A Travellerspoint blog

TAZARA; a typically African travel experience

93,166 km travelled in total

sunny 31 °C

We set off from Lusaka and took a 6 hour bus ride to the small town of Kapiri Mposhi. Before leaving a preacher blesses the bus and its wheels (Oh holy wheels, may our father protect them from popping and splatting our bodies against a truck. Amen), then proceeds to collect money from the faithful for his hard work. I hope God gets some commission. We set off and after a short time are stopped and told to get off for a police frisk. We have several more of these bribe stops along the way.

When we arrive at station we ask the teller whether the train is leaving on time, “of course” he laughs. We take a seat and do some people watching. We wait and wait, and then wait a bit more. Two hours pass the scheduled leaving time and still nothing. I suppose time is a relative term when it comes to these things, maybe there are leaves on the track, maybe elephants. Eventually, three hours later we are allowed on board, another hour later we actually leave.

Our luxury cabin

Our luxury cabin

The train sets off at a leisurely pace and it feels good to get going. Almost at once we see the wreckages of past carriages at the side of the track, rusted and apparently not even worth salvaging they sit at strange angles in the positions they were thrown from the tracks. We chug along past small villages and children rush out to wave at the train and us, it’s the event of the week and everyone wants to have a wave. Some children are too late and you see them frantically running through the long grass only to miss the last carriage. Every station is packed with people, some selling goods and food and some just there for a wave and a gawp.

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Everything runs smoothly until midnight when our carriage derails. The train stops and then attempts to ride on whilst we are jolted to oblivion. We pick up more speed and we wonder what will happen next. Eventually we come to a stop, apparently the driver decides this cant be done for the next 40 hours. 3 hours are spent sitting in the dark, the lights dont work when train is not moving. Thankfully we have a torch, beer and wine.

Christy hits the bottle

Christy hits the bottle

Eventually the manager who looks a bit like the fat controller, comes in and tells us we have derailed just in case we hadn’t noticed. At 3am he moves us into a second class cabin, the workers disconnect our old carriage and the remaining railed carriages set off again. Ten minutes later we stop again and sit for no apparent reason for another hour in the dark. During this time someone in the next cabin starts preaching loudly into the night, possibly requesting that God intervenes to stop another derailment. I decide that Africans are even more noisy than Americans, shocking but true.

We’re woken up bleary eyed at 7am and given breakfast which is allegedly a full English. They’ve evidently never been to England as it consists of lumps of chicken liver, an omelette created out of play dough and a coffee which looks and tastes like engine oil. We notice that the window in our new carriage wont open, the maintenance man is called and he comes and “fixes” it by sticking a screwdriver into the gap and wedging it open permanently. He leaves cheerfully telling us to watch out as the locals enjoy throwing rocks into the second class cabins. Excellent.

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The train chugs on, we are chuffed it has managed 4 hours in a row. At every station we are met by many local vendors selling roast chicken, fruit and many other things – the railway is their lifeline as they are so isolated. The local children beg for our empty bottles so we oblige and they fall on the floor scrabbling for them as if we’d thrown gold down. The bottles can be filled with water and sold again to other locals. At one station a group of children stand and stare at us for ages. We try to communicate and I attempt rock, scissor paper with one of them. He has never seen this before and thinks that rock is me shaking my fist at him, scissor is me sticking up my fingers and paper is some other strange symbol. He looks a bit offended and sticks his fingers back up at me. Game over. We gave up on games and they amused us by pulling karate moves and falling over repeatedly.

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We eventually arrive at the Tanzanian border and practice our terrible Swahili with some locals. We exchanged a small amount of currency but as we were worried about getting ripped off we only changed £5 worth as we assumed we could still use Zambian money for the rest of the journey. Big mistake.

We set off again and we’re confident that as we are now in Tanzania we’ll be there by the next morning. At 6pm our train stops. After an hour or so I go for a beer and find the Fat Controller sitting in the dark resting a beer on his enormous stomach, I ask him what’s going on and he says that the main engine carriage has broken, and that unfortunately there’s no other carriages nearby to “rescue” us – it could be a long wait. He also tells me we can’t use Zambian money from now on so we have £5 to last us for however long the rescue will take. A few hours later he comes and cheerfully tells us they've found another engine, but that it can only take us to the nearest station. The engine arrives, drives us 30 minutes down the track and then we sit at the station in the dark. Midnight comes and the train starts, we are hopeful another engine has been found. We set off and the carriage jolts all over the place nearly throwing us from our beds. Whilst this is happening the man in the next cabin sleeps on peacefully snoring like a walrus and a million cockroaches are claiming back their cabin by crawling all over it. The train stops apparently unable to go any further without derailing again and we remain stationary with no lights for the next morning.

We set off again ever hopeful that this time we will keep going and eventually arrive. Tanzania has a very different scenery with rolling hills and fields of sunflowers and its very beautiful.

