Friday, 4 October 2019

Marafa to Magarini with Hell's Kitchen in Between

Having a dedicated and trusted driver is an asset in Malindi. I’ve seen a number of posts recommending it, although of course (bila shaka) it costs. As we found out when we asked ours to take us to Marafa from the PolePole Beach resort. Famous for the nearby ‘depression’ (does that sound appealing?) also known as Hell’s Kitchen there is a stream of tuk-tuks and cars making their way out most evenings to catch the sunset over the vast and startling landscape that has become an enigmatic attraction there. We, however, were spending some nights in a local guest house before heading to the Magarini farm and school site. Our driver brought us right to the door, literally, collecting his payment that must have made up for the extra driving he’d had to do previously. It all works out eventually.
Watching our daily entry and exit  from the guest house in Marafa, a family of brightly dressed children called out ‘Ciao!’ to which we replied ‘Jambo’.  Which brought forth a chorus of Jambos and laughter almost every-time. All attempts to speak Swahili were greeted with smiles of appreciation and often a welcoming Karibu.
Stepping out into the ‘street’ and I use that term loosely, we took a short walk down the main drag checking out the possibilities in Marafa. From one end to the other it  takes all of 5 minutes. Another 5 minutes out of the village to the bar at Hell’s Kitchen, where in spite of the large lettering declaring Italian cuisine, there is, unfortunately, none available. In fact getting a meal in Marafa is a bit of challenge. Generously our hosts invited us for dinner where, surrounded by her flock of ducks, Jescar and her daughters pulled together many evening meals by the light of solar lamps and the rising moon. We had breakfast daily at the New Shalom cafe (not yet on TripAdvisor) and afternoon beers at a couple of  fairly anonymous establishments.
After breakfast we climbed onto  pikipiki/bodaboda/ motorcycles and out to Magarini Childrens Centre. As I’m rather large I had one to myself while Elke rode with Emmanuel. In the first days we set up the Safari tent and met the onsite staff. When our volunteer AJ was scheduled to arrive we took the minibus/daladala back to Malindi, and purchased supplies: mattresses, cookware, gas bottle and stove. AJ attempted to arrange sim card for his phone (bring an unlocked phone!). Transort arranged and we were delivered with all our purchases directly to the school and then on to to Marafa for the night.
Once the second tent was set up the following day we celebrated by stopping at Hell’s Kitchen and doing the tour through the quite impressive terrain. Winding down the trail into this ‘depression”  some local children were doing flips and acrobatic moves on the sandy floor. Superlatives don’t begin to describe the place. Erosion at it’s most colourful, not a place to be in a downpour though! Climbing around outcrops, standing in mini canyons and under overhangs and mushroom shaped hoodoos,  twisting back and forth takes about an hour. Then a climb up and out and along the rim where the more inaccessible portion (with occasional visits from troops of baboons) is visible. Pictures barely touch the majesty of it, but here are a few.

Friday, 27 September 2019

Tanzanian Exit

Once again we are on the move. An early rise and breakfast at our friend’s in Arusha  before loading up and heading off to catch a bus. At the main road, Old Moshi highway, the traffic is at a standstill so our driver pulls around and takes us on a dirt track between houses that snakes around, bumps us up and down, back and forth emerging onto another artery that brings us through a roundabout and to the bus. Elke had reserved the front seats in the bus so I climbed aboard and placed our backpacks on the seats.
People arrived in various conveyances, the ticket touts running alongside to sell them tickets, and grabbing their bags to be thrown or lifted, depending on the weight, onto the roofrack.
Once the luggage was up, tarped and tied down we said our goodbyes, not knowing if or when we will see these folks again. The challenge of living and working as a Mzungo in Tanzania has become difficult and when the rules change without notice, the official message seems to be
"not welcome".
On the road again, the landscape stark, dry and  dusty, the ever present herders watching as we pass by, Maasai in shukas and tire sandals carrying their long sticks, trudging single file along well worn tracks toward some destination in the distance. Every bridge over a dry riverbed, the earth eroded deeply showing the layers of deposit, back who knows how many years?
We drove west out of Arusha, then north and east with the sun directly in our faces, hot already at 9 am. The hills and Mt Meru to the  right clothed in green bush, no sign of any habitation, the herders preferring the open plains to the left, grey and brown interspersed with an occasional acacia.
Our driver seemed to know almost every second truck or matato, waving as they flashed their lights.
Occasional tiny settlements with the mandatory speed bumps, folks standing around; goats and cattle crossing and commerce of some description occurring.
In between the tree cover well off the road I could see bomas, the small round mud shelters of the Maasai with thatched roofs and adjacent corrals of sticks and thorn bush to secure the animals at night. Three zebra, a large curly horned antelope, various birds and a long tailed rodent racing across the road were the sum and total of my wildlife sightings.
At the Kenyan border we  lined up all our luggage outside the facility and they brought out a sniffer dog. Then Elke filled out a survey for the two governments and we were processed through. This time the wait was more reasonable although the Maasai women were even more persistent standing beside my window showing me every item and ignoring my insistence that I didn’t need or want what they offered. I remarked on one woman’s ear adornments, but they were not for sale.

