A Travellerspoint blog

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

semi-overcast 26 °C

Our flight from the Tanzanian capital to Arusha in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro was on a plane small enough to have flown inside an Airbus A380...
However, we had left behind the hot humid air of Dar-es-Salaam and were rewarded with fresh mountain air and vistas of blossoming bougainvillea and jacaranda...
It is always summer in this tropical land and the trees are laden with bananas, mangoes and all manner of fragrant blossoms. In contrast, the streets of Arusha are dusty and potholed and the numerous minibus drivers seem to rely on God to get them and their passengers safely to their destinations...
Although Arusha is Tanzania's third largest city, and centre of its lucrative tourist industry, the veneer of modernity is spread thinly over its crumbling streets.
There are some recently built stores and banks, and many expensive hotels, but much of the commerce takes place in the chaotic Central Market that has changed little from pre-colonial days. The shoe sellers still hang out their wares under the banyan trees...
The women still spend their days selling local fruits and vegetables under colourful umbrellas...
And the main market is crammed with all manner of goods. However, most foreigners here are like us – tourists on safari or trekkers heading up Mt. Kilimanjaro – so vendors have little chance of selling us baskets of dried fish or household wares...
Away from the city centre the modern buildings quickly dissolve into a mish-mash of humble adobe homes where, apart from cellphones and satellite TVs life carries on much has it has done for generations...
Arusha market has probably changed little since Ernest Hemingway came here in 1936
and wrote “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”. In the book, his main character, Harry, attempts to put his life back on track after living a life of sloth and luxury. A safari is supposed to bring him back to the virtues of hard work. We, on the other hand, are going on safari for the opposite reason - we are rewarding ourselves with a little sloth and luxury after a life of hard work. Harry had an accident, contracted gangrene and died – and that seems a very good reason for us not to follow his path.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Tanzania so far is its people.
This was our first sighting of handsome Maasai warriors in flowing robes as they strode purposefully through Arusha...
And we met this statuesque young woman as we walked back to our hotel on the edge of the city...
Reda has a face and physique that would catapault her to the pages of Vogue and have her gracing the catwalk at any Parisian fashion show Yet here, in the shadow of Kilimanjaro, she is just a young unemployed women with dreams.

Posted by Hawkson 08:57 Archived in Tanzania Comments (3)

A First Taste of Tanzania

sunny 32 °C

This was us several years ago when we watched A380 super-jumbo jets being built at the Airbus factory in Toulouse, France, and today we took our first flight aboard one from London to Dubai. It was pure pleasure – spacious seating; more than two thousand movies and TV programs to watch, (including live U.K. Arabic and U.S. channels): and abundant refreshments for the 600 or so passengers.
Dubai airport was equally impressive and after a few hours wandering among some of the world's ritziest fashion, jewellery and food emporiums, we boarded our next flight to Tanzania.

The arrivals hall at Dar-es-Salaam airport has none of the glamour of Dubai but we have seen worse. The sparsely manned visa section was besieged by a lengthy snake of hot and cranky foreigners eager to gain an entry permit, while we simply sailed through with visas previously obtained in Canada. The ancient baggage belt could barely cope with a plane load of returning locals weighed down by enormous bags and boxes of everything the Middle East has to offer and we had to wait awhile for our puny 13 kilo suitcases. Once they had arrived we cleared customs and set off in our hotel's minibus through the city's clogged streets.
As in most third world countries, almost anything can be bought on the street in Tanzania and as we inched our way from one set of traffic lights to the next we were importuned by a procession of hawkers - a meandering mobile department store, weaving its way on foot through the slow moving traffic with an incredible range of goods on hand. Sellers of hardware, haberdashery, cleaning products and small electrical appliances were interspersed with a plethora of food vendors laden with bags of nuts, crisps and snacks of all kinds, while ice-cream merchants pedalled their wares up and down the traffic lanes on trikes – if only we hadn't left our camera in the luggage compartment of the minibus!.
However, we are now in our hotel in the heart of the city, (watching CNN as the first of Trump's band of villains does the perp walk), and we can show you the view across the city and harbour from our room...
There are no lions, elephants or giraffes in this thoroughly modern city, but tomorrow we fly to Arusha on the edge of the Serengeti to begin our safari, Things will be different there!

