Why Travel Sucks And Is A Waste Of Time

A friend of mine asked me to write about the down sides of travel, and after the day I had yesterday it will be slightly less difficult than usual (I stepped in mud up to my knees, got my first blister and dropped my phone in a river). Please keep in mind I’m collecting all the negatives here in one place for entertainment and not because these items weigh heavily on me and are ruining my trip. I don’t need advice (unless it’s really innovative) about saving money on food or how to find cheap train tickets. Also, all the photos for this post have been taken in my bedroom, partly because I think it’s funny but mostly because my shoes are still soaking wet and I can’t go outside without putting my feet in my wet shoes, blurgh.

Money

I don’t like thinking about money all the time and I certainly don’t like spending money all the time. Travelling is like getting stuck with a pin 20 times a day. Every time you want to eat, sleep, see or do almost anything, your hand goes into your pocket. I have set myself a tentative budget of $100 a day but I know I’m going over it. I have enough savings to cover this trip but it is always a little stab when I check my bank balance or my envelope of currency and it has noticeably dropped. Obviously this is inevitable and there are ways to mitigate it (camping helps, so does being able to cook my own food) but after a while it gets oppressive.

Most of our accommodation in Europe and London has been booked and paid for already so I’m hoping that helps too. Also stuffing myself with a hearty B&B breakfast means not having to eat until early evening. Still, the money thing can be a big downer at times.

Food

Obviously food is a highlight of travel, but it can also be a real pain. After travelling for a few months I start to resent the amount of time it takes to find a decent place to eat, read the menu, wait for our order to be taken, worry if I forgot to ask an important question (for example: “sorry, when the menu says the steak comes with beans, do you mean green beans or baked beans?” – it turned out to be BAKED BEANS. What the heck), wait for the food, eat the food (the best part of the experience), wait for the bill, wait for the waiter to take the little plate with the money and bring back change and then collect your coats and bags (check under the table or you’ll be back in 30 minutes for your scarf or shopping) then finally leave.

It exhausted me just typing all that.

Obviously you don’t need to eat in restaurants for every meal and Luke and I have streamlined our process by only eating two meals a day and staying in self-catering places when possible and we do buy sandwiches and eat them in parks etc, but restaurants can be a better option. They are a place indoors when they weather is bad, they usually have wifi and they often serve the kinds of national dishes (like pork knuckle in Germany or fondue in Switzerland) that you would have trouble eating on a park bench. Also the restaurant in itself can be a destination, like the Austrian cafe where Sacher-Tortes were invented. All I’m saying is that it doesn’t take long for me to miss my well-stocked kitchen and toasted-sandwich maker.

Accommodation

I love a fancy hotel as much as anyone but sadly I can’t afford to stay in luxury all the time. Even if I could there’s annoying things about all hotels, no matter how humble or Hilton-esque. Like light switches. Where in god’s name are they? You will find yourself asking this at least once a day. Also, how does the shower work? Where is the plug? Why is the sink hole closed and how do I open it? I have had a door handle fall off, trapping me in my room all night when I was up at 3am to go to the toilet. This was many years ago but the memory of my terror and desperation will never fade. I have been in hotel rooms where I can hear neighbours vomiting, where there are no windows, where the windows open onto an indoor pool, where the air conditioning is like a waterfall running onto the floor.

This is one of those tricky sinks. Took me a few minutes to work out that it spins, you have to press down on one side to open in.

Hotels are like those lucky dips you get at school fairs. Theoretically if you pay more you should get a better bag of treats but often paying more just means a bigger disappointment when you realise what you’ve got. I’m not saying this happens all the time, but I have learned not to get my hopes up after looking at the hotel website photos.

My current bath-in-room arrangement is very fancy looking but the water insists on coming out of both the tap and shower head at the same time.

Company

Well, I could get myself into trouble here so I won’t mention any names, thereby leaving everyone I’ve ever traveled with suspicious and offended. Don’t worry, I’m obviously not talking about you! You were great!

First, traveling alone. It’s been better than I expected but there are two times when I really want company. The first is when I’m looking at something amazing and want someone to appreciate it with me. The second is when I have a decision to make and I’m not sure what to choose. I’m not a particularly indecisive person but I like input from others and Luke is particularly good at looking at things in a different way and offering another perspective. I miss having him here but I also know he’d be miserable sleeping in a tent or walking through a bog. For something I didn’t really anticipate encountering, bogs have featured pretty prominently in my experiences here, but that should fall under a different heading I guess. Are bogs worth their own heading? Probably not.

Of course, traveling with other people can also be a real pain in the proverbial. When planning to travel with others there’s so much to take into consideration. Do you have similar budgets? Do you want to see similar things? Do you get up and go to bed at the same time? Do either of you snore? There’s no one in the world I’d rather travel with than Luke but we still had a few epic fights when we did our last really big trip. I learned a lot about myself through that. I need time by myself at least once every few days, even if it’s just a walk for an hour or two or an evening reading in bed. If I don’t get a bit of solo time I can rage out at the most unassuming and trivial things… it’s kind of like travel PMS or something. I’m not even sure why it happens.

