I got so used to seeing amazing beasts from the car on safari that I was still looking for cheetahs when we drove from Zanzibar Airport to Stone Town! Alas, no! The traffic jams were no longer a sign of wild animal sightings but the real thing. However, if there is a city vibe that will spark up the senses, it is found in abundance in Stone Town, the old quarter of Zanzibar City. Some places just have it. Kathmandu, Bandaneira, Jodhpur, Cochin, and Mrauk U immediately come to mind.
Welcome to Zanzibar
Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous region of Tanzania, a small archipelago in the Indian Ocean. The main island, also known as Zanzibar, is famous for its white sand palm fringed beaches, the atmospheric historic city of Stone Town, and competes for the title of Spice Islands with the Maluku islands of Indonesia. It is a center of Swahili culture, the mingling of Bantu, Arab, Persian, and Indian people on the Indian Ocean trade routes. Sounds like a place we would love!… Read more
Safari lodges try to portray themselves as oases of calm amid all the intense activity of a safari. However, it is a little difficult to chill when the room service book contains information on the following:
- What to do when baboons approach you.
- What to do in the event of a scorpion sting.
- How to call up your armed guard to escort you to the restaurant.
- Information on the mating rituals of scorpions.
- How to catch tsetse flies and identify them using your binoculars.
- What to do if a snake enters the room. (You will be relieved to know that the hotel will switch rooms for you if they cannot find the snake).
No mention of lions, leopards, or cheetahs. Maybe the hotel has made its point after mentioning the snakes. Its a jungle out there. Well, a grassland. Thank you Mbalageti Serengeti Lodge for making the stay seem scarier than going for a pee out in the park!
The lodges, of course, have plenty of the deadliest animals on the planet. People. In all their miserable glory. Bitching about the food, the service, the rooms, color of the sunset. I sometimes wonder why some people bother leaving their houses. … Read more
Pay your respects to the vultures
For they are your future
-Coil, Amethyst Deceivers
Everyone in the Serengeti wants to see a kill. This is somewhat ironic given that most meat-eating humans prefer not to know how their food lived and died before being served up in hygienic packaging. But “Did you see a kill?” was a constant refrain on the trip from our fellow in-humans.
In these vast plains of teeming wildlife, the odds seemed pretty good. There are plenty of meat eating cats and dogs. Plenty of herbivores provide the meat. However, the Serengeti is surprisingly clean of carcasses. It’s rare to see a rotting corpse, or a pile of cleaned off bones, never mind a kill close up. The reason for the apparent cleanliness? Vultures! Watch the vultures and you see our future. A rabble of squawking beasts polishing off the leftovers of the apex killers. Follow the vultures and find the dead. … Read more
The animals always grab the headlines when it comes to blogs about Tanzania. But let’s hear it for the astonishing landscape too! The jewel in the crown of Tanzania’s topography is the vast crater known as Ngorongoro. The 100 square mile crater formed when the volcano erupted and collapsed in on itself. The crater floor is at 5900 feet above sea level, surrounded by high walls that help protect the dense wildlife population. The palpable sense of otherworldliness or ‘out of time-ness’ was tangible. … Read more
‘The horror! The horror!’
Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision, –he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath–
‘The horror! The horror!’
(Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness)
Yep, that was me as we walked through the door of the Ilboru Lodge in Arusha, Tanzania and all my fears (and snobbery) about package tours smacked me on the nose. Before us was an assorted bunch of sun-blasted, blobby tourists lying on sun loungers sipping cocktails, or worse, donning grass skirts and giddily wobbling to warbling local riddims. Local fellas were doing cheesy acrobatic routines while asking for tips. One minute in and I was feeling queasy. I put it down to the thirty hours of flying and sloped off to the room post-haste.
A Year Earlier
“So, I want to take you kids on the holiday of a lifetime. I will pick up the tab.”
So began the conversations with Laura’s mother that eventually landed us along with her sister Kelsey in Tanzania in June 2018. Mama unexpectedly came into … Read more
I doubt there is a more relaxed tropical island in the world than Arborek, a tiny pancake-flat beauty fringed with palms and surrounded by stunning azure blue waters. Metaphorically and physically speaking, this is as far away from Bali as you can get in Indonesia. No cars, no motorbikes, no tacky drunk Australians, no five star resorts, and no erupting volcanoes. My family in the UK were slightly panicked since Gunung Agung on Bali erupted while we were in Indonesia. We were more than 1000 miles away and blissfully unaware of flying lava and freaking out family!
