After a couple of days of rough travelling, and my own months of a pretty intense Red Cross contract (immediately after my Belize contract) – I was more than excited for some relaxing beach time on Zanzibar. Our safari driver dropped us off by the ferry terminal in Dar es Salaam, and after the 2h boat ride we hopped straight into a cab by the ferry terminal. Be careful with the prices as they are trying hard to rip people off, there are even laminated “Government price lists” which are almost 4x the actual price. I had called our Zanzibar hotel the day before and asked what a cab should cost so we had a bargaining goal which we were able to hit.
The driver took us to Paje beach on the other side of the Island, where we checked in at Dhow Inn and had a good night’s sleep after having spent another entire day travelling. What we did next was my favourite of activities – absolutely nothing! We chilled on the beach, read books, walked around, painted our nails, had nice dinners, went to nearby Pingwe to the hyped restaurant The Rock which indeed was very cool – and spent the entire afternoon just chilling at Upendo, a chilled bar where we had fruit cocktails while a dj was spinning Fela Kuti tracks. We stayed until the mosquitoes came out.
Paje was a quiet and calm town with crispy white beaches, low tide and palm trees, friendly Masaai men selling handicrafts without being too pushy, and kite surfers with long hair spending their entire days on their boards. It was low season so there weren’t a lot of people around and it would probably have gotten rather boring to spend another day there – but to really get a proper break and some quiet time, Paje was absolutely perfect.
Next morning, we took off after an early breakfast and headed straight to the gates of the Selous Game Reserve again, where we spent the day first walking and then driving around, learning about the plants, insects and animals that the wilderness of Tanzania wanted to show us.
Finding the lions was not an easy task, but suddenly we saw them – and just as we did, our jeep got stuck in the mud. The driver wanted to get out of the car to manually shift the wheels to 4×4, so he revved the engine and opened the door to get out, but the lioness was just looking straight at him, from the other side of the hood, just a couple of feet away from where he needed to reach to hit the switch. He decided to close the door and get back into the car.
We closed the windows but our roof was pretty much open. I took some photos of the lioness that seemed rather uninterested, but judging from how our guide started sweating and looking rather uneasy, we sat down quietly and looked at her and her cubs in awe through the window. As the tension in the air slowly rose and I started wondering how long we would be sitting there and calculating how long the water would last us for – another jeep with a Japanese film crew pulled over, and their guide helped us out of the mud.
A similar thing happened with the elephants, as we had been looking around for them the entire day. I love elephants so I was excited to show my mom their grandeur, but the elephants in Selous were very different from the ones I had seen in Swaziland and Botswana before – Selous is apparently also a quite busy hunting ground, and elephants are intelligent animals – let’s just say they were not excited about seeing our jeep, and did everything to scare us off. And that elephants are big, scary and very dangerous.
All in all, it was a very enriching and exciting experience, but we basically survived both death-by-lion and death-by-elephant just so I can show you these photos, so do enjoy.
And yes – there were zebras too, and giraffes of course – ever so gracious.
After our second night in Dar es Salaam, we got packed and ready for adventure – and were picked up at 7.30 in the morning by the tour company we had booked a tour with – Waterbuck Safaris. We drove for almost six hours to the Selous Game Reserve, where we were going to spend two nights at the Zarafa Tented camp, and were greeted by the very nice manager, Henrick, with popcorn and orange juice. After checking in and dropping bags, we headed straight to the Rufiji river, where the captain took us for a cruise to see the sunset, some birds, crocodiles and hippos.
A very nice evening after a quite tiresome drive. And a gorgeous sunset.
As per tradition, my mom and I went for a trip in August. This time we went to Tanzania for two weeks which were to consist of walking, eating and exploring. We landed in Dar es Salaam, where we stayed in the middle of downtown and spent the first two days just walking around town and exploring. As always, we headed for the markets (The Kivukoni fish market and the Kariakoo market), spoke with people and tried a lot of street food. And on the second day we went to the more touristy Slipway Shopping Center in Masaki district where we sat in a bar by the sea and had a well deserved break, and I had a Savanna Dry cider! Hadn’t had those since Mozambique and was very happy to finally officially introduce my mother to the refreshing taste and a glimpse of what my life in Mozambique had been.
We were so excited to be in Tanzania and start another adventure, and this one had all the good things in store.
The portrait above is without doubt one of my favourites from the Cuba albums, the unforced and charming smile, the shadows, the colours, the hat – and capturing something so old and foreign to us, yet so common on the island – payphones. In some places people were even standing in line to make a call from one of these.
With only one day left to explore La Habana, we went for yet another full-day walk. I always think that we meet the most interesting people and see the most interesting things when strolling around without a goal, so to compromise, we usually do the “must-see’s” with my mom, and then make sure we have some time left to “just walk, talk and look” so I can take my photos and feel like I get into the vibe of the place. It’s a good deal and one of the reasons travelling with my mom is so comfortable – we get to do both because of our different priorities. So we walked and explored 14km of the city by foot, and among some interesting characters, we met Ivan with the cool hair-do and then found our way to Plaza Vieja again where we sat for a while and had mojitos and delicious Cuban croquetas. We also stumbled upon the chocolate museum where we sat down and had a couple of pralines, and we basically walked all day until it got dark and we had to make our way to the San Cristobal Paladar on the other side of town where we had booked a table for dinner. A nice walk in less touristy parts of the city.
