A Travellerspoint blog

Mumbai, India


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Mumbai (also known as Bombay) is the capital city of the Indian state of Maharashtra and it is the financial, commercial and entertainment capital of India. It is also the most populous city in India with just over 20 million souls. Yes 20 mmmmiiiiiillion!

We arrived at 5am (2:30am for us coming from Ethiopia) so despite the excitement of finally being in India, we just wanted a bed to crash on. Greg's friend Gabriella from Port Elizabeth has been living in Mumbai for the past 5 years or so and kindly organized accommodation for us with her Aussie friend Scott. Gabi had to travel for work unexpectedly the day we arrived so we didn't see her for a couple of days but we were determined not to let this massive city intimidate us on our first day. After a good nap, we emerged from Scott's apartment in Bandra West just in time for lunch. Bandra West is a suburb in West Mumbai considered quite cosmopolitan so we decided to just walk around our new neighborhood to get our bearings.

I don't think anything can really prepare you for the experience of walking the streets in an Indian city. I had read a few books and watched a few movies set in India so I felt ready, but within minutes of stepping out, I felt overwhelmed. Cars, autorickshaws (also known as tuk-tuks), trucks and taxis all honking continuously and there was no respite. Traffic laws exist but are not enforced and completely ignored. Honking is how vehicles communicate with each other, pedestrians and animals. Cutting someone off: honk; staying in your lane: honk; getting ready to turn left or right: honk; about to squeeze between two cars where there should only be space for 2: honk; pedestrian/dog/cow about to cross the street: honk; hell, haven't honked for the last 5 seconds: honk! Really?? Was that necessary?? You quickly learn that getting frustrated or yelling at the tuk-tuk driver who waited until he was right next to you to glue his finger on the horn and burst your ear drum, will only attract curious, almost amused glances from the locals. Your only chance of survival is to ignore the chaos and go with the flow. Easier said than done but doable. Oh and I forgot to mention the heat. We happened to arrive in India during one of the hottest months of the year so we are talking an average 33 degrees Celsius and incredibly humid so when we saw a sign for "Thai Foot Massage" in the middle of a busy street bazaar, we didn't hesitate for a second. It was ah-maaaa-zing!

We left the spa feeling reinvigorated and ready for the walk home, a shower, dinner and our first tuk-tuk ride.

Bandra sea shore:
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Bandra street market:
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The amazing tuk-tuk:
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Gabi had recommended Pali Bhavan for dinner and it didn't disappoint. The rich texture and incredible flavors of our dishes were heavenly. If all else went pear-shaped for us in India, we knew we would always find comfort in the food.

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Our trusty Lonely Planet map and Greg's phone GPS in hand, we felt confident enough to tackle the city on day 2. We began with a South Indian breakfast at Cafe Madras where the very nice family we shared the table with saw us struggling with the menu and decided to assist. They recommended the best dosa (rice pancake served with various spicy dips) and idli (fermented black lentil and rice cake also served with various spicy dips and sauces) dishes on the menu. Yum! Another quick taxi ride and we were at Babu Amichand Panalal Adiswarji, a beautiful Jain temple on Malabar Hill overlooking Mumbai's Back Bay and Marine Drive.

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View of Malabar Hill from Back Bay:
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Back Bay:
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We decided to walk as far as we could in the mid-day heat and managed to get half way across the bay before hailing a cab to our next stop: Crawford Market, an old style market housed in a historic colonial building. The Lonely Planet warned us about the porters in the market who follow you around hoping to carry your goods and take you to the stalls that will earn them a commission; and that's exactly what happened although we didn't buy anything and kept telling him we weren't interested. This one even followed us across the street before finally giving up. We took refuge in Badsha Snacks and Drinks, also recommended by LP . And so began our obsession with mangos, as it was mango season. We both enjoy mangos but as soon as we took a sip of that first fresh mango juice, we were hooked and already looking forward to the next one.

Crawford Market:
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Fruit heaven:
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Lunch at Revival Restaurant where we tried our first thali (an all you can eat dining experience):
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Greg played tour guide for the afternoon and took me on an architectural walking tour of the city. There were a few too many u-turns for my liking and I felt he may have made a few things up when I asked about the history of some of the colonial buildings, but he got us there in the end and earned his mango treat as tip ;)

Victoria railway station:
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Gateway to India:
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We had dinner in our hood at Mini Punjab, another good recommendation from Gabi. Only problem was that we made the mistake of telling the waiter we didn't mind spicy (based on our last few meals) and they gave us Indian spicy, not the milder fresh off the boat tourist version. We were breathing fire, eyes and noses were free flowing and we became the staff's entertainment for the night. I'm sure bets were placed about whether or not we would make it to the end, who would buckle first and who would be the first to cry. I buckled half way through and cried. Lesson learned. Greg valiantly pushed through because it was actually delicious but there was no question about it, we had been defeated by chilli. Our tails between our legs we hailed our craziest tuk-tuk driver of the trip!