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The train manages to last until about 2am that night which is an amazing feat considering. We stop again, this time in a national park and once again the light disappears. The Fat Controller comes to tell us that another train has derailed and “capsized” (?!) and that we won’t be going anywhere for at least 24 hours. Apparently we have two options; to wait it out until the train can move again or to set off on foot through the nature reserve early the next morning to the nearest village where we can attempt to catch a bus. We chat with the 3 other foreigners on the train and decide to try to catch the bus the next morning. We get up at 5am and there is a mass exodus with everyone leaving the train. I go to get the other Mzungus and they’re still asleep so we have to wait for them. By the time they're ready the train is deserted and we have no idea about how to get to the village. We wait for another 15 minutes and then the other foreigners decide it’s too dangerous to go out in the dark and state that they're not leaving. We boldly set out by ourselves, I try to console Christy by telling her than lions don’t really eat people much anyway and we wonder around in the dark trying to see where we should go. Luckily we meet some other passengers who lead us to the village where we wait for the next few hours whilst a local Muslim man who declares he is President Obama prances, dances and sings his way around in circles and generally looks a bit crazy. After a few hours a man brings out a small board which states he is a ticket office and we buy tickets with Al-Siedy Royal Class coaches which the man earnestly tells us is an excellent bus and reassures us that we will most definitely get to sit down and enjoy the final 300km of our journey. The bus turns up and isn’t one bit royal and it has no class, it’s packed full of people and we have to stand up, the seats are ripped up and the inside looks as though someone has let off a hand grenade in it. A banner on the front window declares that Allah will protect our journey and the bus driver uses this protection to the max and drives like a maniac. We set off at light speed hurtling down mud roads and after about 20 minutes we swerve swiftly to the right clipping a motorbike, then briskly back to the left to avoid some oil drums which have been strategically placed in the middle of the road. I don’t know how we managed to avoid going in the ditch. We look back and the motorcyclist is laid out flat in the middle of the road but the driver doesn’t stop, the locals click their tongues and mutter “God be willing” and it’s left there. Shortly afterwards we zoom over a rickety bridge and one of the back tyres explodes very loudly, the locals cluck a bit again and again the driver continues no doubt thanking Allah for his timely intervention which stopped us plummeting from the bridge to our deaths. An hour later they decide to stop and change the tyre, it’s shredded and there’s a massive hole in it, they patch up the hole with a live chicken and on we go. Forwards we charge through a nature reserve at 130km/ hour, the driver is obviously hoping for further protection as we see elephants and giraffes at the road edge which could easily walk across the road. Thankfully they dont. The park road has many speed bumps and instead of slowing down the driver continues on in his mission to reach terminal velocity which propels all of the seated old ladies into mid air every 5 minutes, they cluck and click away and look in pain, but don’t say anything. By this time Christy has made friends with an old lady next to her by giving her a boiled egg, the lady in exchange is attempting to help get of Christy’s plastic bottles and rubbish by throwing it out of the window into the national park. Christy tries to stop her but she looks at her as if she’s crazy. We drive on and five long and terrifying hours later we arrive in Dar es Salaam, our final destination. The journey took 75 hours in total, a mere 35 hours of delays, we feel very frayed and ragged around the edges from the experience, but very glad to be alive and happy to have experienced something like this. We won't be back again.

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Posted by monkeyboy1 06:36 Archived in Tanzania Tagged train_travel Comments (0)

This is what happens when I don't blog for a while

84749 kms travelled so far

sunny 38 °C
View Around the world in 365 days... & Where we're going! on monkeyboy1's travel map.

Make yourself comfortable, this is a monster continent changing blog!

As we travelled along the Caprivi Strip which connects Namibia to Zambia the landscape dramatically changed from endless arid desert to bright green vegetation, blue skies and rivers which flowed randomly and without banks. Half the region is under water at this time and water definitely no attempts at taming it is made! The jungle was broken occasionally by small dusty clearings of round thatched huts made from mud and we could see villagers going about their daily business as they had done for centuries.

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We stopped to pick up some locals and an African lady with a rotund derrière sailed down the aisle whilst her backside swung from right to left like an independent creature, bashing me twice in the process. A man stood watching the bus having a full conversation with himself whilst painting his nails pink, there’s one in each village I suppose. The bus stopped again a bit later and a man with a broad smile and a white t-shirt which looked as though it would better suit an obese American walked on board, he swaggered down the bus and as he passed I saw he had an AK-47 slung over his shoulder. Once at the end of the bus, he turned back, satisfied with his thorough inspection and heads back out to sit with his friends again until the next bus comes. Another man tells us police corruption is rife and they’re looking to get some bribes. The next police stop sees everyone getting off and being patted down to search for something or other, and then being allowed back on board. We set off again passing lots of small villages and brightly dressed people with the sun shining brightly. This was more like it! I had finally arrived in the higgledy piggledy Africa I had imagined!

