5 March - Spent the day travelling Sydney to Jo'burg and then Jo'burg to Cape Town. Arrived safely with my entire luggage intact at 10pm and headed to my hostel Sunflower Stop which is located in Greenpoint overlooking the new stadium built specifically for the World Cup. Only 15 min walk to the waterfront so all good. The first advertisement I saw in South Africa was for a government agency specifically in charge of cutting down on electricity theft. I didn't understand this until I went on my township tour.
6 march -Early morning breakfast in local deli where I got chatting to some locals who loved Cape town before making my way to the waterfront where I was getting my ferry to Robben Island. There were some sea lions playing in the water which was nice to see before we took off. There was a dvd on the ferry which gave a history of the island and the prisons thereon. We all boarded busses upon arrival and our tour guide brought us around the island. Although famous for its high security prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated the island has a greater history. When leprosy was rife in Africa, all lepers were sent to Robben Island to stay in isolation so that the disease could not be spread. Leper graveyards still exist where the bodies of these unfortunate people are buried. Irish missionaries came out to care for these sick people and set up a community there. The only town on the island today is still known as Irishtown. All buildings apart from the church and the medical centre/hospital was destroyed for fear of the disease spreading.
There were three prisons on the island - the maximum security prison, a less stringent prison for common criminals (including murderers and rapists) and an isolation prison. The island also houses one guest house where all visitors including dignitaries including Nelson Mandela have stayed.
A limestone quarry is also located on the island. The political prisoners were made work in this quarry during their sentence. The heat and blinding reflection of the sun as well as the lack of proper tools made this hard work. The idea of making the prisoners work so hard was to break their spirit and tire them out so that they wouldn't have the energy to plan or orchestrate any political movement. However this plan backfired as the prisoners used this forum, particularly a cave which was used to shelter and have lunch as a basis for drawing up political documents and ideas.
The last leg of the tour was a tour of the maximum security prison itself. This tour was given to us by a former prisoner of Robben island. He was sentenced when he was 19 for the bombing of a political building in Jo'burg where 6 people were injured but thankfully no one died. He told us his experiences of living in the prison, the fight for the basic necessities including clothes and beds. (at one point the black people had no beds, only floor mats, and not enough clothing to keep warm.). What I found very interesting was that the categories of people in Africa during Apartheid was split into four groups and not two as I had originally thought. Whites were at the top of the pecking order with coloured people including Indians and Asians next. Blacks were at the bottom of the chain. The food provided to the different classes varied with the blacks receiving very little. He talked about the prison wardens who although cruel and heartless when they first arrived could be persuaded over time to become allies with the prisoners and were the prisoners greatest source of smuggling information in and out of the prison. One prison guard still lives on Robben island working in the local shop to this day. As a result, prison guards were rotated regularly so as not to get to pally with the inmates. He also talked of Nelson Mandela's influence in the prison and said that it was obvious he was a born leader with patience and courage. Nelson would hold political meetings in the toilets or in the exercise yard when police weren't looking or late at night after the lights went out drawing up a new constitution and new parliamentary documents for his vision of a new Africa where everyone was equal. He helped fight for prisoner rights including education and beds etc.
We were brought to Mandela's cell which resembled every other cell holding only a mat, a slop bucket and a small table.
Before leaving the island I took the "penguin board walk" where many African penguins could be seen.
Later that afternoon I explored the waterfront, a lovely area of Cape town with music and dancing and entertainment with lovely shops and restaurants. I also explored long street, the main street in cape town with lots more restaurants and bars and the numerous markets in the city where I wanted to buy everything I saw!!
7 march - This morning I took part in a township tour visiting two of the largest townships in Cape town. We first stopped off at District six, an area which was designated a white area during apartheid. This area was once populated by a majority of black residents and although their housing could be considered slums, it was their home, their community. They were forcefully removed and relocated to townships on the edge of the city and their old housing bulldozed. The only building that remained was the church. New housing was never developed and the area is now in the process of being given back to the residents who lived there. The first township we visited was Langa. The interesting thing I learnt was that there are different parts of the township. There if the Beverly Hills and the slums, similar to any town really. Some retired wealthy people choose to live in the township to experience another way of life, and the community and friendship that township life brings. Their houses are proper concrete buildings with first class facilities and security. However further down the street, these residences tower over the cardboard and corrugated iron shacks that other families live in.
A resident of the township gave us a tour of his community first bringing us to a four bed "hostel". These hostels were originally built for the black males who would come from the "homelands" and work in the city. Each room has three beds and there is a shared bathroom and dining. The rent on each bed is R25 (€2.50) per month. Families began moving into these hostels, and now three families could be living in one tiny room. All the families' possessions including pots/pans/cutlery/clothes etc had to be placed over that families bed. People are still living like this and it was shocking. The entire room wouldn't fit all my possessions, never mind my families and two neighbours. For the slightly wealthier there are two bedroomed flats available. R500 (€50) per month for five years can entitle you to own the flat. These flats were sparsely furnished and cramped but better than the hostels.
We then visited a day care centre where kids were educated during the day while the parents were working. It is acknowledged that education is the greatest factor in breaking the cycle of poverty and all children are encouraged to attend class. The kids sang for us and we were able to leave a donation for the school.
We then visited the poorest areas of the township and that was quite disturbing. These inhabitants lived in cardboard boxes. Thousands and thousands of these structures. There had been a fire in the township only a few days previously and the fire had raged though these homes destroying peoples homes and possessions. Portaloos were dotted throughout this part of the township as was water facilities as none of these shacks would have running water or bathroom facilities. Although poor and lacking basic sanitary conditions, these people are resourceful and numerous businesses were spread through the township, either being operated from a corrugated iron building or a shipping container. (I wonder is this where the officials in Christchurch got their idea for a shopping centre made from shipping containers?!). Hairdressers, grocery shops, mobile phone shops, beauty salons, pubs and all other facilities you would find in a town had sprouted up in the township. The government are trying to provide proper housing for all the inhabitants of these slums and building works were evident. But with 2 million people living in one slum in Cape Town alone, housing is not going to be provided for everyone in the near future.