Arborek is less visited than the Raja Ampat islands closer to Waisai. Many tourists give it a miss because of the relative expense of the boat ride from Gam, Waigeo, or Kri. At most they take a day trip. We think most tourists are making a big mistake! This island is an absolute must-see.… Read more
You have three travel options to choose from when thinking about a trip to Raja Ampat in Papua, Indonesia. The high-end choices are typically liveaboards or deluxe dive resorts. The mid-range would put you in a very comfortable dive resort. The cheapest option is one of the hundred-plus rustic homestays dotted all over the archipelago. We opted for 6 days in the fantastic mid-range Biodiversity Eco Dive Resort and 8 days in 3 different homestays across the archipelago.
If you dive or want to learn to dive, plus you want more certainty over your trip, and you can afford it, then there is no better experience than checking into one of the dive resorts. There will be a high degree of comfort and excellent food. The diving trips will be run by trustworthy and dependable operators. Pre-trip communication, whilst not exactly fast, will be easy and your trip is likely to go as planned.
If you have plenty of time and are short on cash, then stay in homestays. If you wish to dive you can drop into Biodiversity and see if they can take you (albeit at a high price). Otherwise, you can chance it with one of the … Read more
Come Home, Get Back on the Trail
I am always traveling. That is what restless, intelligent, and curious people do. When I tell people ‘I have spent the last year and a half traveling’ I feel a little disingenuous. Why? Because, when I am at home I am always looking for a new adventure. I always want to hit the road when I am not working. In essence, I feel like we are always traveling.
We are eternally thankful that when we left London we decided to live in Washington State. It really is one of the most gorgeous places on Earth and curiously under-traveled. This is a shame. There is so much to do here. So, we will be your gateway. We will continue blogging about our travels at home and, hopefully, persuade a few more to check out this magnificent corner of the world.
First up, our lovely 5-day backpack to Whatcom Pass, Tapto Lakes, and Copper Ridge in the North Cascades National Park in late August. I won’t bore you with the tiny details. There are plenty of excellent trail guides to the region. But, I will try my damnedest to inspire you to go!
… Read more
The Last Post
This is the last post recording our travels on our 2015 – 2016 Asian odyssey. I can be thankful that I can type these last lines staring out of our Seattle apartment on a clear sunny day with views of the magnificent Mount Rainier. But, with the maelstrom of a miserable election campaign washing over us I pine for those quieter and simpler times.
But, hey, winter’s coming and you are looking for a beautiful tropical place to sit back, get some rays, and unwind. Well, I have two wonderful places for you to contemplate. Jeez, even looking at these photos is chilling my ass the f#*@k out!
May I introduce the fantastic and mostly unspoiled islands of Malenge and Bolilanga in the Sulawesi region of Indonesia. If you are looking for stunning coral, astonishing marine life, soft white sand, tasty but simple food, and zero connectivity then this is the place for you. The islands are a pain in the ass to get to (for now). But, that’s why they are unspoiled.… Read more
A contrarian’s guide to snorkeling and diving when you are scared of the deep
Just over a year ago, I refused to jump into the deep end of my local swimming pool despite the presence of three lifeguards. Just six months ago, I was deeply apprehensive about swimming over a coral drop off despite wearing a life vest. So, how did I fall in love with the ocean and end up scuba diving in the notorious currents of Komodo?
I am here to tell you that if I can learn to swim, snorkel and dive, then anyone can. Like many things in life, motivation and persistence are required. Oh, and it helps to be on a tropical beach with crystal-clear water and a fabulous coral reef.
Read on to find out how I went from being scared of deep water to plunging into the depths, and why you can and should too.
Why didn’t I learn to swim?
I have plenty of reasons (read: excuses) why I steadfastly avoided learning to swim. My school didn’t have a swimming pool or dedicated swimming program. When my dad took my brother and sister swimming on Saturdays, I played soccer. At college, swimming … Read more