Going back a bit; we started in Cape Town. We arrived and went to Cape Town Backpackers where we quizzed the owner to get some advice on how best to head up to Uganda. “Head up overland? Backpacking?” he says, “you must be mad, people don’t backpack in Africa”, and then proceeds to go on about how we’ll get stuck eating oil and bread in a village in the backend of nowhere. We try to be constructive (and to point out he owns a BACKPACKERS which suggests that some people do backpack) but he rebukes every of our ideas as those of naive idiots who are destined to get eaten by cannibals within a week. We started to get a bit freaked out and think that maybe our plans are a bit stupid, but we don’t really have a choice so instead of going through Zimbabwe (“why would you want to go to Zimbabwe? There’s nothing there”) we opt for Nambia instead. Since setting off we’ve met scores of people who are backpacking and indeed who have been through Zimbabwe and had an excellent time, and we’ve had no major problems or been eaten by cannibals so up yours Mr Capetown Backpackers.

The next day we set off for my baboonathon and spent the next week cavorting with our primate cousins, then we travelled back to Cape Town and met with an old friend Evert who very kindly put us up in his flat and hosted a traditional South African braai for us. From what I can remember we had a great evening and met some nice people. The next few days we travelled into Cape Town where we visited a museum, went to the waterfront and had a cold beer sitting in the sun with a perfect blue sky and checked out the sights. More than anywhere else we’ve been we both felt a massive tension in Cape Town and such an enormous divide between rich and poor, black and white. All of the upper class houses have barbed wire around the walls, security gates and armed security guards on standby. You’ve got it-girls and boys at Camps Bay quaffing expensive wines and discussing the latest Gucci range whilst a few miles away there’s thousands upon thousands of people living in corrugated steel hovels without even basic amenities. We saw it everywhere and it is difficult to see how things are going to get better although I hope they do. On speaking to a local white women on how she thought things could improve she said that she worked with local children at her mission and that they were doing their best to wipe out their odd habits including eating with their fingers and speaking “strangely”, presumably with the aim of creating some kind of McCulture where everyone is the same and does the same things. Clearly not the most sensitive policy for dealing with cultural traits. To be fair this lady also said that she believed that earthquakes occurred because God was shaking the earth in an attempt to move the oil down to South Africa so maybe she wasn’t the most reliable person to get an opinion from and certainly this wasn’t the opinion of most people we spoke to. It does make you wonder if things will improve and most of the locals we spoke to seemed to think things were getting worse. On our last day there we strolled down the main street in town and watched an unconscious man have his wallet stolen which just seemed so incongruous on such a sunny and bright day. We stopped to tell a policeman what had happened, and cunningly he asked “did you steal his wallet?” in an attempt to catch me out. I said that we didn’t so he set off to solve the crime by asking other people whether they stole it or not which I’m sure will find the criminal. Overall we did have a great time in Cape Town and it has amazing potential to be such a perfect city, but this time it seemed to have a bit of a dark cloud hanging over it.

After our brief but pleasant stay we travelled up the country and crossed over into Nambia. The views and scenery on the bus journey was spectacular and we passed through countless miles of desert and wide open spaces where you could see right to the horizon within nothing in sight. We stopped at Windhoek which is the capital city, on arrival at our backpackers the first sign we were greeted by said “Get the real Windhoek experience, go out with your bag and get mugged at knifepoint”, which really made us feel comfortable and safe!!! We explored the city (without bags) and were thankful that everyone actually seemed friendly, smiley and didn’t try to mug us as knife point. So far on our trip we have found the locals very friendly and they always take time to say hello and ask how we are, it is nice being around smiley people. We hit a bit of a rut in Windhoek in that we found out everything touristy is actually crazily expensive in Africa, I think we both had the opinion that it would be dirt cheap but it’s quite the opposite. For example, a 2 day canoe tour costs a shocking $560 (you even have to paddle for that price!!!) and we were beginning to think we would have to sit in a dorm room and eat just bread for a few months. We also discovered Africa Time which is a bit like Alderney Time in that things get done slowly, and sometimes not at all. We spent a whole day trying to call to book a dorm room with no success and we were banging our heads against the wall as the place we were in had no more spaces left and we were going to be turfed out into the street with our luggage.

Luckily a German man called Christian came to the rescue. I got chatting to him and discovered he had just hired a 4x4 so we joined him and another English bloke called Yorkshire Chris on an adventure to Etosha National Park. So, Christian, Christy, Chris and me (Christ?) set off the following morning and travelled up to the park. We did everything on the cheap, camped in his tents (with jackals prowling around trying to steal our food, and when they couldn’t get food they stole Christian’s socks!!), cooked food on a BBQ and guided ourselves around – it was great fun and much more fun than a tour anyway. Christian was the pinnacle of Germanic organisation which helped out no end as whatever we needed could be rustled up on command. As an example compare our medical kits:

Christian: scalpels, 5 types of broad range antibiotics, bandages, ointments, oils, a book demonstrating how to carry out minor operations and much much more.

Mine: 2 small transparent plasters. Say no more.

