97 – When you’re happy and you know it clap your hands

3rd Mar, Nice hotel, Dubai, UAE
In the morning, i packed and took the airport transfer that Milimani Backpackers arranged for me (1200 KSH). It’s around 12km to the airport, and i had my own car and driver dropping me there. Paid my tab (my internet tab was free since i fixed their router, haha).

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is a pretty nice place. I checked in, got stopped at the security baggage check when they asked me to open up and declare my bangles. I was still wondering why they were so particular about my souvenir bangles when i heard ‘ivory’. The Chinese tourist ahead of me had his suitcase full of plastic bags of food. He had bags of biscuits which the security guy asked him to open. Inside, wrapped in foil, are chunks of ivory. Wow, what a way to smuggle through the airport customs.

Inside the waiting area after i checked in now. I was trying to prevent the need from changing any more kenyan shillings, so i was keeping to a budget over the last couple days. So now i was pretty famished after eating my spaghetti. On the plane, i ordered Beef Salami Combo (22 AED). The flight was 4 hours and UAE is one hour ahead of Kenya. AirArabia is a ‘no-frills’ airline that now flies to 30 countries. I think they are pretty impressive in being able to cover so many places since they started out in 2003. As of now, they cover the GCC, India, bits of Africa, a substantial number of European cities and even central Asia. They are based in Sharjah, and Casablanca (for their European destinations). And heading into the UAE from Singapore is pretty straightforward. There are many transport  links within the UAE for transfers between Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

I reached Sharjah airport at around 8pm local time. I’m probably very lucky. There is a bus new service that just started yesterday (Route 111, 2nd March) from Sharjah Airport to Al Rashidiya Metro Station. It passes by Al Quasis Sonapur station. The fixed price for all journeys? 10 AED. And it is oh so convenient. 50m from where you exit the Arrival area. http://www.khaleejtimes.com/darticlen.asp?xfile=data/theuae/2010/March/theuae_March4.xml&section=theuae

At the Rashidiya metro, i gave a call to a friend Fabian who offered to put me up at his place. (Fabe if you’re reading this, thanks buddy!) This meant saving a bomb on Dubai hotels. He picked me up from the station, and it was basically smooth sailing from there. We went out for dinner at an Indian restaurant, beef pepper masala, yum. It was a completely different scenario from the last couple weeks. Nice hotel, airconditioning, facilities, no mosquitoes and a very relaxed atmosphere.

Here’s a shot of my towel after 3.5 months, and the hotel towel. Both are clean, and whitish.

96 – Bits of travel wisdom

2nd Mar, Milimani backpackers & Safari lodge, Nairobi, Kenya
Early morning i was up having breakfast.. I stayed in the whole of today. After three trips in Nairobi, i had no desire to walk around the city again. There were of course other activities, like a jaunt to the upmarket neighbourhood of Westlands, or even a safari that can be done in half a day in Nairobi National Park nearby. But i was frankly too bushed and in my mind i’m down one gear already. So i was content to stay here. Instead i wrote down thoughts about the last 3.5 months over the day.

1)Self-catering: Too much milk gives you the runs, even though you may not be lactose intolerant
2)6am in eastern East Africa is bright, but 6am in western East Africa is still dark. Don’t walk around town alone at this time.
3)No matter how much i deny it, everyone concludes i’m from China. So yes, i’m actually Jackie Chan, in disguise.
4)Don’t use the flash when you take pictures of a lioness sitting 2 metres away.
5)Cattle trucks are best left for transporting cattle.
6)Tuck in your shirt when you bungee jump
7)When complete strangers walk toward you, get out of their path. Or you might get a bloody nose.
8)No matter how full a bus / boat seems, there is always room for one more
9)When you tell someone ‘No’ when they ask for money, be prepared to reason why.
10)Everything changes, unless its a ‘samosa’. These triangular meat-filled triangular tasties are the only constants from country to country.
11)Bodha-bodhas, piki-pikis, dala-dalas, so good you have to name them twice.
12)Injeera, one man’s bane.
13)Ethiopian buses help you master the zen art of sleeping on your forearm while sitting at the edge of your seat.
14)Never climb mountains with no rations, and equipped with only 10 hardboiled eggs.
15)Lonely Planet’s inaccuracies make you want to cry sometimes.
16)If you want to be a millionaire, or at least look like one, go become a Somaliland money-changer.
17)A better way to get rich quick is to buy a toilet roll and stand outside a public toilet in Egypt’s tourist sites. At 1 pound per entry, and 10 busloads of 40 pee-filled tourists as your customers, you are set.
18)Don’t mess with tribespeople with sharp teeth, and sharper daggers. Politely refuse when they ask if they can beat you up.
19)Half the world calls it chai, and the other half calls it tea. Someone needs to do a poll and settle on one name. And one teacup size. Preferably a big mug. With milk and sugar.
20)The following anti-mosquito techniques should be used as a step-by-step guide in conjunction with your room stay. (a) spray the closed room with insecticide to excite mozzies. (b) burn a mozzie coil, go for dinner. (c) come back and go on a mozzie killing spree in the room. (d) put on repellent (e) hide inside a mozzie net.

