First steps on my African Adventures....

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April 18th 2018
Published: April 18th 2018
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African Adventures!!


I only booked this trip a few weeks before actually flying out. I had always planned to go travelling for a few months during my 'F3' (year out of training) year, but didn't get around to actually organising it until early March! My main reason for wanting to come to Africa was to see the Victoria Falls. I had learnt about them in Geography GCSE and had wanted to visit them ever since. Also, from previous travelling experiences, I had heard good things about Mozambique (great diving and beaches) and Malawi (gorgeous people and beautiful lake!) so I thought, feck it, I'll go to all of them. Originally, I was going to fly to Lusaka, Zambia and head down to the falls on my own from there. But I got cold feet about travelling solo to start with, so I decided to book onto an organised trip. I casted my mind back, all those years ago, when I went on my first long travelling trip with Lauren Baker (aka Mr Bearne) where we had booked stuff with STA travel (a student travel company). So I pretended to be 21 again and book with STA. This would be a 3 week trip, starting in Zanzibar (why the hell not!), travelling through Tanzania, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. That ticked 3 countries off my list! So ahead I went and booked. From there, I would travel solo, to see the rest (Mozambique etc.) So readers, please do read on to discover more....

Week 1 - Zanzibar

I set off at the end of March. Dad drove me to Heathrow (ledge) and I caught my flight to Nairobi with Kenyan Airways. To be completely honest, the flight wasn't great. I had made the mistake of not booking my seat ages in advance, so ended up with a middle seat (for 9 hours, argh!). I was one of the last to get on the flight and the woman on the aisle seat next to me was very blunt - when I went to put my luggage in the overhead compartment, she simply stated 'there is no room'. I went ahead and opened the compartment, and there was indeed room for my bag. So I ignored her and put my bag in there anyway. She replied with a 'hmph'. Great start to the journey!!! The film options were good - watched 'The Shape of Water' and 'Harry Potter 7 part 1'. The air hostess was nearly as moody as my aisle friend....and her frequency of drinks rounds was much less than I would have liked....but at least I arrived into Nairobi in one piece!!. I had a 3 hour wait for my connecting flight to Zanzibar via Kilimanjaro. This next flight was far more respectable....I had 3 seats to myself and we got two sets of drinks and snacks in the space of 2 hours - result! The views over Kiliminjaro at sunrise were incredible. I was beginning to regret not booking a trip here too....that will have to wait for another trip! I arrived into Zanzibar and jumped in a taxi to my hotel in Stonetown (the capital).

Later in the afternoon, our tour guide 'Mr Daniel' took me and Meghan (another girl doing the same trip as me) on a mini tour of Stonetown. It is a beautiful town and is a UNESCO world heritage site - the architecture dates back to the 19th century and has lots of influences including Persian, Arab, Indian and European. We saw the 'House of Wonders', 'The Old Fort' and the 'Roman Catholic Cathedral of St Joseph'. We wandered the many many streets and alleys of the town - all bustling with markets, people, music and smells of incense. To finish the mini tour we visited the birth place of Freddie Mercury (nee Farrokh Bulsara). This was very exciting - I am a huge Queen fan! The best thing about Freddie's house were the showers - they are built like an archway that you walk into, with beautifully coloured tiles. Later that evening, I met Maya and Tom (my Keele medic friend/ex-housemate and her boyfriend), who also happened to be in Zanzibar! We took a walk along the beautiful seafront and went for dinner at Forodhani Gardens - a food market selling grilled seafood (including barracuda; the chef kept insisting on pronouncing it as barrrrrrrrrrrrrrrracuda) and other Zanzibari cuisine such as plantain (one of my favourites), samosa, spice cakes, naan, chutney and manioc chips washed down with delicious pineapple and passion fruit juice. It has to be said, I was in my element - I hadn't eaten since my 2 plane snacks so I was very hungry!. That night I went to stay at Maya and Tom's place at Jambiani, on the east coast of the island. We went in their rented Japanese jeep, with 'One Direction' blasting on in 'in-built CD system'. The roads in Zanzibar are full of potholes/cars with no lights/cyclists with no lights so it was certainly a journey!