I have traveled with all kinds of people on all sorts of budgets and with all sorts of interests. Sometimes I think traveling with a huge group is easier than with one or two people – a variety of people to talk to and possibilities for splitting into smaller groups to do different activities rather than feeling like you have to stick together – which leads to my least favourite thing about traveling with other people. Waiting. Waiting for people to pack, to find tickets, to finish eating, to arrive, to shop. I don’t mind waiting for people to arrive if a bus or plane is late, I mind waiting when people are disorganised and I hate waiting when it seems someone is going to make me late for anything. I am quick in the shower, quick to pack, quick to walk and quick to eat. Waiting for people who can’t get going in the morning until they’ve had their coffee/breakfast/whatever drives me crazy. I’m sure my impatience is just as unpleasant for them too but let’s be honest, it’s entirely their fault (and nothing you can say will convince me otherwise).

The company we don’t choose can also be a nightmare. Like the guy on the train who chews with his mouth open, the people with the screaming child in the breakfast room, or the lady who harrumphs and won’t stop talking. At least these people are usually easy to escape, even if you have to wait until morning.

Getting Lost

I don’t think I really have to elaborate here.

Living Out Of A Suitcase

I quite enjoy living out of a suitcase/backpack in the beginning. Fewer choices to make and I keep everything in small bags so my pack only takes a minute to pack and I know where everything is.

This lasts about a week until everything somehow gets rearranged and impossible to find. Then another week later I’m sick of my clothes. Another week in and all my leggings and undies have developed holes, which is what happens when a normal six months worth of wear happens in three weeks. Then one sock from every pair disappears, then I start looking like a hobo. Right now I’ve been away for three weeks and my shoes stink and look like they’ve been through a war, plus they are soaking wet from yesterday’s bog encounter. My two new pairs of leggings both have holes in them, the trousers I bought are so loose around the waist (but tight around the thighs, so no cause for celebration there) that I have to pull them up every few steps, and I am thoroughly sick of hand washing things. I rarely use laundromats because I have so few clothes that paying £3 to wash six items at a time hardly feels worthwhile, but if I don’t wash every three or four days it means I stink. Fine if I’m camping but not ideal when sitting in a breakfast room with polite families at a B&B.

Waiting

I always have a kindle, iPad and phone but waiting is inevitable if you’re like me and don’t enjoy the adrenaline rush of arriving at an airport or bus terminal with only moments to spare. If you are like me then you will spent at least 10% of any holiday waiting. A good reason to start a blog. There’s only one thing worse than extended periods of waiting, and that is missing your boat/bus/plane. This happened to me in Japan once and I hope I never again experience the sensation of running through an airport in tears, filled with adrenaline, dragging a heavy bag and barely being able to converse with the people at check in.

Weather

Depends on the type of holiday I suppose, but weather can make or break any holiday. I’ve been inordinately lucky this time around but walking any city or stretch of countryside in the rain isn’t huge amounts of fun. If you’re in the city then it means having to deal with raincoats and wet things every time you go in or out, your photos don’t look great (if you can take any at all) and you have to put up with ducking and weaving past other people’s umbrellas on narrow footpaths when you’re at the added disadvantage of not knowing where you’re going. Wet weather walking in the country just means a greater chance of bogs.

Sunny weather, as I’ve seen on this trip, also has its disadvantages. Namely, crowds. In a country where a sunny long weekend can be headline news, you can bet every scenic spot will be rammed with people if the temperature is over 14 degrees (balmy!). We’re heading to Italy, Croatia and the south of France in July and August and I’m already worried that we’ve made a terrible mistake as all of Europe will be on holiday at the same time. Plus I feel sapped of energy when it’s actually legitimately (+30C) hot, so I am a bit worried I won’t make the most of our time there. I was utterly useless at Angkor Watt years ago when it was 40 degrees and chucked in the temples for the hotel pool and bar. I still don’t regret it.

Coming Home

There are two main problems with coming home. The first is when no one expresses the slightest interest in anything you’ve been doing. My Dad is offender #1 in this department. I can write this because I know he doesn’t read this blog, only Mum does. (Thanks Mum! You’re the best!). The other main problem is when too many people express an interest and you get tired of relating the same stories over and over. The way to get around this is to write a blog so that the people who are interested can come along for the ride with you and then ask pertinent questions (not just ‘what was your favourite bit?’) when they see you in person. Or better yet, leave a comment on the blog. Hint hint.

Actually, coming home has many down sides. Returning to work, having to live in a space where someone else isn’t changing your bedsheets and towels every other day (let alone dusting… I am always appalled by the amount of dust in my house after I’ve been away… or any other time really), not eating out, having to do boring things like get your car serviced, pay bills and so on. All the things you don’t have to worry about on holidays. Oh and don’t forget that your bank balance has, at the very least, been halved.

On the other hand, it is nice to know where the light switch is when you get up in the middle of the night.

So this was my nowhere-near-complete list of Why Travel Sucks And Is A Waste Of Time. If you have any more reasons that I could add please list them in the comments, I’d love to read them!

