92 – Maulidi (or Maulid Nabi Festival)

Fri 26th Feb, Lamu Castle Lodge, Lamu, Kenya
Now i have intentionally timed my Lamu visit to coincide with this festival, which celebrates the birth of the Prophet and is celebrated in a big way here in Lamu. Unfortunately, there was going to be only a small celebration today. The festival which incorporates other maulids will peak at the end of the 3rd month in the muslim calendar, rabiul awal, and will feature dhow shows and donkey races. I would have to contend today with just joyous celebration in the streets. 😉

Note: There are a couple of vids that is taking forever to download. i’ll put it here later on. cheers

In the morning, i spent time exploring more museums. There were four or five on the island, but i just did the Lamu Museum (500 KSH, with entry in Lamu Fort as well). It wasn’t as well kept or spectacular as the Zanzibari one, and i was the only tourist in the 2 storey building. But it still provided an insight into the life on Lamu island back then, as well as the Swahili culture.The Fort itself was located in front of the town centre, and was used more for events and meetings. There was some sort of team building thing in the meeting hall when i was there.

After 4.30pm, the celebrations started. The procession started at the southern part of the town, going up north along the main street, then looping down along the seafront road before hitting inland towards the Riyadha mosque. Actually it was many processions, not one. Each group of revelers were from a madrasah, or religious school, and were led by their teachers. Along the way, they played their kompangs (i forgot what these things were called in swahili, so im using the malay word for them!) and sang praises, all the while jumping around and making merry. It was a competition too, with the madrasah groups all trying to outdo each other with the best performance in front of a judge.

Everyone then congregated in front of the main mosque, where some speeches were given in Arabic and Swahili. Quite a lot of people from town were gather there. It was a really friendly affair. And this was the mini-celebration. For the big ones in a couple of weeks, visitors from all over East Africa will make their way to Lamu.

At night, the guy at the hotel tells me he found the fellow who stole his engines. Going back a little, 2 days ago i was in conversation on the balcony of the lodge, and this guy proceeds to tell me about his big plans to make money (all Africans are budding entrepeneurs, true story) by buying a boat, outfitting them with twin15 horsepower engines from Dubai, and converting it to a deep-sea fishing boat. There was money to be made here in sport fishing. The foreigners who come here are restricted to only one option on Sheila beach, with Peponi hotel. So this guy with all his savings got the two engines and shipped them here, took the difficult route from mainland to transport his boat to Lamu.

Unfortunately his engines were stolen off the boat a few days after. The thief was undoubtedly still around, hiding the engines somewhere, since news would spread if someone is selling brand new engines. The guy asked around in Mombasa and Malindi as well over the next couple weeks, but no news. Then today afternoon, i tagged along with him for Friday prayers, before splitting so i can catch the procession. He, on the other hand, went into a provision shop and overheard this man talking to a prospective customer about two particular engines. My friend knew this guy too, he was the one who brings him to shore in a small boat when he anchors his boat in deeper waters. The  thief gave an “OH  f&^@ look” but my friend didn’t raise hell then. Instead he let the fellow go, he now can put a face to the thief, even though he doesn’t know where the engines are hidden. He would arrange for a peaceful resolution, and his father would mediate with the thief’s employer. If he gets the engines back, then case closed, and he won’t pursue the matter. Otherwise, he will bring in the police again.

91 – Doing Absolutely Nothing and Loving It

Thu 25th Feb, Lamu Castle Lodge, Lamu, Kenya
It is day 91 (you do know that those numbers preceding the catchy titles are the number of days I spent traveling right?). No great stories to tell here, i caught up on a backlog of these entries, then played too much computer games, before going out in the afternoon to look for dinner and a spot of online time (2KSH/min, rather expensive). There was a great eating place on the second floor of one building, the New Mina Cafe, which served great pilau at cheap prices (100 KSH!). The remainder of the evening was spent sitting around, which is just the way i like it. =)

The people in Lamu are like the friendliest around. Everywhere you turn, it is a friendly Jambo or Habari you hear. Also, you actually hear from the women. When around town, some of the women are clad in their black bui-buis, with only their eyes showing. So i assumed it was something like back in Sudan, where the women are seldom seen on the streets and even lesser heard. Imagine my surprise when i get these fully covered women boisterously going “Jambo” and proceeding to strike up a full conversation with me about where i come from in English. Now that’s a way to be conservative yet articulate at the same time!

