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Prague, Czech Republic

Note: due to the amount of photos on this page, it might take a minute or two to load (depending on your connection speed.) Of course I hold the copyright to these images and you shouldn’t use them without permission. Also, if you’re religious and easily get offended, back away now.

Everyone has either been to Prague, or is currently still in it. There is no down season for tourism there. You can select the crappiest time of year to go and there will still be hordes of people trying to get that selfie in front of Prague Castle from the Charles Bridge so they can show their friends “LOOK, I WAS THERE”. There is no winning. You will be drowned by the hordes.

Unless you’re an early riser.

We live in Warsaw now. (I haven’t written about that yet, because I want to get a fair sense of the city before I do from a ‘living there’ point of view.) This was our first chance to travel outward, and so we chose Prague because I had never been there and I’ve only ever heard good things about it. Mostly about the beer. So in our ongoing pursuit to be more eco-conscious, we booked the train, a 9-hour journey from Warsaw. We bought first class. We were going to live it up sipping champagne and laughing about how fabulous we are all the way to Prague. That didn’t happen.

It turns out first class on the Polish train system means you get… I’m not sure what you get for that. Second class was a bunch of slightly shoddier compartments, but at least they had compartments and were semi-private (even if they smelled a bit like cattle cars). In hindsight, I can’t actually pinpoint in any way why first class was better than second class, so if you ever go this route, save your money. There was no champagne. There wasn’t even a food car on the way back – for the nine hour journey we were able to buy a bag of potato chips from a cart. This was confusing because on the way down we’d had full meals in the restaurant car. I guess it’s karma that we expected to go down by train to Bohemia in first class and be totally awesome wayfarers, only to end up eating a bag of potato chips and drinking instant coffee (instant!) on the way back. It would be annoying if it wasn’t funny.

So we went to Prague and we stayed at the Four Trees which ended up being amazing. They advertise themselves as eco-friendly accommodation, and you can read more about that here. As one would hope, the bed was incredibly comfortable and the location was close to everything. There was a kitchenette with plates, cookware and silverware too, which is handy. I’m not getting anything for saying these things, it was just a very nice stay.

As expected, the city was rammed with tourists. I had been hoping that the cooling weather would keep some people away, but it didn’t seem to have an affect on anyone’s travel plans. Any place that can be instagrammed is crammed with people, and the craziest of all was the Old Town Square. It was stupid busy, especially at that astrological clock that people obsess over. I soon tried to avoid that town square but I always seemed to end up there when trying to get from one point to another.

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You’ll see a lot of this in any part of the old city.

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This is what they’re all going mental about. Sometimes those little figures move.

Prague Castle

I get that if your’e going to go to Prague that you’re probably going to want to go to the castle. Unless you are really dying to, I would say just don’t.

I’m not bothered by the incline to get up there, unless it’s for nothing. The first day we went, I bought tickets to get into some of the sites. We visited St. Vitus Cathedral and the Golden Lane, but the Palace was closed. They didn’t mention that when I bought the ticket. There was actually more they didn’t mention, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

The cathedral was packed, but not so much beyond the paid ticket area where you are treated to the spoils of Christian iconography. The architecture is the most impressive feature of all (which is viewed for free), though I couldn’t help but feel I saw a very similar cathedral in Cologne, Germany (which is *ahem* free).

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You see that group of people… they didn’t have to pay to stand where they are standing.

I’m going to be totally honest. Walking through that church was one part awesome, and a lot of parts ridiculous. I still can’t get over the amount of wealth the church holds, and how it’s flaunted as though it was ordained by God. I wondered how much historical wealth was taken to build these places, and who exactly had to make the sacrifices to ensure the church got as wealthy as it has.

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We got to the Golden Lane (a row of tiny historical houses) and were told we had five minutes to see it. It was 3:20 in the afternoon. We didn’t think anything of it and went in and could barely see anything through the hordes of people before we were told we had to leave. The tickets were good for two days, so I thought I would come back early the next day to get a proper look.

Nope.

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This is what I managed to see in the five minutes they gave us.