Town End, Hill Top and Beatrix Potter

On a recommendation from Luke’s Aunt Sue, I decided to visit Hill Top, the home of Beatrix Potter.

The day before I’d been to Town End, a farm in Troutbeck, and taken a guided tour. A friend of Ms Potter’s lived at Town End and she apparently visited often, though only stayed one night. Town End has been preserved very well and the tour guide did an excellent job, sharing many interesting facts about the buildings and the family who had lived there from the 15th century to the 20th.

One of the funniest things I learned on that tour was that one of the men of the house, who did a lot of furniture carving, used to carve dates like ‘1684’ into his pieces even though he was producing them in the 19th century. This made dating the furniture quite a challenge for the National Trust staff.

There were also lots of interesting associations with modern phrases. The dining table was a giant board that had a smooth side for eating off and a rough side for doing work on. The master of the house would sit at the top of the table and he was known as the chairman of the board.

Dancing on the table was ‘treading the boards’ and games played at the table were board games. I’m not entirely sure how strong the links between these and our modern expressions are but our guide was convinced.

So then the next day I set off for Hill Top.

First I caught the ferry over from Bowness on Windermere. On the boat I met a woman and her mother from Dubbo and it turned out the woman had gone to the same high school as me.

Everyone else got off the ferry and caught the shuttle bus to Hill Top but I, despite registering the name of the place, didn’t take the obvious hint and decided to walk. Well, it wasn’t the most steep climb I’ve ever made but the walk took me through some muddy paddocks and by the time I got to the right village I was puffed and annoyed with myself.

One of the local houses.

The village that Hill Top is in is quite pretty but the density of tourists was a bit of a shock for me, having spent most of my time in the Lake District by myself. Her house was lovely though and so was the garden.

It was filled with interesting objects. My favourite was her dolls house.

A peek through the window.

There were lots of guides around to answer questions, which was nice. Even a Japanese guide. I had heard someone say that Beatrix Potter was very popular in Japan and that her books were so often used as English starter texts that Japanese people came to her house like pilgrims. Maybe someone who reads this can confirm or deny?

After sneaking aboard the shuttle back to the pier then catching the ferry back over I was left with half a day to fill. I noticed a bit of a hill behind Bowness and wandered up through the back streets until I finally ended up on Brant Fell. The views were lovely (surprise surprise) and I sat there and ate my elegant repast of a piece of pita bread, a tiny piece of cheese, a hard boiled egg and some cherry tomatoes.

Classy!

I had a chat to a guy who jogged to the top but then looked kind of like he was going to die. My conversations with random people have fallen into a pretty standard pattern. First I tell them I’m from Melbourne, they tell me they have relations in Perth. Then we both express amazement at how incredibly good the weather has been for the last fortnight then it diverges into discussions about cultural differences between Australia and the UK.

I don’t think I ever think about my Australianess when I am at home but when I am overseas, particularly in the UK or US, I spend a lot of time either dispelling or reinforcing stereotypes, depending on what mood I’m in.

Anyhoo, I shall leave you with this serendipitous floral/sign arrangement and start a post about today’s walk. Then I shall be all caught up, hooray!

Canada and Alaska: Icefields Parkway and a Glacier Experience

Unlike everything else we’ve done here, I’d not hear a peep about the Icefields Parkway, which made it one of the best surprises of the trip so far.

Apologies for the poor photo quality – almost all these pictures were taken out through a bus window while going at high speeds. The subject matter hardly suffered though! The parkway trip takes a few hours and the views are spectacular the whole way. So spectacular, in fact, that I regret all previous uses of the word ‘spectacular’ and wished I’d saved the word for this occasion alone.

I mean, if this wasn’t even worth mentioning, what on Earth does the rest of Canada look like?

We broke up our trip with a few stops. The first was at some falls along the Athabaskan river. A wide section of river suddenly narrowed and the force of the water was incredible. The water and rocks carve smooth bowls and canyons through the rock walls.

Next was a stop at one of those places where tourists are herded, penned, ordered around and generally treated like giant dollar signs. Fortunately our tour had everything arranged so there wasn’t much waiting for the bus up to the glacier and we had time to sit and eat the sandwiches we’d bought at the falls. I haven’t been to Switzerland, but I imagine it is a bit like this?

While we were sitting out on the deck a chipmunk darted around under tables and seemed to spend a lot of time checking out my backpack.

Then it was onto a bus, which took us up to the big bus-truck things that drive onto the glacier. The trucks were interesting, being six-wheel drive and kind of like tanks, plus the road towards the glacier was extremely steep (a gradient of about 32 degrees), but being on the glacier felt weird. Not long ago I saw a documentary about glaciers, and seeing the road the trucks had worn into it and having a big group of tourists standing around all felt a bit sacrilegious. It’s not really logical – global warming is the problem and glacier shrinkage isn’t caused by people standing on a tiny part of it, but still.

Our tour director warned us not to drink the glacial waters because of Ice worms . They live their whole lives on glaciers and eat algae and if you have eat too many they can make you ill. I thought that perhaps it was the Canadian equivalent of drop bears, but apparently they’re real.