The next morning we were up at 5am to go swimming with dolphins. We set off on a mini motor boat driven by a local guide and after about an hour, came across a pod of 8-10 dolphins! Our guide promptly told us to get our fins and snorkel masks on and dive straight in, which we did! The experience was incredible. We were so close to the dolphins and were able to swim alongside them as they came up for air. They then swam back down towards the floor of the ocean for a few minutes - we jumped back in the boat and followed them, as we were unable to keep up with them, and once they were coming back to the surface, we jumped back into the water and swam alongside them again! We repeated this process of swimming and boat hopping several times before
Breakfast on Jambiani Beach Breakfast on Jambiani Beach Breakfast on Jambiani Beach

Post dolphin swimming
finally we were pretty exhausted. Other boats of tourists started to arrive, so we headed back towards land. We were back at Maya and Tom's place by 8.30am in time for breakfast on the beach; fresh fruit, sponge cake, omelette and toast with mango jam with a hot pot of tea - perfect. A brilliant morning. In the afternoon, we did the classic Zanzibar tourist activity - a spice tour. Zanzibar is one of the world's leading producers of spices such as clove, nutmeg, vanilla, cardamom and cinnamon. They were initially introduced by Portuguese traders in the 16th century, brought from their colonies in South America and India. We got to taste and smell different spices and learn how they are farmed and used. We also got a coconut tree performance.....this was basically a local man, climbing a coconut tree, quite swiftly, but stopping every metre or so to sing a few lines such as 'Hakuna Matata' (yes, seriously). He then, just as swiftly, came back down to Earth and let us taste the coconut and drink the water - very refreshing in the humidity! The tour finished with a delicious traditional swahili lunch. Later that evening I met my tour group who I was going to be travelling with for the next 3 weeks. We went for sunset drinks and market food dinner again (woo hoo!). It's safe to say I slept very well that night.

The following morning, we (the group, 10 of us) set off towards Nungwi - at the north of the island of Zanzibar. On the way, we had a few culture stops:

Stop 1 was a tour of the Old Slave Market Museum in the centre of Stonetown, which turned out to be a quite an upsetting but but important tour. We learnt about how slaves were taken from mainland Africa - namely Malawi, Tanzania and Kenya and brought to Stonetown to be sold. They were kept in cellars beneath what is now St Monica's guesthouse (not sure I would choose this as a place to stay!) all squashed together (around 75 in each cellar) with no air (there were tiny slits for holes in the walls), no light, no food and no water. Most of them suffocated to death. If any of them survived, they were brought to auction on the market place just outside where the cellars were and tied to a tree and whipped to test their strength. They were then bought and transported east to Oman and other middle eastern countries to be used as slaves. As I said, upsetting and moving, but an an important history to know when visiting Zanzibar. An Anglican Cathedral now stands on the site where these atrocities took place. It was built by Dr David Livingstone. Dr Livingstone was a Scottish Medical Missionary and explorer who had a huge part to play in the abolition of slavery.

Stop 2 was a visit to the local food markets. There was an incredible amount of fruits and vegetables, fish, spices, meat (I skipped this part. One member of the group later described cow skull being hacked, causing fragments of bone to fly everywhere) among other things.

Stop 3 was a visit to the spice farm (round 2 for me!) It was similar to the visit the previous day, except this was a government-run farm, so was much larger and perhaps less personal. I bought some locally made perfume called 'Zanzibar mix' in a tiny little bottle - ideal for travelling, and only 60 pence! The tour ended with a fruit tasting session - jackfruit, mango, pineapple, grapefruit, oranges (they are green here though, not orange!) as well as locally brewed fruit teas and peanut butter cake. Yum yum!

Stop 4 was a visit to our guide Mr Daniel's house for lunch (as if we needed more food) in his village. He brought us into his living room which was very modest but comfortable - no furniture, just beautiful rugs spread out across the floor. His wife presented lunch to us in the centre of the room - masala rice, kingfish, gingered beef and fried spinach. The meal was absolutely delicious. Mr Daniel's 2 year old son then came out to present us with beautiful platters of watermelon and pineapple - they train them young in Zanzibar!