Back then, the Swahili city states, from Zanzibar, to Lamu, Pate in the north were big kingdoms. When modernisation occured, places along the coast like Mombasa got developed pretty much but Lamu fell into obscurity and thus managed to maintain the simple way of life that is currently seen today.

90 – The Little Island Paradise that is Lamu

Wed 24th Feb Lamu Castle Lodge, Lamu, Kenya

The bus from Mombasa to Lamu took all of 8 hours, most of it on good but unsealed (read:bumpy) road. By now the incessant long distance bus travel all over East Africa was really starting to take its toll on me. I was looking forward to a long break on Lamu. The bus journey ended at the coast, where public ferries (50 KSH) meet the bus and bring them across the channel to Lamu town.

Lamu town is located in the Lamu archipelago, a bunch of islands just off the Kenyan coast. Here, as in Zanzibar, the Swahili culture predominates. However, where Zanzibar is very well developed, with hotels proclaiming expensive honeymoon suits amidst other amenities, here in Lamu it is more understated. The same culture seen in Zanzibar’s old Stone Town is here, but there remains a fisherman village feel to it, despite there being hotels and lodges and restaurants along the seafront road. You can still see locals, elderly men sitting on the benches overlooking the sea, or playing bao, or carrom, or dominos. Kids play on the streets, and the local people are genuinely friendly.

I found myself a room right in the central area, in the Lamu Castle Lodge, located right behind the market (500 KSH/night, most places cheaper if you stay more than 3 nights). Next was to just get some dinner by a seaside place and soak the sea breeze.

Again, the features of the people here are different from the mainland. There are those that are strikingly arab, others who would not look out of place in Singapore, and many others who have distinctly “mixed” features. Everyone however, spoke Swahili and were friendly. My plan on Lamu was just to spend the remaining time of the long trip by treating myself to a relaxing few days. No big activities, just chill.

The occupants of the lodge were all kenyans, since i avoided the more conspicuous hotels on the seafront. They were nice though, i sat on the upstairs balcony with them and had a bit of a chat, with them chewing their miraa. Everything from home, to their complaints about the big foregin resorts taking in big money in Lamu while locals do not benefit, to their origins (from Yemen etc).

89 – Destination Mombasa

Tues 23rd Feb, Tana Guest House, Mombasa, Kenya

Today was another full day of travel, with me blitzing through the towns. From Zanzibar to Dar Es Salaam, by boat, we arrived at 6am. The nice Zanzibari guy from the boat helped me flag a city bus bound for Ubungo bus station. Once there, i was hassled by many touts, and i just went with one. Being “spoken for” meant everyone else leaves you alone. I got my ticket from the counter. His demeanour completely changed when he noticed me writing my muslim name on the tix. He took it as his responsibility to take me safely aboard my bus, even telling the bus conductor he better take care of me. The bus company was Tahmeed (25000 TSH), one that i was completely unfamilar with. It was a smaller bus too, and i worried when we traveled on the bumpier stretch between Tanga and the border. The center of gravity was obviously higher on this bus and speeding might just flip it over. Thankfully that did not happen.

It was a 9 hour bus ride from Dar Es Salaam, stopping for lunch in Tanga (fish, yummy samaki, since its near the coast now), before heading on to the border at Lunga-Lunga. The Kenyan immigration was really getting suspicious as to why this fella was travelling to and fro so much. “Business?” “No, tourist”. He gave me one week, but i asked for two since i needed that much before going home.

The bus ride culminated in the ferry crossing at Likoni. All the vehicles went aboard a barge. Pedestrians followed suit and the whole retinue was transported across the channel. Prior to that, the bus conductor told everyone to go to the back of the bus. I was wondering why, but found out later when Security got everyone off the bus during the crossing. Going to the back of the bus was to hide so we won’t be asked off. Hahaha.

It was near dark when we reached Mombasa proper. There was no time to really do much, so i got my ticket to Lamu (Tahmeed again, 800 KSH, 8am departure, 7 hours – but theres a 10am departure too) and went to draw cash from the Barclays bank. I got myself some fried fish to eat with my home cooked pasta. And i got a much needed shower, after almost 48 hours in stinky sweaty clothing.

88 – Soaking in the Swahili Culture

Mon 22nd Feb, Ferry to Mainland Dar, Tanzania
I woke up early and spent a great chunk of the morning walking around Stone Town and taking in the architecture. The streets and alleys were in close proximity of each other, and each one of the buildings had intricately decorated wooden doors, some of them seemingly too grand for the humble houses they lead into.