Next was a short rest stop then Carmen handed out some maple leaf biscuits. Maple-syrup flavored and OMG, so good! My hands smelled like syrup for the next hour. If I bring nothing else home I’m bringing several boxes of these!

Just think of a shortbread cream biscuit but infused with maple syrup.

Anyhow, back to the Icefields Parkway. If you ever go to Canada make sure you take a trip along it. It’s about a hundred times better than the Great Ocean Road, and compares favorably to Iceland’s ring road (but more trees) and Lake District in England (but without the narrow lanes filled with sheep and impatient local buses). Also make sure you’re not doing the driving so you can spend the whole time goggling at the towering mountains and turquoise waters. I guarantee you’ll love it!

Next: Banff Springs Hotel and a ride in a helicopter!

St Louis

So the reason we’ve trekked from New Orleans to St Louis wasn’t just to see a whole lot of American farmland that looked remarkably like farmland in Australia. The main reason was to meet up with Shannon, a lovely lady I’ve been friends with online since about 2001? Maybe 2002? A long, long time, anyhow. We met via other online friends and … well, it’s a long story, but essentially we’ve been in touch via the internet for a long time and I was very excited about catching up.

Luke and I arrived in St Louis on Friday evening and realised it was cold. Seriously cold. Literally freezing in fact. After dropping off the hire car and deciding that yes, taking a taxi four blocks was a worthwhile investment, we hid in our hotel room until the following morning.

Shannon arrived just before 11am with her husband, William, and son, Will. They live a couple of hours away in a very small town that Shannon assured me was nowhere near interesting enough for us to spend much time, so she offered to come to St Louis, where she’d lived for some time. We jumped in their car and made straight for the pride of St Louis, The Arch.

It’s a massive structure, built a long time ago … for… a reason I can’t remember. But it is known as the gateway to the west – St Louis was the mustering point for many expeditions by pioneers in the early stages of settlement. Within the arch is a lift system of tiny pods that take you up to the top – over 1000 steps in height.

Like the professional I am, I completely neglected to take a photo of The Arch itself.

The view from the top is great, even if the whole experience is a little cramped. Even the room at the top has quite a low roof and tiny windows. Well worth doing if you’re in the city though. Underground, where you enter the lift system, there’s a free museum as well. After the Arch we visited an interactive science centre that was also free and very hands-on. Will is a big animal fan and enjoyed all the exhibits. Luke and I stayed on to watch a movie about the international space station in the omnimax while Shannon and co went to check into their hotel and let Will have a rest.

Oh, I forgot to mention that during the day we went to White Castle, a take-away chain that sells the smallest hamburgers I’ve ever seen. They were a little like the ‘squishy burgers’ Luke and Lucas loved in Turkey. We ordered multiple burgers each… it was really odd!

Sorry about the mid-chew photo, Shannon;). Tiny burgers are called ‘sliders’ here.

In the afternoon Shannon came back to get us then kindly took us shopping to buy proper coats. We only had the coats that we’d had made in Vietnam, which were wool but nowhere near warm enough. I bought a thigh-length coat that had a layer of stuff that reflects body heat. It seemed quite thin but has worked pretty well. Luke got a smaller jacket without a hood but it’s puffy like a quilt and he says it’s warm. With our new clothing causing us to whine about the weather 50% less than before, we were prepared for spending a little time outdoors. So after dinner (we tried deep fried ravioli!) we drove to the Budweiser Brewery.

Budweiser puts on a huge display of lights over Christmas. I completely failed to capture this with my camera, but I do have a photo of Shannon, William and Will huddling under blankets in the back of the little train that drove us around.

They’ll tell you Will has one of those monster hats too but it’s just an excuse.

By this stage the temperature was about -10 celcius. Which is waaaaaay colder than Melbourne ever gets. The new coat helped, but only having lycra leggings on did not. My gloves also failed to keep out the cold. Inconceivable!

Shannon and William dropped us back at our hotel at about 9pm. I do like hanging out with families – I get to have an early bed time without having to make excuses ;-).

The next day we went to an amaaaaaazing place. Not that you’d guess from the name – the city museum. Sounds boring, huh? Well it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Built into (and out of) a big warehouse building, it had a very plain exterior from most sides, but it was incredible – you walk into a child’s wonderland.

Very reminiscent of Gaudi works in Barcelona. All those metal cages and swirls can be climbed through.

Caves to crawl through, trees to climb, animals to wiggle through and all kinds of metal tunnels and ladders. Adults are allowed too but some of the passages are definitely child-sized. There’s plenty of slides – one of them is 10 stories high!

So pretty! And nearly everything seemed to be made of repurposed materials.

All the detail!

The adventure playground section is two stories. Then there’s an archeological section, a hands-on art section (my favourite), a pinball arcade inside a room full of really weird stuff – including the world’s largest underpants (allegedly).

The art room. I bought two books of snowflake patterns – animals and dinosaurs.

One of my favourites.

There’s huge ball pits outside, a school bus lurching over the roof and a plane. They look like they’re in the middle of building a castle in the grounds too.