Not him, we were too terrified to take pictures on the way back!
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More sightseeing on day 3 which included a trip to Elephanta Island, home to a network of 7th century cave temples carved out of stone and dedicated to Lord Shiva.

Gateway to India and Taj Mahal Palace hotel in the background:
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Arriving in Elephanta Island:
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Welcoming committee:
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We briefly considered getting a lift up the steep stairs to the caves but decided we needed the exercise:
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Lord Shiva:
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Back on the mainland, we walked around Colaba which sprawls down the city's southernmost peninsula and booked a tour of Dharavi slum with Reality Tours, a not-for-profit organization that reinvests most of its proceeds back into Dharavi, mainly through educational programs. But first, we visited Haji Ali Mosque, a famous Mumbai landmark, before finally meeting Gabi for dinner.

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Our slum tour was not scheduled until 10am the next day but Greg 3 came out the night before after smashing vodka sodas non stop (credit must be given to Scott for bringing him out) and was not feeling great, to put it mildly. He also smashed the other half of my fire-breathing-dragon curry from the previous night just before passing out, which didn't help his delicate condition. I managed to drag him out of the house with just enough time left to make our rendez-vous with the guide.

Need I say more?
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The tour was eye opening and completely changed our perspective of Indian slums. Dharavi is a city within a city with an active economy with a total annual turnover estimated at US$500 million. Dharavi residents have access to schools, clinics, shops, factories, markets and even certain government offices. But not all slums are made equal and some do not have basic infrastructure like running water or toilets. There are apparently over 1,000 slums in Mumbai and half of the city residents live in these slums so approximately 10 million people. What's worse is that the truly destitute in India live on the streets because they can't even afford to live in the slums. Some in makeshift tents on sidewalks or near railway stations; others don't even bother with tents. And these are not the first world streets you are used to; these streets endure an incredible amount of human and animal traffic everyday (both of whom do not hesitate to use them as toilets when the need arises); and litter is thrown out of vehicles or dropped everywhere (except in the few bins scattered around the city) by pedestrians and street vendors so that even if the city's garbage collection system was the most efficient in the world (which it is not), it wouldn't be able to cope with the volume. So now imagine sleeping on these sidewalks...The number of people who live in these appalling conditions is staggering. It made me feel incredibly grateful. How lucky some of us are...

We were not allowed to take pictures in the slum so these are courtesy of Reality Tours:

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Zoe, one of Gabi's friends from South Africa, had recently decided to move to Mumbai and happened to arrive early that day. Very early in fact, we were still out with Scott at the trendy Elbo Room bar. After a long nap, we met the girls and a few more of Gabi's friends for dinner at another good restaurant in our hip neighborhood. The evening quickly turned into an impromptu house party of 8, complete with drinking games, karaoke and dancing.

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We would have stayed all night if we didn't have an early morning flight to Jaipur the following day. What a great night to end our stay in Mumbai.

Thanks again to Gabi and Scott for their hospitality and showing us a great time.

We are currently in Chiang Khong, a city in Northern Thailand and the next update on Rajasthan is coming soon.

Greg and Issy

Posted by gregandissy 07:22 Archived in India Comments (0)

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


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We had initially planned a more extended stay in Ethiopia to see the 13th century monolithic rock-cut churches in Lalibela, the magnificent landscapes of the Danakil depression and the active Erta Ale volcano. I was actually very excited to see this but after making some inquiries we were told it would simply be too hot at this time of year with temperatures reaching over 60 degrees Celsius in some parts. The north of Ethiopia is known to be the hottest place on earth with an average annual temperature of 34 degrees Celsius so it seemed pointless to go there and risk being cooked alive. When researching flights to Mumbai from Kigali, Ethiopian Airlines offered the best deal and happened to connect through Addis Ababa so instead of eliminating Ethiopia from our tour altogether, we decided to spend 3 days there exploring the city that is often referred to as "the political capital of Africa" due to its historical, diplomatic and political significance for the continent. I also remembered a very good Ethiopian restaurant in Montreal called "Le Nil Bleu" and I was looking forward to trying the local food.

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It was almost 9pm by the time we arrived at the Addis Regency hotel and I was still feeling gloomy after the Genocide Memorial visit so we decided to stay in and have an early start the next day.

We walked to some of the city sights - Saint George's Cathedral, The National Museum and Addis Ababa University where the Ethnological Museum is housed. One of the highlights was seeing a replica of Lucy at the National Museum. Her skeleton was discovered in 1974 at Hadar in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia's Afar Depression and is estimated to have lived 3.2 million years ago! For this and many other reasons, Ethiopia is often referred to as the birthplace of civilization.

