maanantai 26. marraskuuta 2012

East Africa by Bus, part 3: Nairobi and Mombasa

For us used to Tanzania and big cities like Dar es Salaam and Arusha, Nairobi comes as a shock. It reminds me more of some Asian cities than Africa. It's surrounded by parks and modern shopping malls. It has residental areas that have supervision at the entrance, and inside you cannot tell if it is in America or in Kenya. 

Most of our time in Nairobi went just for getting used to it. We saw some very interesting things, such as a photo exhibition called Kenya Burning, portraying the last election riots. Here's the webiste of the exhibition. It was very thought provoking and surprisingly honest, being in a state owned gallery space.

Tall buildings in downtown Nairobi
Street view of Nairobi
The one thing that I didn't like about Nairobi is that it is more expensive than Tanzania or, I guess, rest of Kenya. Taxis in particular are very expensive, but the public transportation didn't look like a very good option either. And the hotels were not cheap. We found some midrange options in the city center, and saw some hostels a bit outside the city. If you want high end accommodation, you will not have any problems finding that!

Check out these cool storks that live in downtown Nairobi!
From Nairobi we took a bus to Mombasa. The company people recommended for us was called ”Coast Air”, even though it was a bus. They promised AC, internet and a luxury bus, so we were ok with paying a bit more than the other companies would take. Unfortunately, this is NOT what we got.

Internet didn't work. Half of the journey the toilet was out of use. Air-con didn't work either. Worst of all, they kept playing same comedy shows and musics very, VERY loud the whole way. The trip was said to take around 6 hours, truth was that it took 8. This, unfortunately, is very usual.

In Mombasa we headed to a hotel in the city center. This was a grave mistake. The city center is busy, noisy, and has next to nothing to see or enjoy. A walk in the Old Town was a spooky experience – after being used to Stone Town, it felt like a ghost town, or an open-air museum. There were people living there, but no hotels, no restaurants, and all the shops were closed in the evening time.

Fort Jesus in Mombasa
Example of an interesting building in the Old Town of Mombasa
We headed back to Old Town the next day, and went to the Fort Jesus – basically there is nothing else to do in the Old Town than to visit different museums. It was enjoyable though, and if we had more time, we would have visited the other museums too.

But we needed to head to the beach to get a look at it.

First we visited Bamburi beach, and did find one nice hotel to stay in. It's just that at that time, we didn't appreciate it enough and decided not to stay there. But after that, we saw what else Bamburi beach had to offer – and we were not too impressed! Depressing, badly planned hotels with ridiculous prices, one after another after another...

We ended up staying in Nyali beach. Not in the beach – it was full of big, big resorts. We stayed a bit behind the beach in a reasonably priced apartment hotel, which actually made us quite happy.

All in all, Mombasa was not the paradise I was expecting it to be. And I left it with a strong feeling that maybe there was more to it, maybe we didn't find the best spots after all. I truly hope so – or I feel sorry for the travelers who waste their money to be in these crowded hotels on this not-so-amazing beach.

sunnuntai 28. lokakuuta 2012

East Africa by bus, part 2: Moshi – Arusha – Nairobi

Now in this part there are not too many things to know about the buses. From Moshi to Arusha there are bus connections all the time – just show up and pick a bus. The journey takes around 1,5 to 2 hours.

After the serene and well-planned city of Moshi, Arusha can be a bit of a cold shower since it's freezing in the mornings and the center is somehow chaotic. There are many local hotels to choose from if you're on a low budget. But there are also high-end options.

We found an amazingly beautiful hotel in the hillsaide about 20 minutes drive away. Ecologically build (but with a swmming pool), courgeos views and the most tastefully decorated lounge. This Karama Lodge hotel would be perfect for honeymooners after/before their safari.  (In the near future, we will publish a Honeymoon package where this combination will be included.)

For safaris and Mount Meru climbs, Arusha is definately the place to be. The city itself is perhaps not very interesting, but the location is amazing. And there are some activities that you can do in Arusha. Our minds were blown away by our visit to Shanga Shangaa project, where disabled people make the most beautiful handicrafts. The setting is like you just stepped to Europe – big lawn as a lounge area with nice sofas and great service. But once you see the monkeys playing in the nearby trees, you will remember you're still in Africa.