The pylons and floors are covered with mosaics and interesting objects.. the place is full of art and very hard to describe. There’s a model train village with a bigger train you can sit in that takes you through a UV landscape. And a circus with children performing acrobatics and juggling. There’s lots of little spots to eat and even a bar for adults. Shannon said that at night teenagers come in and hang out and climb all over everything too.

Colour everywhere.

I am completely jealous of St Louis – every town should have a place like this, where exploration and discovery and imagination are promoted.

The whole gang!

Thanks Shannon, William and Will, we had a brilliant time :-).

Turkey: Istanbul

After six weeks in Africa on what I came to think of as the ‘plague truck’ and not getting ill, I was most dismayed to develop a cold and cough a couple of days into our stay in Istanbul. I didn’t really get the most out of the city, particularly since we stayed an extra two nights after Nikki and Leigh left, just to see more stuff. Still, we did make it to a few notable sights and the place certainly made a good impression.

The view from our first apartment.

The weather was pretty good – a trifle hot but it was August after all, and the nights were cooler. Our first apartment had 70 steps to climb (and me with 20kgs of luggage), so I was very happy that our second place was on the ground floor. We chose the ‘Cheers Hostel’, very close to the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque. Mosques in Istanbul were much quieter than Dar Es Salaam and provided more of a nice touch of  distant foreign flavour rather than a blare of tinny screeching at 4am.

In the ‘old city’ where we stayed at Cheers, there were some really beautiful buildings. Turkish people know how to go to town with colour and I’ve been totally inspired with regards to home furnishings and craft projects for when I get home.

If unicorns became architects they’d design houses like this.

At night all the lamp shops and bars with lamps and just general abundance of lamps made the place look magical. I may have even bought a few lamps myself, but about 97 less that I actually wanted.

Lucas, Luke and I decided to buy a ticket for a ‘hop on hop off’ bus to see more of the city. It was a bit rubbish, to be honest. The buses seemed to run in different directions each time we got on so there was some back tracking and the recorded commentary was dreadful. For a city with three thousand years of history you’d think there’d be something interesting to say but I can remember almost none of it – and usually trivia sticks in my mind. Heck, with an hour on the internet *I* could’ve done a better tour.

Every time I saw the Istanbul horizon I thought of football because of the pairs of minarets, which is ludicrous because I don’t even think about football when I see people playing football.

However the tour, for a small extra cost, came with a boat trip that we took in the evening. Despite looking like we were going to be crammed aboard a boat like sardines into a can (although that’s a bad simile, because if the can sank the sardines would’ve been fine, unlike us) it turned out that there were multiple boats and the view was great and the guide was ok too. Although I was feeling rather sorry for myself by this point and fell asleep for part of it, the boat did go under a bridge that was huge and did fantastic light displays every half hour with a huge number of LEDs. We’d seen it from our Taksim apartment but getting to get right up close to it was excellent.

This photo does it no justice at all.

Apart from that I basically slept most of the days away or dragged myself around like a snot-producing zombie. One of the things I did quite like was the Basilica Cistern, a huge cavern underneath the middle of Istanbul which was, as the name suggests, a water storage area.

About 1500 years old, it shows how we really don’t make things like we used to. Plus there were big fat fish swimming in the metre or so of water under the walkways. They were a bit creepy. Apparently the place was used in ‘From Russia With Love’, many years ago.

Apart from that Istanbul was notable for the vast number of cats everywhere, the fact that everyone’s brother/cousin/uncle’s-father’s-former-roomate-in-college had a carpet shop we should definitely visit, and the foooooooood. Turkish food is great – and dramatic. They do this thing called a ‘testes kebab’ (yes, I know what you’re thinking, but no!) which is a casserole cooked in a clay pot and then the pot is broken when served. We have also been loving the turkish delight and baklava. I’ve always thought baklava seemed like a good idea but never really had much of it. Until now!

On the topic of food, but only just, Lucas and Luke became addicted to something I dubbed the ‘squishy burger’. These were sold at street side kebab and sandwich vendors and would be stacked, pre-made in a bain-marie. They looked … well, you can see for yourself.

Bun, meat and tomato sauce, left to sit in a glass cabinet all day. It’s hard to believe nothing went wrong.

Not exactly appetising. But they were super cheap (the equivalent of $1 each I think) and I’m ashamed to say that I, too, thought they tasted alright. I limited myself to a single one but the boys had at least one a day, by my reckoning.

I’d like to assure all the parents out there reading this that we ate this kind of thing more frequently:


Farewell drinks with Nikki and Leigh.

Next stop: Cappadocia!

Quick Zanzibar Update

We’re short on internet and ability to upload here, so please forgive any spelling/grammar/whatever errors here and the awful photo quality, I’ve cut and pasted my diary notes from the last few days. 

Zanzibar, Day 1

We left our tennis court-sized apartment in Dar Es Salaam at 11am and were given a complimentary shuttle ride to the ferry port, which wasn’t far away. The Tanzanite Executive Apartments were a great find – friendly, helpful and rather luxurious for the price. Plus they were in the middle of town, which was handy.