I got up early and hustled up the hill to the castle, only to be told upon my arrival that my ticket was good for one entry. The ticket itself was good for two days, but you only get to see each site once. I had paid for three sites, but only got to see two. (Don’t forget the Palace was closed for uncertain reasons). I went back to the ticket office and asked why the ticket is good for two days if it’s only valid for one visit. I also explained how I was hustled through the Golden Lane in five minutes the day before, and was quickly moved out before I could see anything. The ticket attendance took my ticket and looked on his computer. “You went into the cathedral at ___ time yesterday”. He was correct, I went into the cathedral for twenty minutes. “You entered the Golden Lane at 3:20 yesterday” Correct again. Five minutes later they told us we had to leave because closing time was 3:30. He used the computer to validate what I’d already told him, so he could shrug and say  “you can only enter once.”

I asked “why doesn’t it say it on the ticket?” He said “it’s posted everywhere.” It in fact was not posted anywhere on the grounds except for the ticket counter, where none of these details were explained. They want to sell you a ticket quickly and get you out of the line. (The signage at the site was actually non-existent otherwise).  So I said to the happy clerk “the ticket is what I am carrying around with me. It says it’s good for two days and nowhere does it say that it’s for a single admission to these areas. This information would have been helpful on the ticket.” He shrugged apathetically as you might expect someone who works in customer service to do.

So I was kind of pissed off that I had just hustled an hour across town and up the hill at a pace to find out that I was out of luck. I guess that’s how they manage the throngs of people that go through there every day, but in hindsight, I can’t see how any of this was worth the money. It was a total grab on their part. 10 euros to see very little, and you’re stuck in there with thousands of other tourists. So if you must see the castle, go early. However my recommendation is don’t bother. The best view is from across the river. The staff is unhelpful (borderline rude) and your money doesn’t show you much of anything that you can’t see on the grounds for free outside of a gate anyway. The cathedral is accessible for free, and all you are paying for is to witness the excess the church has hidden in its corners. I left feeling pretty gross about it. Clearly they are not short of wealth, and there I was, paying to observe it. Live and learn. Make your own decision but I’m going to go ahead and call it a tourist trap.

Food and Drink

I’m more of the ‘drink’ of the ‘food and drink’ kind of guy, though in recent years my wife has had an effect on me and I’m starting to look at what I eat before I inhale it. She hasn’t quite convinced me why a giant plate is necessary for a sprinkle of food, but I guess I’m getting there. I do enjoy good spirits, however. Not in great volume, but like food, it’s about quality over quantity (isn’t it?)

I’m also a huge fan of art deco, so I was mainly searching for places that met both of these aesthetics. I went on the recommendations of a colleague, and of course “the Google”. Here’s what we came up with:

Café Imperial

Just around the corner from where we stayed. Definitely worth checking out, though I felt a bit blinded by all of the ceramic. When the Nazis occupied, they claimed this hangout as their own. We had breakfast, which was great.

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Café Slavia

If you leave the madness of Charles Bridge behind and head south along the river, you will be rewarded by finding Café Slavia, this place has a great art deco diner feel to it. Apparently it was a little fancier than my first impression – the food took quite some time but when it came it was top notch. Highly recommended.

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I figured I should try the absinthe while in the Czech Republic. The server heated the sugar to caramelise it, then put it into the drink. This stuff is strong at 80%. Watered down it’s much nicer.

Francouzska restaurant Art Nouveau

We walked by this place a dozen times before I realized I should go inside. What a mistake it was to not go sooner. I found the decor to be the most impressive on the trip (the only place that I think could top it is Café Central in Vienna). I didn’t eat here but enjoyed a nice dram. Not at all a busy place, and absolutely worth the visit. The decor is stunning.

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Café Louvre

We went here for lunch but it was overcrowded. We took a pass until next time. Clearly they’re doing something right.

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Grande Café Orient (House of the Black Madonna)

A great diner/café at the first floor of the Cubist Museum. Nice place if not a bit pricey (it’s right in tourist central). I would recommend a coffee and one of their beautiful desserts.

No images of the interior, but check out this sweet dessert:

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and otherwise:

U Fleků

Traditional Czech restaurant. Charming place, a bit loud when the place is full. I’m pretty sure we didn’t ask for that second beer but we didn’t complain when it came either. Accordionists floating around the room, murals on the walls… don’t kill me for saying it but it reminded me a bit of Bavaria. Same region! Just as lovely.