We visited a shebeen which was located in a corrugated iron shack and tried their local brew. The beer was made in the shack using starch, maize and barley. The beer was in a steel container and there was a proper method of drinking from the jug! I tried some and even though I'm not a beer drinker it wasn't so bad.
Electric wires crisscrossed over the entire township where residents illegally were hooking their homes up to the electricity power source and stealing electricity. Another very disturbing practice I noticed not only in the townships but all over south Africa was the advertisements for abortions. "30 minute abortions", sterilisations, and "medically safe abortions". I have learnt that one in four people in South Africa are HIV positive and the government are trying to stop the spread of STD's and provide free condoms in most public toilets. However the thought of going into one of these shacks to a "30 minute abortion" horrifies me. These procedures aren't carried out by medically trained doctors or with the proper sterile equipment. I wonder how many women die or are maimed by life by these procedures.
Our final stop was a B&B opened by Vicky where tourists could come and stay and experience real township life including having dinner. We were told dinner could be a smiley. What's a smiley I asked - a sheeps head placed in the middle of the table where the guests pick off the various bits of the meat. The cheeks are the best apparently. The brains and eyeballs not so good apparently!!
There were a white couple from Durban on the tour with us and it was their attitude that first alerted me to the fact that racism is still rife in South Africa despite the end of Apartheid. They were wealthy farmers but spoke of their "black workers" who brought all their families to live in slums on their farm. It didn't bother them that they were employing people but not paying them enough to provide basic food, clothing, housing and sanitary conditions for their families. And they spoke of this with pride. They were the only ones not to contribute a donation to the day care centre. It disgusted me. I know there are rich and poor in Ireland - but not to the same extent and I don't believe that many employers would watch their employees family suffer the way some of these Africans do as they rolled around in their millions. The poverty gap in Ireland doesn't seem as big and therefore I am finding it hard to comprehend the juxtaposition of the super wealthy and unthinkable poverty of the South African people.
After the tour finished I went to the district 6 museum, where I got lots more information on the people and the lives of the residents of this area. The museum was set up and contributed to my former residents of this area so it is no surprise there is a bitterness that seeps through the exhibitions. The main feeling is that although district six could be considered a slum with no proper sanitary or other facilities, it was home. It was a community. It was family. When the residents were moved, albeit to nicer accommodation, although they gained a house they lost a home. The residents have succeeded in getting compensation for the loss of their homes if they can prove ownership. This compensation can either be in the form of money or by getting back their land. Plans and building works are commencing to rebuild district six for its former inhabitants, so a success story of sorts!
Next stop was table mountain and although I had planned to hike it, my inappropriate footware of flip flops prohibited it so I took the cable car instead. The views were spectacular as were the walks at the top of table mountain. A German film was being filed at the top of the mountain so I might be in that one day!
My last tour of the day was a city sightseeing tour which brought me all around the city including camps bay where the rich and famous hang out. The more I see of the city, the more I fall in love with it! Honestly I could see myself living here. The people, the friendliness, the laid back atmosphere, the happiness, the weather, the views, the beach, the waterfront - all amazing.
8 March: I took a tour of the Cape Peninsula through Table Mountain national Park to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope with Baz Bus and it really was excellent. We first passed Camps bay and the 12 apostles mountain range (different to aus in the fact that they are mountain peaks and not limestone formations but similar in that there is actually 17 and not 12!) On to Haut Bay where we stopped for breakfast. Haut Bay is an area about 1 hour south of Cape Town with spectacular views of the sea. From our viewing point we could see three distinct settlements in Haut bay. Our tour guide was excellent and gave us a little personal history lesson. The three settlements were for the three divisions in Apartheid. The whites, the blacks and the coloured. The whites had the best area, with lovely one off houses. The coloured had housing but was more apartments and flats. The flats had the worst area, with no views and they lived in shacks. Personally he told us his own story. He is coloured and fell in love with a black girl. His parents didn't approve as in their eyes black people were beneath him. When he asked her to marry him, his parents were very disappointed and viewed it as bringing shame on the family. It has only been recently that his parents have seen the type of person his wife is and not the colour of her skin and treated her accordingly. It seems that it will take many generations to break the cycle of racism and poverty among the coloured and black members of society. Although everyone is free to live where they choose the reality is that no coloured or black people can afford now to move up the social ladder into the better areas populated by the whites. It will only be when this generation of kids get an education and get the high paying jobs that any real change is society will begin and where races will mix freely living beside one another.
Just past the pretty town of Simonstown we stopped off at Boulders Penguin Colony where we saw hundreds of African penguins. This colony started off from 2 penguins in 1982 and now has approx. 2200. We then drove to Cape Point park where we got on our bikes and cycled through the park. The scenery was amazing and great to get some exercise. Lunch was a picnic before driving to the most south western point of the African coast - the Cape of Good Hope. We then drove to Cape Point and we hiked up to the top to the lighthouse for some amazing views over the ocean. This park is full of wildlife and we were lucky enough to see some baboons which naturally reminded me of Carisa! They are attracted by food and even climb in car and bus windows to get food! On the way back we stopped at an Ostrich farm where I saw my first African Ostrich. Great tour!
9 March: I left Cape Town and onto Stellenbosch - the winelands. I organised the easy rider wine tour where we went to four different wineries and drank lots and lots of wine! Stellenbosch is a pretty town but it's the scenery and the vines that make this place unique. We also saw some Zebra, Ostrich and Oryx on the tour. The wine tours in the wineries itself were not amazing and I learnt no more about wine making and storage than I did before. However we did lots of wine sampling and in one winery they also made cheese so had a lovely wine and cheese tasting. We got home about half five and I arranged with the girls that did the tour with me to go for more drinks later on in Stellenbosch. I was all wined out by that time so had soe local Hunters cider, also made in Stellenbosch. Fun day.
