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!

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Djoudj Dread

The most popular mode of transport in Senegal is the sept place (pronounced sept plas). A sept place is a very old Peugeot station wagon that is no longer legally road worthy in France, so has been shipped over to Senegal. Extra seats have been added into the large boot so they can carry seven passengers (sept place is French for seven seats) and providing you avoid these seats, journeys can be relatively comfortable. Most sept places, as you can imagine, are run down heaps of junk and pretty much every component of the interior is broken or missing, however they still work and they get us from A to B faster than any bus. 

Middle Seats

The island city of Saint Louis was once a deserted rock in the muggy waters of the river Senegal until it was handed over to the French by the son of the reigning king of the Waalo Kingdom. It served as the capital of French Senegal until 1902, which is noticeable in its typical French architecture. Named after King Louis XIV it’s not quite Marseille, but sort of how I’d imagine a city in the south of France, excluding the excessive amounts of rubbish and numerous chancers bumming cigarettes and beers. 

Senegal has a problem throughout the country with little boys begging around bus stations. These kids are not beggars but Quranic students called talibés who have been sent away by their families to receive a religious education from a marabout (Quranic teacher). The begging is not only a way for them to support themselves, but supposed to help the talibés acquire humanity throughout their spiritual journey with the idea that by suffering like this, they will be rewarded by Allah in paradise. Saint Louis has a lot of normal, friendly kids too though that don’t need possessions to stay entertained. 

Garbage Rafts

Game on the pavement

Is he giving me the V?

Parc National des Oiseaux du Djoudj is on an inland delta southeast of the Senegal river, Djoudj meaning tributary/delta in a local language. The bird sanctuary is a wetland of streams, ponds and backwaters which is visited by around 350 bird species. This oasis is a welcome sight and essential stopover for over 3 million birds annually making the transcontinental journey south from Europe, marking the end of their very long crossing over the Sahara, I certainly felt like a drink after my flight over the same desert after being sat near a screaming child for 9 hours. 

The park’s main entrance


We decided to pitch a tent within the park. I had visions of camping in a beautiful garden of Eden surrounded by waterfalls and the sound of African bird song, but the reality was completely different. The lodge “station biologique” looked like it could’ve been a decent place at one point, now it’s a sorry, dilapidated shadow of its former self which looks more like Luke Skywalker’s village on the planet Tatooine than a tourist lodge.

Tatooine


The list of bird species you can see in the Djoudj is as long as luke Skywalker’s lightsaber and includes ; Senegal Thick Knee, Zebra Wax-bill, Long-tailed Night Jar, African Jacana and Kitlitz Plover. These names are meaningless to a non-bird enthusiast but one thing that will certainly make your jaw drop is the pelican breeding colony. Thousands of pelicans nest on the island to minimise any predatory threat and each one weighs in at around 14KG, that’s a lot of bird. 

The Bird Man of the Djoudj

Squark!


The public holiday is over now and everyone seems to be going back to Dakar, making the sept place ride a long, cramped and sweaty one. We passed through the industrial town of Rufisque, which was once an important port until the rise of Dakar. Now it’s basically a dusty traffic jam which stinks of open sewers and is known for its production of cement, I think I’ll pass on a leg stretching stop. We were just starting to get into Dakar when I felt something wet and warm on my shoulder. I turned round and realised that the driver’s goat which was strapped to the roof of the sept place decided it couldn’t wait and had began pissing, which was trickling down the car, through the window and onto myself and the angry Senegalese woman I was quashed next to. For some reason she didn’t find it as funny as us, although she probably has never heard the phrase ‘only in Africa’. 

Taking the p***

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A Tale of Two Statues 

“Why Senegal?” That’s a standard question I get asked when I mention my latest holiday destination. No I didn’t just pull a name from a hat, no I didn’t flick through an atlas and get my girlfriend to tell me when to stop. My logic behind coming to this not so obscure West African nation is a lot simpler than that, I fancied some winter sun, it’s visa free, I managed to find a cheap flight from Newcastle and the Dalai Lama says “once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before”, I’m not counting my visit to the refuse tip in Gateshead, so Senegal it was! 

