abandoned palace, bunny rabbits, chipsi mayai, classic mzungu, cycling adventures, dining under the stars, great food, Lake Victoria, Mwanza, tanzania, The ferry takes forever, Ukerewe, weird introductions, weird palm tree obsession
Last weekend I and some others went to Ukerewe (U-key-rey-wey), an island about 45km from Mwanza. It’s actually the largest island in Lake Victoria (and the largest inland island in Africa). We got to the ferry dock (there are several) early and I decided to buy the tickets for everyone since the queueing system here consists of shove in and squeeze up to the front. I let another mzungu go ahead of me since he was technically ‘before’ me, and we actually ended up spending our time on the island with him, his girlfriend, and the German couple who were with them. After a harrowing transaction (they didn’t spell anyone’s names right and thought Steph was a man), we got onto the boat. The tickets cost 6,000tsh per way ($3.80).
The ferry is incredibly slow, so it takes about three and a half to four hours to get to Ukerewe. We sat inside the cabin at first (there’s two levels, the ‘second class’ where it’s more crowded and there is also cargo, and ‘first class’ which is a room with a tv and the same seats, but more space). Steph stayed outside for the entire trip, though I tried to read a bit on my e-reader. I finished reading a short Icelandic Saga (The Story of Gunnlaug Worm-Tongue and Raven the Skald (ebook link)) and started on the Prisoner of Zenda (ebook link), which is a fairly gripping read. I also had breakfast, which was two sort of moist/fatty ‘cakes’ whose texture reminded me of crumpets, and really hot, really strong, sweet black tea (800tsh/$0.50). After reading some more for a while I had a bit of a headache, so I headed out onto the deck (a narrow passage really) and sat with Steph for a little while, then returned inside to read.
We finally arrived at Ukerewe and we filtered off the ferry, forming a group with the other mzungus (wazungu is the proper plural, fyi), and walking to the hotel we stayed in (25,000tsh/night, but we divided it by three people – $15.85). It was called the Monarch Resort and it was pretty good. The room was probably about of the same standard as the Survey Motel in Dar, where I stayed in April.
Then, before we went around the island, we decided to stop for lunch and had the usual wali na maharage (rice and beans), though we also had chapati (all in all, 2000tsh/$1.27). It was ok, but I feel like we were overcharged as a group of nine mzungu, since the price on the board on the wall was different. After lunch, we went and chose our bicycles to go on a massive Tour D’Ukerewe, and we ended up hiring the guide, despite our initial reluctance to (5000tsh/person for two days – ). We road out of Nansio, the town, and into the countryside, as we decided to visit the old chief’s palace, which was about an hour’s ride away. The paved roads are not bad to ride on, though the bicycles we did have were very old, single-speed city style bikes with terrible brakes. Mine definitely needed its tyres inflated.
It was a beautiful ride, though rather hilly, and I alternated between enjoying the beautiful scenery and drinking in the pleasure of a countryside ride to worrying about hitting sandy or bumpy spots in the dusty dirt roads. We stopped several times to allow others to catch up, and once to have the tube changed in a bicycle. We were all very hot – we had to buy more water, but it wasn’t terribly expensive (1000tsh/1.5L- $0.63). After a little bit longer, we finally arrived at the old chief’s palace, which hadn’t been inhabited since the eighties, though it seemed that the caretakers, despite what our guide said, still lived in one or two rooms on the ground floor. There was one room which had the drums and the chief’s seat. The guide described to us the culture and governance on Ukerewe before 1961 (when Tanzania became a country) – the chief had absolute power and could take whatever he wanted. Each drum had a different meaning – the biggest drum was a call to assembly, another was to say the chief was poorly so that the populace should come and wish him well, and yet another was a call to war. There were even two which represented that the population should honour the chief’s mother’s family (one drum) or the chief’s father’s family (another drum). He invited us to sit on the chief’s stool, and only I and Jenny did. I tried to look serious.
After that, we went upstairs, which only seemed to be inhabited by bats. The smell was atrocious, and a bat flew into Achsah’s hair. There was some old furniture and other household items piled on the balcony as well. We all preferred to do this bit rather quickly given the guano-smell and general unpleasantness of the upper floor. We were also told that the house was designed and built by an Italian architect in the 1920s though we were not really certain as to how much of the original was left. Also the caretaker asked us all for some money for the house (I doubt they’re spending it on bat control…), so we each gave 500-1000tsh ($0.32-$0.68)
The ride home was a bit better, though parts were also difficult, due to the fragmented nature of the dirt roads. Some parts had massive holes in and would have been impassable by car – though we saw very few cars on the island. We stopped about halfway home at the oldest church on Ukerewe, one built in the 1880s by German missionaries. It was very nice, and had that reverent feeling that older churches have inside, a sort of heaviness in the air.
After that we headed home – the last stretches of dirt road were awful, and the axle within the crank-pedal-structure of my bicycle snapped or cracked, so my top speed was limited even more than before. We finally made it to the paved road, and I sped down a hill ahead of everyone else and almost made it to the top of the next hill but decided to wait since the others were walking. We made it into town just as the sun was setting, returned the bicycles, and went for dinner (which we had to order when we arrived in the morning – it takes a long time to cook). I had roasted chicken and ugali, whereas the others had grilled tilapia which was quite nice. We also had some Konyagi with bitter lemon, which was nice, but I only wanted one. I met a French woman, Adele, who was travelling around on her own. She reminded me of my aunt, Andrée, not just because she was French-speaking, but because of her spirit – there was something similar in her character. It made me think that once I return to Canada, that I must go and visit, and I know that I will likely have time. We ate and drank under the stars, which were incredibly clear. Jack (the man I met at the ferry docks) saw a shooting star. I hoped that I would see one soon too.
