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Pemba, A Scuba Diving Paradise!

Saturday, December 22nd, 2007

We still had two weeks of traveling to do before our big Kili hike and safari, so we decided we would make our way to the islands for some R&R. We left Loshoto after a short two-night stay (we were tired of the haggling and hiking was only so/so) and caught a shuttle to Tanga, a town along the coast of Tanzania. The shuttle ride was another interesting experience-a small van with about 50 unwashed passengers, some chickens, couple of baskets of fruit, etc. We were shoved into the very back row of seats with about four other people, one of them just so happen to be car sick and vomited the entire three hours. Luckily he had a plastic bag, but as he hopped off of the shuttle at his designated stop, he threw the bag of vomit on the floor which of course spilled opened and splattered all over the bottom of Christy’s back pack. Oh, the joys of public transportation in Africa.

From Tanga, an uneventful town, we booked a flight on a teeny tiny ten passenger plane to the island of Pemba. We arrived of course without any hotel reservations, etc., just a plan for scuba diving and beach relaxing. We were quickly informed that scuba diving was very costly and there weren’t many beaches on the island of Pemba, let alone resorts to stay in. There are a few shoddy guest houses and two really swank hotels that we could not afford, but Steve had done some research and found a promising scuba diving outfit that also had just built a “new resort” on one of the only stretches of beach in Pemba. So, we set off for the place known as Swahili Divers, which of course was on the complete opposite side of the island from the airport and would cost us half of the very small amount of money we brought with us just to pay the taxi. There are no ATM’s on Pemba…and no electricity for that matter, those who have it run off of generators…so we prayed Swahili Divers would take credit cards! Our taxi driver was a sweet old man who had lived on the island most of his 60 plus years and had only been off the island to visit the neighboring island of Zanzibar. That’s it. He’s never been anywhere else. Anyway, we were only a few minutes into the drive when pieces of his car, which was a decent car, started falling off. No bother, he would stop the car, throw it reverse, pick up the part, put it back on and off we went. This happened a few times with the headlight cover and finally he pounded it on so hard that the thing dented and stuck into place. The drive across the island was beautiful and all in all took around an hour and a half. We passed through one “town” along the way, which was considered the capital and that’s it. Not much happening on Pemba. Our driver had never been to Swahili Diver’s new beach location so of course didn’t know the road very well. Needless to say, he was driving entirely too fast down a dirt road and didn’t notice the huge ruts in the road, so the car essentially bottomed out and we were stuck. We then spent the next 20 minutes digging and pushing the car to get it unstuck. That’s first class traveling when you have to dig out your own hired taxi.

Swahili Divers turned out to be a God-send. We arrived without reservations which was a huge risk since accommodation on Pemba is slim to none. But, they had room for us and put us up in our own huge bungalow. The place was brand new and still being built, so not all of the kinks were worked out just yet, but it didn’t matter to us. We had a huge bed, a cool looking outdoor shower, and dinner on the table. Emma, the manager, was extremely good to us and helped us settle in nicely. She introduced us to her companion Stuart who would be our dive master for our scuba diving. Both are originally from Zimbabwe and we had some amazing and very educating discussions with both of them about their homeland. It’s incredibly sad to hear what has happened to a country that was once one of the most thriving countries in Africa.

As for the scuba diving, all I have to say is AMAZING! Probably some of the best scuba diving we have ever done. Visibility was fantastic, the coral so beautiful and bright and the numerous fish…just awesome! Swahili Divers had their very own Dhow boat, so we were never crowded or diving with people we didn’t know. It was like having an ocean all to ourselves. The only down side would be the amount of sea urchins. We always had to walk across the coral in the morning to board the boat because of the low tide, which meant stepping over sea urchins. Sometimes if the water is a little deep it’s hard to see exactly where the urchins are-they appear to be all around you since water tends to magnify things. At one point while crossing the water, Christy froze in place and shouted that she didn’t want to move because she couldn’t tell where the sea urchins where. So, I impatiently told her to hold on to my shoulder an I would guide her and I groveled that there were no sea urchins where we were walking…then I immediately stepped on one. I had about five or six quills sting the side of my ankle. Christy, however escaped unharmed and she loves to make fun of me.

Our stay on Pemba just happened to be during the Thanksgiving holiday and so we were feeling a little homesick. The staff found out that we were missing a huge turkey dinner and though they didn’t have turkeys on Pemba, they had chickens. So, for dinner, we had fried chicken and french fries. That was close enough for Steve and I, so we chowed down our “African” Thanksgiving feast. A few hours later, Christy woke up with a terrible stomach ache. She made a bee line for the bathroom where the lovely African Thanksgiving dinner decided to come back up. She was sick for hours and continued having terrible stomach cramps into the next day. There were a few other guests who also got sick…must have been the chicken. She didn’t eat much for days, even after we left Pemba and headed for Zanzibar. Still, she was able to ralley and enjoy some great scuba diving over the next couple of days.

We had a great time on Pemba, mostly due to the staff of Swahili Divers. They made us feel like we were old friends and we have some great memories thanks to them!

“Where are your teachers?”