So we arrived at the ferry terminal and everyone waited in the minibus while I took our passports and money in to buy the tickets. I hired a porter to carry my bag (I need 3 huge camera lenses for the safaris, ok?) and everyone else manfully dealt with their own. It was kind of a good thing we had him because the porter led us all straight to where we needed to go, albeit at a jogging pace. He also helped everyone else stow their bags onboard.

We were directed to ‘first class’ which was upstairs on the ferry. Imagine a room haphazardly crammed with a bunch of furniture that would be right at home in a really cheap casino and then add a few flickering tvs and a truly awful speaker blaring mostly indecipherable speeches and that was the luxury that present itself.

There’s really nothing noteworthy to say about the boat except that almost everyone seemed to be asleep an hour into the trip. I don’t just mean our group, I mean the whole (passenger section) of the boat. It was like the crew had piped some kind of sleeping gas into the air. The journey was only two hours so I just read my kindle. As Luke pointed out, not many people have that option and lying down means feeling less seasick. Not having ever suffered sea sickness, I like to spend my time on boats feeling superior to everyone who suffers from it. I spent a most enjoyable two hours this way.

We docked in Stone Town and had to go through immigration again, which was a little strange, considering Zanzibar is part of Tanzania, which we’d just come from. This was also the first time we’d had our Yellow Fever documents checked, unfortunately by a guy who Kat and I suspected was a tout initially because he sidled up to us asking where we were going and where we’d been and his ID looked just like a taxi driver’s.

Outside Kat tried to contact the hotel to see if they’d sent the promised driver but had trouble getting through so we availed ourselves of one of the official taxis. There was a set of high white gates at the outside of the port compound and a group of rather vulture-like men outside looking for business. The guys inside the gates warned us not to go out there, which we hadn’t planned on doing, but I wondered what, precisely would happen if we did, I mean, apart from the official taxis losing our business.

We packed into a minibus taxi and were taken to our hotel on the other side of the island for a slightly lower price than the hotel had offered their own transport. On the way we saw many banana trees, people lounging around, brahman cows and roadside stalls. There doesn’t seem to be a great variety of fresh produce available here. Apart from coconuts and oranges, there were cucumbers, tomatoes and pumpkin sitting in piles. Also lots of half finished buildings everywhere.

The rocky road down to the hotel almost defeated the van but we made it and arrived at a stunning white sand beach and a large palm-roofed terrace. Two of the staff came out to meet us and show us to our room. Unfortunately there was not much English to be had (how it’s the official language of this country I have no idea) so our questions either went unanswered or were answered confusingly. ‘Are there any other people staying here?’ “yes, yes!’. We haven’t seen another soul around the place.

We’re staying in little adjoining huts that are just off the beach. The rooms are quite nice – my first stay somewhere with mosquito nets, which feels very romantic and exotic.

After having a look around and meeting a guy who was scouting for business for his tour company (and was then told to push off by one of the hotel guys) we reconvened on the terrace. We were given the option of beer or water (great, I hate beer) and then given a menu. Since we had eaten nought but a few crackers since breakfast we were all starving. According to the law of restaurants this meant we waited approximately five years for our food to be prepared and served. By the time it arrived we were so grateful to have anything at all that we yanked the plates out of the lady’s hands and tipped the food back without chewing. I exaggerate only slightly.

I virtuously chose to forgo dessert, which was made easier by being told that they were out of bananas and chocolate but we could have the pancakes with sugar. I suggested that this warranted a price reduction since the banana and chocolate element of the dish was the most appealing. Lucas and Leigh had the pancakes and said they were great but by that time I’d gone back to my room to read a bit out of the wind.

Hopefully tomorrow will be a bit less gale-force (although there was no fear of mosquitos in such a strong wind, so that was something) and we’ll have a wander down the beach and see what else is on offer. Something other than beer, I hope. Good thing we used the heck out of our duty free allowances.

This pier has a restaurant at the end. Rather windy!

Zanzibar, day 2.

The shells on the beach here are different to home. There are plenty of decent sized ones lying around to pick up and examine. I guess in Australia there’s more people on the beaches picking them up and taking them home – something I don’t quite understand because shells never look anywhere as nice when they’re dried out and sitting in someone’s bathroom (or worse, used as an ashtray) no matter how lovely they look on the beach. It’s slightly better when they’re varnished, I suppose.

I got up at 6 and went for a walk south along the beach. There is a pier a bit further down, which made for a nice silhouette against the sunrise. So did the herd of cows that were making their way, unaccompanied, up the beach.

An early morning stroll.

Further down, at the next village, I got into a conversation with a man named Jamu who tried to teach me a bit of Swahili and we talked about the village he was from and life in Zanzibar. All along the beach there are people trying to sell you tours of the major attractions but Jamu offered a tour of the local village as well so I said I would talk to everyone and see who’d like to do it the next day.

We walked back to Jaribu Hotel and by that time Kat, Luke and Lucas were up and on the deck waiting for breakfast.

Despite being told that breakfast was at 8 it was more like 9am when the food came out. Lucky it was delicious (or was it? All food tastes good when you’re starving). A plate of crepes, a fried egg, toast and fruit.