Dakar is the capital and largest city in Senegal. Arriving late we jumped into an airport taxi, the driver tried to sell us tours, hash and woman, not bad considering we’d only been in the country half an hour. He then charged £15 to the neighbourhood of Ngor, about two kilometres away and still had the nerve to ask for a tip to buy a late night supper. Shortly after finding a hotel we then fell for a sob story by a man selling little plastic baobab tree statues. He claimed he’d travelled from The Gambia to Dakar to buy expensive medicine because he’d had a stroke and desperately needed money. Now all the scams are out of the way, let’s enjoy Dakar! 

Horse and cart is still a common mode of transport in Dakar


Ngor is a commune and one of the four original Lebou villages that made up the original city of Dakar. There is a very local eatery that served grilled chicken so finger lickin good that a local drunkard stumbled in and finished everyone’s leftovers. The hotel seems to double up as a place for expats to pick up local girls and there’s a monkey chained up outside. I would say Ngor definitely falls into the ‘shanty’ spectrum, but overall is a friendly neighbourhood. 

Ngor

On this weekend, Dakar’s streets were pretty quiet as a large percentage of the population have fled to the city of Touba for the annual Grand Magal Muslim festival. This was a good time to make the long walk to the African Renaissance Monument. Towering over Dakar, the colossal 52 metre tall statue, is the largest in Africa. This brain child of former Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade was officially opened around the 50th anniversary of his country’s independence from France. Wade said the statue was to be a symbol of liberation, but with the total bill exceeding 30 million dollars the people of Senegal were furious that Wade was wasting public money, considering the economy collapsed leaving the education and healthcare in crisis. It costs 6000CFA (£8) to go to the top of the statue, 35% of which goes directly Wade after he claimed intellectual property rights. 

Wade’s giant piggy bank

Street art at the base of the monument

Only 3km from Dakar into the Atlantic Ocean lies Gorée island. Zero traffic on the island makes Gorée a harmonious heaven with a dark history. Seen as Dakar is statistically placed on the Cap-Vert peninsula, the westernmost point of the continent, slaves were brought to Gorée from all over West Africa to be held here while they awaited their fate – death on the island or at sea, or a lifetime of slavery in the Americas. 

Chilling on Gorée

Erm…


Most tours of the island are in French, so I didn’t bother paying over the top for an English speaking guide. The Maison des Esclaves (house of slaves) has some foisty and dank cells that are on par with some of the hotel Rooms we looked at, it is here where the men, woman and children were held before passing through the door of no return and shipped off to ‘The Land of the Free’. 

The door of no return

World War II Cannon


Blaise Diagne was a French political leader and former mayor of Dakar. Born on Gorée island, he was a pioneer of black electoral politics and advocate of equal rights, it seems only fitting that his son was the first black African to be selected for the France national football team. 

Blaise Diagne’s bust


There were a lot of pushy fake football top salesmen in Dakar who didn’t seem to take no for an answer. I eventually learned that all I had to say was “I don’t like football” and they left me alone. The Senegalese do love football, and they also love foosball. In most villages you will see a lot of  young men crowded around a tiny foosball table cheering like they’re at a real game. Let’s hope there’s not a pitch invasion. 

PSG v Madrid – foosball style

Unfortunately we couldn’t spend too long hanging around Dakar, a big city which seemed to have a lot more to offer. Just as we were about to head out of Ngor, all the local hawkers are now selling the same plastic baobab trees we were tricked into buying, and funnily enough everyone of them has had a stroke since yesterday afternoon. How convenient.  

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Never Say Never

I passed over the Rwanda – Uganda border on a wet and miserable morning. The whole experience was no less than a farce which went about as well as an Idi Amin appreciation festival in Kampala. I queued for about an hour to get my passport stamped by a border official who kindly stopped playing cards when he realised the queue was halfway into the rainforest. I then practically had my trousers ripped off while trying to negotiate a taxi and avoid the persistent money changers. When I made it into Uganda I almost immediately saw a flock of grey crowned cranes, Uganda’s national bird which appears on their flag. This brief moment ended up being the highlight of my time there, as after an unfortunate chain of events and less than 24 hours later, I found myself back in Kigali in Rwanda, a place I never thought I’d return to. 
For some reason I found it particularly difficult travelling this part of the world solo, the food, the language, the weather, the transport and the mentality of some people for some reason left me feeling drained, unless I’m just getting old, that’s something I’d never thought I’d say! With a few days to spare I thought I’d attend the opening match of the African Nations Championships held here in Rwanda. 

