First on the agenda today was to get myself a hat. With more than two months ahead in South East Asia’s hot sun it was an essential item that I hadn’t the chance to buy in my busy last weeks in Japan. Time to stretch those long unused, out-of-practise bargaining muscles.
Hat bought – check. Bargain had – well, I saved a few dong, but hardly a bargain. Still, happy with my purchase, complete with phoney brand labels, Brendan and I decided to treat ourselves to a snack of deep fried doughnut type treats. The lovely lady selling them let us pose for a few photos in her hat before well and truly ripping us off, charging us about five times the normal price. I think it’s going to take me a few days to get back in the swing of things with the whole bargaining concept. I’m out of practise since I left China.
At dinner, a Vietnamese man approached and asked for help with the spelling of a text he was writing. Upon hearing he had two Australians in his midst he broke into a rendition of Dorothea McKellar’s most famous of poems, ‘My Australia”. It was so strange to hear, “I love a sunburnt country…” in such a foreign setting, but also quite heart warming.
Hanoi airport gave a quick introduction to Vietnam’s laidback approach to life…and bureaucracy. With visa pre-approval arranged during the planning stages of this trip, I had thought, well hoped, that the airport process would be quick. The visa office was packed full of visa officials – two were napping, one playing with his new mobile phone, while another wandered in and out occasionally to chat. Only one out of them all was actually working. He was probably the new guy. Eventually the group of frustrated foreigners that had been stirring helplessly for over an hour slowly began to dwindle and I was granted permission to enter Vietnam.
After settling into the hotel and taking a much needed nap, we gave Ethnic Travel a call to arrange our boat trip up to Bai Tu Long Bay. An agent was sent to the hotel to lead us through Hanoi’s maze of streets back to their office to finalise arrangements. Brendan and I followed hot on her high-heeled shoes as she darted up side-streets, dodged speeding scooters, and stepped confidently into the path of oncoming traffic. We arrived unscathed, though I wandered if we would survive the return journey without a local by our side.
By the time our plans had been sorted and dinner eaten, the initially disconcerting roars and beeps of Hanoi’s traffic had seemed to settle into some sort of comprehensible rhythm, though the beats we by no means slow.
I didn’t sleep in as planned this morning, so I had an early breakfast at around 7.30am before heading down to the beach for a swim. The warm water was quite salty but very relaxing.
Later I went for a long walk along the beach. With luxurious resorts to the left of me and local fisherman working upon the sparkling turquoise sea to the right of me, I wondered what locals made of the rich foreigners that came to laze on their beaches.
The end of my holiday has come. I consider myself so lucky to have won a prize that has let me see such amazing places this year.
On my way over to the east coast for my beach side stay I made a stop off at one of Zanzibar’s numerous spice farms. The tour was an assault on the senses with opportunities to smell, touch and taste a multitude of familiar spices in their natural setting.
I found out that citronella and lemongrass is the same thing – learn something new every day. Explains why the mozzies haven’t been bothering me. A number of the spices have medical uses long forgotten in the western world. Turmeric powder mixed with honey can be used to stop bleeding. Cinnamon root, which smells similar to menthol, is used for colds.
After talking about Australia’s kangaroos and climate for a while with a guide at the spice farm, he asked “Vienna is the capital of Australia right?” Argh!
Now that I’ve arrived at Breezes Resort the pampering continues. I have a lovely upstairs suite with a large balcony. The walk in robe is perhaps a little excessive though, considering I just have my dusty backpack with me. A relaxing massage completed the package.
A morning walk through the winding alleys of Stone Town took me past intricately carved doors. Indian influenced doors had curved tops, while those with influence from Oman had square shaped tops. In the narrow streets head-scarfed women rubbed shoulders with lithe Masai visiting from main land Tanzania. Everywhere blue and red posters showed the smiling faces of candidates in the coming election.
Being at the heart of the slave trade, Stone Town has more than its fair share of horror stories. I was told of slaves being tied to trees, to then be whipped. A stoic response fetched a high sales price. Children too sick to be sold were thrown into a well which washed out to sea. I learnt of David Livingstone’s hand in ending the slave trade in Africa. By telling others back in England about the conditions that existed he was able to influence movers and shakers to well, move and shake.