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Las Adelitas

This place is also in tourist central but damn it was good. There seemed to be mostly Mexican people on staff (because it’s a Mexican restaurant), and everything we ordered was perfect. I found myself thinking about it still the next day. This place is the real deal and the frozen margaritas are legit.

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Radost FX

Fun interior. Made me want to play a French Funk House set on a Saturday night. Lunch special was great (if not a bit slow – they weren’t even that busy) and the decor was somewhere between David Lynch and John Waters. Apparently there’s a club but I didn’t see that.

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Bro.

It would only be fair to mention the place where I snuck away at night to work on my novel. The Banker’s Bar had very nice and helpful staff, and a great selection of whisky. Not busy. (I didn’t take any images, I was there to write).

Photos

I get that everyone has seen a million photos of Prague. My wife asked me “why are you taking photos of this stuff? Everyone has seen these before”. Because they’re MY photos! I wasn’t just going to go to Prague and not take the photo. At least I didn’t stick my stupid face in front of Prague Castle so I could say “LOOK I WAS THERE IT’S MY FACE AND THAT’S THE CASTLE.”

Anyway here’s the pics.

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A lot of people hate the communist-era TV tower in the background because it clashes with the look of the skyline, but just look at it. It’s a slice of dystopian dreamscape.

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There it is, Charles Bridge. Might as well photograph the damned thing. Five times.

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Trdlo. Delicious cinnamon roll.

Some images from the Cubist Museum at the House of the Black Madonna:

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Admittedly we weren’t quite sure what this was supposed to work out…

Final Word

DAMMIT I WISH I HAD WENT TO PRAGUE TWENTY YEARS AGO. (Or even just after 1989 revolution). I can only imagine what it might have been like then. Now it’s overrun by group tours and pub crawls, so you know how that goes. But the city is so damned beautiful it is still worth it. I recommend that if you go, spend one day doing the same things everyone else is doing. The Old Town Square, the clock everyone obsesses over, the castle (only if you must but good luck not getting clotheslined by a selfie stick.) It’s nice but the hordes really make it less enjoyable. The city has enough that if you just wander away from where everyone is standing, you’re going to find many incredible things. Burn your Lonely Planet book, everyone is reading that and doing the same damned things. Get lost. Wander. Step into restaurants and bars that look interesting. They are and no one will be in them. Walk south along the river away from Charles Bridge. You’ll find things.

If you want to see the popular sites, get up early (before dawn) and go there. You’ll enjoy the square, the bridges, the streets almost nearly to yourself. It feels like a much different city, and is definitely more enjoyable.

Touristy Prague at night (when it’s easier to blur the hordes).

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Oh look, a perfectly lovely place and it’s empty.

And in the early morning hours, when you should really see Prague. I didn’t take many images then, as I was trying to just see as much as possible.

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Posted by on November 2, 2019 in Life Abroad

 

A Good-bye to Dar es Salaam

“The darkest hour is just before the dawn.”
-Thomas Fuller

The wheelbarrow was filled with scattered papers of all sizes. I lit a match and threw it to the upper right corner. I lit a second and threw it to the lower left. The small orange flames caught the edges of various receipts and spread quickly, curling and browning the corners of the last three years of our lives. A faded receipt from the Dar es Salaam Yacht Club folded over to reveal a car rental receipt from South Africa. With the metal handle of a rusted rake I stirred the mess of papers to ensure more caught the flame. Receipts for bank withdrawals, luku (electricity) and groceries caught the spreading flame and browned, then blackened. I watched the last three years of our lives burn away and with it, all of the frustrations I had accumulated since arriving there. Overhead, the crows who had come to know me as their adversary cawed and told their brethren of my presence. The multitude of their cries no longer frustrated me and no longer reminded of the raw garbage strewn about beyond our gate. I was letting go of it all.

I looked up to smile at the flying pests and watched the smoke from the wheelbarrow waft into the branches of the palm and acacia trees that lined the property. Through their leaves the sun poured down, their separated rays defined by the smoke that rose through. With the smoke, my troubles were carried away.