Another interesting destination within the city is a Maasai Cultural Tour in a maasai village just a bit outside the city. You can just take a tour or you can go hiking with them in the mountains for 3 days – or volunteer and stay for weeks, or months... years?

Kids in a traditional Maasai house called boma

And of course, there are the national parks like Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area just 5 hours drive away. These are some of the Africa's most beautiful safari destinations. The biggest yearly migration of the wildebeest, the ”biggest natural amphitheater” in the crater, all the big 5.

Our safari organizer, Dennis is an amazing guy who owns he's own small ecosafari company. He is born in Kilimanjaro, but knows all the national parks like his own pockets. He can also take people to visit local villages to get an understanding of the lifestyle around Serengeti.

When it's time to head to Nairobi, it's been made quite easy. There are shuttle buses which you can book from most hotels, for example from Impala Hotel. These buses will take you easily to Nairobi through the amazing sceneries. And the road is brand new! This journey takes around 6 hours or more. The good thing abut shuttle buses is also that you can get straight to the airport and some hotels before the bus goes to the city center.

If you are flying to Arusha, keep this in your mind - you might save some money by flying to Nairobi instead. But then you'll have to purchase a visa for three times. Once in Nairobi, once when entering Tanzania and once again when you're entering Kenya again. 

perjantai 5. lokakuuta 2012

East Africa by bus, part 1: Dar es Salaam - Moshi

This blog has been very quiet for some time, for a good reason – we've been traveling. And now I want to share some travel tips with you.

Now in East Africa (in the world in general?) there are three main ways of transport. The most convenient one is to drive with your own car – you get the scenery, possibility to stop wherever you want and more importantly, whenever you want (toilet brakes are a bit scarse). Second most convenient one is probably flying. Not very cheap, sometimes not on time, but generally quicker than going overland. Then thirdly there's the way most of us use – bus. (There are also some train connections and of course ferries at the coast and big lakes.) Of course the good thing about buses is that they are ecological and you get to travel with locals.

You can also walk like the Maasai or bike or hitch-hike (not recommendable!) or take daladalas (local buses) from one town to the next...

Dar es Salaam skyline

Well, we took a bus to go around the region. The route was Dar es Salaam – Moshi – Arusha – Nairobi – Mombasa – Tanga – Dar es Salaam, and then back to Zanzibar. The aim of our traveling was to meet our cooperation companies and to see some hotels and tourist attractions. But there's a lot in this experience that would be valuable for anyone traveling Tanzania & Kenya by bus!

Dar es Salaam was our starting point. Now, Dar is a very chaotic city with massive traffic jams and plenty of people who are ready to ”help” you in the hopes of some extra money. As for us, we are very familiar with Dar, but less familiar with the bus companies that operate the route Dar – Moshi.

The main bus station, Ubungo, is far from the city center and in the traffic jams it might take an hour to reach the place. Also, the taxi will cost almost as much as your bus ticket. So even though the main bus station is the easiest place to find all the bus companies, compare prices and get tickets (all while at least 5 people explain to you how you should follow them and that and this bus doesn't exist), going to Ubungo is not the best choice. Then again, it is important to get your ticket beforehand, because without it you will end up in the most horrible bus that no-one wanted to book.

There is a place in Kisutu in the city center where there are several bus company offices. This is the place to go, at least if you're heading up north. You will find a square in the end of Libya Street, accross from the petrol station. Go there and ask around to make an educated choice. Dar Express wasn't good but wasn't bad either – maybe Kilimanjaro Express would have been a better choice.

It takes around 10 hours to reach Moshi, there were 2 resting stops on the way. Most buses continue to Arusha, which is another 1,5 extra hours.

Khamis in Moshi with our freshly bought ngoma (drum)

Moshi is a nice, well-organized city and therefore preferrable option over Arusha if you ask me. It's also the best place to be if you're thinking to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. The mighty mountain is very near, but almost constantly covered by clouds. Hint: If you don't have time to climb Kili, you can still get near to it and enjoy some beautiful waterfalls and nature! And if you're too busy to even do that, then at least drink the beer (and if you don't drink alcohol, drink the Kili water). People in Moshi are very proud of their mountain.