Then i sorted out my ferry tickets back to the mainland. I decided to stay only 2 days here since I want to reach Lamu before the 26th, and also because it was a bit silly walking about the city with no electricity. Staying in a hotel without light and fan was one thing, but as i was later to discover, visiting musuems and squinting at exhibits because they were not lighted up as they were supposed to be, can get annoying. Hence, i decided i would probably enjoy myself elsewhere along the coast, where hopefully it is not too hot!

Next, as mentioned, i made my way to Beit Al-Ajaib, which is the museum “of wonders”. The entry  was 3500 TSH and well worth it. I realised after Egypt’s museum that i like museums, and can easily spend hours in one. This one was no different. The inside had a large replica of an old Swahili boat, mtwempe (or something), that was reconstructed in the middle of the building. Elsewhere, the Swahili history, culture and travels were recreated as exhibits and informative entries. The first floor was all about the dhow routes, travels up and along the indian ocean, as well as the swahili dress, lifestyle, festivals, food. I especially liked the bit where the link in history between cultures meant that 25% of the Swahili language is of arabic origin, mostly modified, and even some comparisons with Swahili and portugese. Like flag is bendera in swahili, and bandeira in portugese. I add mine mentally to the list: Bendera is flag in malay as well! There’s something to learn from here. Others: Pump is bomba in both Swahili and Portugese, while in malay bomba is fireman/fire brigade. Table is mesa in Swahili and Portugese, and meja in Malay. Fascinating indeed.

The other thing of note are the doors and plaques in the building. Inscribed with the names of God, the doors were really grand and a sight to behold. These wooden doors were carved in exquisite detail on every available space. And since it was not a boring flat door, but layered with arches, there was arabic inscriptions on the inner wall and the underside of the arch as well, which i only noticed when i took photos in the light.

Upstairs on the 2nd floor was an exhibition about Sayidda Salme, a Zanzibari princess who wrote a books about her experiences as a princess living in Zanzibar, and later about letters home, when she moved to Germany with her husband. Her point of view was interesting because it was the first from a local perspective, since all other accounts of the island prior to that were those of European visitors.

The third floor lead to the balcony, upon which i could see brilliant views of the sea, the forodhani garden, and the old fort below. I then made my way to the impressive Ijumaa Mosque, renovated many times in history, most recently with Dubai contribution. Being muslim helped and i remained in the mosque after commual Asar prayers, taking pictures of the mihrab and the interior.

After grabbing some street food for dinner, i wasnt’ sure what it was. Looks like grilled satay meat in hot potato soup, but it tastes delicious (1000 TSH), i picked up my bag and made my way to the ferry terminal (tix was 20 USD). This time though, the VIP lounge had air con on, and dimly lighted. I slept well on the couch, even though i was blighted by the noisy tv blaring over the speakers directly above me. It was a night boat, we got in at 8pm, i got comfortable and slept, probably the boat left around 9.30pm, and somehow we reached mainland only at 6am. How this was possible, the boat here took 3.5 hours for the same distance, i never knew.

87 – Zanzibar (the places just gets more and more exotic!)

Sun 21st Feb, Haven Guesthouse, Zanzibar, Tanzania

Zanzibar, the name brings to mind other similarly mythical sounding places like Timbuktu (that exists too!). The island however, was just a four hour boat ride away now. In ancient times, the Zanzibar kingdom was ruled by the Omani king, who shifted his capital here. It was also on the dhow trading route along the Indian Ocean, from Madagascar to Arabia, to India, to Indonesia and around peninsula Malaysia, all the way up to China. They traded everything from spices, slaves and   jewellery.

Upon boarding the Flying Horse, i was ushered to the VIP section. Not bad, all foreigners by default get sent here, where you get to sit in armchairs, as opposed to the regimented seats down below. Unfortunately, they must have forgotten to turn up the aircon, so the VIPs basically were trying not to suffocate throughout. It was also crowded, locals got themselves comfortable and lay down on every bit of available floor.

We reached Stone Town’s harbour at around 4pm, and it was completely different from mainland. The streets of Stone Town were narrow cobblestoned alleyways. Zanzibar town is built for tourism, but it retains an old world charm. I made my way to the guest houses south of stone town. The Haven Guesthouse was 18000 TSH, pretty costly, as per all hotels in Tanzania i’ve noticed. Also, there was no electricity on the whole island. Three months ago, the underground cable was cut and they only expected it to be fully repaired in maybe a week’s time. Hence, any place without their own generator (like my hotel) would be in complete darkness at night. I was a bit silly and should have gone for a slightly more expensive place with electricity, but it all worked out, because i could leave my luggage at the hotel the next day for 8 hrs for no charge.