Sunday, 22 September 2019


From Nairobi“Take the train” they said, it’s scenic, new and comfortable, along with sold out and unavailable as we soon determined. Including the scalpers at the tour companies. The next best choices were a long bus ride to Mombassa along a highway famous for it’s fatalities, then overnight in a hotel before another 6 hour bus north to Malindi or overnight for 9 hours (read 11 or 12) direct. After a few moments of thought we chose to fly.
2 years previous we had stayed in a lovely Italian owned ‘hotel. More like furnished apartments, it is close to the beach, a few nice restaurants and in case anyone’s interested, Vasco de Gama’s self erected monument. This time though, we  decided to treat ourselves to beach house resort style accommodation. A little ways south out of Malindi is Watamu beach; white sand, a reef offshore keeping the surf away from the beach and the (mostly) Italian tourists.
Our driver, prearranged to pick us up, assured us he knew exactly where we were going. Unfortunately he was mistaken, as the Pole Pole restaurant was not the Pole Pole Beach house. Pole pole means slowly, slowly and is also an expression of sympathy, singularly (pronounced poe lay). We were moving pole pole after leaving the tarmac, picking our way over coral outcrops and avoiding holes. Our eventual destination was apparently not well known.  After driving both ways twice, we arrived, in the dark, to a welcome reception. Dida the Ethiopian cook even provided us with a small bit of food and drink before we installed our bags in our room. Once that was accomplished, Ken from reception walked us through and around the building then down to the beach, past the pool, shared by the three other facilities on the property. Idyllic? Coral sand with crushed shells, an almost full moon, surf rolling in the distance, Swahili architecture, furniture and ambiance. Breakfast included. Paradise and posh for the same price as the hotel in Nairobi.
After  breakfast in the morning we walked the beach.  Flat whitish sand stretching almost to the reef with the low tide stretching to the horizon  left and right. The ocean a number of shades of blue and green with warm sun and a constant gentle (mostly) breeze off the water. Higher up in front of the resorts the seaweed being raked away from the tourist path gave me a chuckle, definitely a daily make work project.
Walking north we stopped at the great outcrops of ancient and dead coral sharp as razors with bits of the flotsam and jetsum hanging off the edges. Much of the plastic tidal deposits are also being raked away out of sight of the tourists.We sat quietly on the beach enjoying the temperature and the view...
However our reverie was soon interupted by a insistent stream of rasta boys hustling. These young men are fluent in Italian (English German and..?). The parade of bikini’s accompanied by these fellows is a sight to behold, often chaperoned by husbands, boyfriends and occasionally children. and we witnessed the un -endearing habit of these well meaning (I imagine)  foreign adults handing out sweets to the local children. Which explains the constant greeetings of "Caio' where ever we went. Our hotel security kept the rasta boys and children off the property, but they'd be hanging close by waiting for the next 'best friend" to provide a reason to guide someone into an opportunity to hand over cash. When informed we had none 'amna'  they generally left us alone.
 I  wanted to swim in the Indian ocean but the constant wind and timing of high tide full of seaweed encouraged me to use the pool, which was filled with salt water, so technically, I did swim in it…Then I lay in the sun and collected a very good sunburn. Who knew my overhanging belly would make stripes?  As we lay there Elke and I spoke about personal value, the old messages about what we deserve, what we allow, what brings up guilt. There is a big piece of entitlement and privilege or the lack of it enmeshed here. Equality, assumptions and access.
On our last night we ate an exquisite meal at a nearby hotel resort on their dining patio, outside but covered by the high thatch roof. Romance is how we make it.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Culture, Then and Now