The streets of Addis Ababa:
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Chilling at the National Museum:
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Satisfied with our cultural tour and by now, extremely hungry, we ended up at "Montreal Cafe" which I thought was a bit ironic. Greg ordered firfir and I, a chicken stew, both of which were served on injera bread. Injera is Ethiopia's national dish. It is a sourdough-risen flat bread traditionally made out of teff flour with a unique and slightly spongy texture. It is usually served as a large pancake in which different delicious stews and salads are placed. It is eaten by tearing small pieces of injera with one's right hand (use of the left hand is frowned upon as it is considered "soiled") to grasp the stews and salads. Firfir is made with small pieces of injera cooked in a spicy tomato-based sauce. It was all absolutely delicious. I wish we would have taken a cooking course!

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Not the left hand you say...deary me!
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Fresh avocado and papaya juices - yum
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We also went to Tomoca, a small coffee shop that supposedly serves the best coffee in Ethiopia. We can actually thank Ethiopia for introducing coffee to the world. Apparently, all plants of the species Coffea arabica around the world are descendants of plants from southern Ethiopia. Learning something new every day.

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Nice view of the city from our hotel rooftop:
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For dinner, we chose Habesha, which is actually a term that Ethiopians and Eritreans use to refer to themselves. There was some live music and the atmosphere was great. Just as we were about to dig into our injera, a wedding party made a dramatic entrance. I could hardly contain my excitement! Before long, a group of young dancers took center stage and we were treated to live traditional music and dance. I don't know how I stayed in my seat but I absolutely loved it. Even Greg had a huge grin on his face. After dinner, we witnessed some local wedding traditions and of course, more dancing!

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I didn't want the evening to end but Greg eventually dragged me out after one of the dancers tried to get him to join in. We're not talking easy 2-step I-haven't-had-enough-to-drink swaying from side to side. Have a look:

Naturally, Greg ran for the hills.

The next day, we went back to the National Museum where we had met a very bright young kid selling chewing gum the previous day. We had turned down his offer to take us on a city tour but we thought about him all day and we just wanted to know more about him. We were happy to see him there with his chewing gum tray and agreed to let him guide us up Entoto Hill for a great view of the city.

We learned that Megbaru's father died when he was very young and at only 12 years of age, he works on weekends and holidays as an unofficial guide, to support his mother, who is HIV positive and can't work, and his 2 younger brothers. Selling chewing gum, is just a front to engage with tourists, in the hope of guiding them around the city and earn some tips. He spent the whole day with us, taking us on local transport (and getting us the local rate, not the unofficial "tourist" inflated rate we get everywhere else) and we learned so much about him and his situation. It was so humbling to see this little 12 year-old cruise the streets, where so many people knew him and engaged him so fondly, and us as a result. We even saw him give some younger kids on the street a few small notes, all with a smile on his face. He doesn't push for any sort of payment at all, but we were more than happy to help him out as we truly enjoyed the experience with him and wished we could do more to help. He even spotted us for transport and refreshments when we didn't have small enough bills. This is a 12 year-old kid who goes to school during the week and tries to earn tips on the weekends to pay the family's rent, provide food, clothing and everything else for his whole family and still remains incredibly happy and cheerful. He told us he is no.4 in his class and wants to become a doctor. Megbaru is wise beyond his years and I have no doubt he will succeed. For such a small cost to us, we took care of his rent for the month and some extra for food. He deserves it and so much more. He even came with us to the airport to say goodbye and we were sad to leave him.

Our day with Megbaru:

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If you are ever in Addis Adaba, I would seriously recommend looking for Megbaru outside the National Gallery, and letting him take you around the city. We took down his email address, but must have made a typo as it doesn't go through, so if anyone in the traveling community does meet him, please get it for us, as we would like to stay in touch with him and send him some of the pictures and the selfies he took on Greg's phone.

We couldn't believe our time in Africa had come to an end but were excited for the next stop: incredible India!

Greg and Issy

Posted by gregandissy 09:26 Archived in Ethiopia Comments (0)

Rwanda


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I'm embarrassed about being so far behind with the updates! My sincerest apologies to those who have been waiting. We are in Pokhara, Nepal in the most relaxing house on the edge of Fewal Lake near the Anapurna Conservation Area and I hope to catch up a bit.

On the fllght from Moshi to Kigali:
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We had planned only 3 days in Rwanda to see the gorillas in Volcans National Park, as the daily costs seemed pretty hefty, but the detour was worth every penny. Everything to do with the gorillas tends to be overpriced based on the steep permit cost foreigners have already paid to see these creatures, at least that's how it seemed when trying to plan in advance. Transfers from Kigali, hotels, tour operators, all seem to take advantage. There's a good reason for the high permit cost though, aside from the obvious economic benefit. As there are very few gorillas left in the world, they are trying to limit the number of people who enter the park to see them, mainly because gorillas are very sensitive to some human borne diseases like influenza for which they have no defenses. We feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to spend some time with these beautiful animals and observe them in their natural environment.

