Defeat Is Not So Bad 

A shared public transport vehicle in Mozambique is referred to as a chapa. Chapa is a general term and can be anything from a Toyota mini bus to a pick up truck. On this occasion the chapa to Garué was a battered old wagon which had to stop every hour to refill the water tank. Being a Mzungu, you’re in a position to pay a bit extra for the front seat, didn’t fancy getting severely sunburned. 

The driver


Garué is a mid-altitude town of around 700m asl. There’s a lot of piss heads in the town, and apart from a cinema showing American B movies there’s not a lot to do. The surrounding countryside is the main reason to come here. A short walk from the town there is a river where it seemed like the entire village congregated for laundry day. While the women washed, the kids played and the place reminded me of the Wet ‘n’ Wild water park. Minus teenagers up to no good in the jacuzzi of course. 

Wet ‘N’ Wild


Garué is Mozambique’s leading tea growing region. A walk past the factory through the  Chá Zambezi Estate is very scenic as you pass through the tea plantations and small villages. The problem here was that every single local you passed asked for money. Maybe because it’s very rural and they don’t see many Mzungus so they thought they’d try their luck, it made me feel like a walking ATM. Anyway, how can a woman twice the size of me carrying a hundred bananas on her head claim to be hungry? 



Continue through the plantations and you’ll eventually arrive at Cascata de Namuli where you can cool off in one of the swimming pools and admire the views over Garué. 

One of the main problems with travelling in Mozambique is that long distances sometimes make it impossible to travel from A to B without having to overnight in an anonymous backwater town. On this occasion Caia served as that town, and the quality of the lodgings were much to be desired. The bathroom looked like a scene from horror movie, and it was only intended for small people. 

This is after I brightened the photo

The Catapu Forestry Concession is a 250 square km private concession dedicated to sustainable forestry and indigenous trees. They say that this place is for trees what the Ngorongoro crater is for mammals – which means if you’re a tree lover, it’s absolutely class. I’m not a tree lover but I did love the excellent value lodge there, Mphingwe Camp. The camp has lovely cabins and excellent food all for very reasonable prices, so this was a great place to recharge my batteries after all the traveling recently. I’ll always find something to moan about though, at 40 degrees it was a bit too hot and I didn’t like having to spend two pound a day on bottled water. 

The Cabin


Ants

Catapu is an excellent birding spot if you can bare the heat. My spots included numerous sun birds, crowned hornbill, green wooed hoopoe and top sighting – the African cookoo hawk, named so because it resembles a common cookoo but is, well, a reptile eating hawk. 

Collared Sun Bird

Crowned Hornbill

African Cookoo Hawk


Like some kind of miracle, when I left the forest reserve a long distance truck stopped to pick me up that was going all the way to Vilanculos, saving me the horrible journey in a packed chapa and having to overnight in yet another backward Mozambican town. The downside was that I had to spend the entire 14 hour journey sat next to another passenger’s feet, that possibly hadn’t  been washed in weeks. I’ve made the joke before that it was Desmond Tutu’s chiropodist that said “dee feet, is not so bad”. I can rest assured that ‘dees feet’ were very, very bad.  

Advertisements
Categories: Mozambique | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Beauty In Decay 


After two days too long spent in Nampula dodging pickpockets, it was time to move on. The chappas broke down five minutes out of town, that has to be some kind of record. On the plus side, while we were waiting for the man from the biscuit shop to repair the vehicle, I bumped into my first Mozambican Newcastle fan. 


Ilha de Moçambique aka Mozambique Island, was the capital of Portuguese East Africa and the most important Indian Ocean port in the Southern hemisphere for four centuries. Only three kilometres long and no more than 600 metres wide, Ilha as it’s more commonly known, is tiny. When the Portuguese moved the capital to Maputo in the 20th century, a lot of the buildings were left to rot marking Ilha a weird place which doesn’t feel like Africa but doesn’t feel like Lisbon either. Some of the old colonial buildings have been restored in the oldest part of town, granting Ilha UNESCO World heritage site status.  

