A rip in my soul…

It was time to leave. For such a small camp in the middle of the Serengeti, they made Mama Carol feel like a queen. My tent was called Ngiri, which someone said meant wardrobe but I found out later it meant warthog!! I loved those little families of horned and toothy pigs. It was great seeing them kneeling on their front little legs to scavenge for grass. When they run, which they do frequently, they stick their tails up vertically in the air…..😆

Whatever time of early morning it was there was always a tray brought to me with a flask of hot coffee and little heart biscuits. At the camp fire each night, all drinks were free. My shower that cleaned me of half the Serengeti dust was outside and faced an empty plain. Whatever solar power does the water was scorchingly hot and the chef was truly amazing and his food was something to write home about.  And then there was my hot water bottle every night and bottles of fresh mineral water whenever I needed it. Some guests were fascinating too, like the Dutch man and his wife and 2 teenage girls. He used to play football for Brighton North Albion?

I felt the rip as I signed the visitors book with my customary little girl cartoon. Sketched with an expression of wonder and binoculars in hand, it said more than I could write. Diana ( second camp manager) came by and said,

“but that is not me!! I only have hair on one side of my head”. This was true, half her head tumbled in luscious tiny long black plaits whilst the other half was bald  So I drew another little girl like her. They came to wave me off with the staff and I couldn’t help filling up and crying. I couldn’t keep the tears in and Elisse tried to make me feel better. He said that it was time for the next chapter. I blubbered that I didn’t want the next chapter, I could skip it and stay longer and leave only to see my son.

He treated the journey to the airstrip like a game drive. Typical of him. But the airstrip was something else. We stood on the landing strip as at least 3 planes  landed next to us,kicking up dust and turning on a sixpence. When mine did arrive, Elisse looked thrilled .  He said that it was the fastest one!!  😮

It looked like a tiny red mosquito to me, it seated 9 people only and the pilot chatted to us while the co pilot plopped all our lugged behind me at the back seat. But leaving my guide was the worst wrench. He had been with me for a week. I could only hug him and whisper that I had no words. Through the little window  I could see him waving by the car. After me he had a week off and would go home. A piece of me stays there, and with those wonderful smiling people.

Hakuna Matata they alway say….. no worries. X

Plan A

It dawned on me that first Zanzibar morning that we are always worried about ourselves…if I’ve slept badly, if I’m hungry, how everything is according to me. So plan A was to take a hint from those social animals I’d seen. Easier said than done because I’d fallen into terrible tummy cramps. They came in waves and at first I thought I’d have to see a doctor. I couldn’t medicate myself because I’d given the medicine away. Before leaving England I was advised to take some antibiotics with me in case of a nasty bug…which I did….but when I left the Plains, I had given them to Elisse.

They find it much harder to get medicines. He never complained about anything but during the course of a long game drive did I discover that his firstborn son only lived 3 weeks. He had been away and his wife had been to 2 hospitals but they couldn’t clear up the infection. He was thrilled he now had a 7 yr old son and 3 yr old daughter. He was educating the boy privately. . I thought at the time that I wouldn’t need this general anti biotic so I gave him the unopened packet. So here I was thinking how I would manage. Like a true elephant , I waited between cramps and set off for the dive centre because there was nothing else I could do

Bacari, the handsome senior instructor said I could dive if I took a refresher course in the pool with him. That was a shock to the system. Well getting me into a wet suit was like fitting a banana back into its skin. We laughed. He took the teaching seriously and kept saying

“Hacuna  Matata…I haven’t lost anyone yet”

Wise words you might think to fill me full of confidence and so at the end of the session he insisted I was good to go the next day. And do you know, I was so concentrated on his instruction and breathing underwater, I didn’t tummy cramps once!!

Not until I was almost alone on the beach that afternoon anyway and had time to think!!

My big Aquarium

The beach was a boat ride away but the boat was broken.

Hakuna Matata as they say…

Undeterred Moonisea, guest manager,offered me a courtesy drive in the hotel bashmobile. It was only about half a mile away except there was no road !only a rocky hill top.

