A Travellerspoint blog

Back to England for half a day

28th October 2010

We continue travelling through the Rungwe district with its tea plantations and banana forrests towards Iringa.

To do some shopping, we simply have to stop the bus, and all the traders come to us.
Women rush across the road, offering bananas, mangoes, pineapples and a fruit I name a passionate guava.

They carry their offerings in woven plates on their heads. It looks as if every woman is wearing a fancy outfit with her colourful dress.

Nobody ever seems to have told African women that they are meant to bug-proof themselves by wearing drab, neutral colours. (To be fair, we are too high up in the mountains for mosquitoes, but clothes are equall colourful in Malaria areas.)

I am looking forward to buying myself a colourful outfit once we have time for a leisurely stroll – but this will probably have to wait until Zanzibar now...

The landscape changes and becomes more European. We pass through acres and acres of pine forrest that seem to be managed commercially because we see fields were all the trees have been cutv down, followed by young pine trees...

The further up we travel, the more Northern European the landscape becomes.

Ahead is a sign „Old farm house“ where we are camping for the night.

The chalets are built in the African style, but once we go for a walk, we might as well be taking a stroll in the English countryside on an early summer afternoon.

We walk past an area where flowers like carnations are grown for the European market and around two ponds that are surrounded by green.

I keep expecting an animal crossing our path that reminds me that I am in Tanzania rather than in England (maybe a croc rearing its head in the pond), but everything maintains the European illusion.

AH does not like to stick to the path and prefers to rely on his compass, so we find ourselves walking back on dirt tracks and through dried out grass, just as we might see in England after a draught.

Only occasionally do we come across plants and trees that are too exotic to fit into an English landscape. (AH picks up round fruit with a hardened skin. They look like leather balls.)

Posted by TTraveller 01:17 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Rungwe Tea Plantation

27th October 2010

In the afternoon we are driven to a plantation that provides Fairtrade tea for the UK market.

As we are leaving the hotel, an open van speeds past so tightly packed with chanting young men that there isn't even room for an extra sheet of paper.

I have no idea what they are upset about. It looks like they are heading for a demo where the fists might fly.

One thing is for sure: They don't like us.

One of them spits at our truck. Even though the episode lasts maybe lasts 30 seconds, I can still see his face, eyes bulging, spittle around his mouth.

We are clearly not the target of this mob, but it gives me a glimpse of the other side of Africa where rebel armies may enter a town.

None of the locals have paid any attention to the truck. Wonder whether it's normal to see vans full of shouting, angry men...

We spent 1 hour walking through the tea plantation. The path goes up and down, up and down, and the afternoon sun is still buring.

At first we don't see any workers, and I wonder whether tea is only picked early in the morning when it is still cool.

Tea can be picked all year round and only the young leaves are chosen. However, a bush that has just been picked needs to be left alone for a while (12 days?)

The teabushes were planted by the Germans in 1902, so must be pretty hardy and resilient.

We turn a corner and see women on the opposite slope, stooping down to cut the leaves, which fall into a plastic container which is then poured into a large wicker basket on their back. The basked can hold up to 15 kg of trees.

They work rapidly and the rhythmic snip-snip of the scirrors sounds like clapping.

They walk up and down those slopes from 8am in the morning to 5pm in the evening – and I cannot see a single man working on the slopes. I am beginning to wonder whether „Hakuna Matata“ is the men's slogan. It's easy for them to have no worries, as their women take care of everything...

When we come back I enjoy a read in the tent. It's a treat because the tent is cool for a change, and as we are further east, I have 1 hour extra reading light. (Part of me now wishes I'd walked into town with the other women, especially as the town doesn't seem to see a lot of tourists.)

Posted by TTraveller 01:16 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Journey to Tanzania

27th October 2010

The border crossings are pretty painless again.
The official who is the most exacting is the one in Malawi. He clearly does not like sloppily filled out exit cards.
AH is in for a rebuke: „Ey, my brother, what about all this?“ (The offiical points his finger at the bottom part of the form where stats are collected on age range, occupation and how much money we have spent in Malawi) „Almost looks like you are in a hurry.“
Actually, yes, we would like to move on. Border posts are really not the most exciting places and we have already lost time when police stopped the truck and wanted money for a missing top headlight at the back of the truck. It costs more money and time when our tour leader asks for a receipt.
We later find out that overlanders are sometimes held up at the border for 2 hours for no apparent reason.. Our official moans that we do not have to pay a visa fee whereas he would have to if he visited us, so maybe delays are a form of revenge for the perceived injustice...
The only thing the Tanzanian official doesn't like are old Dollar notes. It's not enough to cough up US$50 per person (or US$ 100 if you are an American) – the notes need to look neat and new.

Unlike the Tanzanian shillings we get shortly after the border. 1 US$ is 1,450 Tanzanian Shillings, so we once again have to be careful that we get the right change. What a difference an extra „0“ can make...

AH has lived in Dar for a year, so we are approaching home territory. Well, it will take a good while to get there, as it's at the other side of the country.

I wonder whether AH will recognise anything. After all, someone who has left England in the late 60s and came back now, would be in for a shock...

Tanzania is very different from Malawi and Zambia. For a start, this is now Pepsi country, and there are no traditional huts. Even modest homes often have a satellite dish.