The old hospital

The Cinema


It’s easy enough to take yourself on a walking tour of the Island to admire local life and the decayed architecture. Fortaleza De São Sebastião was built from Limestone shipped from Lisbon between 1546 and 1583. It managed to hold off attacks from the Turkish, Dutch and Omani fleets. 


The locals don’t seem to have much to do on Ilha. Some play Ludo, the most boring unskillful game ever. Some play carrom, a game of Indian origins which is a cross between drafts and pool. But most just sit all day doing nothing, not reading or talking, absolutely nothing. This is something I’ve noticed happens a lot throughout Africa, groups of men get to together to simply sit and stare into space while all the women graft like mad. 

Carrom

Ludo


The kids on Ilha were especially excitable. Following, shouting, hissing and asking for their photos taken. The Macua woman of Ilha have a tradition of wearing a natural face mask called musiro made from bark, this is to soften the skin and protect it from the sun. Obviously the woman won’t let you photograph them without payment so here’s one of someone much better looking anyway. 

He doesn’t have a gammy arm that’s just his pose, and yes that is a football

Spider boy


The guys who are actually doing something are the local fisherman, who fetch in their daily catch, which you can buy. £10 for two lobsters was most likely a tourist price so I declined, much to his disappointment.  

Chuffed to bits with his catch


We took a boat trip out to Goa island to do some snorkelling, which was non existent as there’s no coral and was far too rough. The island’s beaches are relatively nice though and we got to explore an old derelict Portuguese lighthouse. I was half expecting a zombie to burst through one of the doors but the scariest thing about the lighthouse was the used condom on the top floor, and the fact the toilet was in better repair than the one in my hotel room. 


During my self guided walking tour I was accompanied by a dog who started following me from the Hindu temple. At the end I was amazed that he never asked for money or a tip, as sometimes there’s a catch with offers of ‘free help’ in Africa. 


Amazingly on Ilha I bumped into another Newcastle fan making it two in two days, this one had a striking resemblance to former Cameroonian flop Geremi. You wait six weeks to find some Newcastle shirts in Africa and then two turn up together, if only either of them knew exactly what they were wearing, one was the local Sunday league referees and the other had the nickname ‘Northern Rock’. 

Categories: Mozambique | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

Broken Down

Getting away from Likoma island to Mozambique proved to be no easy task. The large steamer the M.V Chambo, was currently out of service. So I had to take a small fishing boat across the lake, first to the tiny settlement of Cobué only an hour away to get a visa for Mozambique. This was a bizarre way to enter a new country, I had to practically swim to the beach at Cobué as the boat didn’t anchor close enough, here you’re greeted by a border ‘official’ and taken to the immigration office a ten minute walk through the village and issued a visa for $50, no questions asked and a pretty simple procedure.

Just swim to the beach from here

The replacement boat

Cobué immigration officeR

I then swam back to the fishing boat where I sat on a bag of dried fish for the next 13 hours. It was relatively fun at first, but once the sun went down, sitting there in total darkness was very lonely, depressing and tedious as the boat chugged along at about 5km per hour, stopping at every settlement along the Mozambican side of the lake to load on or off more people and/or bags of fish. It was a very psychologically demanding trip. The word Malawi means ‘fire flames’ in a local language, evoking the beautiful sunsets over the lake, something that is clearly represented in the national flag, at least I got to see it one last time on the nightmare boat, almost making the journey worth it.

Before the lights went out

There is not a lot in Metangula on the Mozambique side of the lake, but it’s a friendly town and an ok place to rest after the boat journey. I think the word Metangula might mean ‘dust cloud’, as there were some really strong winds blowing in fine orange dust from the unsealed roads and surrounding hills. It was here I accidentally drank 500ml of water from the lake which resulted in me throwing up my first Mozambican meal. Let me tell you, fish vomit, has to be the worst kind.

