21 August 2011

Hey Raffikki!

Yet again I find myself sitting on the shores of another stunning beach, this time in a place called Pangani, a relatively quiet little town north of Dar es Salam. Yesterday we left the island of Zanzibar in style, but more about that later.

We arrived in the town of Dar es Salaam on Wednesday, the 10th of August. With the veterinary volunteer work done with, we decided to stay in the capital city for just a couple days. In this time all three of us discovered cracks in our rear wheel rims. Imraan and Jiten opted for having a local “bike” shop replace their rims with other second hand rims. The shop only had two 26inch double walled rims and with the little faith I had in their abilities I decided to stay with my current rim – the crack is hairline and on the outer wall, I'm hoping with reduced pressure that it will make it to Nairobi where we've been told there is a real bike shop that would be able to supply quality parts. You might be asking why the cracked rims? I can only assume it had to do with us inflating the tyres to almost their maximum pressure rating, add do that a few nasty bumps over the course of 6500kms and we might have an answer. Still I'm no expert so maybe some of you who know more might be able to shed some light on this (feel free to post comments below).

In Dar we were happily surprised by our visits two different High Commissions. First the Kenyan High Commission where we went to apply for visas but were told that being South African meant that we could enter Kenya for a period of 90 days without a visa! Great news indeed!!!! Then we cycled onto the South African High Commission in the upmarket suburb of Misaki where we met a wonderful proudly South African lady by the name of Joymare who not only invited us for dinner but also offered to give all our clothes a wash in the machine – naturally we accepted both these generous offers without thinking twice. And if that weren't enough, she also gave me a new South African flag which I now fly very proudly on the front corner of my handle bar bag – kind of like a state vehicle would – it looks very cool.

On the Friday we caught a ferry to Zanzibar and arrived in Stone Town shortly before sunset after a three hour boat ride. I must say that prior to this trip, I'd done very little research into the places we're visiting, as such I had no idea what to expect of Stone Town. And this was great, for when the  densely built-up little town came into sight, it was not what I expected. Stone Town, is a world apart from the rest of the African towns we've been through. With its old churches, mosques, palaces, and other old buildings its easy to see why this town is a World Heritage Site. Cycling down the narrow paved  lanes, in-between buildings with ancient hand carved wooden doors, passed castle ruins, gardens alive with night time trade, passed little shops, dodging people, other bicycles, and scooters... I felt like a kid. This was the most fun town I've cycled in. In fact exploring by bicycle is a very fun way to see Stone Town. Alas we would only spend the night here before heading to the northern part of the island, to a place called Kendwa Rocks.

Kendwa Rocks is very much a tourist beach spot. Very busy, with several resorts, the reason for our haste to this town was that not only was it a Saturday night, it was also full moon party night. Party we did, until the early hours of Sunday morning. Needless to say Sunday was a write-off but given the rainy weather it was a good day to spend in bed reading.

On Monday it was time to head back to Stone Town. Naturally our previous visit was way too short so we had to go back. Jiten and Imraan opted to rent a room and leave their bikes in Nungwi (the town next to Kendwa Rocks) but given that cycling around Stone Town and the rest of the island was such a positive prospect, I opted to keep the bike with me and cycled the 55kms back to Stone Town. The first reward of this decision was visiting the Mtoni Ruins along the way. A former palace and birthplace to Princess Salme. A local student by the name of Juma gave me tour of the ruins and related the story of the princess who eloped with a German businessman in the 1800's. The ruins are now being slowly restored and one hopes that in the not too distant future the complete restoration of the palace will be a major drawcard for tourists. Though, being there and the only tourist around was in itself a rewarding experience.

By the afternoon I met up with Jiten and Imraan again on the streets of Stone Town, where we  would spend the next few days exploring, visiting historical places (such as the Palace Museum, House of Wonders, the Church built over the Old Slave Market, etc.), and eating. Islam is the dominant religion in Zanzibar. And being the month of Ramadaan means that night time food is plenty and, well just an all round feast all over the town. One could visit the night market at Forodhani Gardens – very much a tourist place but even at tourist prices it was still affordable to splash out on things crab, pizza, grilled cubes of meat, lobster, prawns, chips, and more. For a more  local experience we would visit the roadside stalls in the inner part of Stone Town. For when the days fast had come to an end these stalls served a variety hot fresh delights. It was at one such stall that we found the most amazing burgers – there weren't very big, and neither was the patty, but together with fresh warm rolls, salsa'd tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, pepper, lettuce, maybe red onion, and chilli sauce, these little burgers delivered explosions of flavour with every bite. We ate them every night. Then for a mere Tsh300 (R1,50) we would buy a glass of freshly squeezed sugarcane juice. The juice extracted in front of your very eyes by running the sugarcane stalk through hand cranked rollers. To my delight there were also cucumbers, skinned and cut in thick slices served with a mixture of salt and chilli powder... what a winner! On this note I'd like to expand a little on our culinary experience thus far.