After our 'culture stops' we arrived in Nungwi in time for the hot afternoon sun. Nungwi is an idyllic location - white sand, turquoise waters with lots of little restaurants and bars dotted along the beach. We settled ourselves on the beach for the afternoon to digest the day's activities (and food!).

The following day was free for the group to do activities of their choice. Some went diving, others chilled on the beach, but I opted for the full day snorkelling trip! This was a boat trip to Mnemba Island, Zanzibar Archipelago. Mnemba island is privately owned by Bill Gates, who has done huge amounts of work to eradicate malaria on the island of Zanzibar. On the journey towards the island we saw a couple of pods of dolphins (been there, done that). As soon as we arrived at the island we were free to snorkel at our leisure. The coral was beautiful - I saw bright blue and bright orange starfish (aka sea stars), sea cucumbers (Lauren Baker's favourite), eels, zebrafish, Dory fish (apparently they are called blue tang) and a bright orange/white/green fish (I named it the St Patrick's fish). Some of the detail could only be seen by doing a couple of cheeky surface dives - up close, the coral was full of so many colours and textures - beautiful! After a few hours of such fun, our boat brought us back towards Zanzibar Island (it is forbidden to set foot on Bill Gates' Island!) for barbecued tuna and curried rice, finished off with pineapple and watermelon - I certainly won't be developing scurvy out here!. Later in the afternoon we headed back to Nungwi and chilled on the beach. In the evening we all went for pizza for dinner - I had a Serengeti beer and Safari Pizza - very apt. Safari pizza toppings included courgette and shrimp - classic safari combination - obvs!

The next morning we were headed for Dar Es Salaam, mainland Tanzania. I had time for a cheeky early morning swim with the dolphins (they were in the distance this time alas, out fishing for their breakfast I guess). We travelled from Nungwi back to Stonewtown to catch the ferry (surprisingly pleasant) and arrived in the unexciting city of Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania's former capital). It is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, which certainly shows in the amount of building construction surrounding the city. We stayed at a campsite by the beach which was very breezy and chilling. We were introduced to our truck - the delightful 'Caprice'! Caprice was an overland truck which was to be our sort of 'home' for the next 3 weeks. At this point, I must explain what the next 3 weeks would involve - an 'overland' trip in Caprice.


Overlanding is about getting off the beaten track, away from roads well travelled by tourists. The truck is equipped to be able to drive down dirt tracks, sand and across water. Inside, it's like a coach - the seats are comfy, and there are even a few table seats where you can sit and have lunch during a long journey. There is also plenty of storage space for rucksacks, coolboxes (to hold food and beer and suchlike), a library, a safe, camping equipment and cooking equipment e.g cooking stove, tables, chairs etc. So each day of the overlanding trip, Caprice drives us to the next destination; some days are long travel days (e.g. 12-15 hours), others are short (e.g. 1-4 hours). The truck arrives at a campsite each afternoon/evening and we set up camp. This involves pitching tents, setting up the kitchen and seating area and getting ourselves orientated! Our trip leader was called Masumi, who had done many different overlanding trips across the world. Our driver and mechanic was called Rich who, like Masumi, was very experienced in overlanding. We had our own chef - 'Ronald' - a hero in the kitchen, from Nakuru, Kenya. There were just 7 of us 'tourists' on the trip (normally an overlanding truck can hold up to 22 people, so we were lucky to have all that extra space on the truck!). Joe was an architect from Dublin, Ireland. Seb was a marine ecologist from Lyon, France. Meghan was a consultant from Aberdeen, Scotland. Phil was an engineer from Birmingham. Hannah was a paediatric intensive care nurse from Bristol. Meg was a psychology student from York. And then me! All except Phil, Meg and me had already started their journey in Kenya. Phil, Meg and I were joining the trip in Zanzibar. Note that Caprice the truck was parked in Dar Es Salaam whilst people went over to visit Zanzibar! There was a rota for each group member to be sous-chef to Ronald on certain days. Also each group member had a job they were in charge of for the duration of the trip. Meghan was in charge of security (making sure all windows and doors were locked when people were leaving the truck). Seb and Joe were in charge of storing all the backpacks. Hannah and Meg were in charge of sweeping and mopping the truck. I was in charge of setting up the dining area and washing up bowls (a job I became very good at. Don't ask me to auscultate a heart anymore, but put dettol in a washing up bowl, and I'm your girl!). This is the link to the full itinerary, for a bit of light reading!