10 march: Bus to Hermanus where I had arranged to go diving with the Great White Sharks. When I arrived the town market was taking place so strolled around that spending a lot of money on rubbish! Then I went for a walk along the lovely sea front where whales can be seen at certain times of the year (September). I didn't see any whales but there was some gorgeous views.
11 march: White Shark Cage Diving!! Was picked up and brought for breakfast and a briefing on how not to get eaten by sharks! Got boat out to sea and stopped in an area full of whales. It is their breeding season. The crew lowered a floating cage into the freezing cold water and threw some trout heads in as bait for the sharks. The sharks came immediately and swarmed the boat. We put on our wetsuits and lowered ourselves into the cage. The sharks came right up to the cage and their fins came into the cage at one point. Sometimes they would jump up in the air and try and catch the bait. I spent most of my time trying unsuccessfully to catch this on camera. Massive animals though. I can see why so many people are fascinated by them. We went back for lunch of wine and lasagne before heading back to the hostel for a relaxing evening.
12 March: Bus to Knysna where I was doing a family homestay. The lady I was staying with was in her 70's and her husband had died. She had her cousin and aunt staying with her also so was nice to meet the family! She was a coloured woman so was not living in the real townships but not in luxury either. She was moved from her original home during Apartheid and the whites moved into her old home which she is quite bitter about given that the real estate is now worth millions. She cooked dinner which consisted of ox tongue and salad! I ate it and wasn't the worst thing in the world! We went for a walk later around her community. All small communities are the same - a police car pulled up at her neighbours house and we had to walk really slowly so she could eavesdrop to see what happened!!
13 March: I had a cooked breakfast to set me up on my day around Knsyna before heading to Port Elizabeth. Knysna is a very pretty town with a lovely forest and lagoon where people go fishing and canoeing etc. Arrived late to Port Elizabeth due to the incompetency of the Baz Bus driver so didn't get to see any of the city before I flew to Windhoek the following day.
14 March: Flight from Port Elizabeth to Jo'burg and then from Jo'burg to Windhoek. Arrived in our fab hotel at 5.30 and met my group before heading out to dinner. There were about 30 people at dinner so very hard to figure out whos who! Dinner was great - a lovely restaurant which specialised in game meat. I had to try game so had a Naminian bush fire special consisting of ostrich, springbok and orynx. All meats were lovely and would have them again.
15: March: Up early and packed up the truck for our drive into Botswana. Border crossing went smoothly enough. We stopped for lunch at the side of the road before arriving at Ghanzai trail blazers camp site at 3pm. Steve our driver immediately started on dinner. I don't know how he does it. Myself and Christina upgraded from our tents into a bushman hut for $5. It is an exact replica of where and how the bushmen live. It had a bed and a mossie net so all good.
Ghanzi is in the Kalahari desert and traditional bushmen still live in this area in the manner in which they lived thousands of years ago. We took a walk through the bush with some of the locals and they showed us how they survived in the bush. They were dressed in their traditional dress of leather and fur skins and some of the women were topless. They showed us the different use for plants including plants used for infertile couples, tummy upsets, muscular pain, plants used to give strength and energy and plants used to brush their teeth and keep them healthy. They also showed us how they light a fire with just wood and get water from local plants and food from wild watermelon. It was very interesting.
There are only 2000 approx bushmen living in the traditional way now a deduction of hundreds of thousands. The bushmen hunt wild animals and survive from the land. There are many reasons for the decline in the population some of them the subject of recent court cases relating to heritage areas and national parks.
Dinner was amazing - macaroni and cheese and then bread and butter pudding for dessert. We then all sat around the campfire chatting for a few hours before going to bed in our bushman hut.
16 March: We made our way to Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta and we spent a time in the town getting supplies for the Delta. There were lots of markets in the town also and I picked up a few things from the locals! We enjoyed the free internet and pool while some others took a flight over the delta. We enjoyed dinner at the campsite that night before bed.
17 March: Happy Saint Patricks Day. To mark the occasion I got green eyeliner and painted a green shamrock on everyone's face for Paddy's day! I had my green Irish rugby jersey on as well to mark the occasion. (Thanks Siobhan!) We packed up all our supplies and took a speedboat to the buffalo fence surrounding the Delta doing a bit of bird and cattle spotting along the way. At the Buffalo fence we transferred all our supplies and ourselves 2x2 in macoras - hollowed out tree logs that look like canoes. Each macora had a poler who poled us for two hours through the delta to our campsite on an island in the delta. We were wild bush camping and so set about setting up camp for the night, collecting sticks for our camp fire to cook dinner and digging a hole in the ground to act as our toilet for the next few days. We went swimming in the delta after checking for signs of hippos and crocs which was very refreshing given the heat. Voice one of the local polers and guides brought us on a bush walk before dinner showing us the different plants used by the locals as medicine. We also saw all the animal footprints, termite mounds and different birds. The sunset was amazing. Dinner was pork chops and a tomato sauce cooked over the open fire. Amazing! It was also Christine's birthday so GP made a fab apple cake for dessert. We chatted around the fire for a bit before heading to bed in our wild campsite. I would be lying if I said I had a good night's sleep. The sounds definitely scared me and I kept remembering the warnings given earlier by the guides saying eh elephants and hippos will just walk through the tent if its in its way! The sound of the hippo only yards from my tent didn't help the sleeping either but its all part of the experience!