Posted by Hawkson 11:06 Archived in Tanzania Comments (4)

London: Next Stop - Africa

semi-overcast 15 °C

As another sun-filled summer slips gently into a soggy autumn we are once again getting ready to leave our paradise island. We, like all voyageurs, travel to exotic places so that we can marvel at all the wonderful things we simply ignore at home: wonderful things like the spectacular vistas of ocean, mountains and forests that we see daily from our cliff top home...
In a few days time we will be roaming the Serengeti plains and Great Rift Valley of Tanzania in search of lions, zebras, giraffes and a host of other wild creatures. But we too have a wild side in British Columbia and this summer we explored a number of neighbouring islands. British Columbia is four times the size of the United Kingdom but it has a total population of less than 5 million - more than half of whom live in the Vancouver area. It is not surprising therefore that most of our province looks like this...
Cougars, elk, moose and bears of many kind rove freely through the numerous thickly forested mountain ranges and islands of Canada’s west coast, while the surrounding Pacific ocean is home to whales, sea lions, seals and fish of many species. The sea lions have returned from their summer fishing grounds and, while we frequently spy the sea life from our home, we rarely spot other wildlife - apart from the many doe-eyed deer that thrive on everything in our garden, and the raccoons and squirrels that raid our birdfeeders,

We’ve had a busy year starting in Sri Lanka, Thailand and China. We then spent a few weeks in the spring visiting the stately homes of southeast England where we spotted this magnificent wild pheasant...
There is nothing wild about the manicured gardens of England’s aristocrats. Lush landscapes surround many of the great mansions that are now administered by the National Trust, like these at Wakehurst Place...
We also visited Winston Churchill’s home at Chartwell; the boyhood home of General Wolfe (the man who trounced the French on the Plains of Abraham to secure Canada for the Brits); the famous gardens of Sissinghurst; and the splendid rhododendron groves of the 600 year old Scotney Castle...
The endless blue skies and warm ocean winds of summer drew us back to Canada’s west coast and we wiled away the days with visits to Victoria and Vancouver. Here we are on the ferry to Vancouver..
Every year we attend Shakespearean performances and the International firework festival in English Bay, Vancouver...
Now we are back in London en route to our next adventure, but anyone visiting London at present will be disappointed to see its most recognizable icon swathed in scaffolding...
Internet connection is not great on the Serengeti Plain but we hope you will be able to join us shortly as we take a walk on the wild side of Tanzania. .

Posted by Hawkson 05:22 Archived in England Comments (8)

Zaijian China

sunny 22 °C

The sun has come out to welcome us back to Hong Kong as we make our way home...
While Hong Kong may have officially been part of China for the past 20 years there's still plenty of reminders of its days in the British Empire. There is a Marks & Spencer's store in every mall; ancient trams bearing ads for Holland & Barrett rattle along the streets ; and you can take a double-decker to the seaside at Aberdeen or Stanley...
Hong Kong is bursting with deep-pocketed tourists and wealthy Chinese who've slipped over the border in search of genuine luxury goods. However, in this part of the world you can't be certain that anything is the real McCoy. One Hong Kong retailer very seriously offered James a “Genuine handmade fake Rolex.”

As this is our last blog of this trip we thought we would mention a few things that might really surprise you about China.

Unlike one recently elected president, most Chinese are very environmentally conscious and are well aware of the need to improve air and water quality. Electric cars, scooters and bikes are fast becoming the norm...
China's public toilets, which used to be as sanitary as typhoid fever, are now spotlessly clean, easily found and always free. The Guangzhou Metro service even posts maps showing where to find the loo at each underground station...
All transportation is fairly inexpensive in China. There are thousands of miles of multi-lane toll highways with impressive bridges and tunnels, but don't expect anyone to stop for you at a pedestrian crossing. The cars and buses are as good as anywhere in the West, although some of the farmers' vehicles were kicking around in the days of Mao...
The vast network of high speed rail lines is truly impressive, with world class stations and sleek bullet trains – be prepared to be wowed at more than 300 kilometres an hour.