I considered for a minute…alone in a car…hmmm… Well I’d faced leopards …so what was a few hundred yards away, alone in a car with a smiley faced Cha Cha…that was his name. My premiss was when in doubt chatter away and ask their name.

I needn’t have worried but it was an experience on my first day and sure enough after I spied a few fishing boats…I.can talk about those later,,,, I saw a sweet cove complete with safari coloured loungers facing the sea and a bar!!! The bar man wasn’t there because he was with me in the car…Cha Cha😆

None of your plastic brightly coloured beach stuff here. It was very tasteful. Cha Cha took up his place at the open bar whilst I tried to take everything in on my first Zanzibar day. After a while Cha Cha was not doing much business…there was only me…so he sauntered over to persuade me to have a swim in the Indian Ocean. I figured that if I swallowed enough water then I could order a drink off him..

It took a while for him to pursuade me that there were NO jellyfish and that the water was beuutifully warm.

It was!!😜🏊‍♀️🏊

It is such a beautiful spot but where the tide meets the  grassland…there are too many plastic bottles!!!

Pretty soon , I was feeling pleased with my courage on that first day, I felt like a baby learning to take her first steps. A glass of dry white later, to please ChCha you understand, he left the bar to drive me back across the rocks and the goats…still smiling

But tomorrow and real diving loomed 😩😬😵🐟

 

 

The Dive 💦🐋🐟🐠🐬🐠

” What the …am I doing ?” I thought. Diving was looming and breakfast under the East coast Zanzibar sunshine, overlooking an infinity pool into the turquoise Indian water which suddenly seemed a much safer bet. Then I thought  of all those adventurers from Victorian times and before that even and decided to stop bleeting and get to the dive centre. Bacari was waiting for me,

“Ah Mama Carol, are you ready for this? The sea is like my trousers”

I think he meant it was like his second home so I blubbered something insane and then attacked the wet suit squeezing it over my clammy body. I tell you now, that is the worst thing, being trussed up like a penguin in the heat and then having to wear rubber shoes as the tide was low and walk across rock pools,knee deep in water to get to the boat. That was the short way to the beach and I could see Cha Cha at his lonely outpost in his bar. Bacari knew I was apprehensive and he chattered on about how he had ever been to school, his 3 brothers lost their parents when they were young and now he was a senior dive instructor and he hadn’t lost anyone yet!!!

That didn’t really encourage me, neither did looking like an overstuffed beached land mammal walking in 30 degree heat.

But then there was the boat, long and low in the water and filled with oxygen tanks and flippers. It was made of mango, all the boats are and sported a high tech roof which was a piece of Kanga  cloth raised on two poles..That was our shade!!!

We had the safety talk, motored out towards the magically gleaming Mnemba island before stopping and being told to kit up. There can be nothing more ridiculous than me sat in a rubber suit, goggled with lips protruding over the mouth piece that I was sucking for dear life. I had to check it was working of course,I had to live to see my son, I couldn’t die now. Flippers flapping ,then  Bacari told me to lift myself up, oxygen tank and all, onto the edge of the narrow boat.

Was he joking? I felt 50 stone of me fully grounded in the bottom of the boat. The crew were over in an instant..three big black boys hoisting MamaCarol onto the side.

“On my count, fall backwards into the water. Don’t forget to hold your mask and mouthpiece and inflate your BCD” Bacari instructed.

Fall backwards ? Fear grabbed me and then an insane wish to laugh but I couldn’t do that either as my teeth were clinging on to the airway in my mouth. All I could hear was the roaring bubble of air in my throat..

I fell, I rolled, I breathed,I was alive and suddenly I was in the biggest most beautiful aquarium ever. A fish soup surrounded me.

An octopus a foot wide that flooded into a different colours if it was touched and then sped off to hide under a rock. Stone fish that rested on the sandy bottom looking like a piece of abnormal pebbledash but when tickled they fanned out brilliantly coloured orange and black zebra stripes on their pectoral fins. I was so busy watching a family of nemo fish in an anemone that I almost missed a huge grouper. His bottom lip was turned up as if he were bored and disgusted with everything around him. Shoals or blue fish that danced in the water as one. It was like watching a ballet….and yellow fish of every size and colour……18 .6 meters for the first dive, a break of cake and fresh fruit and hot tea!!! Followed by a second dive. Each one was about an hour long….I survived again and apart from not being able to talk underwater…. a great disadvantage…. I wanted to run to a reference book and name the fish I had seen.