18 March: Up early for our morning bush walk on a neighbouring island. We took the mancoras to the island and again Voice brought us through the bush, this time on a much longer walk. The cooler temperature and larger island allowed us greater sightings of the wild animals. We saw lots of Zebra, antelope, wilderbeast, giraffe, and the highlight of the walk - a mammy and daddy elephant with their little baby. So cute! We also saw a snake on the way back - very poisonous so I stayed well away! We stopped to view the hippos in the Delta on the way back. Brunch was omelette with sausage before spending the day relaxing in the pool and playing cards. We went out to see more hippos later in the evening before dinner of roasted lamb and spuds and toasted marshmallows over the open fire. Our guides then performed some local songs and dances for us and they were amazing with harmonies and animal sounds etc. We then sang for them - the hokey coakey!! Was a fun night though!
19 March: After packing up camp we made our way back to Maun by mancora and speedboat where Steve had lunch of vegetable fritters waiting for us. We then hit the road and headed for Gweta where we camped alongside the ancient Baobab trees. GP rustled up an amazing mango chutney chicken dish for dinner as Steve started with initial preparations for tomorrows dinner.
20 march: We made our way to Kasane along the elephant highway where we managed to spot some elephant. Kasane is the gateway to Chobe National Park and is situated on Chobe river where the Chobe and Zambezi rivers meet, creating a border area for four countries - Namibia, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe. We all did the sunset cruise along the Chobe river that night and it was magical. We saw so many animals all coming to the water to drink. We saw baboons, antelope, guana, hippo, kudu, lots of elephant (Chobe National Park is known for its high elephant population), buffalo and crocodile. We got so close to the animals and even got stuck in the reeds a number of times which was scary given our proximity to these deadly animals. But the highlight of the cruise came at the end when we saw a herd of elephants big and small walk along the riverfront in line past our boat and line up to drink. We were so close and it was amazing. We enjoyed the amazing sunset before heading back to camp for our last camp dinner as a group. GP, Steve and Craig outdid themselves and prepared an amazing three course meal for us all with candles and decorations and a tablecloth. So special. Veg soup was for starters with a venison pie for mains which took two days to prepare. It contained kudu and pork and sherry and a freshly prepared pastry. Amazing. Dessert was jam tarts before spending the night drinking and chatting.
21 March: Up early for a game drive in Chobe National park. Was very cool but given the success of yesterdays river safari it was going to be hard to beat it! We saw lots of animals though including warthog, hippos, birds, guinea foul, kudu, giraffe, baboon (including mating baboons!), mongoose, and many herds of buffalo.
After the game drive we made our way across the border to Zambia without any incident thankfully. We arrived at our campsite the Zambezi waterfront at lunch and after our activity briefing had the day to ourselves. Campsite is located right on the zambezie river and lovely sunset views from the bar and pool.
22 March: Headed into Livingstone for a wander and was drawn into the salons where I got my toenails painted and then embarked on a four hour braiding session where I got extensions and my hair braided which I love. So easy to keep! There were four of them doing my hair each taking it in turns to twist and braid. They had a few babies as well so they would take time out to breastfeed the baby in the middle of the shop! Got a taxi back to the waterfront where Gordon was waiting for me! Was great to see him after so many months. Think he was a bit shocked by the hair! We relaxed and caught up for a few hours before meeting the rest of the gang for our last dinner. (Due to a mix up the room we organised wasn't ready and we had to stay in a tent for the night. As compo they gave us a free dinner) We had a few drinks with the group before bed.
23 March: We had the perfect day waking up early, having a lovely breakfast overlooking the zambezie and saying goodbye to the group that were leaving. We then made our way to Victoria falls on the Zambia side. The falls were amazing. As it was rainy season the falls were massive and in full flow. We got drenched as we were so close to the "falls that thunder" and then we took a walk down to the boiling pot where we watched people bungee jumping and admired the views and the sounds of the falls. We then headed across the border to Zimbabwe where we walked into the town of Victoria Falls. Along the road we met loads of guys trying to sell us all sorts of stuff including old Zimbabwe money in notes of up to 50 billion. The notes are worthless now but shows how bad inflation had gotten in Zimbabwe. We walked through the town and went to the Victoria Falls hotel for High tea which was lovely and very special over looking the Zambezie river and the gorge. We caught a taxi back to livingstone where we spent some time at the craft markets before heading home and back to our nice room.
24 March: Up early for our day with the lions. We arranged to volunteer at a lion sanctuary where they have implemented a programme of breeding lions and releasing lions back into the wild. We started walking with the lion cubs zamara and zafara, both of whom were 13 months old. The lions can only be walked up to 18 months old as after that they are too dangerous. We were able to get up so close to the lions and pet them and rub them. So cool! We walked the lions in the bush to get them used to the bush. After our walk we headed to the volunteer house for breakfast where we met the other volunteers and got our itinirary for the day. Me and Gordon then went walking with two more of the lions Damara and Dinera who were older at 17 months old. We walked with gun rangers and two other guides. We were teaching the lions to hunt and we watched them climbing up trees chasing the monkeys and baboons. Was very cool to see it. We had lunch and after lunch we headed down to the older lion enclosure where we cleaned out the cages. This is the breeding area. One of the female lions was due to give birth but unfortunately had a miscarriage the previous week. There were fully grown lions there and the sound of their roar was awesome! There was also a wild lion there that they had rescued from Zimbabwe (he was about to be killed because he had wandered into a town). Hero was his name and he was so wild they had to sedate him to feed him or clean out his cage. We had a great day with the lions although Im not sure how successful the programme will be.
25 March: Up early for our first day on the road where we headed to Lusaka, the capital of Zambia. We stayed in a campsite about 10k outside Lusaka in a national park where we were able to take a walk and see the wild zebras and impalas.
26 March: Long drive through the Zambezie countryside to Chipata where we stopped for a wander around the city.
27 March: Long drive leaving Zambia and heading into Malawi. The border crossover was interesting and thankfully we had no hassle. We changed money with the "guys" at the border - all of whom lined up at the truck with wads of notes and changed money for us! Interesting!