Another well known name in Zanzibar’s history is Freddie Mercury of Queen fame. A Zanzibar local, Mercury’s house of birth is now a souvenir shop, accepting either US dollars as well as Tanzanian shillings for its range of local crafts.
A little panic ensued this morning when my airport transfer didn’t arrive, which was quickly solved by a pricey but speedy taxi ride that got me checked-in by the skin of my teeth.
All of that seems a world away, now that I’m settled in to my truly luxurious room here in Zanzibar. Usually, I stay in pretty run-of-the-mill hotels, so I feel spoilt rotten. A hot towel and drink complete with cocktail umbrella on arrival was followed by a relaxing bath. Lathered up with some lovely lemongrass body lotion my skin was craving, I’m now sitting on my balcony watching a great ball of red sun slip slowly toward the horizon as fishermen in their dhows drift slowly by.
The room service girl that just came in to turn down my bed reminds me of movie actress Rosie Perez. She has been kindly teaching me a few Swahili phrases. ‘Jambo’ is hello; ‘Lala salaama’ is goodnight.
Making a visit to Addis’ Ethnological Museum helped give some background information about the various tribes I’d so recently visited. I spent a couple of hours wandering through the enlightening displays about tribal beliefs, crafts, instruments, children’s games and natural medicines.
My time in Ethiopia has come to an end. Travel here wasn’t always easy but the rewards were definitely worth it. Now, it’s time to head off to Zanzibar for a little rest and relaxation.
This morning we said goodbye to our drivers Hassan and Warade. Warede had become sick and wasn’t able to drive. With a new driver and van we set out on our last day of driving.
A foray into Abidjata-Shalla National Park for a spot of flamingo-viewing left us lost amongst the confusing dusty paths that run between the Abidjata and Shala Lakes. We did get to see the flamingos, which were shy and kept their distance.
After arriving back in Addis Ababa our group gathered for a goodbye meal at an Ethiopian style restaurant. I’m sure the food was great, but my stomach was misbehaving again, so I couldn’t face eating. I could still enjoy the music and dancing that was on show. The dancing was remarkable and unlike anything I’ve seen before. There was a lot of shoulder shaking, head swinging and hair flinging as the dancers performed moves from various tribal groups. My neck feels sore just remembering it.
Awassa’s fish market was bustling in the early morning. Small wooden boats were coming in, with people buying straight from the fishermen. On the spot, the fish were filleted, dipped in chilli paste and eaten raw, sashimi style. Pelicans and other water birds waited impatiently for the scraps.
Bulk buyers could be found further up shore intensely bidding on the days catch. Young boys with nimble fingers had been employed to skin and fillet the fish. One boy used his teeth to great effect.
Heading further north towards Addis Ababa, we made our last overnight stop at another lake, this time Lake Langano. The lake is a popular spot for weekenders from Addis. Our resort had a certain faded run-down charm about it, and the cabins were comfortable enough…once I finally got settled in one! My first cabin was too far from the lake, so I was kindly moved to a lovely one right by the water. While there was plenty of water right outside the door, the taps inside were dry. The third cabin was back from the water a bit, but everything worked.
Heading north the roads are becoming much busier again, with people out and about everywhere. It has made finding a suitable road side toilet stop a bit tricky and Loretta, one of the group, was sprung taking a leak. I’m not sure who was more surprised, Loretta or the woman that found a white skinned, red headed foreigner taking a pit stop in her garden.
Arriving in Awassa, a bustling university town, was a bit shocking after the small places we had been staying in. It was my first chance to use internet, though the power did drop out at one stage.
Walking along Awassa’s lake edge before dinner was lovely, with lots of kingfishers and hamerkop birds flying about. As we walked by some kids who were fishing, started a very silly improve rap about fish apparently. I guess MTV’s influence is far-reaching these days.
Italian influence was apparent in Awassa and we decided to make the most of it with dinner at an Italian restaurant. Dan and Jen’s pepperoni pizza however had no hint of meat. It soon became known as a “pepper only” pizza among us. Luckily my mushroom pizza was covered with mushrooms.