When the burning was done, a breeze came and swirled the ash away over the dirt ground. I looked to my left behind the garbage bins. I once saw the tail of a green mamba disappear behind these bins, but nothing was there then except some chopped bits of bamboo that grew aggressively in a corner of the property and had to be cut back from time to time.

For the first time in a long time, I felt peace.

Three years of working in Dar es Salaam taught me a lot about neo-colonialism. Living in a house with an electrified fence and guards at the gate was standard. Watching certain elderly South Africans point and scream at Tanzanians like they were imbeciles wasn’t an everyday occurrence, but it was common enough to notice the consistency. Working in an environment where parents and children were accustomed to having others do things for them created an entitled mentality that spilled into the school culture. I experienced wildly abusive behaviour that was enabled by a toxic community, and once I noticed its prevalence and consistency, I knew it was time to go. If you have ever lived in a small town and suffered the wrath of rumours gone awry, you know exactly the type of community I write of. Really I could say so much more, but in the interest of professional discretion I’ll stop there. I don’t have to deal with it any more.

On a more positive note, the Tanzanian people were some of the kindest and warmest people I have met in my travels. It wasn’t always easy to get things done efficiently or well, but you adapt to that or you don’t. Many of the expats I met have been in Tanzania for many, many years, and seem perfectly happy with the laid-back attitude that prevails. Some were just lazy fools without standards. Roads sometimes get repaired. Groceries sometimes get stocked. Mail sometimes makes it through the system and to your hands. Unfortunately, I am too used to my comforts and found that these things were not consistent enough for me. The container bars and trash that built up outside of our gate became too much, and despite the ridiculously high amount of taxes we paid for the pleasure of living there, the manager of our property and local politicians refused to do anything about it. We were given an ultimatum – “if you don’t like it, leave.” Eventually, all of these things added up to too much and we decided it was time to try something new. Perhaps with our expectation of standards we were also neo-colonialists. Perhaps we just never belonged there.

So now as I sit in a cafe in Germany I look forward to our new life. No malaria, no dengue fever. Parks, sidewalks, modern transportation systems. I guess after three years I realize that I am not as laid-back as those who can stay for twenty years. And I’m fine with that.

And to be totally honest, the beer is way better here.

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2019 in Life Abroad

 

A final set at the DYC

For the past three years I have been playing a semi-monthly gig at the Dar es Salaam Yacht Club. Watching the sun set over the bay while playing a variation of chill music was a great way to unwind from other stresses. It is one of my favourite memories of living here.

Now we are moving on and I’m not sure I’ll pursue DJing further at this point, as my other interests are also very time consuming and one is forced to make these kinds of choices in their mortality.

This set was recorded live on May 31, 2019.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2019 in Life Abroad

 

Arusha and the Ngorogoro Crater

Manyara

Lake Manyara, Tanzania

Part 1: Arusha  

We took a break last week and headed north in the country to Arusha. For the first couple of nights we stayed with some AWESOME HOSTS in the fringe of the city. These are some images I took around there. I’m lazy with the names of plants. If you want to help me out and name things in the comments, I’d be delighted by your knowledge.

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Part 2: Gibb’s Farm

Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with Gibb’s Farm. They did not pay me to write this nor have I made any kind of agreement with them about what will inevitably be a half-assed review of our stay there.

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We arrived at the farm mid-week during the rain season. The rain season in Tanzania has been anything but predictable in recent years. When I speak with Tanzanians in Dar es Salaam, they always seem to have some day pinpointed when they think the rain will begin. And by “the rain”, I mean daily deluges that left several people homeless or dead from flooding last year. It’s serious rain.

However in recent years (at least in the 3 I’ve been here), no one has really been able to predict the rain. The “short” rain season in December is either late or doesn’t come at all. The “big” rain season is usually in April, though as I write this, Dar es Salaam has had a few days of big rain but nothing that would be expected for the season. No one can really predict the weather any more… similar to the stories I’ve heard in South Korea, in Mongolia, in Canada, and in Tanzania. It’s not hard to see the effects of climate change no matter where we go.

Arusha was also meant to be going through their big rain season, but other than a few sprinkles over night and one downpour, there was nothing really consistent with the normal seasons there. The air was cool and refreshing, quite the opposite of what we experience further south in the country. Arusha is higher in the hills, and skirts the areas of Mount Meru and Mount Kilimanjaro. The change from the humidity was most welcome, and we even had a fireplace going in our room at night.