Malawi is a very poor country, the poorest we visited on this trip. However the people are super friendly and pride themselves on this. The lake covers one third of Malawi and the residents are very dependent on the lake for fishing and water for irrigation for farming. Driving through the countryside I noticed the lack of concrete structure buildings - all buildings were made with wood and straw roofs. There were no cars and very few tracks, lorries or other vehicles and the roads were bad. The villages were sparse and lacked the vibrancy of towns and villages in other countries.
We drove for a few hours and stopped off in the local town, where we picked up some costumes for tomorrow night's pirate party. We pulled into a petrol station for lunch and we were swarmed by kids. GP warned us not to give any money or food to the kids and it was so hard taking out our lunch preparing food sitting down and eating our fresh food as they looked on. I was delighted to be leaving. However GP explained that it is unsustainable and bad for the community to promote a culture where kids expect handouts from the overland trucks. It makes them feel entitled to handouts and does not promote a culture of working for what you earn. Secondly GP was saying that he has witnessed fights breaking out between the kids over the goods that are handed out. It was tough to stomach though.
We arrived at our camp site at Kande Beach about 4pm and we upgraded to an ensuite room. Dinner was a lamb stew made over an open fire which was lovely.
28 March: We did a cultural tour with Roger of his local village, visiting a chicken house on stilts keeping the chicken safe from hyena, rogers home house which he shared with his family and orphaned cousins. We also visited the local water pump which is very important to the local people. We then visited the local hospital and school. The hospital deals primarily with maternity patients and malaria patients and on average 120 patients pass through the hospital on a daily basis. The hospital is staffed by one midwife nurse and his helper. A doctor visits the hospital once a month and any urgent cases have to either wait for the doctor to arrive or else pay for very expensive transport to get to a hospital in another village. Donations were requested for mosquito nets for pregnant women and their children as well as transport funds. The primary school has over 1500 students and 10 teachers. Do the maths. There are not enough rooms never mind table and chairs for the students so the pupils take turns sitting at desks or on the floor. Some classes are taught outdoors. Although primary school is funded by the government, books and school supplies are not and many families do not have enough funds to pay for these simple items. Some of the pupils are orphans, their parents being victims of aids or malaria. The school supports these students and pays for all supplies as well as helping them through secondary school. Donations were also requested here for learning materials and helping students through secondary school which is not fully state funded. All secondary schools are boarding schools and only cost the pupil USD50 per term. However these fees are too high for some pupils and they have no option but to either drop out or look for sponsorship. Me and Gordon committed to sponsoring some kids through school.
Throughout the tour I had my own personal chaperones - Nick and James who told me about their lives and traditions. Every so often different villages get together for dances. This is where men and women meet. You can not marry a women from your village and must go to another village to meet a woman. The woman must leave her village and move to her husbands village to live after marriage. Al there is a high population of Muslims living alongside Christians in Malawi, cross religion marriages are allowed but a Muslim women could have to convert to Christianity in order to live in her husbands community. Couples get married quite young - under 18 and only 10% of couples have a wedding. The rest can't afford a wedding and just get married. The husband and the bride's family provide a cow each for the wedding celebrations if there is a wedding and there is traditional music and dancing in the local hall and the whole village is invited. James was also telling me that his dad dies and that his cousins live with their family as they were orphaned. As he is the eldest the money he earns from farming, tour guiding and selling wood carvings goes towards his younger siblings and cousins education.
We then went for a traditional dinner at Rogers house including kasava, rice, kidney beans, sweet potato soup, spinach and eggs. The kids also sang and danced for us. At the end of the tour I agreed to purchase a number of key chains and pendants from Nick and James which turned out lovely.
That night we had a bit of a party at the camp site. Some of the local guys helped us roast a pig on a spit, with salad and we had butternut squash soup for starters and special pirate punch which was a mixture off everything! We all dressed up as pirates and my new braided hair was great for the theme! The evening as great fun but got a bit rough once we started on the Malawi rum! Gordon managed to last a full three hours before heading to bed at 10pm - that's what getting old does to you! Being the big party I am I managed to last a little later and had great fun helping he barman serve drinks and dance on the bar with the rest of the group. Fun times.
29 March: Woke up with a black eye and vague memories of the night before, none relating to my black eye. Not fun! Met Nick and James and exchanged some toiletries for a painting of all the countries I have visited in Africa on this trip. We left Kande Beach and made our way to Chitimba Beach, a lovely campsite on Malawi lake. Spent the day relaxing and recovering!
30 March: Up early for our 17km uphill hike to Livingstonia which is a functioning mission funded by the Scottish government and church. We had three guides walking with us and was a hard but enjoyable walk. The views were spectacular the higher up we got. We stopped halfway up at some waterfalls where we were able to get into the river and cool down. We trekked up to the top and got to visit the hospital and the museum and saw the schools run by the mission. We went to the maternity and paediatric units in the hospital and while it was great to see the good work that is being achieved by the Mission, I hated being the tourist going in to stare at the new mothers, and sick babies. The last thing Id want after giving birth or if I had a sick child was a load of rich tourist staring at me like lions in a cave. However tourism is a major source of their income and this happens on a regular basis. We managed to arrange a lift back down to the camp site which was not easy given the lack of transport vehicles in Malawi. There were 7 of us each paying $10 each for the lift and we all jumped into the back of the pick up truck and was a little cramped at the start of the journey. However along the way we picked up numerous people who jumped on so much so that we were standing on the back to fit everyone! We reached the bottom of the hill 90 minutes after starting the journey - the journey was 15km! At the bottom of the hill there were loads of people waiting with bags of stuff for a lift back up to Livingstonia. Our guides said people could wait for days for a lift back sleeping on the side of the road. Noone gets a lift for free as petrol is so expensive and vehicles are so scarce.