  
CHAN as it’s known, is a football tournament which only features players who ply their trade in their home nation’s national league, so you won’t find Yaya Toure banging them in for the Cote D’ivoire, but you will see central forward Koffi Boua who currently plays for Ivorian club team ASEC Mimosas. Yes you could taint the showcase by describing it as a tournament which only features second class players that aren’t good enough to play in Europe, but something like this lets the guys who never thought they would represent their country to fulfil their dreams. 

singing the national anthems

Rwanda, a nation still recovering from genocide probably never thought they would host a large international football tournament, but here they are. Paul Kagame the president of Rwanda was in attendance for the opening match vs The Ivory Coast, which I’d bought a ticket for, the problem was that the amount of tickets sold exceeded the capacity of the stadium, leaving myself and thousands of others stuck outside with tickets that might as well have been printed of bog roll. A great way to scam your fellow countrymen out of a few Francs! A bribe to the armed guard couldn’t even get me in, never thought I’d see the day. 

Not all was lost, with my ticket I managed to get in for the second game of the afternoon – Morocco vs Gabon.

  
The easiest way to navigate your way around Kigali is by catching a moto-taxi. There’s thousands of drivers all over the city, and unlike most other developing countries, it’s mandatory for the passenger to wear a crash helmet, which the driver supplies. Most one way trips don’t normally exceed £1 so it’s quite good value, the frustrating thing is that the driver will tell you he knows the way even if he really hasn’t got a clue, then spend a load of time driving around in circles, asking for directions or getting you to refer to your google maps. Once finally arriving at your destination they have the cheek to ask for more than the agreed price because they took the long road.

 

No helmut needed in the countryside

  
 

It was with great sadness that this African journey had come to a premature end. Rwanda is a beautiful country which does certainly feel more reserved and European than other parts of Africa, although I still feel when I talk to some of the people we are really world’s apart. An Irishman once told me “you never really appreciate a place properly until you’ve left” that old Irish proverb feels particularly true about mainland Tanzania and Rwanda. Looking back now at all its beauty, it taught me a thing or two about the people and the culture of a part of the world I was previously rather naive about, but taught me even more about myself. I’d quite happily never ride on the back of a moto taxi again but I must do it one last time to get to the airport, the driver typically got lost on the way and asked for double when we arrived, to which I obliged as this Mzungu may never come back to Africa again, but as another experience ends, I’ve learned that in this world, I’ll never say never again. 

  

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Gorillas That I Missed

Along the Congolese border with Rwanda is the spectacular Lake Kivu, one of a string of ‘inland seas’ that run through the Albertine Rift Floor. Though Kivu is a freshwater lake, it is one of three in the world that experience limnic eruptions, a rare type of natural disaster where dissolved CO2 and expanding amounts of methane, coupled with the nearby volcanic activity causes a massive explosion of CO2 from the water, ultimately asphyxiating everything around it.
  

 

Rwandans are removing gases from the lake to help power homes in the country, but at the same time it is not known when there will next be an explosion. A lake in Cameroon had a limnic eruption which resulted in 1800 deaths, Kivu is 2000 times larger so the effects would be catastrophic. Kivu is Rwanda’s prime domestic weekend getaway, imagine going on holiday to Skegness with the fear that the amusements might implode and let off some deadly toxins? 

  

I was going to get the boat from Kabuye to Gisenyi, two of the three Rwandan Kivu settlements, but by no surprise it was cancelled at the last minute so I was forced to drive the rough coastal route. Thankfully there was some beautiful rural scenery and some friendly locals. I found out that a lot of people in Africa don’t like being photographed because they believe that the snaps will be sold for profit and that the subject will receive nothing, I assured this couple that they will make 50% of all the proceeds I make from this photo, which is absolutely nothing.  

   

Gisenyi ‘Beach’

  

Rural Football Ground

 

Near Gisenyi the Pfunda tea estate produces exellent tea thanks to the fertile volcanic soils of the nearby Virunga foothills, it’s just a shame that every cafe I enter doesn’t seem to know how to make a decent brew. 

  

You can go for a wander around the tea estate but don’t expect it to be peaceful, as the adults graft away the hoards of children run wild and there was far too much Muzungu hysteria here for my liking. There were a lot of ‘give me money’ cries, where do they get the idea that all white people have a bottomless supply of money? My is guess is that one day a rich do gooder walked through this village with a bag full of Francs like the pied piper, and has subsequently ruined the market for everyone else. 

