Full moon in Zanzibar

February 9, 2006

Here is a little slice of Zanzibar from our time at the beach in Kendwa in the northern tip…

The full moon party at the Kendwa Rocks is gyrating at full speed. It is filled with local men looking for tourists to dance with, and tourists being wowed by the acrobatic show illuminated by the roaring beach fire. The party goes on late in to the night, but I turn in around midnight. This means I am one of the few folks on the beach to see why a full moon was a reason to party long before the tourists started coming.

The waters off the coast at the northern tip of the island are always shallow, but when there is a full moon the tides are so low you can walk at least a kilometer off shore and keep your head above water, which turns out to be perfect for hand held net fishing.

As I gaze northward there are at least a hundred and fifty women spread out thousands of feet from the shore across the blue zebra skin of seaweed darkened water and sand that shines from beneath. As the water becomes a solid blue far from shore, there are still scarf-covered heads dotting the water.

Close to shore there are 17 women wearing long dresses of impossibly bright and busy prints. The patterns are red and orange or yellow and blue. There is a multicolored tie dye of red, orange, green and white. A yellow and black checkerboard of cloth is hanging loosely on top of an explosive brown and orange patterned sheath underneath. Some wear matching head scarves, some favor solid black. All seem as though this is the most normal thing in the world to wear as they stand waist or chest deep in the ocean.

The women form a 60 foot semi circle and walk perpendicular to the beach, 30 feet off shore. They walk north along the coast, and even the farthest woman’s head is far above the gentle waves. They are quiet as they move steadily along the shore. Then they start smacking the water with sticks, splashing and talking occasionally. Then roaring with laughter as their boisterous shouting carries across the water and down the shore.

Four women hold a pair of nets in the center. As the group nears me the semi circle begins to close into a circle as the women act like a tightening noose, driving the fish toward the nets. Slowly the nets are drawn close and the women stand around talking and shouting as the net bearers attend to the nets, hopefully filled with fish.

Then at the same steady pace the women return to the south with their catch. There is lots more to do and the low tide won’t last for long.

A few Zanzibar (Kendwa) Photos

Watch this space…

January 30, 2006

Lions MatingI have been so consumed with trying to catch up on photos I am way behind in writing… Coming soon is a write up on Kilimanjaro, Zanzibar, Safari, and the Train to Zambia. In the mean time I am off to Bovu Island (an island 30 km outside of Livingston in the Zambezi) for a few days, but here are a few safari photos as a teaser in the meantime.

Tanzania Safari Photos

Dar Es Salaam to Zambia by Train

January 25, 2006

A boy in the Mpika train station We took the train from Dar (Tanzania) to Kapiri Mposi (Zambia). It was supposed to be a 41 hour trip, but actually arrived 47 hours and 45 minutes late! 4 days is a long time to be on a train! I am in the process of writing up a detailed account, but in the mean time here is a link to the only high point of sitting in a train station all day:

Photos of Zambian kids in the Kasama and Mpika train stations.

Some words should not be used in a personal.

A 33 years old male Indian national is looking for a nice femail friend cum business partner without ant discrimination of race colour or Religion interested Call: 0746 925 411Regardless of context, I just don’t think using the word “cum” in a personal ad is a good idea.

A 33 years old male Indian national is looking for a nice female friend cum business partner without any discrimination of race colour or Religion interested Call: 0746 925 411

This is an ad I found in the classified section of a circular in Zanzibar and my heart went out to the guy.

Who’s your daddy? Is he big like me?

January 20, 2006

Take home the Big Daddy.Ever since Andrew Teman brought to light the sexually tinged “I’d Hit It” McDonald’s campaign, I have kept a special eye on fast food ads.

There is an African burger chain called “Steers”. They are running a campaign that struck me as almost as suggestive as McDonalds:

“Take home the Big Daddy!”

But ask him to be gentle if it is your first time doing it with a sandwich.