After lunch of crepes and nutella we went to the local craft market where we got some lovely gifts and art work after a lot of bargaining including exchanging a number of items of clothes! I then headed to the local witch doctor with a guide who could translate for me as the witch doctor couldn't speak English. We went to the village and word spread there was a visitor. No messing within 10 seconds, this quiet village was swarmed with kids looking to play with me, football (ball made out of plastic bags), wanting pictures taken and wanting to sing and dance. We(all the kids, the guide and me) went into the witch doctors house where the witch doctor was dressed in his traditional gear and he did a traditional dance for me with music. All the kids sang and clapped and cheered when I got up to dance with the witch doctor. He then showed me a number of potions and told me what he did. He was in school when he got a vision to go to the mountains. He lived in the mountains for a number of years before being chosen by the king of the witch doctor to train under him which he did for 5 years before returning to the village. People come to him to cure illnesses as well as for curses and spells. He said he still believed in medical modern medicine and would refer people to the doctors and nurses if he was unable to help them. As for spells and curses, he makes up different potions from local herbs and plants including love potions, good luck potions, energy drinks etc. He said that he doesn't put bad curses on people, that different witches do that but that he can reverse a bad spell if needed as well. He gave the example that if my husband had an affair he wouldn't hurt my husband or his mistress but would cast a spell that would my husband love only me and not want to be with his mistress. Was quite interesting listening to him and to the community's belief in him. He told my fortune after but wasn't very enlightening!
31 March: We leave the lake of the stars and make our way across the border into Tanzania. The border crossings were fine and even though the Irish are meant to pay $100 for a Visa we got away with $50! There was a market at the border and I ventured in looking for a Malawi flag. Its amazing how they work - I asked in one shop for the flag and he said no but obviously called out to his friend and like a network of ants word spread that a white girl was looking for a flag. One minute later there was a guy standing there with a flag for me. Amazing! The first thing I noticed upon entering Tanzania was the change in wealth, not that Tanzania was rich, just richer than Malawi. There are upwards of 40 million residents in Tanzania and there were a lot more towns along the way, buildings more sturdy and modern and a lot more vehicles. The economy is based primarily on agriculture with a lot of subsistence farming. The tropical climate makes it a perfect growing ground for fruits. Their main exports are cashew nuts, tea and fruits. The countryside was spotted with tea plantations and banana trees. Over 50% of the population is under 18 years old with 96% of them making it through primary school which is state funded. Only 9% make it to secondary school (only partially state funded) with only 6% making it to third level. The problem with this is that there are no professionals in Tanzania to grow the economy and therefore is very dependent on tourism and agriculture.
We made our way to Iringa and stayed on a live working farm. We went to the restaurant for dinner where we had homemade spinach and cream soup, roast beef, farm vegetables and baby potatoes. After dinner we had homemade brownies and hot chocolate amarula for dessert. The bar and restaurant were lit by candle light which was lovely.
1 April. Up early for second long day of driving through the Tanzanian countryside to Dar es Salaam. The scenery was spectacular driving through the rift valley on the Tanzam highway (road built from Livingston to Dar es Salaam to provide a second exit port in addition to South Africa for exporting goods from Southern and Eastern Africa. The road was mainly funded by the Chinese. They send their convicts over here to help build the roads and leave them here!). All the buildings along the road are marked with either a red "X" or a green "X" - with the vast majority having a red X. The X represents whether the buildings have being built legally or illegally, green for legal, red for illegal. The illegal buildings are marked for demolition. We drove through the Mikumi National Park where we were able to see lots of wildlife including elephants and zebras.
It was late when we arrived at the camp site and as a treat instead of cooking dinner we had a bbq at the resort. The resort was nice with a pool but only had salt water showers and water which made everything very sticky! The resort was located on the beach which was lovely but there were signs everywhere telling us not to leave the resort as it was dangerous. They even had massai warriors with big sticks to escort you along the beach if necessary! Dar is primarily a Muslim city and we came across lots of women wearing the traditional Muslim dress covering their entire body including head. Gordon and I took a stroll down to the sea forgetting about the muslimness - I was the only woman on the beach in a bikini and Gordon was the only topless man. We returned to the resort fairly lively. We celebrated Evans birthday later that night making him do a number of tequila shots, one which he tried to drink while there was a flame on top!
2 April: was woken at 4.30 by what I thought was the DJ from the bar next door. It wasn't - It was the morning prayer call for the Muslims. This happens four times a day. Not so sure I could live in a muslim country! Anyway since I was up early I took advantage of watching the sunrise on the beach before our trip to Zanzibar. We took the local means of transport - tuk tuks to the port where we caught our two hour ferry to Zanzibar. The tuk tuks were an experience and our driver would give Senna a run for his money! We arrived in Stone town, Zanzibar and were met by an array of Muslim women and tribes people. Very different to home! Zanzibar do not like the fact they are part of Tanzania and would want to be independent if their economy allowed. As a result our passports were checked again on arrival and they found problems with the three Irish visas saying that we should have paid $100 and not $50. After a long argument we paid up! We arrived at our hotel and was lovely to have air conditioning and a hot but slightly broken shower. We spent the evening wandering around the cobbled streets of stone town stopping for spiced tea in a little tea shop and browsing all the market shops. Me and Gordon went for an Indian before meeting the others at a posh hotel - the Africa house for "sundowners" where we watched the sunset and met our new group members. G then took us to the famous night market where there was dinner, dessert, sugar cane juice and anything else you could want.