   
 

Musanze is the closest town the Volcanos national park, famous for its mountain gorilla tracking. Billed a once in a lifetime enchanting experience and something I would love to do, sadly comes with an extortionate price-tag of $700 per person for a half day excursion, locals pay $50. I’ve got the money, but my morals simply won’t allow me to pay this amount of money to spend an hour with a gorilla, especially when there’s a meathead’s gym at the top of my street that leaves little to the imagination. 

 

Inside the Dian Fossey research centre

  

The closest I got

 

The lovely twin lakes Ruhondo and Burera are renowned birding sights so I finally got to put those bulky binoculars to use, I managed to spot a fire finch, yellow African wagtail and a flycatcher, not bad for a green twitcher. 

   

Flycatcher

   
Back to the photography subject, some locals pose and allow you to capture them for a small upfront fee. If you are prepared to cough up, then this is what you get…

  

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One Man Banda

Happy to see the back of Tanzania, the first thing I noticed about Rwanda when completing the final furlong to Kigali, is that the people don’t seem as competent with their English as they do over the border. I was trying to find out how many hours the journey took, but no one understood what I was trying to ask. It’s then I remembered the age old trick of drawing pictures to get your point across, this time it didn’t work but the passengers found it hilarious as the white buffoon sat at the front of the bus scribbling pictures to the standard of a two year old. 
  

We all realise what happened in Rwanda in 1994, but few of us know what it was actually about and how it all started. Obviously it’s a complex subject, so here’s the quick idiot’s guide to the Rwandan genocide. 

Rwanda is divided into two main ethnic groups, the Hutu and the minority Tutsi. Since the beginning of time the two ethnic groups had some minor rivalries but always managed to get along in relative peace and harmony.
  

When the Belgians colonised Rwanda, they favoured the Tutsi for their supposed European appearance. They handed out ID cards that stated which group the given person belonged to and give the Tutsi control over Rwanda.    

The grave of Fred Gisa Rwigyema, co-founder of the RPF

Between 1959 and 1972 the Hutus rebelled and overthrew the government and the minority Tutsi were treated poorly as a result. By 1990 a rebel group of Tutsis was formed and invaded Northern Rwanda. A civil war followed along with four years worth of Hutu propaganda claiming that the Tutsi were to turn the Hutu into slaves. The straw that broke the Hutu’s back came when on 6th April 1994 a plane carrying the Hutu president was shot down. The propaganda intensified stating that Rwanda should no longer be divided, it should be a one man band. 

  

Over the course of the next 100 days 800,000 Tutsis and pro-peace Hutus were were murdered in state-sponsored violence, largely carried out by two Hutu paramilitary organisations but also by civilians who had once been their friends and neighbours. Woman and children were not spared, whole family’s were wiped out. 

The Hôtel des Mille Collines was used as a safe house during the genocide, as seen in the movie Hotel Rwanda.

So many people say that if it wasn’t for the Europeans then both groups would still be living together peacefully. The Belgians may have caused a greater divide, but I’m controversially saying, did they place the pangas in Rwandan people’s hands and order them to slaughter their fellow countryman? Make of it what you will. 

The mass grave at the genocide memorial site

Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, is built in a hilly area and sprawls across four ridges and valleys. Kigali is a mixture of two Bantu words combined to make a word literally meaning ‘broad’ or ‘big’, so Kigali is just the big city. Plastic bags are banned in Rwanda to help the environment making Kigali quite clean by Afrcian standards. Here you’re more likely to see a smartly dressed businessman than a scruffy kid offering shoe shines on those knackered rubber flip flops. There are numerous colourful markets, where for once a Muzungu can walk around without the deafening cries of ‘come, look at my shop’. 

  

  

  
Kigali’s old quarter Nyamirambo is where the first buildings of the city were raised. Kigali’s coolest neighbourhood is said to be the cities equivalent to Soho in London, that’s funny as I don’t see anyone wearing a gimp suit or a dodgy Albanian pimp. 

