Thursday, January 18, 2007

Uluguru Mountains

Towering over the city of Morogoro (about 3 hrs away from Dar), are the Uluguru Mountains. We took the long weekend to embark on what ended up to be a rather grueling hike, complete with scratches and scrambling up the mountainside. We used a local tour company called Afriroots, which provided a guide, porters and camping equipment. In total, there were ten of us who hiked four hours on Friday, six on Saturday and another four on Sunday. We encountered some villagers on our way up the mountain who were brewing their own local beer, which looked and smelled like dirt. The Saturday hike took us to the top of Bondwa Peak, where it was so high that we could not see anything down below. The whole weekend was lovely though. We set up camp in front of an old abandoned house, where the Afriroots people now use as a kitchen and for storage. It gave such a nice character to a place that already had a magnificent view. Our guide led us through these very narrow paths. It was so humbling to see the local Tanzanian women ambling barefooted down the mountain with a fruit basket on her head, firewoood strapped to her side, a child clinging to her back, while I am sweating and struggling to walk up in my expensive hiking boots and MEC gear. Hahahahaha, what a crazy experience. We came across a party on the last day and joined in for an impromptu dance to the beat of the drums. I think they were celebrating the coming of age of some of the village girls.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


What a wonderful vacation! Five days in Livingstone, Zambia to see Victoria Falls. Despite my unfortunate stomach bug, which left me full of Cipro and no ability to drink on my birthday or Christmas, I had a fabulous time!

Our first day at Victoria Falls, and what we thought would be a 15 min gander over to Livingstone Island ended up being a 5 hr trek through slippery rocks and swamp in our bare feet. At one point, the guides had us swim across the river by cutting through the current so that we "wouldn't fall over the edge". That's how close we were to the edge of Vic Falls. At last, we arrived at Devil's Pool, a 3 metre deep natural pool at the very edge of Victoria Falls. We held onto the edge for dear life as we peered our heads over the Falls. Notice that our guides were hanging onto our feet :)

Some of the girls went white water rafting while I slowly recovered from my flu. We spent Christmas at a local orphanage where we had lunch with the kids and they performed some dances for us. On Boxing Day, I went on my first Gorge Swing. Some of you may have seen it showcased on the Amazing Race. I was strapped to a piece of rope that was tied to the middle of the Zambezi Gorge and then asked to jump from the ledge. I had a moment of hesitation, then free fell to the gorge below. Personally, I think the Gorge Swing is a better alternative from the bungee jumping. First, you get to swing upright. Second, you get to have a beautiful zen-like moment of dangling high above the Zambezi River with nothing but the sound of your body swinging back and forth.

All in all, two thumbs up for Livingstone, Zambia. I recommend staying at JollyBoys Backpackers in Livingstone. I also recommend the 5 hr trek to Devil's Pool, though you ought to bring flip flops if you want it to be 2 hrs long instead.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

My first Tanzanian wedding

My first Tanzanian wedding was lovely. LATE, but lovely. We went to the reception in the evening, where even the bride and groom were late. They new couple were introduced with much fanfare, and with the videographer following them around all night, I can't imagine that they were very comfortable. However, the reception was nice, and each side of the family got up to perform in their traditional tribal dance. At the end of the night, the guests had to, one by one, "dance" their gifts up to the bride and groom :) That was really fun :)

Sunday, November 26, 2006


Finally! I have visited paradise, and it turns out, it is reachable by a two hour boat ride! The girls and I went with our friend Ben to Zanzibar where we spent an absolutely wonderful weekend wandering the streets and soaking up the unique charactr that is Stone Town. We arrived Friday evening by boat and had dinner at Mercury's , owned by none other than Freddy Mercury himself (the guy from Queen). Our original purpose of the trip had been to see "some French DJs", which in all honesty was the only information we had to go on. So of course we had a luxurious dinner by the water before meandering down to the Livingstone where we assumed the show would begin at around 11pm, as it usually would in Dar. Our misguided (or rather oblivious) assumptions were clarified when we sat down and the band on stage announced that this would be their last song and thank you for coming out. The last song didn't even have the synthesizer, so we got neither French nor DJ elements of the show. Ah well. After a few lazy attempts at mingling around with the other Mzungus in the bar, I took the lead and dragged evryone to Dharma Lounge, a small club/lounge that played an eclectic mix of hip hop and Top 40s. Actually, the DJ made many bad choices throughout the evening, but it gave more character to our night.

Stone Town was beautiful. The mish mash of rooms and buildings stacked like Legos on top of each other gave the whole city a sense of peaceful chaos. I liken it to your very messy den, strewn with papers and books, but somehow you know exactly where everything is located. Of course, Stone Town is not MY den, and thus I simply followed Ben and his compass around for the weekend, quickly giving up on attempting to guess where "north" was. We had an amazing view atop our hotel (Hotel International), which had a character all of its own as a building. The rooftop area had a wonderful 360 view of the city, and at night, it was so quiet you could hear the sounds of shoe soles shuffling on the pavement. No wonder people fall in love with the place and never want to leave.