On our way to Musanze, we stopped to admire the nice view of Kigali:
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When we initially inquired about transfers and hotels, we accepted the heavy price tag assuming the options were limited but upon further research and the help of Shaun Skelton, our friend Lynn's cousin who lives in Kigali, we were able to reduce the accommodation costs considerably. We hired a driver (renting a car seemed tricky) to take us to Musanze, 120km North West of the capital where we would spend the night and then on to Kinigi the next day, a small town about 10km further at the base of Mount Sabyinyo where we would begin our gorilla trek. We agreed to meet him in the hotel's parking lot at 6:30am to make it in time for the trek briefing in Kinigi at 7am but by 6:45am there was still no sign of him and I began to panic. They'll leave without us! The permits are issued for a particular day with no refunds for cancelations or delays, so we thought it was essential to get there on time. The hotel staff went to check on him and sure enough he had overslept. I was getting anxious huddling with Greg under an umbrella next to the vehicle, as it was pouring with rain. He finally emerged at 6:50am. We were not impressed. Instead of apologizing he said: "don't worry, no problem, you will not miss anything. You will be waiting for an hour and I didn't want you to just stand there". That almost made me lose my composure but luckily he was right, and the frustration was quickly replaced with the excitement of the trek to follow. We were put together with 2 single travelers to make a group of 4 and assigned the Sabyinyo group (normally the groups are made up of 8 people so we were very fortunate). Our guide, Edward, explained that the Sabyinyo gorilla family includes the oldest silver back (Chief Guhonda, 43 years old), the youngest baby and bald Big Ben. Edward laughed and said the poor fellow is only 7 years old and as bald as a monk - argh shame! We were told what to expect from the 3 silver backs in the family, particularly Shirimpumu who is apparently quite "playful" and has been known to chase visitors with bamboo sticks and/or sit on them! He said: "whatever you do, don't run away!" Hmmm, not sure what I would do if a 200 pound gorilla started running towards me waving a bamboo stick in the air. Edward didn't seem worried so we decided to trust his judgment and remain calm. He informed us that the trackers had left early that morning and would radio the family's exact location as soon as found, while we made our way up the mountain. We trekked for about 30-40 minutes and stopped in a clearing just outside the park boundary (a low rock wall) awaiting details on which direction to proceed, but the trackers had no sign of the gorillas, so we waited a while longer to avoid heading in the wrong direction.

Walking through town and some fields to the park boundary:
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Edward checking in with the trackers:
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Still no sign of them, we headed into the park in the direction of their nest the previous night. The park is essentially a thick bamboo forest and with all the rain, it was considerably muddy. This was going to be a messy affair. Fortunately it got messier as Edward pointed out some gorilla droppings - "fresh caca!" he exclaimed, "this is a good sign!". I don't think we had ever been so excited to see poop. We had taken a different route to the trackers so came across this before them and after radioing it in, we were soon surrounded by trackers coming and going in all directions in search of the culprits.

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Fairly quickly, they located the group's nesting area from the night before and from there traced their location to a clearing not too far away. The excitement among us was palpable. We came into the clearing and saw Big Ben first higher up in the mountain glancing at us over his shoulder. Wow, we couldn't believe what we were seeing.

Big Ben looking a bit grumpy:
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We left our bags in the clearing and carefully approached Big Ben keeping a safe distance between us (more for him than us).

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Note the bald patch:
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We moved higher up and found Shirimpumu, the "playful" silver back Edward had told us about. He was busy feeding and didn't seem to take much of an interest in us except for the occasional glance.

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Hey chicky, who's that hairy dude you're with? He looks familiar....
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Edward explained that gorillas communicate in various ways but the most important signals for humans to understand are the "I'm happy, you are not bothering me" sound which is a deep and prolonged clearing of throat and the "if you continue, this will not end well" warning which sounds like short and repetitive "aw aw aw" until you back off . Throughout our visit, which was sadly limited to an hour, Edward and his team cleared their throats to make sure the gorillas knew we came in peace. We even gave it a try ourselves, I'm just sorry I didn't record it!

Shirimpumu was clearly busy so we moved back down the hill and found chief Guhonda. He was massive and intimidating. He was bending bamboo trees to make himself a comfortable seat in which to relax and digest. We stayed with him for quite a while and observed as he kept an eye on his family and occasionally, us humans around him.