Lake Niassa from Metangula

Lichinga is the capital of the Niassa province and home to the Muslim Yao people. The Samora circle in town has a statue of Samora Machel in the centre, commander, revolutionist and first president of Mozambique. This was the closest I’d get to a running track over here so took the time to get some training in. The people in Lichinga seem to like posing for photos – “Mr, take my picture holding a dirty piece of cardboard over my head”.

Mozambique’s airline Linhas Aéreas de Moçambique, or LAM, has a very poor safety record. I have no idea why there is an old LAM passenger plane wreck on the outskirts of Lichinga, I’m thinking it might’ve broken down and they couldn’t be arsed to scrap it.


I was required to arrive at the mini bus station at 3am to get to Cuamba. It’s the middle of the night, but that is when all chappas start to collect passengers. The first chappa to Mandimba got a flat tyre half way, because the road is basically a giant pothole, so the 150k took 6 hours. After changing in Mandimba and eating some rather dodgy looking chicken bits, I boarded a second bus to Cuamba, this one got a flatty after about 20km. My patience had ran out at this point so I stuck my arm out and managed to get a lift in the cab of a heavy goods transport truck. Hitchhiking is normal in Mozambique and it’s custom to pay the same fare as a bus, this was a lot quicker as they’re more suitable for the roads and don’t stop as much.

3:30 am

I stayed in Cuamba for one night in local pensão for another 3:30am rise the following day. The Pensão Zambezi was, well, a shit hole. It was here that one of the little kretins who worked there, snuck into my room through the night and stole money from my bag. I made a big mistake of counting it up in a common area, letting them know where it was kept and inviting opportunity. The guesthouse was only £3 but ultimately staying there ended up costing me something like £60. I may as well have checked in to the Cuamba Hilton.

Had on, I’m sure I had more than this last night.

The robbery sucked balls, but if you drank sour milk once would you never drink milk again? I couldn’t let a carton of sour milk spoil my impression of the Mozambican people. Mozambique’s long distance train from Cuamba to Nampula covers a distance of 350km and has been hauling passengers across the country since 1912. After departing at 5am I thought I was in for a nice comfortable ride by Mozambique standards, until, you guessed it, the train broke down.

An in date carton of milk


The train got going again after a three hour standstill. I finally made it to Nampula 14 hours later after spending the whole journey stuck next to a woman with the two worst behaved kids in Mozambique, who cried, kicked, spat and screamed all the way there, not even the deep fried soya pieces that I covered in hot chili sauce and fed them managed to shut them up. Sometimes I wonder why I do this to myself, but even after all these break downs, nothing is going to break me down. When I spoke to someone a few years back about Mozambique they said “go to Mozambique if you want adventure”, they weren’t wrong there.

Categories: Malawi, Mozambique | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Magical Mystery Tours 

Livingstonia is perched on top of the Rift Valley escarpment 700 metres above Lake Malawi. Getting there involved an extremely rough ride on the back of a pick up truck. I shared a spare tyre with an old woman and had a bundle of sticks jabbing me in the side the whole way. Why do people in Africa bring bundles of sticks on public transport? Surely that’s the one thing available anywhere? Thankfully the trip only lasted about an hour. Once at the top, you’re rewarded with some amazing views of the lake. 

From this..,

To this.


The town of Livingstonia was founded by a group of Scottish missionaries led by Lt. E D Young, at the village originally known as Khondowe. Named after David Livingstone, the first two attempts set to establish a mission in Malawi failed after a high number of malarial fatalities, hence a site of higher altitude was chosen. There’s a few colonial style buildings in town, although not exactly the impressive architecture you’d find elsewhere in the empire. For some reason they also built a roundabout which sees only sees about a dozen vehicles per day. When the British first introduced roundabouts to Africa the locals didn’t know their name, so just referred to them as ‘keep lefties’. 

The Clock Tower, Stone House and the Keep Leftie


The church is the largest building in town, it took 30 years to complete due to a lack of funding. On this day I found  some friendly sisters arranging maize to be sent out to the local orphans. 