San Cristobal was a nice restaurant with a quite unpredictable decor, and the food was fantastic. We ordered black bean soup with sweet potato chips, fried yuca, and the lamb, which was delicious and a perfect choice for what has become my once-monthly ration of red meat. We had some mojitos in the mezzanine of the hotel on the way back, and then a nice long lazy sleep – our last night on the comfy Saratoga mattresses.
Next morning we packed, had breakfast at the nearby Hotel Inglaterra which serves a nice and very priceworthy buffet for 6USD per person, and went straight to the pool to get some last moments of fun in the sun before flying out. The Saratoga staff agreed to give us a late checkout and I think by that point we decided that it actually had been a good choice despite the cost. Cuba had overall been quite an expensive trip, but all had worked out really well – from the convenience of the car rental, to what we felt was an appropriate amount of nights in every place, to the people we had met and the things we had seen. Cuba treated us really really well.
We escaped Saratoga in the morning to eat a less overpriced breakfast, but I was still in the mood for something a bit more exclusive than rice and beans or tacos that I can get in Belize. My wishes were granted in Hotel Parque Central, where they gave me delicious smoked salmon! Anybody who’s had breakfast with me knows that I absolutely adore smoked salmon (and avocado, and sunny-side-up eggs), and that it’s impossible to get many things in Belize, and that I miss them. Needless to say, I was very happy. Mami had beer – for breakfast! We giggled like kids.
After breakfast, we had to rush to the cigar factory to make it for the tour. You’re not allowed to take photos in the factory, protecting the secret of the hand made Cuban cigars, and the integrity of the people who work there I guess – it was an interesting tour and it was nice that we were alone so we could ask all the questions we wanted.
We made our way back to where all the vintage cabriolets are, and found a yellow 1957 Pontiac Super Chief that we wanted to take a ride in. A one hour city tour in a vintage car is usually 35USD, but we had another place in mind that we wanted to visit – Fusterlandia. Located in the small fishing village Jaimanitas, 30 minutes outside of La Habana, Fusterlandia is the home of the quirky, “Gaudí-esque”, surrealist Cuban artist José Fuster. We paid 40usd for the Pontiac driver to take us all the way to Fuster’s home and let us stroll around the neighbourhood, it took us 1.5 in total so it was a nice deal.
Fuster has not only decorated his own home with his art, but has over the past 10 years transformed the entire village into a dreamy land of surreal shapes, details and partiotic images, and covered more than 80 neighbours’ houses and fences in his characteristically styled randomness. A visit is warmly recommended if you’re looking for something different yet very Cuban. Taking the Pontiac to go to Fusterlandia was a great way to combine the two experiences – especially as the ride along the Malecon and the big 5th Avenue was a very nice experience in itself – windy, fresh, fun! Much better than driving around the congested streets in the downtown area if you ask me.
We came back to La Habana where we had booked a room at the supposedly luxurious Hotel Saratoga already before landing on the island. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s hard to arrange and book things online for Cuba, and for some reason most hotels were sold out already a week before we were scheduled to travel, so we picked the Saratoga (which also only had three rooms left). We weren’t sure what the situation would be with Internet, and since I knew that I would want to check in on work emails after almost a week off the grid, and my mother would want to upload photos to her Facebook, we chose to stay at the one hotel where we surely would have Internet.
Hotel Saratoga also happens to be the most expensive hotel in La Habana, and at 250USD a night it was indeed ridiculously expensive but we figured we could allow ourselves to splurge a little considering how we always choose the cheaper option when travelling – we wanted to experience both sides of La Habana and this was going to be an interesting alternative. The hotel had functioning internet indeed, was conveniently located, and had a beautiful rooftop pool and bar with a great view, the perfect place to have a rest and some “vacation” after our hopping around. Other than that, it really wasn’t that extraordinary – the rooms were not particularly astonishing, the rooftop bar didn’t accept putting cocktails on the room tab which I found annoying, breakfast wasn’t included and was 25USD per person (no, we didn’t!), and it was just really not good value for the money. But, roomservice did bring a cup of honey, hot water and lemon juice to the room when I complained of a sore throat, for free. (haha, wow!) And Usher and Ludacris were staying at the hotel at the same time as we were so we were greeted by screaming fans when getting out of the hotel which made us feel awkwardly and involuntarily famous, which was a funny experience. (The kids were screaming “Uche, uche!” so we didn’t understand who it was about until the concierge explained that it was all about Usher, haha)
And that rooftop bar was pretty special and we spent a good amount of time there catching up on the news, responding to emails and enjoying piña coladas in the evening, especially since I wasn’t feeling well the last days and had a really sore throat.. so I guess it was worth it as a place to wrap up the trip after all. :)