The temperature is also a lot cooler as we drive into the mountains past banana and tea plantations. We pass open top vans which are filled with nothing but bananas. I have never seen so many bananas in one go.
The teabushes are only knee high and bright green. They give the landscape a fresh spring appearance...

Soon we are in a traffic jam in a town called Tukuju. There is no space for both the local bus and our truck on the narrow roads, so there is a deadlock.

To my surprise our truck pulls into the entrance of the Landmark Hotel. Once again it takes a lot of maeneuvering as space is tight.
Apparently, we will be camping in the garden of the hotel. Room 105 has been opened for us, so that we have access to a shower and a toilet. Talk about a wide range of camping experiences!

The plants in the garden are familiar: Roses, dahlias, lilies, pinks, just like back home.
They also have bottle brush trees (proper trees, not the stunted shrubs we manage to grow in English gardens.)

It's strange to walk into a hotel. It is a basic hotel, but feels like the height of luxury. It seems like we arrived in Africa a long time ago („Mazani“) and have been sleeping in tents forever and ever („Milele“).

So this is what a clean floor looks like... Not a grain of sand inside (until we walk in).

And that's what a fluffy towel feels like. And look, it's white! I have almost forgotten what a proper white looks like...

But this is Africa of course, so the hot water is cold when I take my shower, the toilets in the bar area are holes in the ground and in the evening there are several attempts to keep the electric generator going after a general power failure.

For a while it feels like going to sleep next to a building site, where the workers are so eager that they are working overtime into the night.

Posted by TTraveller 01:13 Archived in Tanzania Comments (0)

Another attempt at bargain hunting

26th October 2010

Outside the camp is a curio market, but this time we come away empty-handed. I am trying to buy a cooking book holder that looks like the wooden carved „fold-up“ chairs that are surprisingly comfortable and stable.

I am prepared to offer US$5 and my last orange cap. My last offer is US$7, but without the hat. I still don't have a deal.

Other items I like are wooden arches, with the animals two by two and Mr and Mrs Noah all fitting into the arch. Fun, but not a sensible buy, so I never seriously bargain for one

They also sell beautiful round bao boards, some with a chessboard on the back. I prefer them to the one we bought, but it doesn't really make sense to buy another one...

Later in the evening we have word that the owner of the book holder has changed his mind, so AH goes out of the gate for another round of negotiations. We no longer have US$7, as some of the money has been spent on drinks. So our offer is US$6, 100 Kwacha and my orange cap.

AH comes back with the bookholder – it's a deal if we add a bottle of Fanta. For me it's only a deal if I get the book holder nicelý polished.

So AH goes out once more, and once more the deal changes. AH has felt sorry for the seller and has now agreed to buy the seller a beer - which means we have now paid US$9 (plus my last cap).

The original asking price was only US$10 I think, so we have a long way to go until we are savvy bargainers...

Boy, going shopping in Africa takes stamina and endurance!

AH strikes a better deal when he hires a fishing boat. As soon as he sees the dugouts, he is determined to have a go.

The young fisherman originally asks for US$15. In the end, AH gets it for 150 Kwachas (about US$ 1), but it once again takes back and fourth negotiations, changing money, walking away and coming back. Too exhausting for me in the heat.

I stay in the shade, writing my blog, until the deal is done.

AH has asked me to photograph his heroic attempts. He looks like a rodeo rider trying to tame a wild horse.

The local lads are having a lot of fun watching AH's attempts to get control of the boat, so I suggest that they should pay HIM for the entertainment he provides.

Instead, the fisherman asks for further entertainment. He keeps asking that I take his photo. He is a real poser...

Posted by TTraveller 01:12 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

On the road to Chitimba

26th October 2010

Our bumpy journey continues. This time we add steep mountain passes – at one point the truck stalls and we wonder whether we'll have to go out and push.

I spend most of the time reading. I am currently fascinated by Swaheli and want to learn some phrases apart from „Hakuna matata“ before we get to Tanzania. I love words like „Milele“ which means forever and ever and „Zamani“ which means a long time ago.

We go shopping in a non-descript African town. It's quite a culture shock. The supermarket is a windowless warehouse with an assortment of goods that is far smaller than in the other supermarkets we have seen so far.

One would have thought that they would focus on selling the basics, but they sell things like Marmite – not an item I would have associated with the Malawian staple diet...

I guess it shows how many British overlanders pass through this town.

There is another unusable toilet. I am getting used to exercising self-control until I can go in the bush. Nothing scary about it any longer, and definitely no need to fiddle about with a SheWee.

Our journey takes us through a rubber plant forrest. The way the light streams through the trees reminds me of forrests in Europe. The only difference is that these trees are cut and have containers attached to them to catch rubber. At the moment the containers are empty.

AH peels off some rubber residue and forms it into a ball. It's surprisingly bouncy.

Maybe the rubber will flow again in the rainy season...

We are once again camping near lake Malawi. Another beautiful bay with sandy beach – and a new problem. This time a magpie is keen to have a share of our food...

We also have to watch out that the sausage trees don't drop their fruit on our heads when we are eating lunch and dinner.

Posted by TTraveller 01:10 Archived in Malawi Comments (0)

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