3 April: After breakfast we packed up and made our way to a spice plantation where we got a tour of the different plants, spices and fruits grown on the island. The plantation we went to was a public one used by the locals for their needs. We saw a wide variety of plants including the henna plant (the root of which can be used as a herbal treatment to cause abortions!), a fruit tree which " smells like s*** but tasted like heaven!", pineapple plant which grown in the ground, both red and tallow banana trees, pepper tree, lemon grass, lime tree, nutmeg(which can be converted into a mild alcoholic drink for the ladies), vanilla pods, fruits that are used as make up as it is a deep colour red, coffee tree, as well as a coconut tree. A guy demonstrated how he climbed the coconut tree singing his "Jambo" song at the top to warn people below about the potential falling coconuts. We then drank the coconut water and ate the coconut milk from real coconuts. They also made hats for us all out of banana leaves. We also saw how a traditional Tanzanian house was made from wooden sticks and cow dung and a reed thatch roof. To finish we tasted some of the exotic fruits we saw as well as purchasing some local spices and soaps and perfumes.
We then made our way to Nungwi beach where our resort was located on an idyllic white sand beach. We spent the evening relaxing on the beach before having a surprise beach wedding for Hannah and Dave. Brenda, Mairead and Anglie were brilliant and organised the whole do making a toilet roll vale for Hannah, and a bouquet of flowers made out of banana leaves. Two rings made out of banana leaves were also made and special vows were written! Was a beautiful service and we had a lovely beach BBQ after to celebrate!
4 April: Gordon spent the day snorkelling while I relaxed on the beach and wandered through the market. After Gordon played his obligatory game of soccer with the locals we went for a lovely rosemantic meal before joining the rest of the group to watch some football match in a local pub with all the locals. All the locals met in this pub/restaurant to watch the game, sitting on the ground when there were no more chairs. None of them bought a drink though!!
5 April: We made our way back to stone town where we visited the old slave market. Zanzibar was the largest African port where slaves were bought and sold, mostly travelling onwards to Asia. A cathedral is now located on the old slave market site but the slave dungeons where the slaves were kept prisoner are still available for inspection. We then wandered around the market before indulging in more spiced tea! More sundowners and an Indian to say good bye to those leaving the trip.
6 April: We make our way back to Dar es Salaam where we are met by Steve and make our way to the zebra camp where we hang for the night.
7 April: We arrive early in Arusha where we stop off at the local heritage and culture museum where we can also buy some tanzanite and crafts. Then on to our camp site with snake park attached! There were also massai markets and a massai museum just outside the camp site. The snake park was cool with lots of different venomous snakes and other animals including owls, baboons and even crocodiles. Gordon was very brave and held both a snake and a baby crocodile. Dinner was a goat prepared on the spit and afterwards Steve sang us some songs on his guitar before the strings broke. Lovely evening.
8 April: We made our way in four jeeps for our tour of the massai region, the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro crater. Our jeep was small with just Mark, Alex, me and Gordon and had a pop up roof so we could see both the views and the animals. As we drove further away from Arusha and into the national park we came across many more Massai tribes people going about their daily tasks. The massai are a weird tribe where the men are elevated to a position of greatness and therefore do not do any work. The children tend the animals (cows and goats) while the women build the houses, feed the children and look after the family. The husband has more than one wife and the greater the number of wives, the greater the man. We passed one village which had one man and his 40 wives. He had over one hundred kids and there was a school just for his children!! Each wife builds a home for her and her kids. The husband decides which wife to sleep with each night. When a massai man visits another village the chief allows him to pick any woman he chooses and sleep with her, regardless of whether she is married or willing to. The man just places his spear in front of the house in which the woman lives to signal his intent. Both female and male circumcision are practiced on children in the tribes and this has led to a number of fatalities. Males must train and enter an initiation period in order to become a "man". This training includes having to kill a lion and surviving in the bush for three months. This practice is having a detrimental effect on the lion population in the area and is forbidden by law. However it is still practiced in secret and marks on the massai shoulders indicate the number of lions each male has killed. The massai tribesmen are more integrated into society and the majority of kids attend public school and some even go to university.
We visited a massai village where they sang and danced for us as well as showing us around their homes. Our guide had one wife and one child but was on the look out for a second wife. I offered my services but it didn't quite work out!! We then we shown around the shop where they sold bracelets and necklaces and earrings. Was very interesting to see.
We then made our way into the Serengeti doing a four hour game drive. It was amazing. The flatness and vastness of the Serengeti as well as all the animals was amazing. We saw zebras, giseles, a male and female lion with their cubs, elephants, pride rock on which the lion king was based, jackals, buffalo, hippos, dancing giraffes, hyenas and the highlight of the evening, a leopard which walked past our jeep. The leopard was much smaller than I thought he would be.
We spent the night in a campsite in the wildness of the Serengeti where the lions and other animals were free to roam. Scary but cool. We had soup and spag bol for dinner before hitting the tent with the sounds of nearby lions roaring and hyenas howling bring our nightime lullaby!
9 April: We set off early for our morning game drive which was equally as impressive as the previous nights. We watched the sun rise before coming across the amazing site of a lioness and her two cubs just beside the road inches from our jeep. The lioness checked everything was safe before calling for her cubs to come out and cross the road. The two cubs came out right beside the car and started playing with each other. Was amazing.
Our evening game drive was just as special and we saw lots more animals. The Serengeti is famous for the wildebeest migration which takes place every year. We were lucky enough to see the start of this migration where the wildebeest and zebras were moving in their thousands together to the massai mara reserve in Kenya. They always move together as the wildebeest provide protection for the zebras and the zebras have great memories. Was amazing to see the herds of wildebeest and zebras all plodding along together. We saw another leopard in a tree and lots more animals including flamingos, mongoose and baboons as well as ngong rock which gongs when you knock it, before setting up camp in another wild camp site. This was our last evening and we set up a camp fire and spent a while around the camp fire tipping and thanking the guides while they told us stories about the massai people and the national parks. Then the most amazing thing happened - a huge elephant came into our camp site and started drinking from the water fountain. Was amazing. We were so close and he was so big. Cool! That night we dealt with wild buffalo in the camp site as well as a few stray warthogs. Very cool experience.