We spent 3 days in the park and travelled across all of it. The park is on a salt pan and it very arid, during the dry season animals congregate in large numbers around the waterholes and are easy to see, unfortunately we’re in the wet season so they’re spread out all over the shot and much harder to see. Even despite this we did see lots of animals including lion (in the distance!), white rhino, giraffe, warthog, loads of species of antelope and many brightly coloured birds. The park scenery itself was amazing and as impressive to me as the animals we saw, it covers 5000km and at times you could see to the horizon all around with spaces so wide that you could see the curvature of the earth. This was fantastic until you drove over a bump to see 100km in all directions with no signs of any animals!! On the second evening we were treated to a fantastic African sunset which turned the whole sky bright red, we relaxed with a beer and appreciated being there. It was a great few days and we were really lucky to meet Christian and to get the opportunity to do it fairly cheaply.

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Our time in the park finished and we said goodbye to Christian and Chris who dropped us off in a small town called Tsumeb where we had an 11 hour wait for the next bus. We sat in Wimpy until we were kicked out and then we moved over to sit in a petrol station for the next 4 hours. I bribed a security guard with a can of Orangina and he sorted us out some chairs which was much better even though 2 white people reading at the edge of a petrol station did attract some attention and a few concerned comments including “are you lost?!”. I’m not quite sure why if we were lost we’d be sitting in a petrol station at 11pm reading books but it was nice that people were concerned anyway!

Finally we caught the overnight bus I described at the start of this blog and ended up in Livingstone in Zambia. The town itself is a fairly small and dusty one, with most things orientated around the main road. From Livingstone we had intended to leave to catch the train to Tanzania within a few days but the next train we could catch was leaving in 8 days so we had a bit of a wait before catching it. Luckily our hostel was nice and had a bar and a pool, we met some interesting people and did a few things so time didn’t drag.

After a few days at the hostel we visited a 5 star hotel called the Royal Livingstone, we had been advised that we could go and sit on their waterside jetty to have some drinks and watch the sunset. On arrival we realised this really wasn’t the kind of place backpackers hung around in, it was very posh and colonial and the staff were all dressed up in smart uniforms (we found out the basic rooms were $700 per night). As we were ushered in you could see waiters eyes sneakily glancing down to our flip flops and filthy feet, register a brief look of disgust and then shake themselves back to pretending we were normal people. We sat and had a few drinks and watched the sunset which was fantastic, it’s certainly a great way to spend some time in Africa but I did wonder whether the people there actually had any idea of what went on outside the complex, and whether they assumed that all Africans had sundowners with Martinis every night.

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The following day we visited Victoria Falls. It definitely is something you have to experience as no words do it justice. It’s as much of a sensation as anything because the mist is so thick you can’t see anything but white which is a very surreal feeling, especially when combined with the roaring of the falls. One word that comes to mind is WET, I mean really wet. Luckily a couple of backpackers had warned us and lent us their water proof canoe bag which we put our cameras in which really saved the day. As you approach the waterfall you can see the spray moving vertically upwards and it poured down on us as rain. We were as wet as if we’d jumped in a pool within minutes. We squelched around the falls for an hour, and admire the massiveness of it. Here are a couple of stats which might give you an idea of how wet and big it is: the falls are 1700metres in length, 108 metres high with an output of 560,000,000 cubic litres of water a minute! After the falls we walked down to an area called the boiling pot where the water which has fallen down the falls swirls around. We sat and chatted to some local boys who seemed as interested in eating our sandwiches as being friends. I asked one of the boys the name of a small lizard and he took it upon himself to catch me one, I thought that was fair enough until they all set off on some kind of hunting party throwing rocks and wood at the lizards trying to flatten them so they could bring back a corpse, hopefully in return for another sandwich. Luckily the lizards were faster than they were so they resumed their playing in the water instead. We sat and watched bankpackers throw themselves off a bridge for $150 a pop, later we found out a funny story about the bungee jump from a local taxi driver. Apparently when it opened the locals were invited to have a jump for free, the local (and elderly) chief wanted to try it out too as it was within his area and he wanted to see what the fuss was about and test that it was safe. So the company politely let him jump first and so as not to lose face he bravely hurled himself off the platform. As he plunged a couple of hundred metres his guts not so bravely hurled themselves out of his anus, no doubt leaving a splendid trail of faeces as he shot down the canyon whilst the locals looked on in shock. What an excellent story and certainly a good way to maintain respect within your subjects, I hope Gordon Brown does something similar soon.

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The next few days were spent quietly by the pool swimming, drinking beer and chatting with other backpackers. A few conversations stick in my mind, but most of all my chat with a chatty old coloured gentleman from America who told me all about his experiences as a grunt in the Vietnam war, he was a sniper and I now know how to shoot 2 people with the same bullet which will no doubt come in useful over the next few years.

Last Saturday the hostel was very quiet and as we were relaxing, a group of locals came into the ground and stood around by the bar, we realised that they were the am-dram HIV prevention group whose posters we had seen around the hostel and that they were going to perform a short drama for the benefit of the backpackers. The main problem was that the hostel was empty, so we went and hid in our room hoping they wouldn’t see us and make us sit through an embarrassing play by ourselves. Unfortunately they had seen us and we went along and watched a very strange performance in the local dialect about “inter generational sex”, the risk of sugar daddy’s and what one actor called the “eye of the penis” which triggered the eye of the tiger theme tune in my mind which in turn made me want to laugh at the most inappropriate moments. I didn’t learn that much from the play as it was in the local dialect (not sure whose idea that was considering the audience was Western backpackers?!) but the few facts they presented us with were shocking; in Zambia over 30% of people are HIV positive and 6500 people in Africa die every day of AIDS.