Guhonda making himself a bamboo sofa:

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Hey you! Wife no.1 is off limits:
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We went back to Shirimpumu and found him resting as well. Edward said: "you are lucky, he is in a very good mood". They obviously don't show happiness in the same way we do because he wasn't smiling but Edward could tell from his demeanor. We were just glad he wasn't feeling "playful" ;)

Happy Shirimpumu (we'll take Edward's word for it):
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Wish I had a mirror...how do my teeth look?
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Here's a clip of Shirimpumu:

Our time came to an abrupt end and we had to start making our way back. I could have stayed there for hours though. They are absolutely fascinating. This is where Dian Fossey spent 18 years of her life researching mountain gorillas. Her book appropriately entitled "Gorillas in the Mist" combines her scientific study with her personal story and the movie of the same name was made in 1988, 3 years after she was murdered presumably by poachers (apparently the case remains open). She constantly fought to protect the gorillas from poaching and corruption and it is thanks to her sacrifice that we were able to see these beautiful animals thriving in their natural habitat.

Big smiles after our encounter with the Sabyinyo family:
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A gigantic earth worm we found on the way back:
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Cleaning his shoes against some grassy patches:
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Big fail on our part. At least Greg managed to keep the mud at ankle level. I don't remember crawling but the evidence clearly says otherwise!
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We stopped at the hotel to clean up and a quick lunch before heading back to Kigali. Our driver dropped us off at our hotel just a short walk from down town.

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Ready to hit the town:
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Giving away a necklace I bought in Mosquito River to support the community but I knew I wouldn't wear it:
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We followed Shaun's recommendation and had a drink at Hotel des Milles Collines which became famous after 1,298 people took refuge inside the hotel during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. The movie "Hotel Rwanda" is based on this story but was actually shot in South Africa.

Uncanny resemblance....(P.S: this is after only 1 drink!)
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The next day, we visited the genocide memorial which commemorates the horrific events that took place in Rwanda in 1994 and also other equally horrifying genocides that have taken place around the world in the last couple of centuries. I cannot begin to describe how devastating this was for me. I simply do not understand how a human being can inflict so much pain and suffering on another, or any living being for that matter. Reading the history that led to the events, seeing pictures and video footage of how the Hutu majority killed over 1 million Tutsis and what they called "Tutsi sympathizers" just proved to be too much for me and I burst into tears. I was extremely saddened by the atrocities that had been committed but also by the international community's unwillingness to intervene despite receiving numerous reports detailing the planned Tutsi genocide. I was also struck with admiration for the few brave people who risked their lives to save as many people as they could.

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Rwanda has come a long way since the genocide and has worked hard to heal its wounds and rebuild itself. The people we met were always friendly and we generally felt very safe wherever we went. It's actually amazing what they have managed to achieve following such a horrific civil war.

Motorcycle taxi back to town:
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We stopped for lunch at Bourbon Cafe (another good recommendation from Shaun) and slowly made our back to the hotel to pick up our bags and head to the airport to catch our flight to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Greg and Issy

Posted by gregandissy 02:04 Archived in Rwanda Comments (1)

Tanzania


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We flew to Arusha from Zanzibar in a little 15 seater and were greeted outside the airport by Dereck, our driver and guide for the next 7 days in Northern Tanzania.

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A glimpse of Mount Kilimanjaro...
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Our first stop: lunch at a cool bar/restaurant where Greg was keen to leave a mark, luckily it wasn't a speedo this time, but a Cayman dollar:
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Then on to Lake Manyara National Park for an afternoon game drive.

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We spent the night at a basic lodge in Mto Wa Mbu, which translates to Mosquito River in Swahili, near Lake Manyara National Park. We tried to explore the town but quickly realized that there wasn't much to do or see. A few curios shops line the main road for the tourists who stop there on their way to Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area and a handful of stalls selling anything from body lotion to deep fried samosas. Faced with a long evening at our empty hotel in Mosquito River, we did the only sensible thing: stock up on wine and Konyagi (local gin) at the only liquor store conveniently located next door.

Arriving in Mto Wa Mbu:
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We were on our way to Serengeti early the next day and arrived at the main gate just after 12pm, allowing us plenty of time for an afternoon game drive.

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We arrived at Serengeti Serena Lodge just before sundown and were very happy with what we saw. When Greg did the accommodation research for Serengeti and Ngorongoro we were surprised to see that hotels ranged from luxurious to obscenely luxurious. There were no budget options and camping was not appealing to us at that stage as we would have had to organize food for the week so we decided to spend a few extra dollars for full board lodging. Luckily, May is considered low season so we got a bit of a break (I guess...).

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Days 2 and 3 in Serengeti:
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Looking for wildlife - an exhausting activity:
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And Greg's favorite:
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Can you see it?
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I'll zoom in for ya:
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We spotted a leopard kill but no sign of the predator.