The Stone Town itself wasn’t exactly a large place. It was evening so i just made my way to Forodhani gardens, a open air park by the sea. Locals and tourists alike were there, soaking in the atmosphere and the windy surrounds. Stalls were set up selling everything from BBQ barracuda, zanzibar pizza, sugar cane. I must have taken too much sugar cane, for i ended up with a mild case of the runs. Immodium is the best single piece of medication. It was pretty much relaxation at its best, youths were jumping 2m into the sea,

After dinner, i made my way back to the hotel. There wasn’t much to do without electricity, so i just figured it would be better to sleep early and then wake up early. Malaria’s a risk here at the coast, so i hid underneath my mosquito net all night. It was terribly hot though, since the ceiling fan was not working. I tried everything, i woke up in the middle of the night, took a shower, stuck a wet towel atop my head, all useless until i just left the window open to let in some fresh air, and in the process probably dozens of mosquitoes as well.

86 – The Streets of Dar Es Salaam

Sat 20th Feb, Kibodya Hotel, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Dar Es Salaam is the unofficial capital of Tanzania. The administrative capital is in boring Dodoma, but Dar is where everyone else comes to for everything else. Today’s agenda was simple. Go to the northeast of the city centre to soak in the Asian quarter around India and Mosque street, try to get connected online, and pick up ferry tickets to Zanzibar.

But first, i moved to a cheaper room in the hotel. Less jazzy, no mosquito net, no aircon, and i see cockroaches. What a big difference. The tv is there though, and the hot shower was working, so i’m set.

Wandering the streets of Dar, i noticed the locals are multi-ethnic. Sure, there were the east africans i’ve seen elsewhere over the past 3 weeks, but here were also ladies clad in indian saris, masai dressed tribal people, kanga clad ladies, kids with arabic features.This, as well as all the towns along the coast, were the result of centuries worth of trade along the Indian ocean, intermarriage and migration. The Swahili coast is where i will be spending the next week or so, and this is going to be very interesting.

As for the buildings, they were grand structures, and each proudly stated which year they were constructed.

I cannot find an Internet joint anywhere, the few shown in the 2008 revision of LP have all closed. I finally found one, the post office. Old machines, with no working flash drive slots (i didnt bother asking if i could plug in my laptop). But there are wireless connections elsewhere, i found out later, and i think everywhere you could get connected by paying a subscription fee.

Next i walked down to Sokoine Drive, parallel to the sea, where the rain of touts immediately fell upon me, asking me to buy from their ferry ticket shop. I ignored them and looked for the Flying Horse office, the cheaper option taking 4 hours, instead of the many faster 1.5 hour ferries. The Flying Horse (20 USD, locals pay less) departs from Dar daily at 1230 pm (arrive early so you don’t get squashed). Despite ignoring the touts, i still got conned. I paid 25 USD (LP says 25!) instead of 20 USD. When i asked why the ticket was handwritten 20 USD, i was told 5 USD was port tax. This was true, but it was inclusive! That will teach me not to completely trust guidebooks.

Dinner was self-catered. By now, i am so well equipped i could do a pasta dinner with cream of mushroom. One last thing, the coast is hot and humid. I am drenched with sweat the whole day, and i don’t know what to do with my shirt. I’ll keep on wearing them since changing into new ones will mean that new shirt will need washing again.

85 – Saying Hi to Mount Kilimajaro

Fri 19th Feb, Kibodya Hotel, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

And so the story goes, at 2am on this Fri morning, a sleepy traveler boarded the bus bound for Dar Es Salaam. He read that the journey takes 12 to 14 hours, therefore reaching Dar at 4pm or so, perfect in that there is enough of daylight left to hunt for suitable lodging and get oriented with the city. (2am)

The road from Nairobi to the border was bumpy, but since it was dark, the traveler could not make out the terrain outside. Instead, he did his best to make himself comfortable and get some much needed sleep. This was next to impossible since he was jolted awake each time the bus passed over a particularly high hump. So it was with much good fortune, he thought, when the bus stopped suddenly. He could finally get his desired rest. (4am)

It was light when he woke up. The bus was stationary, and there was a commotion outside. The traveler peered from bhind his window curtain and saw to his surprise, numerous trucks and buses on the road in front of and behind his bus. All were not moving. He was to later discover that the road was blocked. Continuous rains over the past few days meant that the sandy road was now mud, and a huge container lorry had sunked in and blocked the entire path. Other smaller lorries had tried to navigate around and similarly got themselves into trouble. No one was going anywhere. (7am)