We all went to bed, which was interesting, since I was sharing with Steph and Shannan. We had one big bed, and we all sort of squeezed in. I slept by the wall, Steph in the middle, and Shannan on the edge, since she gets up fairly often in the night. Every time she got up, Steph and I would wake up, adjust position, and fall back asleep. Steph doesn’t remember all of the times, but I do. We woke up early in the morning, having decided the night before it would be better to take a hike and see the tall rocks rather than take the morning ferry.
We had breakfast, which was pretty good, and I walked to the shore where we’d eaten before to take a few photographs.
We all paid up at the hotel, since they wouldn’t let us check out after returning. We also paid 3000tsh ($1.90) for the daily bike rental, which wasn’t so bad. We set off, carrying all of our things (I only have a big rucksack, so I looked extra ridiculous).
It was a very nice walk, though children kept following us. We had an escort, I suppose, for most of the way. Sometimes it would be a bit unpleasant, because the children would ask for money, and it seemed like it was the only thing in English they knew. They grabbed at some of our bags, and I had to push one off. However, the rest of the walk was nice. We walked through a rural area, and saw many people getting ready for church (it was Sunday). There were also, interestingly enough, more cows than goats here, a definite difference from Mwanza, where I generally see more goats than cows.
We made it up to the rocks, escorted by many, many children and even some adults. We took a lot of photographs and enjoyed the view and the wind. The sun was in my eyes so in most photos I’m kind of squinting and look a bit grumpy… I tried to smile. Some of the others took some photos of the children (I took one but felt a little weird about it) and we showed them. My favourite ones were a group of older boys, who tried to look really tough in the photos, but when the photo was taken, they smiled and rushed to look at it. After spending some time up on the rocks, we started to descend with our (massive) escort of children and adults. They were all dressed rather smartly, since after we parted from them on the road, they headed for church (to which we were invited, but we had to make the 2 o’clock ferry). There are way too many photos of me.. I should have brought my DSLR to take better photos.
We took a slightly different way back, and ran into some men harvesting oranges, who gave us loads of oranges for very little money. They were very sweet and juicy. I ate mine as we were walking and my hands and face got really sticky, but luckily we’d stopped by then, so I could get some wipes out of my bag and distribute them. We stopped actually, since the path ahead of us was flooded, so we had to make our way back to the main road (still dirt!) by walking on the top edges of rice paddies and then eventually through a dried out rice paddy itself. I got a bunch of scratches on my legs from brambles but otherwise it was ok. After arriving back at the hotel (where we could have apparently left our bags…), we had some Fanta passion (passion fruit flavour, which is amazing on a hot day).
Since the cooks at the hotel were a bit slow, we decided to have lunch elsewhere. We walked towards the docks and came across a place selling chipsi mayai, which is sort of an omelette with chips and vegetables in it, and went in. We ordered nine – one each – which I think was a bit overwhelming for them, since they had to send someone out for more eggs. Our waitress was drunk and smelled it. I bought two big bottles of water for 3000tsh ($1.90) but she didn’t come back with my change for ages. I kept asking for it and eventually she gave it me, though to be honest, I didn’t really want to take the slightly wet, smelly bills that she pulled out of her shirt. I used them almost right away to pay for the chipsi mayai. We ended up taking some away, though I had to use some bags I’d brought with me, since they didn’t understand. The worst part of it really was that I’d asked before how much each chipsi mayai was, and the waitress told me 1000tsh ($0.68) but when we paid her and went to leave, she said we each owed her 2000tsh ($1.27). We just gave her an extra 10000tsh ($6.34), which wasn’t quite another 1000 each, and left. We made it to the ferry just about on time.
The cabin was very, very hot. I thought it was just me. I tried to read, but I felt sleepy. I tried to sleep, but it was too hot. Some other people had sat in our row, so it was very crowded. I decided to buy a cola and some biscuits from one of the hawkers who come constantly through the cabin (800tsh/$0.50). Then I saw the others getting up to leave, so I decided to do the same and sit outside. However, I left my rucksack. I went back inside when someone mentioned seeing a child peeing on the floor of the cabin, but luckily my bag was dry, and I carried it outside and squeezed in by the Germans (Rainer and Dennis) and Achsah and Ashley. We had very little space, but at least we could sit outside. I read a bit, then had a really interesting conversation with Dennis. Then I read some more. I finished the Prisoner of Zenda ages ago, but I can’t remember now what I read afterwards.
We arrived in Mwanza and agreed to meet later for supper at Ryan’s Bay. Shannan decided to stay in to finish her assignments, and the power went out. I felt bad for her. Steph and I headed for Ryan’s Bay, and I met there many new people. I spoke most of time with Tom, who was a doctor training at one of the hospitals here. He was going back to the UK very soon. I had a burger with guacamole and bacon. It was pretty good, and exactly what I wanted. Many of the others had curries, but I am growing very tired of Indian food. Steph and I made our way home and fell right asleep.
I’ll write more about what we did this past week later, since this post took several hours to write and put together, since my Internet, while ‘fixed’ (more on that later), is still incredibly slow.