Manchewe falls is the largest waterfall in Malawi. The tallest drop is 125 metres high, it is surrounded by lush rainforests and a number of view points. Some guides hang around the entrance, but there’s really no need for them, as they simply state the obvious. Most of them are just young kids practicing their English and will try to follow you anyway. I gave him 60 pence. 

Likoma island is in Mozambique waters but is geographically part of Malawi, also as a result of its long association with Scottish missionaries. It’s difficult to reach, 12 hours on a basic boat called the Limani. Packed with all the supplies coming from the mainland getting to the toilet was difficult, a terrible time to get the squirts. Likoma has some lovely beaches, clear blue water and is mainly a place where people come just to chill and do nothing. 


Tired of being around the tourist lodge with the self-righteous expats, I decided to go on a tour of Likoma with someone I met in a local bar. He promised to show me all the non touristic sights on his alternative tour of the island, sounded promising. After walking about 6 miles in the blazing midday sun we arrived at our first ‘sight’ – a boulder with a mysterious footprint on it. To me looked far too big to be a footprint and was nothing more than a blemish in the boulder. 


Secondly was the ‘hidden cave’ which was more like a shelter where the locals come to smoke tac. Next up, the ‘singing rock’ which made a high pitched noise when you struck it with another stone. They were amazed at why it made such a noise. I tried to explain that it must be the way it was positioned or that it could be slightly denser than the other rocks around it but they were convinced it was a magic rock. It was at this point that I realised that I’d signed up to the shitest tour ever, in fact this tour was so shit it was almost good. 

The Singing Rock

The Tac Den

Hey Mister, how you enjoying your utterly shit tour?!


What was meant to be the main attraction of the tour ‘the bat cave’ we didn’t even get to see because the ‘tour guide’ said it would be too dark, and he was scared there were snakes inside. More like he realised how shit his impromptu tour was and could tell I was sick of clambering over rocks in the 35 degree heat. Ultimately, the highlight of the tour was when the guide suddenly picked up a rock and launched it into a flock of grouse, injuring one enough so he could grab it to take home for dinner. With that, it brought an end to this magical mystery tour. 

Believe it or not, he was actually happy with his day’s wages and free dinner

Categories: Malawi | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Witch Malawi Project 

Liwonde town is the tenth largest settlement in Malawi. Named after a Yao chief, this place wins the award for the biggest dump in the country so far. Thankfully, there’s no need to stay here very long, it’s only the jumping off point for Liwonde National Park. 


On a morning game drive in the park you’re unlikely to see any huge game or predators, but plenty of bushbuck, impala and buffalo.


Liwonde is considered one of the best birdwatching destinations in Malawi. It’s said that over 250 species were spotted in two days on an ornithological tour. The beautiful Lilian’s Lovebird and the Bateleur bird of prey were my highlights. These are rare sightings, but there’s also the common as muck Weaver. The Weaver is practically part of Africa’s furniture, the name of this species derives from the way the male carefully constructs and ‘weaves’ its nest. 

Lilian’s Love Birds


An afternoon boat ride down the Shire river is a special experience. This is when the herds of Liwonde elephants come for their afternoon cool down. There is also hundreds of hippos, dozen of crocodiles , plenty water birds and one very rare species I like to call ‘the Southern toss pot’. The Southern toss pot is a middle class man, who most likely attended boarding school in the Home Counties, who desperately tries his hardest to be funny. 

3 in 1

A very different Malawi is Cape Mclear, the original resort town. This is where the hippies of yesteryear used to flock to party and get stoned without a care in the world. It still holds its local and shanty feel and after ten days of consecutive camping, I decided to splash out on one of Cape Mclear’s finest lodgings.   