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Back to Gibb’s Farm. This farm is on the luxurious end of things here in Tanzania. That is not to say that it is overpriced for what you get (as we have largely experienced on Zanzibar), because although it isn’t cheap, you actually get what you pay for between the location, the accommodation, and the inclusive meals. Liquor isn’t included.

The farm produces nearly all of the food it serves, so as you can guess, it was garden fresh and served by international chefs. The kitchen was highly attentive and organized, and when I showed up they showed me everything that didn’t include garlic. (I have an intolerance to it.) The breakfasts were fine, the lunches were okay, but the dinners were exceptionally delicious. There was an excellent drink selection (four menu pages of gin, not to mention a decent selection of whiskey, and I lost track on the wine list). Coffee is grown and roasted on site, and is served fresh to your room in the morning at whatever time suits you.

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The rooms were exactly the kind of place where I want to write my next novel but I’ll say no more, and if you want a walk-through of the room just watch this short video. $$$$ WORTH IT.

The farm was full of plant and flower life and all of the bird and insect life that it sustains. In the center of the lodges was a pond with long grass where weaverbird nests looked too perfect to be real. But they were real, and there were exotic birds everywhere. The best part of it that there were no invasive Indian house crows which have taken over Dar es Salaam in the thousands, decimated the local bird population, and are pesky, aggressive and loud through all hours of the day. Up here, we were free of the flying rats and all birds thrived.

I would go back to Gibb’s Farm again in a second. If this is the kind of thing you like, you won’t be disappointed.

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Part 3: Ngorogoro Crater

Volcanic crater, roughly 2 million years old

Entering the caldera

This part of the trip was unplanned. In our three years in Tanzania we have gotten to a few locations, but we were never able to make it to the Serengeti for the epic safari that most people envision when they think of Tanzania. However, bordering the Serengeti is the Ngorogoro crater caldera. It is massive and inside live thousands upon thousands of animals that find just about anything they would need there. As it is so steep to enter or get out, most animals live there year round, though the wildebeest and zebras migrate in and out.

We thought it would be nice if we could spot a nearly extinct black rhino, as friends had spotted them in the crater before. We didn’t really know what to expect, except that it was said that there would be animals everywhere once we got in.

The crater is so massive that you cannot get any indication of the wildlife below as you peer down from the upper ridge. Its expanse is immediately clear, and you can see rain in the caldera from kilometers away. Where the sun breaks through the cloud, it crawls across huge patches of the hillside forest and the grassy plain. As we descended further we started to get an indication of what we were in for when we spotted clusters of zebras.

I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story.

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Look closely…

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The legendary black rhino!

she spots some zebras

You see something what?

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(That is a black rhino back there)

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Posted by on April 30, 2019 in Life Abroad

 

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Office Intruder

I was watching something on my computer when I heard the air conditioner start to make a strange noise. Like a clicking because a part was not properly moving. I was watching it, and the cat was watching it too.

After another rattle, something splatted to the tiled floor. For some reason the cat didn’t see it and kept watching the air conditioner. Half a meter from the cat’s foot was a small blob that I couldn’t quite make out in the light of the desk lamp, but then it jumped behind the small fridge to the left of my desk.

I got up to investigate. Stuck to the side of the fridge, on a side away from the cat, was a small tree frog. Somehow it survived the dangers of the air conditioner and a two and a half meter fall. It would not survive the cat; she was a veteran gecko hunter and she thought she was in for another meaty snack tonight.

I tried to find a glass jar but could only find a plastic food storage container. So I collected the frog and got these images.

Then after great effort I was able to shake him out of the container and into the grass out back.

Go live another day, tree frog. Or at least until a snake gets you.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2019 in Life Abroad

 

Kilwa, Tanzania

Last week I fulfilled my contractual obligations of bringing a group of students to a UNESCO heritage site in Tanzania; the ruins at Kilwa, which for centuries was the wealth center of Eastern Africa. Traders from the Middle East, India and Europe came to trade their goods for ivory, rhinoceros horns, skins, gold and slaves. (Thank goodness times have changed! Right?)