On another day we visited the local market which was solely for local people, it was very interesting so walk around and see how the local markets worked and what they sold, which varied from dried fish to spanners. Whilst perusing a very smelly fish section a man with no arms came and attempted to offer me something, I couldn’t even begin to understand the poor sod and pretended I was Dutch to try and make the situation less embarrassing for us both (“no spreken ze inglish”). Christy didn’t realise this and came in saying that yes we were English which made me look like I was a bit mental. After some time we deciphered that he wanted to offer his services in any work we had for him. Unfortunately we couldn’t think of any work for him to do for us and we had to shuffle off. Lots of the local kids were also interested in us, especially in Christy’s blonde hair and we got a few tag alongs as we moved about. One of them grabbed Christy’s wrist, she thought it was a thief and swung her arm forward nearly catapulting the small child across the path, much to the confusion of his father who had been proud of his sons attempt to communicate with the strange foreigners. We apologised and brought the little boy a drink, which thinking about it could have been their plan from the start. As we stood sipping our cold beverage the father eyed up my drink for several moments whilst making small talk, and then requested that he would really like a drink too. After buying drinks for half of the market population we departed and set off for a local curio market which was aimed at tourists. As I looked through the items on one stall I saw a strange doll, I asked the owner what it was and found out it was a spirit doll, something to do with magic and witchcraft which is very powerful and respected in Africa. I picked up the doll and its head promptly fell off, Chirsty shot off trying to conceal that she was laughing and I ended up buying a small elephant out of guilt for destroying his doll.

We moved on and we’re currently in Lusaka which is the capital of Zambia, the lonely planet describes as “not a highlight for tourists” which we definitely concur with. Yesterday we walked about 10km all over the city and found pretty much nothing of interest, but we did manage to arrange our Tanzanian visa which is good news. Tomorrow we finally set off on our train journey to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. The time for the journey has in true African style been quoted as being between 40 and 80 hours depending on how many times the train breaks down, which is think is accurate enough considering. Wish us luck!!!

Posted by monkeyboy1 18.03.2010 11:40 Archived in Zambia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Do we really exist?

79105km travelled so far...

all seasons in one day 25 °C
View Around the world in 365 days... & Where we're going! on monkeyboy1's travel map.

I said goodbye to Bali and Indonesia and I flew to Kuala Lumpur where I started a 40 hour trip back to Bangkok.
Before the monster trip I stayed in Kuala Lumpur for a night and a day. I met a few other backpackers and did some sightseeing around the city including getting a great city view from one of the main towers, holding a snake which tried to squeeze me to death (luckily my Amazon skills kicked in and I pulled its head off before it did so, much to the owners disgust) and caught a taxi ride from a very generous and funny old Indian taxi man who insisted on giving me a free tour of the city, buying me a tasty local drink, asking for advice on how to decide a career for his son (for this one I said “what does he enjoy doing and what does he want to do for a job?” to which he answered “that is a very good question sir, I will ask him”. That question seemed to have eluded him for the last and first 15 years of his son’s life) and trying to convince me to get him a visa for England which I assured him I most definitely couldn’t do.

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I travelled overnight on the train from KL to Northern Malaysia. It arrived in Penang at about 4am where I had 12 hours to kill before taking the next train. It was pitch black and I was laden down with all of my backpack and camera equipment. I wandered to the sea front and sat in the dark watching the sun rise and old Chinese men throw some shapes in the form of Tai Chi. I was thinking how very peaceful it all was when a shifty middle aged Muslim man sporting a dyed red moustache stopped next to me and started making conversation. Not wanting to be rude I went through the motions of polite chit chat at which point I hoped he would go away, jump into the sea or by swallowed by a whale, but unfortunately none of those things happened. He directed the conversation towards liberal attitudes towards sex in England, sensing where he was going I tried to sidetrack him by pointing out a splendid sea gull gliding past but he was having none of it, he had evidently done this before. He continued and the conversation started spiralling out of control and before he got too out of hand I swiftly terminated the conversation by telling him to bugger off. Thankfully he slunk off into the dark and back to his wife and children and I departed in the other direction as fast as my 30kg load would allow me to. It was good to see I was making friends and influencing people so early in the morning. With another 9 hours to burn I headed towards the nearest shopping mall only to find out that nothing opens until 11am on Sundays in Malaysia, fantastic! The only thing I could find in the city was evil Starbucks and begrudgingly I brought a coffee from them and spent the next 4 hours nursing it hoping they wouldn’t notice. Finally my time was nearly up and I caught a tuk tuk ride back to the ferry port. The driver was an interesting and kind man, his beard was enormous but thankfully he didn’t have a red moustache and didn’t seem interested in trying to hook up - it was good that my second Penang encounter was more positive. He educated me about certain aspects of being a Muslim and proudly told me that Muslim men can have up to four wives “assuming they are rich and have enough energy”. He himself was in the process of procuring a second wife for his personal collection so I thought I would be nosy and asked him whether his first wife minded sharing. He confessed that she may well do, but didn’t seem overly concerned. He suggested that I too become a Muslim and that I should divide my year spending 6 months in Thailand and 6 months in Malaysia with a full quota of 4 beautiful Muslim wives. I said farewell, promised to be back soon to claim my concubines and jumped on the train at last and set off for another overnight journey to Bangkok.