David Livingstone named the cape after his good mate Sir Thomas Maclear, although the fishing village is still known by the locals as Chembe. You’re guaranteed a good sunset here, you’re also guaranteed a good night out if you hit one of the local clubs. As the name suggests, Uncle Charlie’s booze den will not let you down, especially when you hit it with one of the local chefs named Cheeseburger. There’s a children’s beach band that go around and play for tips, I flicked the tin. 

Beach Band

It’s a good idea to take a snorkelling trip to Thumbi island to get away from the bilharzia infested water over on the shore. Lake Malawi is one of the Great Lakes of Africa and contains over a thousand different species of fish, many of which belong to the cichlid group, a brightly coloured species of fish which cares for its offspring. 


The boatman took us to see Mandela the fish eagle perform his theatrical show swooping down to take the fish from the water. He has some skills, dee feet weren’t so bad either. 

Mandela on his long flight to freedom


We’ve decided to skip the Mulanje district of Malawi where a witchcraft rumour has spiralled out of control. The locals believe that anyone who is a stranger to the area is really a ‘bloodsucker’ from Mozambique disguised as a human. They’re convinced the ‘vampires’ are using special powers to draw blood from their victims to use in special rituals. All of this seems to have started by a woman that complained of a headache. Up to now, half a dozen outsiders have been bludgeoned to death and two Europeans remain in hospital. The government have issued a severe warning not to travel there and all the volunteers in the area have been displaced. As much as I enjoy travelling the world and doing new things, I wouldn’t say that ‘being chased by an angry Malawian mob wielding hoes and pangas’ is top of my bucket list. 

Categories: Malawi | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

The Spy Who Logged Me

The drive to Zomba took 5 hours in a packed ‘which is which tours’ minibus. It’s around 250km on a good surfaced road,but takes so long because of the amount of stops so all the passengers can do their weekly shop from the roadside vendors. Stop for bananas, stop for onions, stop for cabbages, eggs, nuts etc etc. No need to ask the price, everything is 100 kwacha. 


Zomba was the capital of Malawi until 1975 and there’s a few British colonial style buildings dotted around town. The botanical gardens is a nice place to walk around for a few hours to see plenty of vervet monkeys and baboons. My fondest memory of Zomba town will be drinking with Philip, the head of the police in a local bar before been accused of being a spy by a drunken and aggressive Malawian CIA agent just for taking a photo of the TV. As romantic as it sounds, two scruffy looking guys from Newcastle are hardly James Bond material. Just as well he didn’t ask to see in our bags as he would’ve found some expensive birdwatching binoculars and telescopes.


The Zomba plateau is an isolated syenite mountain that towers over the town to a total elevation of 2000 metres, and forms part of the Southern escarpment of the Southern Shire valley. Camping is available on the plateau at a trout farm which doesn’t seem to farm trouts anymore. There’s only one very expensive hotel up there to eat at, looks like it’s peanut butter and pork paloni sandwiches for the next few days. 

The Trout Farm


Zomba plateau has some nice hiking trails through the forests and some great views of the surrounding area. We were guided by Erin, a 69 year old former policeman, personally sacked by Hastings Banda for taking a nap during a police convoy. The guy hastily hobbles along with his walking stick and easily managed the 6 hour hike with no water, wearing is wool hat and sweater.  

William’s falls


There is some rich birdlife up on the plateau which includes mountain wagtail, Livingstone’s turaco and the main event being the yellow-throated apalis – a Malawian endemic only found in the south. 

White Starred Robin


Chingwe’s hole is a natural hole hidden by trees. Locals reckon it is at least 60 metres deep and full of bones from when ancient tribal chiefs threw their enemies into the pit to rot. Chingwe means ‘rope’ in Chichewa after the first European who abseiled down there. 


Zomba plateau is Malawi’s oldest forest reserve, that doesn’t stop loggers illegally cutting it down. Higher up on the plateau, the sound of chainsaws is blatant and the local carrying the logs away is just outright depressing. Five years ago Zomba was apparently a lot greener and denser than it is now. Police bribery and political corruption are letting this happen, if nothing is done soon then it won’t be too long before there’s nothing left. Seen as I’m a spy now maybe I should sneak into the Malawian parliament and leave a different kind of log on the desk of the bent fool who is supposed to be dealing with these matters. 


Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world with the average national wage being less than a dollar a day. Erin asked if we had any spare clothes we didn’t need once we left Zomba, we gave him a whole new outfit. Bet he can’t wait to get back to his village wearing his brand new ‘John’s Stag Do Berlin 2017’ T-shirt. 

Categories: Malawi | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

The Long Way 

Lilongwe is the capital and largest city in Malawi. As far as sights go, there really isn’t a lot here. Everything in Lilongwe seems to be, well, a long way. “Where’s the bus station?” – “A long way”. “Where’s the supermarket?” – “a long way”. This makes getting around a real chore. The city is actually named after the Lilongwe river. 

A long walk just to get a loaf of breadAfrica is known for vendors selling anything they can get their hands on at traffic lights and busy junctions. In Lilongwe you can even buy puppies this way. Dogs seem to be quite popular in Lilongwe for security purposes. Where there’s dogs, there’s a need for the dog trainer. He let’s train your dogs to know what every things u want. 

Getting to the city centre is a hassle from the old town as it’s such a long way in the heat. I got a mini bus, but waited 40 minutes for it to fill up and leave, only to travel four miles and drop me off nowhere near where I wanted to be. 

Waiting…Dr Hastings Banda was the prime minster of Nyasaland until 1994 and led the country to independence in 1964. His mausoleum is situated in Lilongwe’s city centre. The security guard will tell you that foreigners need to take a guide, simply so that you pay him to walk you up the stairs so he can state the obvious. This is a lie and it’s fine to walk in on your own to the guard’s disappointment.  

Banda had some curious rules during his reign. Every business building was required to have a picture of him on display but not below a clock or poster. There was a strict dress code for every Malawian. Men were not allowed to have long hair, even foreigners who arrived in the country were subject to an involuntary haircut before having a visa issued.  


Malawi’s currency is the Malawian Kwacha, the current exchange rate is 956 to one pound. Before the Kwacha was introduced in 1971 they used the Malawian pound, each coin bore the face of Hastings Banda which led them to be know as ‘the Banda coin’. 

Banda now features on the 1000 Kwacha noteJungle Lovers is a novel by Paul Theroux about an insurance salesman who moves to Malawi. In the novel Theroux states that Banda famously quoted that ‘1 white man can do the work of 10 Malawians’ and that he had a striking resemblance to the man from Uncle Ben’s Rice. 

Time to move on from Lilongwe after a couple of days using the public bus.  Broken bus window in Malawi? No problem, we’ll just sew it back together. Looks like Malawi has a long way to come till they have window fitters. 

Categories: Malawi | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Rock Me Amadeus

A nine hour overnight coach is probably the last thing you want when suffering from a serious case of stag do heeby jeebies. Flix bus is like a European National Express, it’s rather comfortable and it’s saving me a nights accommodation, every cloud.    


Vienna is the second most populous German-speaking country in the world after Berlin. Vienna old town has some of the most stunning and well planned architecture I’ve ever seen. Every corner you turn there’s a perfectly crafted sculpture or fountain, and nowadays, falafel shops. 


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart established himself and achieved fame in Vienna. Mozart passed away at the age of 35 with an unknown fever. One theory suggests that he suffered from a huge vitamin D deficiency. Vienna has cold dark winters and Mozart favoured sleeping through the day and writing at night. Prior to his death it’s reported that Mozart was so pale he looked like he’d just finished a month’s worth of night shifts at Nissan. The lack of sunlight to his skin combined with his condition made him prone to infections which ultimately killed him. 

Mozart statue at the Hofburg

Saint Stephen’s cathedral is one of the oldest buildings in Vienna and a climb up the 350 steps to the top offers nice views of Vienna. The staircase is very narrow though so be prepared to give way and breath in for fat American tourists. 