We got lucky later that morning:
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We drove around to the other side of the river to get a closer look but only caught glimpses of him in the tall grass below; can you see him? Couldn't get him on camera so we just stared at this tree for half an hour hoping he would decide to climb it:
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No such luck.

On our way out of Serengeti:
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On our way to Ngorongoro Serena Lodge where we would spend the next 2 nights, we came across a large group of vultures on the ground just a few feet from the side of the road. We stopped to take a closer look and noticed a small gazelle laying just in front of the vultures. They stared at it for a while and we realized the gazelle was still alive. Derreck indicated it could have been dying of natural causes but we suspect it was the victim of a careless driver. One of the vultures finally moved forward and started poking the back of its thighs. The poor gazelle protested and managed to keep the predator at bay for a little while with some sudden leg kicks. The vulture was just too hungry and before too long, its whole face and neck was covered in blood. It was hard to watch, I just kept hoping for the gazelle to die quickly. Surprisingly, none of the other birds joined in, the dominant vulture attacked any who would dare to steal a bite. This went on for a few minutes until a jackal appeared out of nowhere, chased off the vulture and devoured what he could whilst keeping a watchful eye on the growing number of birds around him. After he'd had his share, he left as quickly as he had appeared with one last piece in his mouth which he tried to eat away from the chaos but he had been followed by 2 vultures who fearlessly took it from him. At this point the rest of the vultures all jumped onto the gazelle, which was still reletively whole, and it became a mad scramble (resembling a pile-on) that lasted only a few minutes. When the crowd started to disperse, there was almost nothing left. You may have seen CNN coverage of the Wal-Mart shoppers on black Friday seconds after opening - this was not very different. We were about to leave when a hyena came running in, picked up the carcass and left. Nature had taken its course.

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The chief and that's not the normal color of his beak:
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The opportunistic hyena:
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Posing for the camera, say cheese:
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Once we entered the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (which included the crater) we started seeing farmers and cattle freely roaming the land, despite the hyenas, lions, leopards and other predators in the area. Dereck explained that the Maasai people are the only ones allowed to live and farm in the area (out of 120 tribes in Tanzania). They are best known due to their residence near the many game parks of Southeast Africa, and their distinctive customs and dress. Apparently the predators tend to fear them and dissappear when they are around. I don't think I would take my chances ;)

The Maasai:
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I couldn't get a close-up picture of the Maasai so I borrowed this from the internet to better show you their colorful traditional dress:
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We made our way up to the rim of the crater and arrived at the lodge just after 3pm. The park fee to enter the crater is quite high (US $200) and is only valid for the day you enter the crater (single entry - unlike Serengeti where the park fees were valid for a 24-hour period) so we decided to wait until the next day for our game drive.

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There is a high concentration of animals in a relatively small area so the sightings were frequent and quite amazing.

Early morning fog:
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We had to reverse about 500m because of this guy; and that's not a stump in the bottom left picture....
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Dereck explained that lions mate for 6-7 consecutive days and during the first 50 hours, they get busy every 5-10min! We saw these two couples in action and Dereck was not lying about the 5-10 min intervals although I'm not sure about the 50 hours...
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We found these 3 brothers on both sides of the path looking pretty exhausted. Not sure why, they sleep 20 hours a day!
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Urgent break only 200m from the sleeping lions - Greg thought his mane would help him fit right in:
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And finally a couple of rhinos:
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More Maasai right in the crater with their cattle:
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The next day, we headed to Moshi at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro where we had a booking at a small lodge tucked away high in the mountains, 16km outside the city.

One last peak at the crater on our way out:
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Local bus:
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Entering Moshi:
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On the drive from Ngorongoro, the Mount Kilimanjaro View Lodge advised that they had had a lot of rain and it might not be possible to reach the lodge. We figured we were in a 4x4 capable of going pretty much anywhere and how bad can the road be? Despite this they offered a tentative booking in the town in case there was an issue - sounded like this had happened before. Dereck was put to the test on the way up. All of us shared the same expression when we came around a corner about 15km in, after some pretty hairy roads already, and saw the lodge above us still WAAAY up - there's a road leading up there? Sure enough there was, but with the Landcruiser in 4L most of the way, we made it up to the lodge safely, albeit with shattered nerves. Dereck handled it excellently, but did mention that going down was always harder because it was so slippery and the lodge would need to send a smaller lighter 4x4 if it rained any further. The term rain was being used fairly loosely, as we were so high up the rain wasn't actually falling, but rather the fog and clouds were colliding with the mountain. Some light did peak through for part of the afternoon but clouds still covered most of the mountain and we didn't catch a glimpse of the snow topped Kilimanjaro until the next morning when our attentive host woke ALL the guests (not surprisingly we were the only ones) at 6:30am to make sure we didn't miss it. Apparently we were very lucky, as a previous guest, who had stayed there for 6 days, never saw it at all!