Friday, December 21st, 2007

After a relaxing five day stay in Amani, we decided our next destination would be the western side of the Usumbara mountains-Amani is on the eastern side.  We had heard of a farm in Loshoto that produced it’s own jam, cheeses, and breads and also offered nice accommodations overlooking the town of Loshoto which is home to some amazing hiking, so we decided that this would be our next destination.  The only issue, how to get there from Amani.  There is zero public transportation off a mountain and through a rain forest.  The closest town was over an hours drive away.  Luck was on our side again, however, because the owner’s our campsite in Amani were actually headed in that same directions and offered to drop us at the nearest town where we could catch a shuttle up the mountain to Loshoto.  PERFECT!  So, in the morning after breakfast, we piled into Steven’s and Pia’s land rover and headed down the mountain.  About ten minutes into our drive, we rounded a corner and came face to face with a huge downed tree that stretched all the way across the road, making it impossible to pass.  Now, this type of situation in the U.S. would be no big deal.  You make a call on your cell, someone comes out, cuts the tree with a chainsaw, hauls it out of the way and off you go.  In Africa, first off, there are no chainsaws, which is really baffling considering these people live off the land, making their houses out of trees.  So, how do they cut trees?  With a knife about the length of my arm.  A very thin knife.  They hack away at a branch for hours and hours.  So, when we arrived at the downed tree, there was already a local man hacking away at this massive tree trunk with basically a butcher knife.  We were stuck.  So, the local man and campsite owners spoke in swahili and the local said he would walk back to a friends house and barrow an ax.  This was a bit more promising than the knife.  By the time he showed up with the ax, there were about 20 other locals waiting like us to pass through this narrow mountian road.  So, for about an hour, each local took turns swinging the ax at this massive tree.  Each took about ten swings, then passed the ax on.  Amazing teamwork.  About half way through the process when all was going well, we heard a big SNAP and the falling of more trees, directly above our heads.  People dashed in all directions, trying to escape the new falling tree.  Luckily, branches and vines from neighboring trees caught it and no one was hurt.  The chopping resumed and we were soon pushing the giant log off to the side of the road.  We were off again.

Pia and Steven dropped us off at the bottom of the western Usumbara mountain and we were able to catch a shuttle up to Loshoto.  Similar to the Dhala Dhala, we piled into a small mini van with about 21 other people, some hanging out of the side sliding door and away we went.  Upon arriving in Loshoto, as in most bus stations in Tanzania, we were met with hagglers pulling us in different directions, asking if we need a taxi, do we need a place to stay, how about a bottle of water, banana, coke, sunglasses, melted candy bar???  We decided to stick with our originial plan and took a taxi to Irenti Farm, which was about 6 km outside of the chaos of Loshoto.  It was a beautiful place and the homemade jam was incredible.  Some of the sweetest jam I have ever tasted.  The farm was on a hillside and a 1km trail walk leads you to the most incredible over-look/view point I’ve ever seen.  The view-point was on a cliff-side so high that you could see the ocean, which was a least a three hours drive away.  It was really a beautiful experience until locals started approaching us for money.  It seems everywhere we walked people were asking for “changey, changey” meaning bills not pocket change of course.  We came across a kid with a chameleon and he offered to let us hold it, so we did.  Little did we know we would have to pay him for it.  When we tried to refuse, he insisted so we gave him pocket change of about two dollars and he looked at us like we spit in his face.  He said, “no, no, my friend, more.”  We were shocked.  Here was a little kid expecting us to give him several more dollars for holding a chameleon.  We just laughed and walked away.

The next day, we decided to go out exploring more hiking trails.  Instead of heading toward the view point again, and in an attempt to miss all of the hagglers, we hiked in the opposite directions.  We past a few young kids along the way and in broken english they told us we were heading toward their school.  Sure enough, the trail wound right past a school and school yard.  Needless to say, schools are very different in Africa than in the U.S.  If I had to explain it, I would say that it’s basically a couple of concrete building, no windows, no doors, no sign of books, blackboards and basically no one inside any of the buildings.  The kids are usually hanging out outside in the yard, playing tag or talking in little groups or just watching people go by.  No one is outside supervising them.  In fact, all of the shools that we have seen all over Tanzania, there are never any adults arounds what so ever.  This school was no different and when we walked by on the trail, we were mobbed with kids!  About fifty of them came running toward us, saying “Jambo,” “Hello,” “How are you?!”  It was crazy!  Several of them were carrying large amounts of wood and big sticks, so we asked them what the wood was for.  Many of them didn’t know English (which they are suppose to be learning in school), but a few of the older kids said that they were collecting fire wood for the kitchen.  That was their project for the day…collecting fire wood.  Once they realized that we were walking the trail, all of them wanted to go with us and be our guide (for a fee of course).  We politely refused and told them that we didn’t have any money, but the didn’t care.  As soon as we started our hike again, we were being followed and lead down the trail by about 50 kids.  None of them would go back.  We stopped every now and then and asked them “Shouldn’t you be in school?”  “Yes,” they would all reply, but not a single one turned to go back.  So, we continued on and after about a half hour we stopped to rest.  Again we said “You should go back to school.”  “Yes,” they would reply but not a single one turned back.  So, we told them again “We do not have any money, no changey to give you.”  They stared at us blankly.  Christy then said “Where are your teachers?”  A few of the kids shrugged their shoulders “I don’t know.”  So, we said “Go back to school” but none would go.  We continued on our hike and a few of the kids in front pointed us toward another view point and when we arrived, they asked for money.  We said to them again “we have no money.”  So one kid pulled on Christy’s watch.  She pulled her arm away and it was at that time we decided to call it quits on the hike.  So, we headed back down the mountain with kids in tow back to their school.  We scanned the grounds for any teachers, but there were none.  Luckily the kids stayed behind as we continued our hike back to our bed and breakfast.

Emau Hill and some amazing people

Friday, December 21st, 2007
We left our lovely beach paradise in Pimponi with fears of more African public transportation nightmares. Luckily for us, there was a school from Dar Es Salam that was camping at the grounds in Pimponi where we were staying and ... [Continue reading this entry]

A picture is worth a thousand words

Saturday, December 1st, 2007
Just wanted to let everyone know we finally found a computer in Africa that is fast enough to upload pictures. We'll update the blog in a few days when we get more time. In short, we camped in the Usumbara ... [Continue reading this entry]