A penny saved might not be 1% of dollar.

Exchange rates signI have long known that traveler’s checks get less good exchange rates than cash. I have seen people refuse to change old or stained cash, but this is the first time I have seen people reduce the rates by (almost 20%!) for small bills. I have seen this sort of thing tat virtually all currency exchange places in Dar Es Salaam. This is doubly surprising because just 3 weeks ago in Moshi people were very anxious to get small US notes to make change. Sounds like an arbitrage opportunity to me.

None the less, I still like having some small bills because no one ever has any change!

Paradise found…

January 19, 2006

SwissportI refer not to the lovely beaches of Kendwa in Zanzibar, but to our luggage!

28 days after checking our bags in Bolivia we finally have them back. In fairness, mine came back five days before Soyan’s, after only 23 days of being “delayed” and this included a trip to Nairobi, Kenya which even I haven’t had time to visit.

Malaysian Airlines was the legally responsible party and Swissport are their representatives in South Africa and Tanzania. While I can forgive the general incompetence of Swissport, I can’t forgive the tendency to lie in an effort to hide the incompetence.

There were countless promises that were not honored, lies about where I had asked for the bags to be sent, complete ignorance as to the location of my bags, and assurances that they were on flights that they weren’t on.

In contrast, the folks at American Express Global Assist were pretty terrific. I have spoken them at least 25 times and they must have called and emailed Swissport and various airports at least 100 times and probably closer to 200. This includes calling every half hour when they are supposed to be open, but nobody answers. This also includes calling every half hour when the manager vanished into a “meeting” for an entire day.

I’ll be submitting a detailed claim to Air Malaysia for the costs incurred for my “delayed” luggage and we’ll see if they do the right thing.

In the meantime a couple quick tips for what you should do if you are travelling to Africa, since 5 of 27 people in my group had their luggage lost or delayed, and what you should (and should not) say to your friends when their luggage is lost.

Tips to save yourself headaches if your luggage is “delayed”:

  • Know the brand, model and color of your luggage.
  • Have some sort of distinctive tag or marker on the outside.
  • Have your name, address and phone number in a sturdy luggage tag on the outside, not just one of the paper ones from the airline. They tear off too eaisily.
  • Have your name, address and phone number on the inside too. This is in case the tags are lost and they need to open the bag.
  • Keep track of which bag corresponds to which claim check. I know this sounds crazy, but it would have saved us a lot of hassle when my bag was returned without the claim check.
  • Wear your hiking boots on the plane.
  • Carry your prescription medicines and medical supplies on the plane.
  • Carry any chargers (and plug adaptors) with you for any electronics you carry with you, such as your cell phone and camera.
  • Carry a minimum selection of toiletries with you if you can bear it. It is not essential because these can be easily purchased and hotels often have them, but it is nice not to have to bother tracking them down after a long trip.

What to say (and not say) to your firends if they lose their luggage:

  • Say: “I am so sorry, is there anything I can loan you?” or “That really sucks, how can I help?” or just “Man what a bummer!”
  • Do not say anything that appears on the list above. They already know all that now. What they want is a little sympathy, maybe some toothpaste and a t shirt, but not a damn lecture!


January 18, 2006

We had planned to take the train from Dar Es Salaam to Ujiji (really all the way to Kigoma, but it is just a few miles from Ujiji). Ujiji was the town where Stanely uttered the immortal words, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.” Kigoma is on the border of lake Tanganika and from there we had planned to take the ferry down to Zambia.

Livingstone wandered all the way from one coast of Africa to the other and then for years more to get to Ujiji. Stanely spent vast sums of money and caught an almost equally vast array of diseases in his year long trip to Ujiji to find Livingstone. Soyan I were unwilling to wait two weeks to take the train.

After our trip to the Zambian embassy this morning to apply for our visas, we headed to the train station only to find that all the seats for the two weeks of trains to Kigoma are full. We spoke to the main ticket window, the first class ticket window, the assistant station manager and the station manager, but there was nothing to be done. We did put our names on a waitlist with the station manager, but the assistant station manger had already told us that nobody cancels.