The beautiful Vienna central cemetery is one of the largest in the world by the number of people laid to rest here. The 3 million interred includes a number of famous Austrians including Franz Schubert, Johann Strauss and a huge Saint Bernard dog known as Beethoven. 


Vienna now only has a few thousand Jews living there as they all moved abroad during and after the war. The Jewish section of the cemetery is now very overgrown and dilapidated because most of the families of the dead are long gone. Some of the grave stones read ‘year of birth – Auschwitz’. It’s a sad and eerie place. 


Would you believe that Beethoven isn’t the greatest musical genius buried in Vienna central cemetery? Well believe it, because this buried here is Austrian pop legend Falco. Falco had a worldwide hit in the 80’s with the song ‘Rock Me Amadeus’, written about none other than, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. 


Before I left Vienna I decided to take a walking tour guided by a homeless person. These tours offer a unique insight into the world of homelessness in Vienna and what the city does to help those in need. I learned that to be unemployed in Austria the average person gets around €800 in benefits, I know where I’m going when I need to sign on to the dole, funny that bad back seems to be playing up again. 

Categories: Austria | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Berlin Stag Do’s and Don’ts

I’m starting my latest trip to Africa with a quick visit to a few new European cities. I came to Berlin originally for a stag party, so apart from drinking, bars, McDonald’s and hangovers, I barely scratched the surface of this famous city. But I did manage to squeeze in some of the well known sights. 

Old school €2 photo booths are dotted all over Berlin


The Berlin Wall was officially known as the Anti-Facist Protection Rampart. The wall physically and ideologically cut off West Berlin from East Germany from 1961 to 1989. Now the East-side gallery in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district is a 1300 metre well preserved part of the wall that now serves as an international freedom monument and art gallery. When you’ve literally hit the wall on a stag do, the gallery provides some nice easy sightseeing. 

Off the wall


Possibly the most iconic of Berlin’s landmarks is the Brandenburg gate. The gate was once the entrance to Berlin when the city had walls. It marked the beginning and end of the road to the city of Brandenburg an der Havel, the former capital of the German empire. Now the gate is surrounded by Japanese tourists doing Nazi salutes. Something I personally wouldn’t do. 

The 2711 concrete pillars of varying heights make up the ‘Memorial for the murdered Jews of Europe’. Reminiscent of tombstones, the memorial which took six years to complete because of a lot of deliberation, pays homage to the millions of Jews that lost their lives during the holocaust. If you walk between the pillars, it gives you a sense of dizziness and confusion because of the uneven ground and their differing heights so walking around here after a heavy night on the German beer isn’t recommended. 


One sight I will not vouch for is Checkpoint Charlie. Checkpoint Charlie was the name given to the best known crossing point between both sides of Berlin so does have some quite historical significance. Now it’s just a cheap replica of the original checkpoint, is rife with pickpockets and scammers and there’s even a McDonald’s there. So not exactly authentic Berlin, unless you class authentic as getting your photo taken with a couple of Eastern Europeans dressed as US army soldiers.  


Currywurst, a Berliner speciality, fried pork sausage covered in ketchup with curry powder mixed in. You will find these everywhere in Berlin. As far as fast food goes this isn’t the greatest dish on Earth, but it ain’t the wurst either. 

This weekend happened to be the Berlin Marathon. One of the major races of the IAAF calendar and the course where the world record is held. Three athletes were going for a world record this year as well, but in the end it wasn’t meant to be. 


I was surprised to hear that the third place finisher was an unknown British athlete named Alex Milne, with a time of 2:06. I thought that the third placed runner looked more African than British, so I done a little digging around. Alex Milne’s previous best time was around 2:25, if he had of ran 2:06 he would’ve smashed the 60 year old British record. It turns out that the scoreboard had somehow got it wrong and an Ethiopian athlete actually finished third, while Alex Milne was back in England cutting the grass. Could it be possible that the Germans wanted to slyly get one up on the British? The only German runner Philipp Pflieger pulled up with with jelly legs so was subsequently over taken by Helmut dressed as a giant bratwurst. 