  
The Green Mosque has been a symbol of Nyamirambo since Muslim traders came to a Rwanda in the 1930s. With its weird architecture, the Mosque was another safe house during the genocide. The district escaped some of the worst atrocities due to the Muslim community who opened their doors to protect the Tutsis. Their acts of righteousness resulted in a high conversion rate and since then Kigali’s Muslim population has doubled. So you see, the Muslims who are often discriminated against for various reasons ignored the propaganda and were refused to make a one man banda, in Rwanda. 

  

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Polé Polé Way

From the Usumbara mountains the quickest way to reach Rwanda is by taking an expensive one way flight from Kilimanjaro. Of course there is a cheap way to do it, this is also the Polé Polé (slowly slowly) way. 

Lushoto to Arusha is a seven hour bus ride. Arusha is Tanzania’s second largest city and where most of the Northern Safaris are organised from. For apparently being a tourist town I was expecting to get constantly hounded by people selling Serengeti tours. The majority of the hassle actually came from one street where everyone wanted to sell me a mattress, apart from that I surprisingly found Arusha quite a friendly and relaxed place, even the blind busker in the street didn’t object to being photographed. 
 

Mattress Street

 

The Arushan Badly Drawn Boy

To avoid driving through the Serengeti and Ngorongoro national parks and paying the full entrance fees, I had to go the long way around. Babati is three hours South of Arusha and was an ok place to break up the journey. I paid a local fisherman to take me out into Lake Babati in his dugout canoe to see the hippos that live in the lake. Charles, my canoe driver didn’t want to get too close to the beasts as the heifers can be very aggressive, territorial animals when they have a calf. Charles spoke good English and told me how his ambition was to become a lawyer but he never had the funds to send himself to university so had no choice but to become a fisherman/hippo locator. Feeling rather touched by his story, I let him keep the 30p change. 

  

  

  

Next stop was Singida, another 4 hours West. There’s a few lakes here but I opted to just go for a wander around the villages and climbed up one of the town’s weird rock formations. It was in Singida I broke my record for the cheapest room in Tanzania – £2 for a complete shit hole with bucket showers right next to the bus station, where the music blares from the nearby bar till early hours of the morning. Luckily I had ear plugs, but after spending the night here, I wish I had of bought that mattress in Arusha.

  

  

Africans use the phrase Polé Polé meaning slowly slowly in Swahili for many things, as nothing ever seems to be hurried or scheduled. Mwanza, the final stop in Tanzania was meant to be a seven hour drive North but took around nine after the bus broke down 70km away from the city. Myself and four other passengers managed to hitchhike the rest of the way with a Soof Afrikaan gold tycoon who kept complaining about the road “yu paye thu Chinese tu burld yu a roud dis is wat yu git!” Mwanza is the third largest city in Tanzania and also at the centre of an area known as ‘the sorcery belt’. Witchcraft still happens around here and in recent memory some woman have been beaten to death by a mob of people after they were believed to be witches. Albino people are particularly vulnerable in the Mwanza area as they are hunted down and hacked to pieces by witchdoctors for their body parts. The bones from the removed limbs are then grinded into a fine powder and used as a powerful potion to heal even the most deadly curses, this was recently documented on an episode of Ross Kemp’s Extreme World. Kemp travels around East Africa meeting wizards and sorcerers, but none of them seem to have a spell great enough to prevent Ross looking like Zippy from Rainbow. I didn’t leave the cheap hotel in Mwanza after a taxi driver pointed over to me a shouted “Albino”!

The final leg of this gruelling journey started at 5am at Mwanza bus station where I departed the Nyehunge express, after half an hour a ferry hauls the bus across lake Victoria and I got to see the sunrise over Mwanza, this is where the fun ended. 
  

The next 8 hours were spent being thrown around the back of the bus with my new friends as the Ferrari crashed along on possibly the worst road in all of Tanzania until in reached the former refugee camp of Benaco. Here it’s a quick shared taxi to the border where I walked about 1km through no man’s land and stopped to admire Rusomo falls, a huge volume of water that surges from the Akagera river beneath the bridge between the two border posts. It’s here that German troops reported seeing the dead bodies of Rwandan genocide victims being thrown over the falls at a rate of two or three per minute. 

  

  

So I finally made it to Rwanda, the slowly slowly way, after five days, 40 hours worth of driving time and four nights spent in cheap local hotels next to dusty bus stations. I may have some acute symptoms of deep vein thrombosis to remind me of this journey, but on the bright side I’ve saved myself some money and got to see a more rural side of Tanzania. Welcome in Rwanda! 