Day 1:
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Day 2, Kili just before the fog and rain:
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As expected, it was wetter that morning, which killed the idea of doing a hike to the waterfalls nearby and also made us nervous for the drive down. Greg was recalling images of the road on the way up - muddy narrow gravel roads which camber into ditches on both sides with some sharp corners and areas with steep sides leading into streams below. On a dry day, no problem, today walking the 16km sounded like a better idea. Nonetheless Dereck was confident he could get the heavy Landcruiser down (or possibly nobody was prepared to bring a lighter 4x4 up in those conditions). We chilled there for the rest of the foggy morning enjoying the peace and quiet before the perilous drive down the mountain.

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As feared coming down the cambered road was were we came unstuck - literally. A little bit of speed would have been better to cruise right through it, but with a corner approaching, not an option. It happened in slow motion, the back of the car started sliding towards the ditch on the left, Dereck clearly with years of experience, steered towards the slide trying to hold it but couldn't get traction and we slid about 10m at more than a 45 degree angle until the weight of the vehicle pulled us into the ditch almost slamming into the embankment which was now within arms reach of Greg's window. Now we figured it was the walk of shame down the rest of the mountain. Dereck did a bit of back and forth trying to get out, to no avail, then managed to drive along the ditch with the wheels pressed against the embankment, until it flattened out and we could rejoin the road again. We then proceeded with even more caution; a few more 45 degree angles well held and safely navigated sharp corners and steep cliffs to make it down in time for our flight to Rwanda.

This picture doesn't do it justice, but this is us coming out of the ditch and the passenger's grip says it all:
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A big thank you to Rex Miller from Redfoot Safaris for putting together the itinerary for this part of the trip, the route and time in each place was perfect, although it would have been great to have him there as a guide too! He'll definitely feature in our next book ;)

I am falling behind with the updates as we are now in Udaipur, in the Rajasthan province of India. I hope to catch up in the next week or so. The next entry will be on our few days in Rwanda and Ethiopia, which were both fantastic.

Greg and Issy

Posted by gregandissy 08:09 Archived in Tanzania Comments (2)

Zanzibar, Tanzania


View Route Map on gregandissy's travel map.

So Issy has tasked me with this one while she sorts through a hoard of pictures from the last few days - she couldn't resist the urge to take pictures of every animal in every position multiple times, through Serengeti and Ngorongoro. "Let me get one more of the ostriches". Ostriches, really? More on that, when she gets back up to speed, and talks about the rest of Tanzania. For now, Zanzibar.

So, after arriving in Dar Es Salaam on the very delayed train, we caught a taxi downtown and bought tickets for the ferry to Zanzibar. Initially we thought we could make the 9:30am ferry, but we hadn't realised there was a time difference when we crossed the border from Zambia to Tanzania, it was just past 10am already, so the next ferry at 12:30pm was our only option. Nothing like another delay after losing so many hours on the train. With flights out of Zanzibar already booked, we had initially planned for 3 nights there, but the initial 24 hour train delay quickly reduced that to 2 and the hours were slowly being eroded further. We killed time looking around the city with Issy in search of a shower to cleanse herself of the horrors of the train, but no luck.

With the humidity, we opted for the VIP air-conditioned cabin which was heaven compared to the train and luckily wasn't very full so we found 2 seats up front that were well separated from other passengers to spare them from the "60 hours on a train without a shower" fragrance we had acquired along the way.

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An hour and a half later we rolled into Stone Town, the historical centre of Zanzibar and main port.

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Issy was briefly detained at immigration (and rightfully so with that b.o.) but after a long discussion, they realised she was harmless and not trying to smuggle in dead animals, so let her go. [I interrupt this somewhat dramatized account of events to note that my bearded travel companion was not looking or smelling very fresh himself - Issy]. Finally we made it to the hotel and took our time relishing all the regular comforts we had missed for so long.

Feeling fresh, we took to the streets of Stone Town to make the most of our limited time.

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Being out of touch for so long, Issy was considering getting on Facebook.

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Issy had read about the night food market at one of the parks on the waters edge, so after a few drinks, watching the sunset and some local kids playing in the water, we chose some bites for dinner.

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There were a number of stalls serving similar foods, mainly seafood and meat kebabs (skewers), flavoured with different spices. Issy went for the exotic stuff: masala spiced Lobster and I stuck to the beef and chicken. My beef and chicken were great, but Issy's Lobster turned out to be very disappointing. Considering it was low season and the volume of food on display by all the vendors, it became obvious that some of the food was not exactly very fresh.

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We washed down the bad experience with some drinks at a Tapas and Wine bar near the hotel:

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The next morning we decided to hire a motorcycle to tour the rest of the island. After some searching through the maze of Stone Town we eventually found the rental location. Not the most streamlined process. First we had to find an ATM, to cover the various unanticipated costs - the bike is rented empty???