China is generally a very clean country with an army of roadsweepers and garbage collectors keeping public spaces spotless. As for hygiene: The food isn't always appealing to us westerners, but the food handlers certainly are. Plastic gloves, hairnets and sneeze-guards are the norm and the chefs' uniforms are usually spotless...
While some food prices are lower than in the west they have increased considerably since our last visit. You might still get a bowl of noodles or some dumplings for a couple of bucks in a local cafe, but you can easily pay upwards of fifty dollars a head for dinner in a classy restaurant...
China isn't cheap today, (unless you are willing to rough it), and hundreds of millions of nouveau-riche Chinese have embraced the soft life. Hotel rooms and beds are huge and very comfy and the luxurious bed linens the envy of all. But when it comes to coffee the Chinese are getting hosed. The smallest Starbucks drip coffee will set you back some $7 Cdn and local coffee shops aren't much cheaper.

Despite English language being mandatory in schools most folk aren't willing to give it a go in public. Luckily for us Sheila had enough Mandarin to get us through, but almost all Chinese have a smartphone with a translate app so communication is rarely a problem today – although the results can sometimes be a little confusing...
In short: today's China is clean, easily navigated and a fascinating country populated with friendly, helpful locals who will almost certainly want to be pictured with you. The Chinese are, in general, a happy, noisy, fun loving bunch who adore their families and are kind to strangers and want nothing more than world peace and a comfortable life. In short – the Chinese are just like us.

So, zaijian to China. We will be back. And goodbye to our friend Christine and to you dear blog reader. We look forward to your company next time on Blissful Adventures when we hope to introduce you to yet more beautiful and amazing places in our wonderful world.
Farewell for now from us and from our many Chinese friends...
See you soon.

Posted by Hawkson 21:33 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (13)

Dinner on the Orient Express

overcast 27 °C

It is no surprise to us that China is full of surprises, but even we were amazed to be having a full blown haute cuisine dinner on board the Orient Express in Guangzhou...
When we left our 'family' on the banks of the Yulong River in rural Yangshuo for the modern city of Guangzhou we entered a sophisticated world of bullet trains and futuristic railway stations, of snazzy shopping malls and fancy hotels.
However, in the midst of this bustling ultramodern city of 16 million on the banks of The Pearl River in southeast China there is an island of calm. The island of Shamian is home to many historic buildings erected by banks and foreign trading companies during the early part of the 20th century when Canton, (as it was then known), was a conduit for trade between China and the rest of the world..large_1-P1110829.jpg.
And nestled in a mansion's tropical garden, surrounded by orchids and banana palms, is an original Orient Express railway coach that once carried well-healed passengers from London and Paris to Venice...
The food served in this historic dining car is absolutely superb. We had breast of duck, cassoulet and grilled prawns – all so superbly cooked, exquisitely presented and professionally served that we would have sworn that we were dining in the most exclusive Parisian restaurant...
Guangzhou, like many Chinese cities, is a conundrum. On the one hand it is as modern and chic as any western city. The young Chinese professionals dress elegantly, dine extravagantly, and leave their Mercs, BMWs and Audis lining the streets...
But just across the road from the Orient Express is a vast hospital devoted entirely to treating people using traditional Chinese methods and it is surrounded by a teeming market of hundreds of stores selling ingredients for traditional remedies...
Herbal medicines by the sackful may appear out of place to us in the 21st century, but judging by the amount and variety on sale here here there are no shortage of believers...
There are huge amounts of dried fruit, flowers, leaves and bark, but most popular seem to be dried fungi and mushrooms, along with all manner of antelope horns which have been sliced, diced and pulverized in a dozen different ways. Dried seafood of many kinds may cure any number of ailments but we couldn't figure out what we should do with a few thousand seahorses...
Guangzhou is still known as a major trading centre and this is where the world comes to buy all manner of manufactured Chinese products in bulk. Today is our last day in China so we will be hitting the shopping malls in search of a Chinese trinket or two for our friends back home – anyone need a genuine plastic back scratcher or two?

Posted by Hawkson 18:46 Archived in China Comments (8)

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