Leigh and Nikki only surfaced as we were finishing so the four of us decided to walk north along the beach and see what was around. Lots of people wanting to take us on tours, seemed to be the answer. A few kilometres up we could see a handful of people kitesurfing. By the time we walked all the way up to the surfers we felt we’d earned a drink and so we stopped in at ‘Teddy’s Bar’, which was off the sand, down a short track and over a rather fort-like wall. A nice little bar, comfy seats and music meant we stayed for a few hours before returning up the beach in the strong wind and meeting Nikki and Leigh in time to head to the bar where Jamu hung out.

The bar is quite interesting. All over the sand there are hermit crab tracks, which could easily be mistaken for bike tyre prints. The fence and bar are decorated with empty shells and the bar has a big sign saying ‘Zombie Bar’ over it. Jamu asked ‘Do you know zombies?’. Yes, yes we do. Everyone else had beers and then we had lunch on the pier. While it was a nice location the wind was even stronger out in the open and people were starting to look sunburnt. Also it was 4pm, so once again we were at a mealtime late and all of us were starving. Fortunately the food was kitamu (delicious) and generous.

When everyone else decided to head back to the Zombie Bar I went back to our room to read and relax for a bit then sat on the deck and darned one of my shirts. One of the guys who works here (When I say ‘works’ I mean ‘hangs around’, which seems to comprise of at least 80% of the ‘work’ men engage in here) named Moses had a chat to me about his life and Tanzanian culture. I keep wishing I’d brought photos of home and my family and Melbourne to show people I’ve met while traveling, especially in places like this where they don’t have much access to the internet. Also a world map to show where Australia is. Fortunately there is lots of sand to draw maps in.

Everyone else arrived back eventually after playing with a bunch of local kids at the bar for ages. Kat and I both went to our rooms for an early night, while the others continued drinking when they got back.

Zanzibar, Day 3.

Unsurprisingly, Luke, Leigh, Nikki and Lucas were not feeling like sunshine and rainbows in the morning. Particularly Leigh and Luke, who went back to bed straight after breakfast. Nikki was a bit more animated and Lucas felt up to coming on the village tour with Kat and I, which turned out to be a great move for us *and* all the locals who were understandably entranced by his giant ginger beard. One said he looked like Osama Bin Laden.

We met Jamu at the bar and then walked a short way to an alleyway between some stone houses where a lady and a gaggle of google-eyed children met us. She demonstrated how they make rope from coconut husks (soak them in the ocean for 6 months, then bash the stuffing out of them, separate the fibres and roll). We had a rather unsuccessful go. Then I had a more successful try at weaving palm leaves. Kat and I had some henna applied and Lucas and I had our hair braided a bit. When I took out my long hair all the kids wanted a close look. When the lady braided a bit of Lucas’ beard they all laughed.

I can’t imagine how long it would take to do my whole head.

Next it was onto another house (after passing the town graveyard where the cows slept) and we tried fresh young coconuts. I am always astonished by the amount of liquid a coconut holds. So much it’s quite difficult to finish. We all enjoyed the liquid (although it could’ve been improved with some Malibu and ice) and then we were handed spoon to eat the super-soft, jelly-like flesh.

After that it was a walked around town to see how the buildings are constructed and see how people live. We rounded one corner to see a young boy who burst into tears on sight and ran into his yard. Later he appeared with his mother and started wailing again when he spotted us.

Lucas, Jamu and Kat.

One of the funniest things we saw was a bunch of men push-starting a ancient truck that looked like it was barely holding together, almost to the point of being comedic, there was so much shuddering and clanking. It rumbled into life and tore past. Jamu said that it was only for using in the forest, not in town because it had no brakes. That’s right, no brakes.

Lastly was lunch at the Seahorse Cafe. The food took about as long as we’ve come to expect for small African establishments. Kat wasn’t joking when she talked about ‘Africa time’. We made a time to meet Jamu in the morning so he could get our shoe sizes for flippers, then a pick up time so he could drive us to the restaurant we’d booked for lunch and then go snorkelling afterwards, then watch the sun go down on a west-facing beach.

In the afternoon a few of the group had massages, I got a henna tattoo on my ankle and we went to a nearby resort to use their pool and have dinner. It’s certainly a bonus for us, being able to stay in cheap accommodation and use their facilities just up the beach.

Edward and James sat down to have a chat and show us their wares while we were on the beach.

After the excitement of last night we all collapsed into bed before it was even dark. Snorkling tomorrow!

Zanzibar Day 4.

Today we had our long-awaited booking at The Rock restaurant, which sits on a small rocky island just off the coast of Zanzibar. By ‘just off the coast’ I mean that at low tide you can walk to it but it was a very high tide when we arrived so there was a small boat to take us out.

When we climbed the steps to the top it was much bigger than it looked from the outside, with an indoor area that could seat about 30 people and then a deck out the back that seated maybe 20. The view from the balcony was nothing but sky and the vibrant greens and blues of the sea – everything from pale aqua green to dark emerald.