There are several nice and budget-friendly hotel options in town. Also there are plenty of restaurants, and if you don't mind the taxi ride to the suburbs, you'll find even more nice restaurants and some popular bars, such as Glacier.

Kilimanjaro in the early morning, just before the clouds get to it

If you are enchanted by the mountain or just by the fact that Moshi is a nice city and the weather in there is somehow human-friendly, there are many volunteering options there. We would recommend Tanzania Volunteers.

We would have loved to stay longer in Moshi. Thanks to our wonderful host! I will come back! And climb Kili!

If you want to climb Kili, please contact Colors of Zanzibar - despite the name, we know these things. And we know the best guides now.

keskiviikko 5. syyskuuta 2012

Jahazi – Swahili poetry, book about revolution and jazz every night.

Yet another festival posting! And there are more to come after the Water Sports Festival next weekend. After that, I promise to write about something completely different – I will give you updates from Kenya, North Tanzania and Tanzanian coast. And after that, about a TV show that we are cooperating with.

So please just forgive me for a more serious posting this time. Well, again.

Here's links and more information about Zanzibari festivals!

But back to last weekend and Jahazi. This year was the second year for Jahazi Literary and Jazz Festivals. Everything happend right here in Stone Town, which I of course greatly appreciate. During the day time there were many different discussion and reading sessions, workshops etc. Night time was reserved for jazz music from all over the world.

Now, the star visitors were Americans: Quincy Troupe, Jeffery Renard Allen and Tariq Ali. All very interesting people, but since this is a swahili culture blog, I will not write more about them. You can find someone else who does.

The two main swahili, Zanzibari even, authors were the poet Haji Gora and a writer Fatma Jinja. Both of them belong to the older generation, Gora being 70-something and Jinja 82. What's wrong with the younger writer generations? I think they are all out of the country. Zanzibaris of these days are not the most enthusiastic readers.

Haji Gora is a man whom everybody in Zanizbar knows. Especially those who still remember their school times, since his books and poetry are thought at school. This is because a) he's really good and b) he writes excellent classical swahili.

Gora on the right, Farouque on the left is translating.

Gora red some of his poems to the audience. To me as a Finnish person it was a surprise to hear him actually sing the poems more than reading them – it reminded me greatly about our Kalevala poems (also available in Swahili by the way). It turns out that Gora has a very specific rythm and form in his poems. Here, I'll give you a (very badly) translated example:

This poem is very metaphorical, for example this verse:

It is a secret inside a secret
The chameleon passed the car
When you consider this

In this poem, the chameleon represents women and car men. So nowadays women are the ones more advanced.

And this gives me a chance to talk about an advanced woman, mrs. Jinja. In the 60's she opened the first guesthouse in Zanzibar, Malindi Guesthouse. She was also in the frontline of entepreneuring women in her time, and still an inspiration to many. A mother of 10 who lost her father and husband around revolution times, she had to struggle to make her living.

Fatma Jinja on the right. Left is a Ugandan author Doreen Baingana.

At the age of 82, she's now writing her autobiography. She said it's finally a time for that, earlier she could not have done it - it would have been too sensitive subject for many. Now she plans to write down all of it – being a shirazi, the revolution, her view of president Karume. And here's the charm: this book will be in English.

At the same time, she's also still owner of a farm, anf of course a great grandmother of almost 30 children.

As a lighter ending I offer you some jazz, just like in Jahazi festivals. Here's Simon Spang-Hanssen and Rainbow Spirit from Denmark.

And as an extra surprise, a Zulu song :)

keskiviikko 22. elokuuta 2012

Ramadan kareem and Eid mubarak!

I'm a bit late with this one, since it's already the last day of Eid. But what can you do - first I wanted to experience it all, and then I was on a holiday.

This was my first Ramadan in Zanzibar. I was not quite sure of what to expect, and I was positively surprised. First of all, it's the most relaxing and quiet time. Usually I have to sleep with a lot of music coming through the windows, but during Ramadan I could finally sleep. Well, if you don't count in this tradition called dufu:

These musical groups are in the streets every night. The idea is to wake people up for daku, the late night meal which helps a lot when you're fasting. In this particular video you can also find out what happens if the drum brakes!