I had booked a little sail trip,as I thought, to the fish market.  It would be a couple of hours relaxation after the dive. How wrong I was. 😵😮⛵

Disappearing from view!!

It still felt like a grief, leaving the Namiri Plains so I wanted to fill up my time in Zanzibar  I felt I couldn’t waste such an amazing opportunity in this beautiful jewel of a place overlooking the Indian Ocean. So I’d planned to go straight from my diving, shattered as I was, into a sailing trip for 2 hours  The hotel blurb said it was a short excursion to a fish market  it sounded great.

I was only half board here and my American dollars were getting pretty low, not because there was anything to buy but Tanzania is a poor country  work is scarce with even lower wages so I found myself tipping everyone who helped me  I was really conscious not to offend anyone but I could sense their real gratitude. So it was a long gap from breakfast to dinner which was so graciously served but not a patch on the chef in Namiri Plains.

I had about a 5 minute turnaround to change from wet diving togs, whizz back to my amazing cliff lodge and put some dry clothes on. The boat could only pick me up at high tide when it would pull alongside the steep steps down onto the only jetty to the hotel. Then I heard Munisee outside,

“Hello Mama Carol, are you ready?”

He had a big round smiley face, immaculate in his uniform shirt and trousers. So we trotted off through the lush irrigated flower beds and onto the jetty.

dscn3905When I said yes to the sailboat, I thought…sailboat..but this was something else.

The boat was a typical fishermans one. It was made of mango about as wide as my hips. It looked like an old hardened empty banana skin with only space for the width of one foot at the bottom….which was full of water. The solitary triangular sail was small but looked as though it had been stitched together from about 3 men’s shirts and as there were three men in the boat waiting for me I did wonder if there was room for me. Two sailors and a cheeky chappie that I guess was there as a translator.

I was shocked and looked round to Munisee and said,

” Am I safe? Is this ok.”

Well I needn’t have fretted about remembering all about halyards and sheets, knot protocol and all the day skipper theory….. this was me in a boat with 3  black sailor boys in a line and a bit of old rope with a loop on the end.

It was calm and beautiful and I listened as cheeky chappie rolled on about a Spanish girl he had met. He would love her but he had no money and she wanted him to go back to Spain…I am a teacher for three days and the I am an electrician when I don’t sail ..and I have trouble with my eyes you see…I like your sunglasses. You can give me them if you like but I don’t mind if you don’t ..it’s just my eyes you see.

It was the only time I have felt uncomfortable but by then we had sailed out to Mnemba island and had drifted round the back of it. It suddenly dawned on me that I had become invisible. There was an uninhabited island on one side of me and the Indian Ocean on the other with nothing except….India…miles away. I’d gone out of view of everyone. Me, complete with own sunglasses and three black sailors all in a row.

But we did head back to the beach as the tide had turned and I had no need to worry….but whatever happened to the fish market remains a mystery…if ever there was one. So there I was back with Cha Cha who once again left his bar to ricochet me back to the hotel in his banger.

What a day….and I  knew tomorrow was already set out for the Spice boys!,

 

..the Spice boys

I started to breathe in the fact that it was nearly time to move on again. When I booked this trip of a lifetime,Zanzibar had sounded so romantic and I was intrigued by the fact they grew so many spices so it wasn’t difficult to fill up my next to last day after the first 2. Dives with a Spice tour. This was going to be followed by a guided walk around the Old Stone town on the west coast where Freddie Mercury was born.

All the while, I knew each day brought me nearer to Brisbane and Matthew. It was a kind of nervous excitement but I had to fill every minute with absorbing and taking in this tiny island off Tanzania.