Definitely the most expensive place we’d eaten since we arrived, we all splashed out and had an entree and shared the seafood platters between two. Unfortunately Luke is mildly allergic to shellfish and that made up most of the platters because there was no calamari that day and he didn’t order an entree so he was left somewhat hungry by the end, having only eaten the plate of chips (or chipsi as they call them here). Since I ate most of the platter plus a crab salad I had plenty but we are all learning that African meals are nowhere near as big as Australian servings. Plus a plate of lobster and prawns really isn’t much meat even though it looks big. Lucas certainly did his best to get every morsel out though, much to our amusement.

We had hired Jamu for the day to be our driver and after lunch we went snorkelling at the ‘Blue Lagoon’, which wasn’t really a lagoon but an area off the coast which we took a boat out to. I’ve never just jumped into the ocean without a pontoon or beach within easy reach so I was a bit scared. My fear of high places and falling down stairs also manifests itself in deep water, which I realise is ridiculous, since I’m a very good swimmer and one clearly cannot actually fall down but I do not like the sensation of being in water so deep I can’t see the bottom. The slight hyperventilation passed quickly though and I enjoyed the snorkelling.

The visibility wasn’t fantastic but we saw banner fish (the black and yellow ones with a long streamer coming from the top fin), anemone fish (memo) and other quite bright fish. The coral was mostly brown and there was a lot of seaweed floating in the water but I found it interesting. I’m not really sure how long we spent in the water – maybe an hour? By the end I was getting bit cold. Luke was quite frustrated by the end as he was having his usual issues with his goggles and breathing. Lucas showed off his diving skills by going right down to the coral (it was several metres down because the tide was so high) and Leigh and Nikki found lots of interesting fish. Kat and I fed the fish with some biscuits Jamu had brought – something I remember being a complete no-no in the Cook Islands when we were there.

When we got back to the beach we chatted to a Masai fellow who introduced himself as ‘Mr Discount’ and had a little stall of jewellery next to the beach. It seems young Masai men from inland (so far they all seem to be from Arusha) come to the island during the high season to sell stuff to tourists. They walk along the beach all day in their robes and sunglasses looking slightly out of place.

Next stop was the other side of the peninsula to watch the sunset from the beach and eat fruit. The pineapple here is wonderful and even Luke, who normally doesn’t eat it said it was delicious. The only fruit they have here that I don’t like are the oranges. They are not very sweet and quite dry compared to the ones we get at home. We chatted to the fellow who told ran the nearby bar about the area. There were rocks all over the beach which apparently come from the retaining walls people build near the water. It seems the things people build here from the local rocks and cement don’t last anywhere near as long as architecture at home. The local cement also seem to go from white to black in only a few years, making everything look like ancient ruins.

After taking a bunch of sunset photos and washing off all the fruit juice we headed back to where we’re staying, stopping at a local shop to get some snacks. The shop was a very odd mix of things but we bought some lemonade, locally made chips (maybe taro?) and I bought a packet of chocolate biscuit things. There’s a company here who make a range of chocolate products that are clearly designed to look almost exactly like Cadbury’s, yet are most definitely not. This was the first chocolate I’d had in over a week and when I got back to the hotel I ate three in the style of the Cookie Monster. It’s sunny, really. When there’s no chocolate to be had I don’t think about it but if it’s in front of me I cannot help eating until it’s gone or I feel sick.

Nikki went to bed as soon as we got back as she was feeling ill but the rest of us sat up and ordered dinner. After the usual interminable wait for starters Gemma, the person with the best (but still dreadful) English came out to tell us that there was only enough chicken for 3 people, not 4 so I decided to give in and go to bed. Probably just as well since Luke came in, quite a while later, and told me the chicken had seemed to consist of carcass and not much else.

We seem to have struck Fawlty Towers again in our accommodation again. We had put in a load of clothing, which Gemma had conveyed to us was 5000 shillings a bag. So when it was returned and we were given a bill for 90,000 shillings (approximately $60) we were somewhat flabbergasted and refused to pay. We met halfway at around $25 but tried to point out that they really need to have a written price list for laundry rather than trying to communicate poorly in a second language.

The water seems to be intermittently supplied to our rooms, change is rarely forthcoming when we need it and they don’t seem to own spare keys for the rooms. Luke had to ask several times for more pillows for our room and eventually got them. It’s all rather shambolic. Fortunately there’s plenty of other places we can go for food and services. It’s not all bad though. Our rooms are quite nice, the view is terrific and Gemma is trying to help… when she knows what we’re saying. There’s just something about Zanzibar that makes it feels like no one is really in charge or knows what is going on.

As Jamu said – ‘most people here are not really thinking of the future, just living day to day. To be successful and make a difference locals need to think like the white man’. Although I think there are many good attributes to the people here and the culture, the locals are certainly losing out because they do not have the knowledge to invest in their future. Many locals sold their beach front properties to Europeans and moved back from the beach. A small number rented their land and now have a steady income. Europeans who come here have a much better understanding of what tourists want and expect and they also know how to advertise and run a successful business. Locals wait to talk to people on the beach to advertise their tours – by which time the hotels have already gotten in first and also told their guests not to trust the people on the beach. It’s all very complicated and, in some respects, unfair. Still, without foreigners to teach them how to work in tourism fewer and fewer people would come here and at least the hotels are providing jobs.

One of the adorable village children.