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An African diary

Louise Paquette June 1, 2010 Travel No Comments on An African diary

Dec. 30, 2009

Airports look pretty much the same, and Amsterdam is no different. I found a comfortable spot and sleep off and on until 11 am when I board KLM to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.The flight attendant announces it is an eight- hour flight to Arusha (Kili). I am convinced if I sleep on the plane, I won’t suffer too much jet lag. We land at exactly 11:35 pm, bang on schedule. Both my pieces of luggage also arrive, which I must admit is a pleasant surprise. I spot my daughter, Ashley, and her husband, Rush. I can’t believe I’m actually here.

Jan. 1 2010

Ashley explains our itinerary. From Dar, we will travel by boat to Zanzibar for five days, then fly to Arusha for two days, then fly to Mwanza. She’s booked flights, hotels and drivers. On New Year’s Day, we walk into town. It is very hot, to the point where one of the local businessmen stops and asks Rush if his car has broken down. I’m sure he tells him his crazy Canadian mother-in-law insists on walking.

Jan. 4, 2010

We board a “speed” ferry to Zanzibar. It is quite the ride as we are seat-belted down, and this ferry bullets over the water, slamming up against huge waves. Two hours later, at around noon, we arrive at the port.

The religious and ethnic diversity here cannot be overstated. Men, women and children dressed in a multitude of colours walk the streets.
The fortunate peasants carry their produce and fishnets in huge baskets attached to their bicycles, while others carry heavy loads perched on their heads, and women carry children on their backs.

In Stonetown, we visit the slave market that Dr. Livingstone liberated. Very sad, particularly the caves where the blacks were kept before being auctioned.
That evening, we visit shops and the fish markets, and the spice fields: cloves, vanilla, cinnamon you name it, they grow it!

Jan. 5, 2010

After breakfast, we head to Ocean Paradise Resort in Nyunguai. We spend four days at this lovely resort. The beach is fascinating. Massai walking in full regalia, men bicycling carrying heavy loads, women (colorfully dressed) selling kanghas for $5.

We visit a small Muslim community, located about half a kilometre from the hotel. Asana, a local beach boy, is our guide. Children literally swarm us. All the girls wear dresses and the boys wear short pants and T-shirts. None of them have shoes. They reach to grab our hands and walk with us through the labyrinth of mud houses. There is no running water and no electricity. They cook over wood fires.

Some 3,000 people live here in this small space.

The Indian Ocean’s tide is so different. It goes out mid-day about one kilometre. We walk to the tide shelf and see sea urchins, sponges that spewed purple dye, starfish, crabs and of course, the seaweed that is collected and eaten. Quite a bizarre feeling being so far into the ocean floor and realizing the shore is a good 20 -minute walk back in. Especially, when it starts to rain.

After four days of relaxing, sunning, talking and eating, it is time to move on. On our last night, Ashley and I have a seafood dinner like I have never experienced: crab, shrimp, lobster, octopus, calamari, red snapper all grilled on the barbecue.

Jan. 10, 2010

Our driver picks us up at 10 am to take us to the airport for Arusha. As we check our luggage, one of the authorities rummages through my suitcase. She pulls out my red jewelry box and asks to open it. She smiles, says OK, zips up the suitcase and puts her hand out for money. I am shocked. I remind her she is a government employee. Ashley gives her  money, and says if I ever want to see my jewelry again, I have no choice.

An agricultural community of about one million people, Arusha is home to many Tanzanite mines. It is also next to Kilimanjaro, which we climb for seven hours to the First Base Camp, some 16 kilometres in total. The walk up was slow and steady. At night I sleep well.

Driving to Kilimanjaro from Arusha is a chance to appreciate the countryside. It is impossible to capture the sights. At 6:30 am, we are on the road and there are school children, farmers, and women carrying produce. It is so busy.

I take as many photos as possible. Much of the farming is very labour intensive, but I see the odd tractor. Oxen still serve as the energy for most farmers, children pull carts of bananas and grass. Women carrying children on their backs and pails of whatever on their heads are very common.

Jan. 12 – 17, 2010

We are on the plane heading to Mwanza. I still can’t see the top of Kili because of clouds. Landing at a small airport, it is hot and pleasant. Rush’s parents greet us, and we drive to their home. The main road is lined with people walking, carrying produce, or selling pineapple, nuts or corn that they cook alongside the road on little charcoal barbecues.
I am particularly enjoying my time with Ashley. I don’t know how she does it. The overwhelming differences of culture , language, religion, food and dress can’t be overstated. Not to mention the comfort level as people stare at white women; children often begging; the traffic is crazy and very aggressive. And then to come home, and the family speaks Punjabi, the music is Punjabi and the food is primary Indian.