I arrived I met with Christy and we caught a taxi away from the smog and grime to a homestay called Hidden Holiday House which although only an hour from Bangkok feels like a million miles away from the chaos. It was exactly what we were looking for and restored my faith in Thailand which was great. The homestay was owned by a Polish Canadian man and his Thai wife, they were both very friendly and made us feel right at home. Aria cooked the most amazing Thai food for us every evening and I was most pleased that quality can be combined with quantity.

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We went on a trip to a traditional Thai floating market and wandered around genuinely happy that no other tourists or the accompanying touts were in sight. We met a 78 year old woman who had been selling vegetables there all her life, ate many weird and wonderful local foods, fed the sacred fish and took a boat ride down the river to a temple.

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This photo answers the age old question on whether dogs should wear shoes...

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The locals were really friendly, a far cry from the tourist areas, and we felt like we were finally seeing some of the real Thailand rather than a day-tripper circus. We went on a couple of bike rides with Chris who took us along dusty mud paths where the locals (and their wild dogs) lived, and around the beautiful countryside which was filled with rice paddies and their many feathered inhabitants. The house was set next to a river so we also set off one morning and kayaked to the nearest market. We wandered around whilst the locals stared at us like we were on fire, had three heads or were Pitt and Jolie. Later that day I went to the local hairdresser who reported to me (well, she reported to Chris who translated it to me) that I had been at the market earlier and that many people had been talking about it and speculating and discussing our age and good looks. News travels fast in rural Thailand. I wonder how many other funny stories I have missed through not being able to understand a language, a translator certainly helps. After a week we left feeling quite sad to say goodbye. We spent a couple of days in Bangkok buying a few last supplies for Africa, saw Avatar at the IMAX and then set off for our flight to Hong Kong.

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We arrived at Bangkok airport a few hours early and were told by a very uninterested Cathay Pacific staff member that we didn’t exist. We pointed out that obviously we did because we were in fact standing in front of her. As much as she would have liked to argue this she couldn’t and much to her annoyance was forced to stop combing her hair and do some work. Time ticked by and our plane left before anything was sorted out. After annoying her many times we finally got a response that One World (the “alliance” between all of the around the world trips) had cancelled all of our flights because we had missed one of the legs of the journey and that we had to purchase them all again! Of course we hadn’t missed any of the flights but she wasn’t really interested in that and we argued with her for some time. We called One World who instead of computers use an abacus and have lobotomised apes as customer service staff who grunted, scratched their fat arses and said that we really didn’t exist and that they couldn’t do anymore – a perfect example of “computer says no” if ever there was one. By this point we were doubting whether we did actually exist and thinking we were stuck in some kind of Matrix existence. We were literally stuck and no one would help, a bit like Tom Hanks in that film, but less talented and a bit more bored. We waited all day until 9am UK time and called our travel agent who thankfully was great and sorted it all out and arranged the flight for the next day. We took advantage of the whole thing and booked ourselves into an posh hotel for the evening, which we will charge to One World. Let’s hope the staff member who receives our complaint letter can read; we aren’t holding our breath. Maybe we should have sent it in picture form.

Troubles behind us we finally left Thailand and arrived in Hong Kong the next day. Due to the cock up we had missed the Chinese New Year fireworks display but decided to have a look around the city. As we’ve been in hot countries for so long now it didn’t even cross our minds that it could be anything but boiling. We were wrong. It was 5 degrees; everyone was wrapped in thick coats, scarves and hats. I was wearing flip flops, shorts and a t-shirt and Christy similar, we looked as though we had been transported by some Star Trek type machine from a beach and dropped into the freezing city. We decided to set off out into the cold getting very strange looks and a few laughs from the well dressed and warm locals. Luckily I found a stall selling very cheap clothes and brought a sweatshirt for a pound so at least I was a little warmer and didn’t look quite so out of place. We looked around HK for a few hours, travelled up the longest escalator in the world (it really was as exciting as it sounds), looked around a zoo with very unhappy and cold looking animals, gawped at the greyness of everything and decided that the airport would be warmer, more colourful and possibly more fun. I’m sure that HK has lots to offer but unfortunately we didn’t find any of it during our short stay.