The extremely short life of the selfie stick

Categories: Germany | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Boat

The Casamance region of Senegal is cut off from the rest of the country by The Gambia. The overnight ferry from Dakar to get here couldn’t have been more comfortable by African standards. When arriving in Ziguinchor you sail through miles of green jungle and mangrove swamps, a big contrast to the dusty plains of the North, which gives you the sense you’re arriving in a whole new country. Not only is the landscape a fresh change, Casamance is culturally and politically very different to the North, in fact most people will actually say they’re going to Senegal when planning a trip to Dakar. 

The village of Abéne was the base during my stay here. A pretty hip little hangout right on The Gambia border which draws musicians and artistic people from all over West Africa. It is also the official headquarters of the Senegalese Manchester City fan club, whose corrugated iron shack is located in the bus station. 

The Abéne Ethiad

My home at the little baobab

‘Bantam Wora’ the sacred tree of Abéne is six huge fromager trees, which have fused together over time to create one massive beast. Also known as kapak or cotton trees, they’re always considered sacred in Casamance, but this one is extra special due to its size. Thought to be possessed by a genie that can bring good fortune if offered milk, kola nuts or biscuits, women with fertility problems or men wanting to win a local football match will come here to make an offering. Only time will tell if the packet of hobnobs I left there will be enough to help Newcastle United win any silverware in my lifetime. 

Bantam Wora

The coastal walk from the nearby town of Kafountine back to Abéne takes around an hour. The people here seem genuine and friendly and I got talking to a few guys from different walks of life. First a Gambian fisherman, who crosses the border regularly to work as he makes more money in Senegal. Then there was Mr Kofi, a Togolese gentleman who sells fresh BBQ’ed fish to tourists from his wooden shack. Finally, there was a young man from Nigeria who has travelled to Abéne overland from his home, his ultimate goal – to illegally make it to Europe where he will lie about his age with the hope of becoming a professional footballer. He’s 28 but can easily pass for 22. During his journey he spent a month behind bars in Ziguinchor when he got caught sneaking into Senegal but was released to make room in the prison for more serious criminals. 

Casamance region is an awesome spot for bird watching. I spent four days sitting in a hammock struck down with a mysterious stomach infection, most likely caused by downing a litre of Dakar tap water after a heavy night on the drink. I decided to just let the birds come to me. 

The ferry back to Dakar wasn’t quite as luxurious as it didn’t have cabins, so I was forced to sleep on the floor. It was still well organised and ran on time, a rare feat for Africa. The boat is such a prominent feature throughout this traditional fishing nation, it is impossible to miss the colourful designs and Islamic messages painted on the sides of each vessel. It seems only fitting that the word Senegal comes from the two Wolof words ‘Senuu Gal’ meaning ‘Our Boat’. Somehow, when disembarking the ferry I ended up with someone else’s passport, I was the only white guy on board, so how I got mistaken for ‘Muhammad Sagna Diop” is anyone’s guess. 

Newly built fishing boats in Kafoutine


Back in Dakar, I realised that it is quite a decent city with many different suburbs. Yoff, which is only a few kilometres from the airport, has a lively clean beach with clear water. It’s also the only beach in the world where you will find men training and sunbathers been attacked by giant pelicans on the same stretch of sand. 

Working out on Yoff beach


The affordable and short (ish) flight from England made Senegal an excellent place for a short trip. The North and South are two very different regions and the food is good, although I wouldn’t recommend their spaghetti bolognese. I had a few language difficulties, but the Senegalese people are very welcoming and friendly, in fact they pride themselves on ‘Teranga’ which means ‘Hospitality’ in Wolof. As I’m about to tackle Africa for round five, I’m signing off from Senegal with my generic football top shot, this time I’m going for the full kit wanker. Au Revoir!

Categories: Senegal | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.