The power goes off intermittently and without any generator, you simply wait. Other than several main roads, the infrastructure is terrible. Minimum wage is $2.50 a day. There is no middle class – only rich and poor. And the sad thing is, this country is so rich in resources: significant rich agricultural land with vegetables/fruit of all kinds, Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti (tourism!), Zanzibar beaches, the mines, and lumber (ebony).

I meet Mama Kuku, who is the head of Rotary in Tanzania. She is what is good about this country. With only 17 clubs in the country, she hopes to set up 12 more this year. This is wonderful because accountability is key to successful development. The locals feel foreign aid countries do not hold the government here accountable and, as a result, people are lining their pockets and the NGOs are sometimes corrupt. As a result, people are desperate and steal.

The sounds of Mwanza include cars honking, birds chirping, dogs barking, trucks shifting, cocks crowing, people talking, motorcycles roaring, mosques singing, cars grinding. It is hot, sunny, bright and very busy on the streets with people walking along both sides of the road, packed Dala-dalas (20-seat buses) crowd the streets as they hussle hoards of people in and out of town. For 25 cents, you too can travel like a sardine.

We visit the orphanage today in Wawata, which is about a 40-minute drive in a Land Rover over some pretty sad cow trails, and manage to get stuck in the mud.

Another day Ashley and her friend, Christina, a widow of 35 who lost her husband in a train accident and has two of her own children and two adopted kids, went to the market and bought $300 of food – rice, beans, sugar, maïs, flour, which we stored at Christine’s duka. A duka is a small corner store.

Ashley and another Canadian friend gave Christine $300 so she could buy this daka and earn a living. She works seven days a week, from 7 am to 8 pm, and closes up if she can’t be there.

The Serengeti (means endless plains in Maasai). It’s hard to find words to capture the feelings of excitement. What I had dreamed of seeing ever since I can remember was before my very eyes. Then the giraffes appear, towering over the trees: so majestic, so tall. And the landscape so magnificent. We drive for six hours visiting waterholes where hippos bath, and crocodiles slither on rocks into the water. The “deer” kingdom is made up of little tiny “dickdicks” and impalas and topias and gazelles and elands, Kongomi and grants.

Our lodge, the Serena, are round huts made of stone, with a balcony that overlook the Serengeti. Fences are prohibited in the park and animals wander in. So, I cannot walk alone after 7 pm and must be accompanied by a member of the staff to reach the dining room. The next day, we see more zebras and giraffes, but also elephants and water buffalo.

But the highlight are the two leopards. Up so close!  As we drove for eight hours, it was National Geographic live!

The landscape and vistas are amazing. A camera can’t begin to do it justice. From the northern woodlands with dense tall grass and ondulating hills, to the southern plains of open grasslands on a high plateau, the Seregenti is a spectacular place. We arrive at the Kepinski, one of the most luxurious hotels I have had the pleasure of staying at, and as I sit in my bathtub with a huge window next to me, elephants are drinking at the waterhole, not 20 feet away.

When we leave the next morning, we drive to Ngorongoro Conservation Area. The Maasi live here. And it is home to a huge crater or cadera.

What I see as we enter Ngorongoro is breathtaking. It brings tears to my eyes: the migration of over a million wildebeest and zebra and impalas.Picture a flat field with short grass – I mean totally flat and as far as the horizon on both sides and the animals are walking. We are completely surrounded as far as the eye can see. I am perched up in the Land Cruiser and am speechless. It is an absolutely amazing sight.  Breathtaking. The animals look like specks on the horizon and they’re so close to us, we could touch them. Of course, you can never get out of the vehicle which has a roof that pops up, a typical safari truck, but very comfortable with lots of room for the five of us and the driver.

After this experience I can’t imagine anything would impress me. That night we stay at a lodge just outside the crater, and the next morning we hit the road at 8 am, and down we go into the cadera.

Did you know that no two zebras have the same stripe pattern? They are like our fingerprints. Black striped zebras are male, brown striped ones are female.

There were so many animals in the crater: zebras, rhinoceros, wart-hogs, a small wild cat, hyenas (lots!) and again the landscape is beautiful. It’s like being in the bottom of a bowl. On our way back from Ngorongoro, we saw a lot of Maasai. They are very tall, colourfully dressed in red and purple sarongs, wearing hug earrings, and carry spears. Nomadic herders, they live off the land and herd goats and cows and camels which is their currency.

As we leave the gates of the Serengeti, I feel blessed to have witnessed such amazing sights. It is without a doubt, “A Wonder of the World.”

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