The hotel was a jewel really, set on different heights with several pools and a genuine mixture of guests from all over. But it seemed almost empty and I wondered if this was because I was used to the mayhem of tourists that flock to Mediterranean beaches. Its the little things you notice and although the cluster of deeply thatched roofs linked together by walkways of Bougainvilla pergolas were supremely pretty, and it was a perfect spot for honeymooners, there were so many staff who shyly kept to themselves. That morning, as I came down the steps from my room,the chamber girls were ready to pull back the mosquito nets and clean, but this one girl only had one arm and was carrying at least a dozen or so water bottles. I don’t know how she managed but I’m glad she was employed.

My ride was waiting. Usef, complete with White Fez and long white tunic didn’t trouble me at all, nor did his initial silence. It was the sparkling tinsel right across his dashboard and a lilac frilled tissue box that caught my eye. I would be driving for an hour before we reached the Spice farm and his car was immaculate.  The floor was covered in pretty green Lino with fresh mineral water to drink laid out for me. And it was air conditioned!!! He was immaculate too, I almost felt that I couldn’t shake his hand in case I dirtied him. But I needn’t have worried, he soon warmed up and chatted to me , pointing out his village as we jostled through. Those little villages in the centre uplands of Zanzibar had a kind of orderliness about them. Children walking to school, girls in full Muslim dress and the boys in matching colours, the women carrying loads on their heads and greeting everyone as they passed by, and goats being herded off he road in between village huts made from the materials of the earth. I was to see later that Stone Town was completely different.

But it was the turn of the Spice boys. Come to think of it I was having no direct contact with any women, it was always the men that looked after me.

The Spice farm didn’t disappoint and the sweetest things happened. Omar, introduced himself with good English under a jack fruit tree where the men workers were sprawled out and taking a break. Have you ever seen a jack fruit tree?  It was huge and the fruit hung like the biggest green balls you can imagine. How they remained on the tree, I’m not sure. Yes, I can hear you laughing…a very masculine tree!!

A pretty boy accompanied us, his hands moving continuously with banana leaf strips that he was weaving. He said his name was James Bond but it was Jumo really. Omar opened up a garden of delights, scraping the soil and showing me the ginger roots, green cardamon flowers hung lusciously pink and white like pendulous sweets, while black cardamon flowers struggled out from big leafy rosettes way down at soil level.  It was wonderful traipsing through this sample garden, watching Omar scrape the bark away from a cinnamon tree, and holding bunches of green vanilla pods that hung from their vine like ladies fingers, having to be hand fertilised..and all the while jumo’s fingers weaved away.  It made me laugh when Omar broke open the woolly casing from a mace tree, opening up the bright red striped shell that nestled a nutmeg inside…this is a dye he said used for many things….at which point Jumo rubbed his fingers on the crushed red skin and applied it to his lips. He put a red spot on his forehead and transformed himself into a woman. 😘 As we laughed, he presented me with a banana leaf woven ring, tied a bracelet to my wrist,crowned me with a flower laden woven hat and handed me a beautiful hand bag. Finally, there was a frog charm he tied round my neck as a necklace…all from leaves.

I was touched and enchanted to see how my Spice kitchen grew. The king of Spice was the clove but only the government will sell that on, the queen of Spice is the cinnamon tree, but for me the Spice boys won the day……I was captured but not a slave…that was later

….a Slave !

Wether it was the heat of the day after the humid canopy of the Spice farm or the rumbling along of the car with Usef, Old Stone town was another experience. A maze of narrow streets tumbled behind the imposing old palace building. It stood like a forgotten broken era facing the sea and hiding all behind it. The streets were heaving with people moving everywhere and scrambling to make a living. There was the old man on the bicycle with a front basket full of green coconuts. It was stop me and buy a drink. Young coconuts have a delicious almost clear milk, and the curio shops, passed by from all the Muslim girls and busy men but haunted by the few westerners who all looked like ageing hippies. I wondered if I did as well ?Hordes of uniformed school children threaded between quieter streets with only women and babies sat on steps in the shade of the day. The lively art shop man who beckoned everyone in to see hundreds of Tingatinga paintings and there were cotton strips with batique wax  scenes that his mum had made. Simple and beautiful. Needless to say I bought some and the care he took to roll them up and tape them in newspaper made me feel special.