Our excursion was a photography trip where the students learned the basics of manual photography, and how smart phone cameras still suck no matter what the marketing says. We visited the ruins of two islands and a town built by colonialists, and the students had to create photo essays that tell a story of the region.

The crumbling mosques and the local people were sources of great inspiration for our trip, and so I took my camera along as well. Here are some of the images.

Kilwa Kisiwani

A short boat ride from the mainland, you can see the ruins of this fort as you approach the island. The Portuguese built it; the Omanis later modified it. The door was recently rebuilt.

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DSC_9970Much of the fort was built with coral harvested from the area about 500 years ago.

DSC_9935The tomb of a 16th century sultan. Even the most powerful of their time eventually fade to obscurity.

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DSC_0080That Baobab tree is probably as old as those ruins in the background… if not older.

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DSC_0100Selling fruit.

DSC_0102The owner of this kiosk (who kindly let me in to his very small space to take the photo) has a solar panel, which is some of the only electricity in the village. So the villagers pay him 200 Tanzanian Shillings (about 9 cents USD) to charge their phones.

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DSC_0091A student with a baobab tree. This one might be a thousand years old or more
(they don’t have rings like other trees, so it’s hard to tell their age).
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Kilwa Kivinje

A town built at different periods by Omanis and Germans and also a UNESCO heritage site, little has been done to maintain the town and it is basically in ruins.

The students took most interest in the people of the town, who were very friendly and perhaps used to the odd camera strolling through. It didn’t hurt to keep a few small bills on hand for those who asked for payment in exchange for a photo.

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The wall is gone but the root remains. How our cities will look in time.

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These school kids “shhh’ed” our noisy high schoolers. Rightly so.

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The best photo of the trip was of this man, by a student who got a good portrait with a telephoto lens. The light on his skin was beautiful.

DSC_0192This is Bakari. We thought it was a girl, but were then told Bakari was a boy’s name. Still not sure, but it doesn’t matter. Bakari was extremely coy and kept getting called away by an irritated grandparent, but didn’t listen. Despite acting coy, Bakari appeared in various student photos at an intersection, running in front of a building, and in this spot. We suspected that Bakari wasn’t coy after all, and might be photobombing us all.

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A kitten that was asleep on that empty chair bailed as soon as I stopped to take this. It was quite a scene but I got half of it.

Songo Mnara

By Day 3 we were all pretty tired of walking in the brutal Tanzanian sun (at the hottest time of year) and so I didn’t take as many photos. The second island we visited was a full hour away by boat and contained more ruins from the same era.

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Some rich sultan’s house. Pretty nice if you imagine it in its day.

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Mating millipedes (it was actually Valentine’s Day).

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We walked through a murky mangrove swamp to get to our boat.

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Jimbizi Beach

When we arrived at the hotel, I had a quick look down the beach. The sand extended for several hundred meters through a curved fishing community that ended with stone cliffs and houses atop them.

After our first day I was still in the mood to have a look around. The teens elected to stay online in their rooms instead of demonstrating a spirit of inquiry and exploring the area with me. (I found out later the internet didn’t work. 🤣) So I wandered up the beach and slowly had a look at some small fish laying out to dry in the sun, smelling that fishing village smell. I kept my camera down, and knew to just have a look around for the time being.

Eventually I came to a shack (an open wood structure with a corrugated metal roof) where a few men were sitting in the early afternoon shade. They were having a laugh and so I turned to look at them.

“Hello!” One of them called out.
“Habari!” I said in Kiswahili.
“Nzuri, Salaam”.
“Salaam.”
He waved me over. I didn’t want to tower over these men in a straw cowboy hat and aviator sunglasses so I asked if I could sit down. “Karibu.” The man waved for me to take the spot on the dirt next to him. I took off the hat and glasses.

We talked for a while and his English was pretty good. He asked some questions and I asked some questions, and I told him that my interest in the village was due to my own family fishing history in Canada. A few more men came and went (including the village drunk) and we had a few laughs. I told the man I wanted to take photos on the beach and he told me I would have no problems.

His name was Alabama. He welcomed me to his village and welcomed me to his office, which was the wood shack we were leaning against.

DSC_0301Alabama insisted that I also photograph the construction materials in front of him.