The next day was to be a really long travel day (15 hours). We planned to travel from Dar Es Salaam southwest to Iringa. We were up at 3.30am to leave at 4am. We headed towards Iringa, via the beautiful Mikumi National Park. We saw plenty of monkeys chilling on the road, as well as zebra, giraffe and gazelle. The journey was, at times, slow. The roads in Tanzania are notoriously difficult for driving. There are lots of speed restrictions of 50km/hr (even when outside the national parks) and random speed bumps dotted around the place, even on an 80km/hr road, which makes absolutely no sense. Furthermore, there are lots and lots of police checks, which bring along with them their difficulties (bribery etc.). Caprice was stopped on many occasions at police stops, to check papers and registration etc. On more than one occasion, Rich, our driver, was stopped for 'speeding'. He knew, of course, he had not gone over the speed limit. So he asked for proof. The police could provide no proof; they simply pointed to their eyes and said 'we're watching you' (Is this Big Brother?). Rich persisted, and they knew they didn't really have a leg to stand on. They were just trying their luck. So they let him carry on without having to pay a 'speeding fine'. At another point, later in the afternoon, we were meandering around a beautiful mountain road, when we hit a standstill. Apparently there had been a bad crash further up the mountain where a lorry had gone over the edge (it's not uncommon for lorries to overtake on a blind corner, even on a mountain road!!). So we were stuck. There was, conveniently, a layby where Rich decided to park Caprice for the time being, for safety. A few lorries followed the same idea, and parked behind us. However, a few police men and women came over and threatened to bring Rich to the police station. Their reasoning was because we were illegally parked (we only had a licence for driving through this particular park, but not for parking in it). Rich asked the police men if they were going to take the other lorry drivers to the police station too? A heated conversation ensued, after which Rich managed to convince the police men that their efforts to bribe him were fruitless! What a pro. Anyway, eventually the road cleared and we were able to carry on our journey. We saw evidence of the accident, and it did not look good. We arrived at our campsite about 7pm. It was dark and raining 😞 There was the option to upgrade to a cabin at a cost of $8. Meg and I chose this option. I felt like a wuss but it was only $8 and I didn't fancy putting a tent up in the rain and dark! The others were already pros having already camped in Kenya so they all chose the camping option. We had a delicious dinner of stuffed butternut squash (veggie option), roast potatoes and steamed veg, all washed down with a beer. Much needed after such a long journey!

Day 2 on Caprice was another long driving day. We were due to travel from Iringa to Malawi via the border at Songwe. We were up at 3.30am to set off at 4am. However, one hour into the drive (when I had comfortably spread myself across 3 seats and was falling into a nice sleep), we hit another accident (sigh). It was hard to tell what had happened, but there was a service road we were able to use to bypass the incident. It appeared to be another lorry collision, and Rich reckoned it was another overtaking booboo on one of the lorry's parts. Not good. Anyhow, all the emergency services were already there so we carried on, our journey not being delayed too much. We stopped for a picnic lunch on the way and reached the border between Tanzania and Malawi by mid afternoon. The border crossing was straight forward and luckily, we arrived at our campsite in the beautiful Chitimba, Lake Malwai, in daylight. Therefore Meg and I decided to camp. Rich instructed us on how to pitch our tents, using lots of sexual innuendos such as 'stick this pole in this hole' and 'use the nipple pole' to connect the 2 poles etc etc. We successfully set up our tent, felt very proud of ourselves, and then went to have a beer. Not a bad end to week 1!


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