It was the market that shook me first, the long meat hall was hung with Halal joints, open to the flies and often the seller was sat cross legged on the table with them, on the opposite side was the fish. So many different sorts from Octopus to huge monkfish were slabbed out on rough wooden crates, some on the floor and some on the stalls. The fruit and veg stalls seemed so much better and so full of colour, okra,mango, big plantains hanging like giant bananas and tiny ladies finger bananas that were still green.

The heavens opened then and tarpaulins dripped streams of water everywhere. It was the first rain I had seen but it didn’t seem to bother my guide as we trudged through to the old Anglican cathedral. My guide trotted out the story of the alter, where the last open slave market in the world was. I froze a bit, here am I , a white woman from Liverpool England and even though it was decades before I was born, I felt I was carrying some of the responsibility. The slaves were shipped in by the Arabs and tied to a tree and whipped, lined  up in order of size and whipped to see which ones had more mettle. It was only in 1873 that the British outlawed it. The slaves had been herded into cellars with no food or toilets and  the old whipping tree is now marked by a white marble circle surrounded by red to remember  the bloodshed.

It crossed my mind that there is still covert slavery all over he world. But how can we stop it, is it that abject poverty makes some people feel that certain options are their only hope? And if so, it can only help if we educate, educate, educate. Especially the girls because they educate the children. I felt so privileged in this busy town and suddenly seeing all the little school uniforms traipsing about helped me think we were on the right path.

It was another amazing day and I had dinner to look forward to , and a second day of diving before heading off to Zambia and Zimbabwe. The African sky would follow me.

back in the zoo…

My last day in Zanzibar was gloriously emphatic…diving my third and fourth dives from the little mango boat and into my aquarium again. Its funny diving, because the silence is punctuated by the sound of your air bubbles drumming out, and sometimes I could hear a click clicking in my head…heaven knows what the fish thought. And then there I was,  slinking along the bottom with a Skate, hardly noticeable on the sandy bottom…and skirting along like a girl in her first frilly ball dress besides a couple of rocks where a huge black and white lion fish rested. His quills and frills equal only to a peacock in full regalia. This aquamarine fish soup was well worth the effort and I was really conscious not to touch any reef with fins or hands….it should never be spoilt.

The hour under water at about 18.6 meters went quickly and boy are you ready to have that cube of cake and hot tea, it was always just lugging myself out of the water that was the difficult bit. First the weight belt, the bcd and the flippers have to come off in the water.I was like a contortionist hanging onto the rope and twisting every way to prize them off.

The second dive was easier as we were not swimming across a current. My legs and flippers flapped trying to keep up and it made me appreciate the strength of these fish. I wished I had had a book down there to identify the amazing coral shapes, some round, some piping up like purple cigarettes, and sea anemones in dozens of colours, or even an underwater camera so I could name the dozens of different fish in every colour. That might be next..

But I had to leave this sleepy lagoon-like Indian Ocean and change it for zoos of another kind. My timetable said ‘Zambia, Victoria Falls’ .So a sleepy following morning after finishing The Elephant Whisperer, on my deck, which everyone should read, I said my goodbyes and thank you’s to the team and smiley Munisee and once again was bumped along to Zanzibar airport.

I’ d started to realise that all these airports were their own zoo. We all become like animals in transit, moving sweeping, changing direction till we get to the gate, our escape.

it seems there are 3 classes of airport zoo. I was to find out that Nairobi, similar to Schipol, or Heathrow, or Manchester are the preserve of giraffes. Deep wide open avenues where everyone slowly and deliberately saunters to their gate. Often you never see a zoo keeper and almost guess your way along 7 mile bikes to the loading point. But Zanzibar airport is like the monkey enclosure, everyone seems to be over everyone and a kind of organised chaos is the norm. It was a world of difference to the sweet Seronera airport in the middle of the Serengeti. That was like a private gazelle gate. If you were calm you could stand so close in the dust and be part of their family.