Other random thoughts. I weighed myself, still 69kg =) Peeling skin badly from the beach excursion. Also, by the end of the day, i was something of a hero, having got the wireless router working again. Tomorrow it’s back home.

95 – Backpacker’s lodge

1st Mar, Milimani backpackers & Safari lodge, Nairobi, Kenya
In the morning, i decided i would stay somewhere else besides the New Kenya Lodge, where i had been staying the last 3 times i was in Nairobi. Milimani backpackers was located just outside of town (300 KSH  by cab from the city centre). It was like the Red Chilli back in Kampala, a backpackers enclave that was more well equipped and mod than New Kenya. Where New Kenya had just basic rooms, Milimani backpackers (600 KSH per night) had a bar, its own restaurant, and internet cafe and besides dorms, also had self contained rooms, safari tents and camping grounds for those overlanders.

The crowd were mainly westerners, no doubt here after reading LP’s entries. There were independent backpackers, some in between safaris as well as the regular long term occupants. It was a slightly different atmosphere than New Kenyan, with its regular clientele of Asians, Japanese and Koreans whose guidebooks direct them there. Me im comfortable in either surroundings.

Due to its relatively obscure located outside the city, its was safe. A little expensive too, since unless you walk down to the city centre to self-cater, getting food means buying off the restaurant menu, which is more pricey than eating in town. Still, it was convenient, and the food i had for dinner was pretty good (350 KSH for a chapati, chicken curry and vege). To get into town, its bus number 46 outside around 100-200m down the road, and coming back its 46 taken from the bus stop outside the Hilton.

The rest of the day was spent lounging around in the seating room, and me trying to fix the broken wireless connection without succeeding. Watched dvds (ingluorious basterds) at night. I’ve one more night here, and i’ll see if i just want to laze, or i can be bothered to go into town.

94 – From Lamu to Nairobi

28th Feb, On  a bus, Kenya
Woke up in the morning, bade farewell to the lodge staff, and made my way to the jetty. As usual, the boat was packed to the rafters before setting off. The TSS bus on the mainland, despite being the more cramped 5 seats in a row, instead of Tahmeed’s 4 seats, was actually more comfortable. Since i had a window seat, and the bus was one of those huge coaches, it was heavier and better equipped to traverse the poor Lamu-Mombasa. It was less bumpy and i could read my book throughout.

Reaching Mombasa, i had 3 hours to kill. So i went down to the Old Town, which was by the beach, and did a loop around, stopping by Fort Jesus (did not enter, but its 800 KSH here). Most of the shops were closed on this Sunday evening, but the locals were out at the park located along Fort Jesus, on a cliff by the seafront.

I made my way down to an indian restaurant for dinner. There was a large indian population here. Their features are anything but african, but these Kenyans have lived here their lives and are as local as can be. Still, walking down the streets of old town, i could mistake it as a little india from back home. The buildings in the Old Town are another sight to behold. Typical of the old buildings along the Swahili coast, they are all clustered together alongside narrow alleyways. National Museums of Kenya has done quite a bit of conservation here, and many of the buildings with their balconies have been restored.

After dinner, hanged around for a bit, before taking the bus from Mombasa to Nairobi (700 KSH).

93 – Sheila Beach

Sat 27th Feb, Lamu Castle Lodge, Lamu, Kenya

Today was spent on the Sheila beach, a 3.5km walk along the sea from Lamu past Sheila town. Sheila is a small town on Lamu island, with grander more expensive places to stay and some nicely designed and maintained homes with a local flavour courtesy of the expats who build big holiday houses here. But of more interest to me is the stretch of beach that stretches 12km down from Sheila town.

But first things first. Lamu town is situated on the western shore of Lamu island, and it would be a travesty if i fail to catch a single sunrise here. So at 6am, i made my way down to the beachfront, and was treated to fantastic views of the dawn. I had my twin samosas and tea for breakfast (70 KSH)

Sheila beach was as i expected and more. A barren sandy beach with fine sand. It was not crowded, only a few tourists at that moment. It was also low tide, so i could go deep across to a sand spit which overlooked Manda Island across the channel. There were also a horde of sea birds on the spit, gulls maybe. And a flying fish school. A dhow later anchored on the spit and the passengers played beach footie. The tide was rising though and there was a current, so i stopped swimming back and forth, hence did not join them.

Remember many entries earlier when i mentioned the sun along the coast beats down mercilessly. From Zanzibar to Dar, to Mombasa and Lamu, i would be drenched in sweat. Here, in the water, i somehow forgot about the sun, with disastrous consequences. Despite applying copious amount of sunblock on my face, i neglected my back and ended up very sunburnt. The next morning, i would suffer as i mounted my backpack across my bag and shoulders when leaving Lamu.

Less and less excitement, and more and more relaxation, i know. But after 3 and half months, i figured it is time i treat myself and just sit back. Tomorrow, i’ll make my way down to Mombasa (400 KSH on TSS Express Bus, 9am-4pm, why the return leg is only half price on this bus company i’ll never know). From there, i’ll take the night bus from Mombasa to Nairobi (700 KSH on TSS bus, 9pm to dawn next day).

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.

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

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