After much research, we decided to scrap our trip to Kigoma and head straight for Zambia on a different train which we could get tickets for. The only problem is that we had to book the whole compartment (4 seats) to avoid splitting up in a men’s car and a woman’s car.

If there is another couple heading from Dar to Zambia on Friday the 20th please contact me and we’ll sell you tickets at a discount if you don’t snore.

Krishna and Budda and Santa, oh my!

Moshi was our jumping off point for our Kilimanjaro trip. This meant we spent Christmas in Moshi. So how does a part time Jew and nominal Buddhist spend Christmas in Tanzania?

After a dinner with a handful of other would be Kilimanjaro climbers, we all took a walk to see what was happening in town. Moshi boasts a Catholic diocese, an Islamic mosque and a Hindu temple all with in a few blocks of each other. We made the obvious choice and picked the biggest party, and that was the Hindu temple.

Madhu, an Indian in our group, approached the temple to see if it would be alright if we took a look around. After waiting for a steady stream of cars to exit the gate, we were welcomed into the compound and sent to find the temple entrance.

We clustered by the door and large open windows peering into the temple, afraid to take off our shoes and enter, as if it might some how commit us to a conversion. It was an unusual sight with open fires of enormous logs in the center of the floor, huge display of offerings, ornate sculptures of Hindu gods and people in traditional Indian dress moving purposely to and fro.

Woman praying
Once we worked up our nerve to leave our shoes we were almost immediately greeted by a temple official who offered to show us around and explained that it was the 50th anniversary, the golden jubilee, of the temple. He was very gracious and made us feel comfortable quickly.

Despite our protests that we had just come from dinner, he begged us to have something to eat. When he finally gave up his mission to feed us dinner, he urged us to return for lunch the next day.

Thousands of miles from home, on my first trip to a Hindu temple, nearly a dozen of us tumbled through the door at 10 PM in grubby backpacker clothes during the biggest event in the history of the temple. Not only were we welcomed, but people dropped everything to explain the Hindu religion and show us around. It is hard to imagine the same reception during midnight mass at any Church or during the high holidays at any Synagogue. I am sure that nobody has gone to such effort to make me feel welcome in any place of worship, ever.

After our tour, he had some official business to attend to, so he left us to wander on our own. Before he left I inquired if it would be all right to take some photographs. He said that the Hindu religion had no problem with photos and we were free to photograph anything we liked. I was thrilled, since the setting was fantastic and I was anxious to capture it. I refrained from using my flash, because it felt disruptive, even though there was not much light.

Minal Patel It was warm and generous beyond all reasonable expectations and I felt very lucky to be so included, but it was getting late. So, after an hour of wandering among the hundreds of people speaking a mix of Gujarati, Swahili and English we decided to call it a night, but I resolved to come back the next day for some lunch and take advantage of better light.

The next day a small group of us headed back to the temple and found that last night welcome had been no exception, but the rule. Many people welcomed us and those that recognized us from the night before were thrilled that we had returned.

We met a charming woman, Minal Patel, and her younger brother. Their grandfather had founded the temple and and they had come from London for the celebration. They were wonderful guides (and models). There are several photos of them in the set of photos linked below. These are the wonderful sorts of people and events that travel lets one happen upon and I feel terribly lucky to have happened upon at just the right time.

Krishna must be looking out for me.

You can see all the Moshi Hindu Temple Golden Jubilee Photos here. I’d love any constructive criticism to the photos.

I have peaked!

January 2, 2006

Or getting higher than I have ever been for New Year’s… I am delighted to report that Soyan and I both sucessfully summited Kilimanjaro. I have lot’s to say about it, but not much time as we leave on safari tommorow and the internet Cafe is closing in 5 minutes. In the mean time here are a few triumphant photos…