For the most part roadside food has been pretty bland, especially so in Mozambique and Malawi. However, from our first day in Tanzania I had a suspicion that things were going to be different here. And as we made our way closer to the coast the Tanzanian roadside stalls did not disappoint. Fresh chappatis (or rotis to my Durban friends, and rooti's to the Cape Town ones) and chai (tea), samp and beans, their own version of bhajias served with a spicy chilli relish, potato curry, samoosas (real samoosas with mince and greens in it, not rice as they have in Mozambique and Malawi), hashbrowns, grilled meat, water melon slices, and even green mangoes with chilli powder and salt.. Now this is the kind of food we've been getting at the local spots.

Anyway, back to Zanzibar, but still a little more on the food situation. Being the month of Ramadaan means that Muslims don't eat or drink anything the whole day (from a little before sunrise to sunset). Now being in Zanzibar, means that the locals also don't serve  food during this time (with the exception of the tourist restaurants and hotels) and its also expected that those not fasting will not eat or drink in public. What this essentials means for the cycle tourist is that we end up “fasting” ourselves, and very much look forward to the sunset and call of prayer which heralds in the start of the feast. That's not to say we didn't eat or drink anything the whole day, just very very little. The other day I went to a shop to get a coke, knowing full well that they would not let me drink it there, I told the lady behind the counter that I understood that it was Ramadaan, but could I please buy the coke and drink it behind the shop where nobody would see me... she said that seeing as I knew this she would do me a favour and let me drink it in the store room, and so the into the storeroom I was lead and with the door closed was able to have in ice cold coke... it was worth the effort!

We stayed in Stone Town up until Thursday and then made our way back to Nungwi in the north. On the Saturday we were lucky enough to get a chartered speed boat to the mainland town of Pangani. I say lucky as it's quite pricey to charter a boat for the trip, however some rather affluent Americans did this on Saturday morning leaving from Pangani and arriving at Kendwa Rocks, we caught the boat on its return trip and so got a rather good deal.

And so it is here at Pangani that we find ourselves, lying on the beach with a setting sun to our backs.  Its not too touristy (I suspect this will change in the next few years), and the beach has but a handful of of us milling around. We were meant to take just one day off, but seeing as we're 350kms from Kili, and we're only climbing on the 4th September, we're likely to take the day off tomorrow as well and spend just one day lounging on the shores of the Indian Ocean. This is the last we'll see of this ocean and the next time we meet the endless mass of salt water again will be the Red Sea in Egypt.

Speaking of Kili, in exactly two weeks time we'll be setting off on one of the biggest highlights and challenges of the trip (if not our lives). Many thanks go out to our sponsors for this leg of the trip, a fine company called Fine Young Africans based in Johannesburg. I think we're all just a tad bit nervous as the time draws nearer, given that we've done no hiking since... since well before the start of this trip! We are however quite fit so we're fully confident of a successful summit. Time will tell. We'll also be joined by three other fine young Africans – Donna Riley (yes, the artist who  wrote and sang the SiyaShova song, which if you don't own by now you can do so by ordering a CD from the website), and a pair of FNB's executives – Ashley Mathura and Kenneth Mooi. And now that FNB has jut got a plug in this blog we hope that the banking giant will inject some of its funds into our initiative.

Lastly, today I visited a private library. Not a fancy one, not a big one, not one that you would expect to find in this town. It belongs a local tour guide here. A young man who goes by the name Rasta Ally. He's about our age, and has started a library for the town. Its a two room place that he rents and provides books for free. Yes, free. Local kids are able to come here and read books. I was quite impressed by this. We're used to libraries being provided by the government, and of course the libraries of other institutions and typically well off individuals. Having no books to donate myself at this point in time, I know that every one of you reading this blog does. It can be any book – for little kids, adults, fiction, non-fiction, old, or new. Now I suppose that sending a physical package is also something that you don't do too often, so I urge you to send just one book (more if you want) to this much deserving library in Pangani. I assure you it will not cost much if you send it using standard mail at your local post office and well, this is a good cause. Anyone is able to borrow books from the library.

Rasta Ally
Box 74
East Africa

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