I’m not a big fan of ‘tourist attractions’ but… We visit Boma’s of Kenya in Nairobi, a museum offering ‘traditional dance” performances, a restaurant and a number of recreated family clusters from many of the traditional tribal groups. Multiple wives need multiple residences, at least in this country. They also have multiple granaries and some have an inner wall to keep the livestock out of their bed. All made of mud with thatched roofs. The granaries were mostly very large baskets, some also plastered with mud and all belonging to the women.Visiting these little groupings was almost like a trip around the country, somewhere around 30 of them; although by the end there were not so much groupings as examples of slightly different construction.
Speedily walking past the inevitable venders we continued on into the main hall to watch the dancing. Many of the seats in the large circular auditorium were lined with school children in uniform. Rows of red, yellow, brown, green and blue with tourists in groups breaking up the random colour schemes. That was worth a picture and I spotted a few tourists filming the audience although I chose not to.
The dancing was fairly vigorous  and entertaining. I cannot speak to it’s authenticity although the costumes were well made and dancers enthusiastic. A couple of the males would pull individuals out of the stands (mostly female) to the immense appreciation of the rest of us and in some cases embarrassment of the ‘volunteers’. After a number of these performances we made our way off the site walking  towards a nearby shopping centre, passing by a group of baboons nonchalantly checking out the garbage bins around the perimeter.
Another entertaining environment! I hadn’t seen so many white people since Europe, once we got past the security check and into the mall. I scored big, finding a number of packages of my favourite chocolate… no longer available back home, I bought all  they had assuming it was the end of the stock. (Days later in another mall I saw more but I restrained myself).
We sat and had a hot drink  watching the parade of blondes and men in shorts, the occasional Africans with higher status and money hanging out with the colonials and tourists. Yes extremely judgemental but there we were and thats what I saw, or at least make up about what I saw. Your experience may be, no, will be different. It was quite pleasant, civil and enlightening and after looking through the arts and crafts market (where the vendors made complimentary comments about my Tanzanian shirt) we called ‘Little’ an Uber/taxi service and made our way through the traffic back to our friends’ residence for sundowners, conversation and dinner.

Back into Kenya

Arriving early afternoon in Nairobi on the bus from Arusha after dropping  a few folks at the airport, we trundled, dragged and pushed our luggage down the street past the taxi drivers and across to a slightly more upscale hotel. This one has a lift! The previous hotel, kiddy/kitty? corner  to this one had a spiral, tile covered staircase which was narrow and dizzy making.
Once settled, showered and refreshed we enjoyed a beer in the lounge below, then went walkabout looking for sustenance and found Bridges Organic Health Restaurant where we had a lovely meal. I’m a big fan of TripAdvisor where I left a review, along with numerous others on most of the eating establishments and hotels we’ve visited.
The street scene is alive with pedestrians, beggars and touts pushing safaris into the game parks and ‘wilderness’. They can be persistent, following us for blocks sure that eventually we’ll succumb to their amazing offer.  The beggars laying on the heavy eyes and stories of woe and misfortune seem to target anyone looking like tourist. I don’t feel good ignoring them, my best strategy is to carry no cash, telling them amna, I have none, although strictly speaking that is not true. I take my cues from the rest of the populace since they ignore them and walk on by.
I haven’t spent too many nights in posh places, especially in Africa and what’s been consistent has been the tiles in the hallways. Keys in the lock, doors opening and closing all echoing very well. Insulation is not big here if existing at all. It all boils down to interrupted sleep, apparently the trade off I’m making by staying in low budget accommodation. So it’s  a real pleasure to be invited to stay with a friend from a previous visit, off the main road, away from the bars and nightclubs in the city.
Instead we have a BBQ, catch up on all that has passed in the last few years, family and common friends, politics and the state of the world. And a relatively uninterrupted sleep inside the mosquito net.