So here I was, waiting for the last chapter before the excitement of getting to Oz to see Matthew.Because of flight times, I had to disembark in Zambia, and pay an inordinate amount of dollars for just a few hours whilst I was picked up and driven through a literal no mans land to the border at Zimbabwe . The funny thing was ,it really felt like a change of country, and then out of the clearing rose The Victoria Falls Hotel…

Victoria Falls…

img_5582It felt funny getting out of the car in Zambia and walking the hundred yards across the border to the Zimbabwe shed. Cases were put on a rough X-ray belt in the shade which we collected from the other side, then off to the small green wooden visa office. I didn’t quite get the hang of that..it seemed you gave in your passport at one cubby hole, moved to the next for the payment and then collected your ticket at the last cubby hole…all manned by three male officials who sat side by side enjoying a chatter with each other.

A new car was waiting and what seemed only a couple of miles down the road was Victoria. Past the hut entrance to the park and on round to a sweeping lawn and the Victoria Falls Hotel.

If your not expecting it, it takes your breath away. An impressive cream semi circular colonial mansion met me, complete with huge manicured lawns and gardens. At the front, where there were columns around the entrance porch was a tall man in white safari hat and suit which was covered with every metal badge imaginable. He wore them proudly like medals and greeted me with a handshake. I felt like the wife of a Viceroy from a bygone age or something. It had a porters lodge, guest information and reception bays in dark brown wood that looked as though they had been preserved for a hundred years.

If that wasn’t impressive, you swept through Victorian drawing rooms resplendent with skins and trophies on the walls….not sure about that…..( my heart was still in the Serengeti)….out to a garden courtyard and then out onto patios of tables being served drinks etc. In front of me was a huge flagpole which marked the distance on its base from Cairo to Cape Town, but after that was the bridge.!!  The bridge in new the valley ahead of me spanned the Zambezi river between Zambia and Zimbabwe. It just looked like a really unique corner of the earth.

My room didn’t disappoint either. I felt like an African princess looking out at the back to the amazing waterfalls across lawns you could have played croquet on.

I only had 36 hours here but it was worth the visit and plenty of time because the place is only small…apart from the falls that is. I had planned  to perfection,a Helicpter ride, followed by a luxury 2 hour River Cruise down the Zambezi, to wake up at 6am the following morning for a 2 hour walk around the Victoria Park, have breakfast and leave for Victoria Falls airport. Good hey?….

the last post??……

There have been so many moments that I wanted to remember and Australia was almost upon me. Zimbabwe was just a fleeting moment and yet the helicopter ride over the Falls was like having an eagle view. They have it off to a fine art and take a video of you which you watch later, and I know it’s a tourist thing but I bought one and I love it. It’s filled with amazing facts about this staggering fault line and its rock and roll spray that cascades almost a meter down, and such rainbows.

The lazy but plush saunter down the Zambezi, watching the three elephants playing and crossing the water …to grabbing a snapshot of a crocodile resting on a branch.. it made me smile because it was small, about the size of my forearm. The lovely couple from New Zealand, who loved scouters….me??? A scouser!!! And invited me to their pub in Auckland,…the birds , the hippos….

The sunset brandy at the back of the hotel watching the bridge change colour across the manicured lawns…..

The early morning walk before breakfast where an armed guard escorted me across a little wasteland to the entrance of the park, my own hero!! ..and all the staggering viewpoints to see sections of the ravine and its falling waterfalls…..so much…

But nothing can touch that experience in the Serengeti  it has taken a piece of my heart…I didn’t go there to see how many zebra or wilderbeast there were, or watch a lion kill, or see a cub born, for me the Serengeti opened itself up to me as it wished and every magical moment will stay with me ….

I was about to face Victoria Falls airport, Johannesburg, Sydney and then Brisbane and I felt the tears of sadness  replaced with those of joy at being with  Matthew and his young family in Australia…..

So this is my last post for now and I wrote it so that I could never forget.

I think I knew before what I wish for my children, we all wish for them to be safe and healthy with a respect for everyone around them…but this trip has re-enforced that we are so privileged with our environment, that we must protect it whatever it takes…If you have read any of this I just want to say thank you  It’s helped me knowing you were all still out there……

See you soon  xx