bombers…. anyone would have a lot of anger inside if they were woken up by whaling before sunrise every day. When they have finished chanting (but you can never be quite sure if they are finished, since as soon as you think you are able to slumber again the speakers let off another burst of calling). Finally we fall asleep only to be woken by the cock who has finally got it right and calls in the morning.

The causes of sleepless nights!

Oh well, we planned to get up early, so we could be in the park at first light. We spent most of the day there and saw lots of creatures including some bat eared foxes. After that we stayed in a campsite called The Riverside - this was really quiet and we managed a good night sleep. The next day we went to see some Stone Age ruins and some quite impressive erosion of a seasonal river and huge towers that loomed over us. It was a really interesting place and not mentioned in any of the guide books, resulting in only about 300 visitors a year.

Left.. Eroded towers at Isimila.
Above. Stone age axe heads.
Above right.. Cheryl in charge of Mel.

We then headed towards Baobab Valley campsite with pool!! We were met by a Swedish Viking who offered us a beer when we first arrived. As we were the only guests one beer led to another and suddenly it was 2am. Somehow Sven managed to cook us an amazing meal during that time. However, the next day I struggled to change the oil and filters and do other car maintenance. I was feeling rather dodgy when Sven came along to see how I was doing at 09:30 he already had a beer in his hand. A rogue baboon kept wandering into camp and we had to keep an eye on it, as it seemed to have its evil eye on our food! It was very sneaky, as soon as Andy walked away it would be on the car looking for a way in. It was not at all bothered by Cheryl - baboons I was told have no respect for women! We gave Sven a lift to the next town where he took us into a shabeen and carried on drinking but we were too delicate and had a long way to go! We managed to get off and drove the 5 hours to smelly Dar es Salaam. We stayed the night and the next day braved the ticket touts to buy a ferry ticket to Zanzibar. Everyone had warned us that they were a real pain but I think living in Egypt for 2.5 years has hardened us.

Above.. Ferry to Zanzibar
Centre. Wooden doors in Stone Town
Right. Tortoise on Prison Island.

The ferry journey to Zanzibar took about 2 hours and then we arrived in Stone Town. Quite an amazing place with lots of alleys that seem to be like a maze that all look the same. I wished I had had my compass with us but after wondering around for some time we managed to follow the sun until we hit the sea and found our way back to the hotel. We wanted to organise a spice tour around the island and Cheryl wanted to go and visit Prison Island where some endangered giant tortoises live. We went to a travel agent and the first price quoted was 50 USD each for the spice tour and the same to visit Prison Island. We managed to get the spice tour for 10 dollars each and then went to the harbour and spoke to a fisherman who took us across to prison island for 5 USD each. The tortoises were amazing!!! I had to drag Cheryl away. The big ones must weigh over 200kg. They are not originally from Prison Island but had been brought over from the Seychelles by conservationists. They are endangered due to people collecting their shells and eggs. We were given spinach leaves to feed them with, when one spotted that you had food it would go into full charge towards you, stumbling over tree roots - patiently you wait for them to travel a couple metres in a minute or so.

Nutmeg Pepper Lipstip plant.

In the evening all the tourists gather at the Africa House Hotel for sundowners. Very pretty with the sun going down with palm trees in the background and the old traditional dhows sailing past. Once that is over we headed off to the night market for food…absolutely delicious. I really liked the Zanzibar Pizza - more like a pastry covered meat omelette with chillies. There were also loads of shrimps and crabs and freshly squeezed sugar cane juice to wash it all down. We were thinking about diving but heard that diving off Pemba was better so we headed back to the mainland, drove up to Tanga and flew to Pemba (great views over the islands) where we stayed at Swahili Divers and dived for 5 days.

Pemba by air. Click here for more underwater shots. Tanga by air.  

The corals were very good and there were so many different types of nudibranchs. These sea slugs, which doesn't sound very inspiring, are also known as the "jewels of the sea". They come in hundreds of different colours, shapes and sizes. The largest is the Spanish Dancer, which is about 30-40cm long and pink/red colour. When you see them you just want to pick them up and play with them…but of course as responsible divers we wouldn't, but its still a hard job resisting! (Disclaimer to Andy's diving mates: Cheryl wrote this bit and of course Andy has no interest whatsoever in any squidgies of any kind and only dives for deep, dark wrecks!) We were told the visibility was supposed to be great, but was in fact not up to much, so I guess that's down to luck. A good break from driving, it almost feels like we are on holiday from our holiday!! But now back to Tanga and the Tanzanian mainland to head for Kilimanjaro, Ngorongoro and Serengeti. I hope there are less mosques there…. as I write there is some more screeching just coming from across the road. It could be a long night!

We head north towards Mount Kilimanjaro past the stunning Usambara Mountains referred to as "Africa's Switzerland". We stayed at Pangani River campsite where we had heard that it was possible to see bush babies. We were eating dinner along side the river, talking about how it would be great to see them, when there was a crashing noise in the trees above us. And there, amazingly was a beautiful grey bush baby, swinging effortlessly between the trees…. excellent!! Throughout the night we were visited by several of the tree dwelling creatures, and enjoyed watching them play/fight!

Can you spot Mt. Kilimanjaro?

The next day we drove past Kilimanjaro. We managed to get the first glimpse of its peak from many miles away. Andy was the first to notice it, despite it being 5892m high and having been in front of us for a good few minutes!! We travelled on through Moshi and Arusha. Next stop will be Ngorongoro crater and Serengeti - time to meet those lions!!

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