The traveler thought to himself “Let them sort it out” and proceeded to read his book back on the bus. He had spent enough of his traveling life on long distance buses and nothing fazed him anymore. Eventually a giant JCB tractor came along and pulled the lorry out of the way. Getting the tractor to the scene was an effort in itself. Cars and buses and lorries had to make way for the tractor. It was like playing those block puzzles where you had to shift the blocks around limited space to form a picture. (9am)

The bus chugged along the bumpy road (why such a well-trodden route was not tarmacked the traveler could not understand) to the border.  The immigrations officers started to ask the traveler questions about his constant ping-ponging between countries, but let him through all the same. (10am).
It was bad road all the way after that, but the scenery was spectacular. Like the traveler mentioned elsewhere before, Tanzania has the best clouds. And along the way, the bus route took the traveler to Arusha, skirting the regal Mount Meru in the process. And beyond that, to the town of Moshi, where the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, loomed in the background, its summit hidden completely by clouds. The traveler was contented to see this spectacular mountain up close (a lack of time and budget prevented him from attempting to summit the peak). (3pm)

The bus company, Kampala Coach, included a meal with it’s ticket price. The traveler stopped for dinner at 6pm, by which time he was utterly famished. He suspected that the dinner was actually lunch, but we only arrived in the evening. It was more travelling by night, and the traveler kept himself occupied with his copy of Newsweek. (7pm)

On reaching Dar Es Salaam, the passengers were dropped off at Ubungo bus terminal, an inconvenient 8km from the city centre. It was 12am. Not wanting to travel anywhere on foot by dark after previous unsavoury experience, the traveler engaged the assistance of a Kampala Coach mechanic to hail a cab. The price was exorbitant, he bargained it down from 150000 to 10000 TSH, and instructed the driver to Kibodya Hotel. (12am)

Accomodation is always more expensive here in Tanzania, he thought to himself as he forked over the 24000 TSH for the nicer rooms, since the basic rooms were full. He had a tv and airconditioning, both unnecessary since his laptop and the fully blasted ceiling fan are able substitutes. He would change to the cheaper 16500 TSH rooms when they are available tomorrow. (2am)

Photos below are from previous day

84 – The Masai, and More Safaris

Thu 18th Feb, New Kenya Lodge, Nairobi, Kenya

We went out in search of more game in the morning, promptly spotting a couple of cheetahs (mother and kid) frolicking on the long grass. It was a toss us between the leopard and the cheetahs but i think the cheetahs win, that was the highlight for me.

On the whole, it was a very good safari experience, having been grouped with a pleasant bunch of people, as well as a great guide and cook.

On the way back, we stopped at the Masai village (1000 KSH if you opt to go). Here’s where you get a villager to show you around the village, and the Masai way of life. It’s very much catered to the tourist, but you do get to see them in their colourful red garb, dances by the men and then women (where you can join in) and see them demonstrate how they make a fire. You get to visit a Masai home, and of course go to the trinkets and handicraft back area where you can buy souvenirs. Other stuff include being introduced to various plants like the sandpaper leaf which as per its name is rough and used for smoothening surfaces, a mosquito replling leaf, and a leaf tha gives the red pigment used in Masai clothing.

Back in Nairobi, got my Kampala Coach tickets to Dar Es Salaam (leaving around 2am, the bus comes from Uganda and continues to Dar, 2900 KSH, includes one meal). I stayed half the night at New Kenyan (asked and got half price 300 KSH for half night).

83 – Game Drive

Wed 17th Feb, Masai Mara NP, Kenya

Today we spent the entire day out in the park. Suffice to say, i caught all of the big five (Leopard, Buffalo, Lion, Elephant, Rhino). The highlight would have to be a leopard going through a carcass atop a tree. This entry is best described in pictures.

The park was large, but everywhere you turned, there were other safari vehicles. However, there was plenty of wildlife to go around, so it wasn’t crowded.

Here’s a rundown of all the animals seen: Thomson Gazelle, Common Zebra, Masai Giraffe, Ostrich,
Impala, Topi, Elephant, Wilderbeest, Yellow-billed Stork, Hartlebeast, Buffalo, Crown Crane (uganda’s national bird), Waterbuck, Leopard and carcass on tree, Black Rhino (endangered), Hamerkop & its nest, Warthog, Vervet Monkey, Vultures, Hippopotamus, Crocodile, Cheetahs on carcass, Mongoose, Gnu, Dik Dik.
 

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