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Back to Amarula

Impressions along the road and within...
Sunflowers among the cassava, sunflowers dried out brown, corn; dead standing, millet, sorghum. Baobabs worn and scarred. Bee hives, both modern and the traditional hollowed out logs hanging from the trees. Cattle and goats on the move, some friendly herders, soot blackened landscapes, scorched trees, deep sand in dry river beds, children waving, others; impassive. Gigantic boulders worn smooth clustered on hilltops, trees as far as the eye can see: acacia, miombo, baobab, other acacia, going brown and others blooming as the dry season  begins.
 Returning to a loved place has been enlightening. Overcoming or at least attempting to understand the cultural differences due to language and religion has stretched my comfort zone, tolerance and occasionally patience. Context as I experience it, in  layers of cognition and insight continue to teach me how little I know. And how educated, sophisticated, motivated and inspired by my consciousness and the myriad abundance I am. Juxtaposed to individuals, children and adults, who can spend the day managing a mixed flock of goats, sheep and cows wandering through a landscape with not much forage. They find what they can. My capacity to understand concepts, consequences and a sense of a bigger picture is limited by my exposure, use and access to information. How much of what I or anyone knows or can use is actually useful in any given circumstance, is dependant on situation, environment, ecosystem ….
Technology is seductive, I am so enrolled. I use a phone and camera to take pictures; a laptop to articulate my thoughts, a reading device to do research and entertain myself on long flights and the internet , when I can find it, to share this with you.
My ability to justify my actions in moral and ethical terms is so caught up in complication it goes way beyond complex. And I’ve maintained and believed I was living a simple life all these years.
Meanwhile, back to what’s actually happening here.  I am overlooking a vast plain to the east dotted with relatively short trees, again as far as the eye can see, eventually reaching the Indian Ocean. The two fellows employed by my host have recently returned burdened by loads of firewood ‘kuni’ they hacked out of, hopefully, dead trees, with a machete, out of earshot, down the slope towards the dry river. Wood being the primary source of fuel for cooking, we will be sauna-ing Finnish style again and then sitting (if the wind dies down enough) around a  campfire. Something I would imagine no one around here would consider a useful pastime unless dinner was being cooked.
The landscape here is so compelling, Walking through the surroundings brushing dry basil stalks, crackling leaves,  drinking in the vistas, the familiar and the novelty. The temperature is certainly amenable, although sitting in a moving car with the windows shut against the tsetse flies can sure build up a sweat. Thankfully they restrict their habitat to few places. I'm glad to be here, again.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Deep in the heart of Tanzania

Tsetse flies and rock art.  One morning we left Amarula camp  and headed south to Kondoa where we did a bit of shopping; ginger, bananas and some fabric… somehow I’m unable to resist, I did however limit my purchase to one. We sat in a small “tea shop” beneath the now leafless Baobab at the centre of town and Elke chatted with a fellow who turned out to be a teacher, hence his relatively passable English. The town has grown, prospered even, since or during the time the Chinese were here building the highways. When they left I’ve heard, they took most of the donkeys and dogs in the vicinity, After two years there are no shortage of loose dogs scrounging around  and I saw plenty of donkeys being herded by Maasai.
After Kondoa we headed west into the terrain of red dirt roads. Not far out of town we came across masses and I mean masses of plastic bags and bottles where it’s been dumped and is now being (you don’t want to hear this) burned. Thankfully we soon left that behind, passing through dry, farmland interspersed with majestic Baobabs.

Crossing a dry river bed on a bridge with schoolgirls playing some game we began to climb through Miombo bush, the leaves on many trees crisp and folded. Surprisingly (at least to me) there are numerous trees blooming at this time, beautiful purple blossoms, puffed out clusters of white and yellow on a type of Acacia along with some other shrubby looking tree coming out with tiny  red flowers that I took to be fuzzy caterpillars as we hurtled along. And we were because the Tsetse flies were doing the damnedest to get inside the vehicle. Many of them. Their bite is rather vicious, I felt one through my sock. They were maintaining speed with the vehicle, landing on the windows, the hood of the Landrover and searching out all the openings we hadn’t been able to plug with tape or cardboard. Once inside they buzzed around the driver especially but I had my share. The women in the back were swatting them as they landed on us, against the windows and whenever they landed.
Today we returned to the edge of their range and drove up through a burnt landscape, the trees scorched, the grass gone and soot and ashes among the fallen leaves swirling in little whirlwinds as we picked our way towards some grand looking rocky outcrops. Earlier we had collected a Ranger from the Game Reserve office to accompany us. He carried an automatic carbine rifle for our safety inside the Swagaswaga reserve.
 Eventually he directed us onto a side road then up the slope to where a few examples of Rock Art were visible on the massive boulders perched there.
 Red ochre paintings of humanistic figures stretching the imagination as to why and when.
 The local residents, Hyrax, apparently appreciate the spot as the ground was deeply littered with their ‘berries’. An occasional fly managed to make itself known  as we made our way back to the vehicle but they were hardly a concern, until we began driving. Did they think the vehicle was an elephant? Although we were in the game reserve all we saw were a number of exotic looking birds a family of baboons, a few monkeys, and one Hyrax up on a branch as we drove by underneath.