  

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Jambo Usumbaras

The Usambara mountain range in North East Tanzania forms part of the Eastern Arc chain, a stretch of mountains in a broken crescent from Southern Kenya to the Southern highlands, making them at least 100 million years old, fifty times that of Mount Kilimanjaro. Home to the Shambaa people, agriculturists who are said to have moved here after a Masai invasion down on the plains. Lushoto, the main town of the Usumbaras is 1400m above sea level, making it a nice cool getaway for a few days and to do a bit of casual rambling. 
  

There’s no real need to have a guide if you’re only visiting some of the local countryside, Yoghoi village about 7km from Lushoto is a friendly place and all the locals will help you find your way. Just be prepared to say Jambo (hello) to everybody you pass. Jambo is reserved for tourists so I’m assuming it’s a bit like a Chinaman coming to England and saying something incredibly cliché such as ‘lovrey jubrey’. Yoghoi also has the Usumbara’s biggest Arsenal fan, he’s the owner of the Emirates shop and the Highbury barbers. 

  

On the edge of the Usumbara massif there’s some vast views of the Masai Steppes 1000m below, just say to a local in Yoghoi “Jambo, Viewpoint” whilst doing the classic looking on the horizon gesture. It may seem like you’re trying to re-enact the dance moves for ‘In the navy’ by the village people, buy they’ll know what you mean.

  

Soni Falls, a short ride from Lushoto near the town of the same name

On Sundays and Thursdays Lushoto has a colourful market where the Shambaa woman come from the surrounding villages to sell local produce. Ever wondered where your second hand clothes end up? Well by the looks of it Lushoto market. Everything is at a reduced price, says the woman wearing a pink shirt that reads ‘Donna’s Hen Do, Blackpool 2009’. 

  

  

Magamba forest is about a 90 minute uphill walk from Lushoto. In the dense rainforest it is possible to spot blue monkeys and colobus monkeys if you’re lucky and also the endemic Usumbara Weaver and Usumbara Akalat. I finally got some use out of the binoculars I brought but I’m a long way to becoming a true twitcher. It was just particularly nice strolling along listening to the sounds of the ancient forest and learning about the many types of tree that grow here. 

  

Eucalyptus tree

Lushoto was of particular importance during the German colonial period, when the town was known as Wilhelmstal and provided cool relief for the Deutsch workers travelling up on the weekends to escape the dry heat of the plains. The German cave hidden inside the Magamba forest was carved out of the limestone cliff and was used as a hideout during World War One. Now it serves as a hideout for pot smoking Rastas.  

  

The view from the top of 2230m Mount Magamba, the highest peak in the forest

On the way back down to Lushoto we purchased some local banana cake – banana mashed up and mixed with maize then rolled and held together with a leaf, very stodgy and not particularly appetising but it certainly filled a hole after that sweaty trek through the forest. So far in Tanzania I’ve noticed that for some reason most adults do not like being photographed, even if you ask. After purchasing the banana cakes from two fine Shambaa woman, I managed to talk them into letting me take a photo for my memories of the Usumbaras, which they obliged with the utmost enthusiasm. Say banana cake! 

  

  

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Chagua Magufuli, Chagua Mafia

The Mafia archipelago has a rather unusual and unfortunate name. ‘Mafia’ derives from the Arabic word ‘Morfiyeh’, meaning group. Although you won’t find any pistol wielding gangsters sporting Cordoba hats, the real criminal here is the marine park. Anyone diving, snorkelling, or even just staying within the marine park boundaries, which are all around the village of Utende – where all the resorts are, and Chole bay- where the dives sites are, must pay $20 marine fee per person per day. To put that into context, a couple on a fortnight’s holiday staying in a Utende lodge will have to dish out $560, even if they plan on doing nothing more than sitting on the beach. This is truly ridiculous, it’s not uncommon anywhere in the world to pay a one off fee when diving in a marine park, as most of the time the tourist dollar does go towards the marine conservation. By charging this amount it is only putting people off coming here and the annoying thing is that everybody knows that only a fraction of the money received is going back into the park, the majority is shared between the dirty hands involved with corrupt African politics. We stayed in the main town on Mafia island, Kilindoni, where the rooms are a fraction of the price and there’s more going on in terms of affordable food and drink. Kilindoni is outside the marine park so we only had to pay the fee on the days we travelled to Utende to dive, I ended up actually only paying $40 for the five days I entered, which I felt was fair. Where there’s a will there’s a way! 