I proceeded with respect and caution along the beach, and took photos where I thought I could.

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Frying fish

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This guy with his boat. I wish I remembered his name.

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I had noticed there was a large gathering of people in front of some huts under a large tree. It was some sort of village meeting, and men stood up one at a time in the center of the crowd to have their say. At the periphery of the group, I stood back and watched the scene. In one of the shacks stood a man who wore neat clothing, taking notes on a piece of paper. Finally, he came to the center to talk and it was clear that he was some representative of a local authority.

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The meeting seemed tense, and as I found out later, the politician was telling the villagers they could no longer catch the little fish that I had seen drying and frying everywhere. He told them that the small fish were meant to be eaten by the bigger fish, and that the bigger fish were fair game. Nobody seemed happy about it. They were no longer allowed to use nets with smaller mesh and would have to use nets with mesh over a certain size.

As I stood there, a boy had taken interest in me. I was clearly an outsider. He floated around in front of me, looking at me, looking at my camera. After some minutes, I plucked my hat off my head and placed it on his. He smiled. I took my sunglasses off and put them on him. They slid down off his small nose. He pushed them back up and I took this photo.

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And those were the highlights of my trip to Kilwa. It was nice to get out of Dar es Salaam for a break. I did not miss the crows.

Here are some nice doves that were on the balcony next to mine.

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Posted by on February 18, 2019 in Life Abroad

 

The Southern Coast of Africa

A couple of years ago we moved to Africa and I haven’t posted much about it since then. We have taken quite a few trips and done a lot of amazing things in the meantime, but I never found the time to write about them.

I will have some reflections on living in Tanzania when we leave this summer, and will post more about that then. For now, I had to write about South Africa. This holiday season marked the second year in a row that we decided to go there, and for so many good reasons. So this post is about why we had to go back to South Africa for two years in a row.

During our recent trip to drive the garden route from Port Elizabeth to Stellenbosch, we enjoyed Christmas and New Year at the beginning of their summer. Tanzania gets quite hot and incredibly humid for the months of November – May, but South Africa is much further from the equator. It was mostly hot during the entire trip, but there was more variation in the coastal weather there. Plenty of midday breeze in the shade made drinking Sauvignon Blancs, Chenin Blancs, Pinotages and Rosés less burdensome. Hard winds kept us up for a few nights as it punched in from the ocean and howled between the buildings lining the coast.

Here is a bit from our recent trip to drive the Garden Route in South Africa.

Port Elizabeth

We landed here and checked into an Airbnb overlooking the beach.

The sand was soft and powdery like the sands of Zanzibar, but in a tan brown colour. It stretched far down the coastline and was filled with people for as far as the eye could see. Few played in the rugged ocean. We found out later that the temperature was not inviting.

We drove through town and admired the historical buildings. Dutch Colonialism is a dark and checkered story, but they did make some nice buildings. We passed through the outskirts of town and through an industrial area that looked like something out of the prologue to a science fiction novel. I was reminded once again that we love our plastic, and that it all goes somewhere.

From Port Elizabeth we went onto Addo Elephant National Park. You can easily make a day trip from PE to spend the day checking out zebras, African buffalos, elephants, warthogs and a bunch of different deer with big horns. We saw ostrich, tortoises and jackals too. It was a pretty busy day for sitings, although we didn’t catch a glimpse of the park’s lions. It wasn’t quite the Serengeti, but it was a great day trip for a family with kids. Just don’t get out of your car. This isn’t Disney World.

During our stay in the park we had some pretty dramatic moments with the pachyderms. Several of them were drinking at a muddy hole and we watched as they drank, cooled off with mud baths, played and then moved on. The mothers protected their young as they passed by the onlookers in the parked cars. It was pretty intimidating when you see their size, and know that they could flip the car if they didn’t like you. But they were the most peaceful animals you might ever see. They passed us by and munched their way into the thick brush on the other side of the road. None of them were in a hurry, and possibly accustomed to the gaping maws of onlookers.

It wasn’t the first time I’d seen elephants at a watering hole, but it’s something that never gets boring and we watched them for about an hour.