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So we had to hand over cash for someone to fill it up (we had our doubts as to how much of the cash actual went to fuel), then we had to pay for an international driving permit, which he needed to go get from the traffic department (on the motorcycle, with the fuel we paid for). On returning we were advised that the clutch cable had snapped and it would just be a few minutes for them to fix it. I watched while a quick makeshift repair was done, which apparently was guaranteed not to break for the day - very comforting.

With all the waiting, Issy had found herself a nice little local coffee "shop". She claims it was amazing, and for only 100 shillings (7 US cents), she had a few more.

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Eventually, with not even a rental agreement in place (but assured it was fully insured), we headed East towards Jambiani. After a few wrong turns and backtracking, we made it there for lunch and spent the afternoon relaxing at Coral Rock, a nice hotel and restaurant we found on the beach:

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Through the course of the afternoon some dark clouds followed by rain threatened to make our return to stone town quite interesting, but it managed to pass before we hit the road again. But disaster wasn't far away. A few km's in, in a fairly remote area, I felt the bike start to splutter, which quickly got worse until the sound of the engine stopped completely and we free-wheeled to a stop. Out of fuel. No problem I figured, these bikes have a reserve tank so we just need to turn the switch and fire it up again. Ah, the reserve switch was left on, so we were truly empty, confirming our thoughts of being ripped off for the fuel. Some cursing was followed by mild panic. We managed to flag down a car and asked where the next fuel station was - 20km ahead or 8km back. Walking was not an option.

The spluttering didn't go unnoticed and within a few minutes we were surrounded by a few teenagers that seemed to appear out of the bushes, wondering what had happened to these 2 mzungu's (Bantu language term used in the African Great Lakes region to refer to people of European descent or someone with white skin). Unsure of our safety, we started explaining our situation. One of them was on a bicycle so I considered paying him to cycle 8km back to buy us a litre or 2, but after rapping off in Swahili, he quickly took off on what seemed like a mission. Luckily the kids were returning from school where they had just been learning English and were keen to practice. It turns out the guy on the bicycle was off to check with a neighbour if they had some fuel to spare for us. He was back quite quickly and confirmed they had. A lot of the locals use motorcycles or scooters on the island and being so far from the fuel station, we discovered many houses along the main roads store fuel and presumably charge a premium for the commodity. So we wheeled the bike all of 100m (much better than 8km) and got down to business, how much for a litre? You could see the kid's cogs turning trying to facilitate a deal between us and the non-english speaking home/petrol store owner and take a cut for himself. 3,500 Tanzanian shillings a litre - more than 1 and half times the going rate. It didn't really matter how much he quoted, we were taking the 2 litres and getting out of there. The bike was a kick start, so it took a few to get the fuel through, but there were doubts by all for a while as to whether it really was a fuel issue or something worse. Finally it fired up and we were back on the road, making it back to our hotel just before dark.

That evening, our last, we went for dinner at Monsoon, a restaurant just around the corner that had been recommended and had a great 3 course meal, including some much fresher local seafood than the night before including an interesting and tasty Zanzibar twist on Turkish delight. We crashed early after a fairly long day.

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In the morning we did 1 last walk around Stone Town in search of the food/spice market.

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I had been needing to get a basic watch for the trip to avoid pulling out my phone every time we needed the time (you will notice my gear list didn't include a watch). I usually like to shop a lot but had been fairly restrained on the trip so far, given the size of our bags and trying to budget for another 5 months of travels, but a watch had become essential. By chance we happened upon a vendor with a small selection of watches and after quite some deliberation, I made my first and biggest purchase of the trip so far (for me anyway, Isabelle, was buying non-stop most of which she discarded a few days or weeks later). [More dramatization - Issy] For the equivalent of US$6 I had myself a simple little black Casio digital watch complete with light and alarm clock, which just yesterday, 9 days later has fallen apart. I knew I should have taken the shiny silver one for the same price, it must have been better quality, right? But Issy thought it was too flashy and would attract undue attention. Anyway, immediately after my big spend, the rain came pouring down as if to say something about my lack of spending, and I was faced with possibility of make the next big purchase, an umbrella - this guy had it all. But he also had a roof over his little stand, so for the money I had already spent, we figured we were allowed to wait with him until the rain passed and avoid the umbrella purchase.

I really mean pouring:

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Finally the rain subsided so we waded through ankle deep water in search of Issy's coffee stand for one last cup before heading back to the hotel and on to the airport for our flight to Arusha where our Serengeti and Ngorongoro safaris began. That post to follow shortly.

We have just arrived in Addis Ababa for 2 nights before heading to India on May 11th.

Greg and Issy

Posted by gregandissy 12:31 Archived in Tanzania Comments (3)

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