Street.jpgTaxi_and_tree.jpgdirt.jpgtaxi_and_bus.jpgchristy_and_jaguar.jpgChairman Mao wearing lipstick, nice

Chairman Mao wearing lipstick, nice

Later that day we caught our flight to Africa where we are now, the sky is blue, the sun is hot and it feels exciting to be here and to travel where the tourist trail isn’t set up, I’m sure we’ll have lots of adventures. We’re currently at a private game reserve where I’m going out every day with a primatologist and photographing baboons; an interesting lot who divide their time wisely between fighting, having sex, eating and sleeping. I will tell you about that next time! Here are a few of the shots, I'll add more when I write about it all.

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To finish here are some shots I got in Bali of an incredible ecosystem on the stalk of a plant in a vase. The ants are farming the mealy bugs and in return for honeydew they get protection, and the jumping spider is hunting the ants. It was amazing to watch, a bit like a David Attenborough programme (again the Indonesians didnt share my enthusiasm!)

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Posted by monkeyboy1 25.02.2010 10:05 Archived in South Africa Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

A beach Christmas

61181 kms travelled so far

sunny 30 °C
View Around the world in 365 days... & Where we're going! on monkeyboy1's travel map.

Last night I paid to have fiery coconut shells kicked at me by a man who thought he was a possessed horse. This it seems is normal in Bali, and I have to admit that it was good fun. This happened when we went to one of the traditional religious dances. The first section was a short play, we didn’t have much clue what was going on, but it involved lots of chanting men who were an army of monkeys, two women, and two king monkeys who had a fight. The second part was the burning of at big pile of coconuts, and a horse man running around, kicking them at the audience, trampling on the red hot shells and generally acting a bit like Ozzy in his Sabbath years. After 5 minutes of going mental he was wrestled to the ground by two half naked men, had his hobby horse taken off him and he fell to the ground and sat there with soot blackened feet looking a bit confused about what had happened. Excellent!

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As opposed to Korean traditional dances it was quite captivating (sorry Korea, you made me fall asleep a few times) and the chanting and dancing looked almost African and was really interesting. It also had monkeys in it as any good show should have.

We’ve been in Indonesia for nearly a month now, it’s so enormous we haven’t even begun to touch on it, but we have driven all around Bali in a jeep and spent Christmas and New Year on a tiny island off the coast of another island called Lombok so our time has been spent well.

Driving around Bali has been interesting to say the least. As a rule the drivers here try to kill themselves (and you) at every opportunity; blind corners, oncoming trucks and steep hills are the best places to overtake or pull out but they’ll try at any time. Motorbikes undertake and overtake at the same time and we’ve even had motorbikes riding alongside us whilst we are driving trying to sell us a tour or random souvenirs.

Christy and our trusty (?) jeep

Christy and our trusty (?) jeep

Since we have been here we have been back to a town called Ubud three times, we are there now. It’s such a nice town, and after driving around the rest of Bali it’s safe to say that Christy made the best choice to stay here when I go to Africa. It’s very relaxed and I think of it as the Holt of Bali as it’s full of boutiques, nice restaurants, art workshops, yoga workshops and lots more of that kind of stuff. Every house seems to be built like a temple, the people are really nice (we've even been invited to a few weddings) and it also has a main temple which has hundreds of seriously overfed monkeys around it.

Our local chicken

Our local chicken

The view onto rice paddies

The view onto rice paddies

View from hotel

View from hotel

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Christy and a friendly monkey

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We splashed out for a nice hotel for our last week together; it costs a whopping £8 each per night. Our room is really nice and we get to wake up overlooking rice paddies, then jump in the pool, then have our breakfast brought to us on our balcony. Sweet.

During our exploration of Bali we did some really cool things; one morning we got up at 3:30am and climbed an active volcano (whilst we were climbing in the dark the stars were so bright and we saw loads of shooting stars)(plus we had an egg boiled in the volcano too), went snorkelling at an amazing nature reserve and even saw some dolphins. Our trusty jeep took us to do all of these activities with a maximum speed of 10km/hour, up hills it really struggled and it literally didn’t go over 2km/h (in first gear, move it to second and it died!). I suppose for a fiver a day we couldn’t expect much more.

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For Christmas and NYE we went to Gili Trawangan. We had 2 choices to get to the island; the fast boat which took an hour, and the slow boat which took 12 hours. Naturally we took the “scenic” (and cheap) slow boat which meandered all over the place. The journey was an interesting one as we got to people spot people, lie around eating noodles and watch men trap their fingers in doors.

We finally reached Gili Trawangan where we stayed for a couple of weeks. Gili T is a tiny island, 3km long and 2km wide, with a native population of 700 and only horse and cart as transport. It has potential to be a perfect island getaway, and some parts of it are idyllic.

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We spent most of our time snorkelling and searching for turtles which are abundant around the beaches. One day we went to the next island over and we saw ten turtles in one snorkel, which was fantastic. The coral is fairly good (considering!), and we saw loads of fishes, eels and other animals. In the evenings we went for nice BBQ meals on the beach, drank in the world’s largest Irish pub on the smallest island (although to be honest I couldn’t find all that much Irish about it, but at $1.30 for a double rum and coke who cares?). The manager of our hotel was really nice and we spent some time with him playing backgammon and chess with him.