 

Knysna

I don’t have any photos of Knysna but it is definitely a charming town at the outset of the Garden Route. My wife had some friends on Thesen island, a waterbird habitat that also hosts several exclusive property developments. It is a very peaceful community, but every home here was built at sea level. I wondered what might happen to them in the coming decades. I would guess everyone has insurance!

Here we experienced our first Braai; what North Americans call a barbecue. We walked around outside the property at the marshy edges where the birds congregated. Our host was incredibly knowledgeable about the name of every bird, and could tell us a bit about each one. Of course I don’t remember any of it now, but here is a photo of one of these cool-looking birds. He did tell me that they appear a lot in Egyptian hieroglyphics.

George

The next day we were on the road again and stopped in George for lunch. Thanks to the miracle of the internet, I was able to choose a highly rated place online and found a charming cottage lunch at the Bay Leaf Café. In the back of the cottage, tables were set out around a fountain and garden. I don’t often take photos of food, but when my flapjacks with bananas, bacon and maple syrup arrived, I was in heaven. You can really tell when the person in the kitchen enjoys their work. And when we saw the fully-aproned chef speaking to some of the patrons, we knew that we had found the real deal. I would highly recommend this cafe if you’re in George!

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Gansbaai

Back on the road, we set out for Gansbaai. It was the longest stretch of our trip at about 4 hours, but I had decided to do something for a rush. I don’t normally seek adventure, but going into a cage which goes into the water with sharks milling about seemed like it was something I had to do. Especially if people keep killing them. I wanted to see the Great White Shark up close and personally, but unfortunately it was not to be. It was likely too early in the season and their migration pattern, but I did see plenty of beautiful copper sharks. When they bit at the bait, their eyes rolled back “like a doll’s eyes” and we got to see it up close from the cage.

Because the sharks were so wonderful I was not disappointed with the excursion. Of course it would have been ideal to see some Great Whites, but I also knew that it justified trying again in the future.

Stellenbosch

All right, this is the real reason we went to South Africa for a second Christmas in a row. We like wine. We like nature and great food. We also like wine.

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We got priced out of Franschhoek (another amazing town in the region that should be booked early) and so we went to Stellenbosh, slightly bigger and with easy access to the property we rented. It was a cottage on a wine estate, because that’s how you spend Christmas in the southern hemisphere, isn’t it?

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We visited a bunch of wineries, had some great lunches and met up with a friend we work with in Tanzania. We also drank wine. Turns out that South Africa has some of my favourite wines ever. Australia will also be our destination one day, for a similar reason.

The ducks go on a daily murderous rampage (or as they call it, a “parade”) at Vergenoegd Löw Wine Estate.

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Maria At Le Petite Ferme, probably our favourite place in the entire Western Cape.

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There were a lot of very relaxed days sitting around the cottage and watching the landscape. It made me so happy that we could have these experiences.

Cape Town

We had a hard time leaving the cottage, but the next stop was New Years in Cape Town.

This year we stayed in Sea Point, which turned out to be just another reason I absolutely love Cape Town. It had been our only destination last year, and it was so great that we had to come back. The more time I explore this city, the more I love it. The integration of cultures, the landscape, the people, the food, and the wine.

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Maria and Marion reunite for New Years in Cape Town

Last year when we visited, we visited the District Six museum, (and stayed on the fringe of the old District Six, which had been razed to build less-inspired buildings.) We visited Bo-Kapp, Company Gardens and the surrounding area, and walked throughout much of the city just to see it, though we were constantly reminded that we should be careful of certain areas. We generally keep a low profile and don’t go out late, so we had no incidents at any point on our trips.

There are endless things to do in Cape Town, but we mostly explored the Sea Point neighbourhood on this trip. It was local and had everything we needed. The more time I spent there, the more I knew I was not seeing the rest of the city. But Sea Point had so much of what I wanted (a re-imagined, winding food court with over a hundred beers on tap amongst endless choices of other food and drink at the Mojo Market). I was happy wandering around Sea Point for days between the beach, shops and places where I could do some writing on my eternally-incomplete novel. I didn’t take any photos here because I was too busy looking and doing.

It was a great holiday and I hope that at some point down the road we can return to the Western Cape, because along with places like Crete and my home Fogo Island, it is one of my favourite places on earth. It has everything I want and certainly something for you, too.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2019 in Life Abroad