Friday, November 17, 2006

My initiation into the African life...

My purse got stolen! Nettie was right, shit happens as soon as you get comfortable. I was sitting in a friend's car on my way to work on tuesday. How could I pass up a front seat in an SUV when my other option was to cram into the back of a dala dala (mini public bus) with a dozen other people who don't believe in deodorant? Anyways, well I was sitting in the front with the window rolled down chatting away with my friend. I had my purse in my lap and the traffic was slow. When we stopped, someone reached in, grabbed my purse and ran for his life. I didn't even have time to react. And you really don't want to yell "thief" unless you're prepared to have a mob of people beat the culprit to death. Would probably ruin my idyllic African experience, no? I feel extremely lucky though, as I seemed to have prepared myself for such an incident. I had my phone, and my flash disk stolen. Everything else, my bank card etc, was safely tucked away at home. The loss of the flash disk is a pain in the butt, but I had hard copies of the most immediate documents at the office, and an extra SIM card with some of my friends' contact information. So not all is lost. Unfortunately, I have lost contact with the Chinese couple that I have been having lunch with - could not find their phone number, and cannot find their house. I will have to forage around the neighbourhood pointing at my face and asking Tanzanians if they had seen some "Wachina".

It rained all last week and flooded so many of the dirt roads in the area. Its heartbreaking to see some peoples homes submerged in knee deep water, I don't even know how they live through the long rainy season in March. The guys with wheelbarrows made a killing ferrying people across the deep puddles though. There's always someone willing to do something here in Tz.

Zanzibar this weekend! Should be a lovely reward for a frustrating week at work....

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Front Row at the Fashion Show

That's right, how many times will I ever get the chance to sit int he front row of a fashion show? The answer is, only in Tanzania. We went to the "Redd's African Fashion Design Awards" on a spontaneous whim to see what it was all about. This show was the semi-finalist showcasing of 8 specific designs. We had no idea what to expect. It was held at the Movenpick, a really ritsy hotel downtown that has changed names every five years (incidentally the number o years an international company can operate tax free in Tanzania). We were given free Redd's Premium Cold, this reportedly alcoholic drink that tasted distinctively like flat President's Choice Ginger Ale. The first designs were really quite lovely, these African dresses with British and Indian influences. And then it went downhill from there. We saw a hip hop group that was out of sync, and a magician (the ONLY East African female magician, trained in China, no joke). The Traditional dance was neat, though it was interesting to notethat all the middle class Tanzanians snickered int he audience. Finally, the semi finalist dresses were revealed, and they were butt ugly. I didn't even bother to take pictures, because they had to be made in the corporate colors of Redd's Premium Cold : Red, Green and Gold. Everyone looked like Christmas ornaments, it was horrid :) Interesting evening to say the least, I always love a new thing. Will post pics once the internet connection improves

Friday, October 20, 2006

It's only been a month?!

Dar is a city of many perspectives. There is a sort of bittersweet beauty in how poverty and opulence can co-exist under the same identity of what it means to be Tanzanian. Here is a picture of the street that I live on. Whereas 70% of Dar is comprised of informal settlements, I am fortunate to live on one of the few neighbourhoods that are planned. Despite the number of compounds (and perhaps because of) there is garbage everywhere on the streets. This past weekend, the Tanzanian government destroyed all the illegal stalls that were set up on the side of the main roads. These informal stalls are, or were, sell everything from clothes to vegetables to cell phone top up cards, and it is a shame to see peoples’ livelihoods literally turn into rubble on the side of the roads. These stalls existed all over the city, generating thousands of dollars for the informal economy. Unfortunately, they usually inhabit land that is reserved for future road allowances. They contribute to the traffic congestion and, as one Tanzanian observed, “are eyesores.” I doubt these local stalls will go away, as people still have to earn a living somehow. We shall see what happens as the months progress.

On Saturday, we took the walking tour of downtown suggested by the Lonely Planet, which was actually rather boring. The most interesting part of the tour was our visit to the fish market, the smell of which assaults your nose. Dozens of vendors are deep frying their catch and selling them to the public. I will have to return to the fish market for pictures and a taste of the catch. We also visited the Botanical Gardens, where we saw monkeys with bright turquoise blue testicles! I was unfortunately unable to get a good shot of said image, but I did catch a shot of the family of monkeys before they scooted off J My roommates and I visited Karembezi CafĂ©, a beautiful terraced restaurant perched next to the Indian Ocean. As I sipped my coffee and enjoyed the ocean view, I can hardly believe that just a few minutes ago I was walking through Dar’s dirty and rather languishing city centre.

I must admit, this electricity crisis in Dar is becoming a rather severe issue. As it is Ramadan, we are now without power 7 days a week between 6am and 6pm, though the availability of electricity at night continues to be unpredictable. I am lucky enough that if I cannot cook at home on the weekends, I can still spend a bit more to eat out.

Friends, family, please send emails or throw up your comments on my blog when you get a chance!