Mafia is said to have some of the best diving in the West Indian Ocean. ‘Kinasi Pass’ is a sloping reef with a maximum depth of 23 metres. Lovely to just drift along the bottom of the slope and look up at the thousands common fish with the odd schools of needlefish and barracuda, just like swimming in the pre-title sequence of a 007 movie. 

  

  

On most of our dives we always seemed to come across at least one Nudibranch, a shell-less marine mollusc under the order of Nudibranchia aka a sea slug. It may not sound like much to a non-diver, but these tiny cartoony creatures come in a wide range of shapes and colours and are a favourite with many macro dive junkies. 

  

Makadoni outside of the bay, is a beautiful site with a lot of different corals, huge schools of snapper, sweet lips, morays, and turtles. Somehow the sight of a turtle gliding towards me is something I never get bored of, apart from the time when I was involved in a car crash at a junction in Ashington with a van transporting a load of those teenage mutants, that was turtle mayhem. 

  

  

We visited an unnamed site which I like to refer to as ‘we can’t get out of the bay so let’s just dive here’ and it was surprisingly good. Here we were followed by some giant napoleon wrasse’s, which is unusual as something with such a French sounding name you’d expect to run away from the English. There was also some nice topography when looking at the rock formations from below, proving that diving is not just about fish and coral. 

  

  

Seahorse City is done from the shore at Utende. At only 3m deep we were basically diving in the sand and weeds in search of unusual creatures that you wouldn’t normally find out at the other sites such as pipefish, razorfish, upside down jellyfish, pufferfish and after which this site is named, seahorses. These minute, prehistoric looking critters are difficult to spot and got me thinking about the two seahorses on Newcastle United’s crest. They’re taken from the city’s coat of arms which they were added to by William Flower, Norray King of Arms in 1575 as a reminder that Newcastle is a seaport. 

  

 
  

About a 20 minute drive from Kilindoni and outside the marine park is the peninsular of Kisimani Mafia. There was once an Arabic fort here and it is possible to still find some ancient Arabic coins in the sand. Now all you will find here is an amazing unspoiled beach, which at high tide, is one of the best I’ve ever seen. At the moment there’s no road leading to Kisimani, just a sand trail so you have to come by motorcycle. There’s a few half finished bungalows that a Russian investor started to build some years ago, which may be finished one day. I wonder if in 20 or 30 years time I’ll visit here again to find Kisimani developed into Mafia’s answer to Nungwi? 

  

Mange Island, is a sandbank a few hours from Mafia in the middle of the ocean, about a 50 metre stretch of permanent, pure white sand. A great way to spend Christmas Day having BBQ seafood for our dinner, minus the pigs in blankets. The reefs around here are not as good as those in Chole bay, but are apparently a good place to see reef sharks. Sadly there were no sharks out to play on this day, but plenty of blue spotted rays which take off like a rocket whenever they’re spooked.

  

  

Before I came to Mafia I had high expectations, I haven’t been disappointed. Beautiful diving, untouched beaches, friendly locals, and a much more low-key and less touristic alternative to Zanzibar. In the last few months Tanzania has voted a new president into government, John Magufuli. Magufuli’s campaign posters reading ‘Chagua Magafuli’ (choose Magafuli) are still plastered on every wall all over the country. He’s proven very popular with a lot of the people after he has sworn to rid his nation of all corruption which may hopefully introduce some more sensible rules in regards to the current marine fee in the near future. We all know that what politicians promise, and what politicians actually do are two different things. Only time will tell whether Magafuli goes down the same road as his predecessors, either way let’s hope that Mafia will remain the gem of the Indian Ocean that it truly is. 

  
 

Categories: Diving | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wago, Gallivevo Wago

The Mafia archipelago is still virtually unknown to a lot of people and sees only a fraction of visitors compared to Zanzibar. There’s no direct ferry to Mafia from Dar Es Salaam or from Zanzibar, so most tourists fly in and out which can cost in excess of $300 for a round trip. Of course there is a cheap local way to do it…

From Dar Es Salaam we made our way to Rangi Tatu bus station in the South of the city and boarded an extremely cramped mini bus for the port town of Nyamisati in the Rufiji river delta, which is effectively the closest mainland port to Mafia. The bus took around three hours and cost 5000Tsh (£1.60). The boat to Mafia leaves the following morning so it’s necessary to spend the night here, Nyamisati is a hot, malarial mosquito ridden backwater with nothing going for it. There are two places to stay – the Christian mission who charge 15000Tsh (£5) for a bare room with no fan or there’s an unnamed mud hut hotel next to the jetty, which quite frankly I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, the Christian mission it is then! 