10 April: We spent the morning in the Ngorongoro crater - an amazing ecosystem which always has fresh food and water. Animals that are in the crater never leave. We drove down to the crater floor and viewed nearly every animal apart from giraffes who are too tall to manage the deep descent into the crater. Our viewing of the "big 5" was complete when we saw a number of rhinos in the crater. The rhinos are protected and there are conservation guys in the surrounding hills following the 25 rhino's movements. Rhinos in Africa are nearly extinct due to illegal poaching where the rhino tusks are exported to Asia and used in herbal medicines which help with men problems! We also saw a cheetah which was being followed by two jackals which was really cool. The animal viewing collection was complete. As a final highlight we drove through the forest where we saw a large pride of lions protecting their half-eaten recent kill - a large buffalo. They had hidden it in the bushes and the lions lay around the kill protecting their food. My safari experience was complete!
We drove out of the crater and back to Arusha for our final night as a group. We had a special dinner where we all dressed up as Massai men and women and Dave gave out special awards to us all. I got the also amnesia award for my mysterious black eye. Gordon got the infector due to the massive amount of mosquito bites he accumulated! Was a great last night.
11 April: We crossed the border to Kenya after having to tip the officials as Sean only had one page as opposed to the two required for a Kenyan visa. Nairobi or Nairobbery as its affectionately known was busy and our hotel was lovely. We arranged dinner in the hotel later that night for the remaining group and me and Gordon spent the evening packing and repacking bags! Unfortunately HP couldn't make dinner as he got malaria. Great way to spend his two weeks off!! We had a nice evening though and we all retired early to our rooms with lovely showers and tvs!
12 April: Last day with the wonderful Gordon. After checking out (and finding Gordons bank card!) myself, Gordon, Mark and Becky took a city tour around Nairobi with a taxi driver from the hotel. While there aren't a lot of highlights of Kenya to see, we went to the viewing point and to the market and the area where the American embassy was bombed and 250 people died, and the torture rooms which were used up to 1994 and all the manic traffic in the city. Even though there are red lights, no one stops at them and they just drive straight through!! We got some lunch and then me, Gordon, Sarah and Mark made our way to the airport. The rest of them weren't flying until 11 as compared with my 7 o clock so they were very good to come so early. The only problem was that they were so early they actually weren't allowed into the airport and had to sit outside! Was sad saying goodbye but will hopefully see him soon. Flew to Kigali and got a taxi to the hostel where I settled for the night.
13 April: Spent the day exploring Kigali starting with a trip to the Genocide commemorative museum with a number of other girls. The museum was great and gave a very real and sad history of the 100 days in Spring 1994 where over 2 million people were killed, the majority of Tutsi origin. The blame for the rivalry between the three ethnic groups, Tutsi, Hutu and Twa was placed firmly at the Belgians door. It was the Belgians who first highlighted the differences between the two groups, making everyone carry an identity card. The Tutsi's were the wealthiest of the tribes and made up the majority of the government even though they represented only 14% of the population. The Hutus made up over 80% of the population and began to rebel against the discrepancy. The Hutus then were given more senior positions by the colonists in the government and in the army. It ended up that all jobs in the government, army, civil service were divided into the % ratio Hutu and Tutsi. The government then led a propaganda campaign against the Tutu including a 10 point plan forbidding a Hutu from marrying, employing or doing business with a Tutsi and claiming that the Tutsi were planning to attack the Hutu and take them out. On 2 April 1994 the presidents plane was shot down and this sparked all out civil war culminating in the death of over 2 million Rwandans, mostly Tutsi and the raping and mutilation of thousands of others. Women and children were especially targeted as they were the ones who could carry on the Tutsi generation. Horrific torturing took place including the raping of women and children by known HIIV positive men. The museum has a section specifically dedicated to children murdered in this regime. Very sad. Although the fighting has ceased, the after affects remain for generations with thousands of orphaned children, mutilated and disabled children and a massive increase I HIV positive women and children. The required medical services were not available on such a large scale and hardly no one received mental help for the atrocities to which they were either subjected to, witnessed or carried out. The required anti viral drugs were not made available to victims. Justice and Retribution trials have taken place and more than 2 million cases have been heard to try and bring those responsible to justice. The museum was very moving and dealt with genocide in other countries including Armenia, Germany, Namibia and Bosnia and tries to educate visitors about the early warning signs, dangers and consequences of genocide.
Every year Rwanda commemorates this horrendous period of their history for 100 days and has a special commemoration week where events take place. This week commemorated the 18th anniversary of the genocide and there were lots of events taking place, posters around Kigali and everyone was wearing purple flags and bandanas as a mark of respect.
After the museum, I took a moto to the Milles Collins hotel, the hotel which the film Hotel Rwanda was based. It resembled the film and was quite surreal walking around the hotel knowing what took place there only years earlier.
I then wandered around Kigali city centre and the markets picking up a blue Indian dress for Jacquis wedding. Its lovely but may be too different. Will have to see!
Went to dinner with some girls in the hostel later that night. One of the girls was from Uganda and the other was volunteering in Uganda.
14 April. Today I took a moto to the bus station and after being mobbed by numerous bus companies begging me to go with them to Gysingi. I got on one bus and took a beautiful three hour journey to Gynsingi through the green mountains and valleys of Rwanda passing rivers and waterfalls. The scenery was spectacular. I arrived in Gysingi and a local resident who I met on the bus gave me tips of all the best places to visit. I made my way down through the town to lake Kivu and to the lovely beach which surrounds it. The lake and scenery was amazing. I went into the local Serena hotel located on the lake and watched the locals taking part in watersports including swimming in the lake and jetsking. I had lunch overlooking the beach and the lake before making my way back through the town and the obligatory stop off at the village market before heading back to Kigali. This marked the end of my travels. Such an amazing experience. Next stop was to fly to Nairobi where I would spend some time volunteering with a womens and childrens project in Nakuru.