Every evening after magharib (west, since it happens during sunset) prayer calls people gather at home to have an iftar (meal) together. Later on during Ramadan it's usual to get invitations to other homes. For example, we ended up eating at family and friends on 8 nights.

When the end of Ramadan draws closer, everyone becomes a shopaholic and shops are open late at night. The tradition is that on the first day of Eid, everybody has a new set of clothes. Children get 4 sets of new clothes, one for each day of Eid. This is important, since it's gonna be the number one subject of discussion when the schools start again...

And then, finally, after 30 days of fasting, comes Eid. On the first day, you're supposed to meet family and friends.

Here we are, me and Khamis in our Eid clothes.
In the evening, children are the ones who have the most fun! All the little girls are dressed up and super happy. There's a huge ground full of stalls selling toys and candy. There is amusement, funny photography... and it's so dark that the teenagers have a possibility to date and meet. Unfortunately, due to the darkness, I cannot provide any photos.

Now everything is getting normal again. First day in the office. I already miss the meals when everyone sits together to eat the most delicious foods and milk tea.


Sufi tradition in Zanzibar – Maulidi ya homu

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Now it’s Ramadan month. But I will get to that later (with more experience about the subject). This time I want to tell about a performance I got to see twice just before Ramadan, which was lucky since the group doesn’t perform during the holy month.

Maulid ya home, sufian ceremony in Zanzibar
This sufian ceremony, Maulidi ya homu, is performed by men who chant, sing, dance and play drums. Songs tell about the sufian founder and about God. The whole experience is almost hypnotising as the ceremony starts from slower chanting growing into bigger and more animated performance.

After one of the performances, audience was asked what did they feel. Love and joy was the usual answer.

Maulid ya home performance in Zanizbar, Stone Town

This particular group has been practicing for long, as the skill goes from father to son. But not only – anyone interested is free to join the group. Maulidi ya homu group has rehersals every night, and the neighbours and others who are intrersted are free to come and see.

The cereomny has had some changes during time. Some say it used to be more serious, as now it’s actually very entertaining.

The group has some sponsors and gets paid for performing outside their own madressa (religious school), so the future of Maulid ya home looks bright at the moment!

Contact us to see a performance!

ZIFF has taken over Zanzibar!

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I’m happy to start this blog by writing about ZIFF, Zanzibar International Film Festivals. Our office in the Old Fort happens to be in the heart of all action, so I’ve got a close look on what’s going on.

Movie screening in the Old Fort

Firstly, this festival is huge. Besides that there are film screenings the whole day every day for 9 days, there are also music perfomances every night. So if someone decides to come next year to ZIFF, I’m sure you will find enough to see and do.

As a Finnish person, it was a pleasure to get a chance to watch Mika Kaurismäki’s Mama Africa with the mostly African audience. Besides for certain teenagers with their loud mobile phones, there was a great concentration and apllases in the high points of the movie.

Our office has never before been a more interesting place to hang out. It’s been used as a VIP lounge and a press room, so there have been people from all over the world, especially from Tanzania, Kenya and South Africa. And we got a chance to get some Hollywood glamour from the We The Party -movie promoters Mario Van Peebles and Michael Cohen.

Khamis from Colors of Zanzibar, actor-director Mario Van Peebeles and designer Farouque at the film forum

This year there is also lots of excitement around the local movie productions and there was a discussion forum on how to make Zanzibar a more appealing filming location and also how to boost local movie industry. Did you know that the Dar es Salaam movie industry, called Bongowood, has been growing extremely fast? There is nowadays a new movie almost every day!

The thing is, movie industry is still in a very early stage here in Tanzania as there is no proper education provided in Tanzania, and funding is difficult to get. The money comes now from DVD sales, but the DVD prices are very low to avoid piracy. But now a pay-TV called Zuku has promised to stand up and start broadcasting local movies.

Here is one small example of how the local movies here look like:

So this years’ festival has been great, and there is still more to come on saturday and sunday. Those of you who didn’t make it this year, make it next year then!

Colors of Zanzibar provides special packages made for ZIFF visitors, and there is always a possibilty to have a tailor-made holiday including ZIFF. And you East Africans, you should definetely visit this and enjoy the culture of your own district!

Shilole performing in the Old Fort