The main street in Nyamisati

We were told we had to wait until 5pm to buy the boat ticket, so decided to get some food in Nyamisati, and by food I mean chips. That is all that is available from the huts lining both sides of the pier at this time of the day. There’s almost as many chip shops in Nyamasati as there is in Whitby so two plates of cold chips that had been standing covered in flies had to suffice. Nobody really speaks English but a friendly drunken sailor by the name of Captain Amiss helped us out by ordering our ‘chipsi’. There’s a lot of people sitting around drinking in Nyamasati basically because there’s nothing else to do, a few young guys had congregated around a car and were listening to the 80’s hit ‘Another day in paradise’ by Phil Collins whilst walking around in circles, which is so ironic because this place is anything but paradise. 

5pm came and it was time to order the tickets. There was a mad rush at the hut where everyone began to shout out their names. For people who don’t speak English it’s difficult to understand Western names so I try to say mine as clear as possible –

“Name?” 

“Gary” 

“Cary?”

“No, Gary, like Gary Neville” 

“Ok, surname?”

“Walker” 

I handed over the 13,500TSH (£4.15) for the ticket and now they have our names we’re told to wait till 7pm when our tickets will be ready, or course, it gets to 9pm, we’re being ravaged by mosquitos and there’s still no tickets. We kept being told that the “tickets are not allowed” so Noah, the man from the Christian mission and only real English speaker in town came down and explained that they’d ran out of ticket stubs and were waiting for someone to bring a new book from Dar Es Salaam. He managed to get us a receipt for the tickets so we can go back to the mission for a few hours. We had to be back at the port at 2:30am for a 3am boarding, the departure times vary according to the tides, and this day just happened to be a very early high tide, or so I was told. 

After literally 2 hours of horrible sleep in the sweltering Christian mission room we headed back to the port at 2:30am to find most other passengers asleep waiting for the boat, locals do this as they can’t afford a hotel. I managed to find the ticket man who finally handed the stub over with the name ‘Gallinevo Wago’ scribbled on it. 
  

At 3am the hoi pol oi had awoken like the undead and started to form a crowd at the end of the jetty. The extremely old tin ferry made a grand entrance by chugging out from the darkness as the people stared in awe as if a spaceship had just landed. The screaming, pushing and shoving started as everyone began to pass their luggage to the crew one by one via a narrow wooden walkway, why they didn’t start doing this when the boat was anchored all night is beyond me. The whole scenario was becoming even more ridiculous by the second with seemingly no one having a clue what is going on and zero order whatsoever. It’s then when the captain turned up and it was non other than Captain Amiss himself, the pissed sailor from a few hours previous. 

The jetty

Everyone finally piled onto the small vessel, which resembled a boat only seen on the TV which desperately transports refugees across the Mediterranean Sea, for a 5:30am departure. There was very few seats, a very rough crossing and from where I was standing, I saw one solitary plastic life ring. The boat took four hours, once we arrived in Mafia we had  to board some smaller wooden rowing boats to take us the rest of the way to the beach as there’s no jetty here, that’s after one of them took us  over to a second boat to collect our luggage. Obviously the luggage doesn’t stay on the same boat as it’s owners, that would make things too easy. 

We’re all in the same boat

So from Zanzibar to Mafia took around 30 hours, with the majority of that waiting around in Nyamasati. It wasn’t particularly pleasant, but most local people could never afford to fly, so it was a good experience being introduced to Mafia like a local, and it’s cheap as chips. When getting off the boat at Kilindoni beach reborn ‘Gallinevo Wago’ I had a wonderful sense of achievement knowing that was the hardest £70 I’ve ever saved, and I get to spend the next 10 days diving during the festive period on this beautiful island. Merry Christmas!

Gallinevo Wago 
 

Sick as a CHIP

 

Categories: Tanzania | Tags: , | 3 Comments

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