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On Christmas day we opened our presents on the beach, had a beer for breakfast and went snorkelling, ate a lobster (which was amazing, courtesy of Christy and her parents), and drunk lots of rum in the evening with two Finnish people we met. It was a good day and it made being away much easier. On NYE we met again with the Fins, had a great meal, then saw in the New Year whilst in the sea, watching lots of fireworks and drinking vodka. Many vodkas later we wobbled home and then spent the next day regretting drinking that much (again).
The island is frustratingly good; in a way it’s everything that’s wrong with the negative aspects of tourism, crammed onto a tiny island so the effects are felt even more. I could rant about it for hours, but I’ll try to rant for one paragraph only, to make myself feel better!

Christy on the beach xmas

Christy on the beach xmas

The island is totally reliant on tourists for an income; it used to be a quiet get away and everything was dirt cheap, but now there’s lots of (over)development and overcharging going on which is slowly destroying what people actually came for in the first place. The island gets through 10 tonnes of rubbish a day, and it appears to be being spread evenly over the island and also in the sea, the beaches are dirty. The coral reef was damaged initially by cyanide fishing and is now being stomped on by lots of stupid tourists, the locals who run the snorkelling trips don’t bother to mention and rules and when I asked the man in charge why he didn’t tell people not to stand on it (it’s his livelihood after all!) he replied “yes, they always tread on the coral” and then for a spectacular finale he threw his anchor into some live coral. It’s all about getting money today and not caring about tomorrow, stupid. Interestingly this year was a bad year for tourism for them, probably because the island is getting a reputation for being ruined! When it boils down to it it’s the locals who need to do something about or else there will end up with a deserted, rubbish filled, coral-less island with lots of empty hotels! Somehow I think that’s what it will end up like which is shame; at least we saw it before it turned into a hot Yarmouth and we can remember the good parts of it! Success! Rant over in one paragraph!

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On the way back to Bali we were confused because the ferry did a 180 turn and started heading the wrong way. I went to investigate and it turns out the captain had seen some tuna and there was lots of Indonesian men out the back trying to catch them to sell, classic Indonesian style!

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We’re now relaxing in Ubud again where I am securing a firm reputation for being a mentalist with the hotel staff for taking photos of insects. I think the idea of paying any attention to bugs is a bit beyond their imagination! Here are some of my recent shots...

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Anyway, that’s about all for this episode. We’re off to Thailand for a short while next, then to Hong Kong for a two day stop over which works out perfectly as it’s their New Year celebration and there will be lots of fireworks for us. After that we head to South Africa for a while and then we’ll be heading overland all the way up to Uganda. Fingers crossed we’ll keep out of trouble for our last 2 months :)

Posted by monkeyboy1 30.01.2010 06:51 Archived in Indonesia Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Top Trumps - Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore

Better late than never....

sunny 29 °C
View Around the world in 365 days... & Where we're going! on monkeyboy1's travel map.

Here's my scores on the doors for Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. We were only in Malaysia and Singapore for a short time so as usual my scores will probably be wildly out... :)

THAILAND

Natural Beauty ----------- 8 (Nice beaches and national parks)
People --------------------- 6 (Way too many people just out to get your money let it down!)
Sights/Activities ---------- 8 (lots of cheap things to do!)
Food ----------------------- 9 (Thai curry, yummmmmm!)
Cost ----------------------- 8 (nice and cheap!)
Shopping ------------------ 8 (good cheap shopping, £20 goes a long way!)
Architecture -------------- 7 (Nice temples)
Transport ----------------- 8 (Good cheap buses and trains)
Price of beer ----------- c.£1

Overall Impression ------ 7 (would be higher if there was more smiles!)

MALAYSIA

Natural Beauty ----------- 9 (Stunning rock formations and nice rainforests (what's left of them!)
People --------------------- 9 (friendly locals who take the time to say hello and have a chat)
Sights/Activities ---------- 8 (Good prices)
Food ----------------------- 8 (I didnt think that much of Malaysian food, but the Indian and Chinese food made up for it!)
Cost ----------------------- 7 (Cheap accomodation and costs)
Shopping ------------------ 8 (cheap shopping for everyone!)
Architecture -------------- 7 (Beautiful mosques!)
Transport ----------------- 8 (Cheap and fast trains and buses)
Price of beer ----------- c.£5

Overall Impression ------ 8

SINGAPORE

Natural Beauty ----------- 6 (Most of it is built up, but i'm sure there's some beautiful areas)
People --------------------- 9 (friendly and relaxed people)
Sights/Activities ---------- 7 (lots to do, but maybe not on our budget)
Food ----------------------- 8 (Surprisingly cheap and good at Hawker stalls)
Cost ----------------------- 6 (Expensive, but I guess that's to be expected)
Shopping ------------------ 6 (expensive shopping!)
Architecture -------------- 9 (Nice modern cityscapes)
Transport ----------------- 9 (Good cheap transport)
Price of beer ----------- c.£2.50

Overall Impression ------ 8

Posted by monkeyboy1 19.12.2009 00:21 Archived in Singapore Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

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