The day we ran into Anthony Bourdain….(albeit with some reservations)

….was the day Israel began to bomb the hell out of Lebanon in earnest, in July 2006.

Huz was on a ‘mission’, and Amu and I tagged along as I was very eager to see what all the fuss was about as far as Beirut was concerned, ‘Paris of the East’ and all that jazz. Not to mention the taouk sandwiches that Huz raved about from the last couple of times he’d been there.

Needless to say, I fell in love with the place, and most of all, the people. The Lebanese are just gorgeous if you ask me. Beautifully skinned, beautifully dressed (skimpy for women for a country in the Middle East, I thought) and I loved the way they spoke Arabic…and French. Hearing my own name being pronounced by an Arabic speaker was pure pleasure, and considering I wear my heart on my sleeve, I merrily proceeded to fall in love at the drop of a hat.

One of the first things that floored me was the chivalry exhibited by the men. Though they are notoriously bad drivers, I found that if I was standing by the side of a road looking to cross, they would actually slow down, or even stop altogether, smile and nod courteously for me to walk across.the road. It was the most beautiful thing, especially for someone coming from a place where men actually SPEED UP to scare the living daylights out of pedestrians, women in particular. I guess Pakistanis are chivalrous in other ways. 😛

Out of the three weeks we were supposed to stay in Beirut, ten days were spent in a leisurely way, for Amu and I at least. We stayed at a hotel called the Monroe, and every morning we accompanied Huz downstairs for breakfast, waking up rather early for vacation timings, just so he wouldn’t have to eat alone. Breakfast was a simple spread of labneh, Manakesh with zaatar, foul mudammas (pronounced ‘fool’ , though there was nothing foul or foolish about it!) and of course the other non-Lebanese generic things that hotels serve up at breakfast, that I had largely no interest in.

The highlight at the breakfast table was the fact that we were served by the most handsome waiter you’d ever see, and predictably, he was my first Lebanese crush and I called him Bond….James Bond….

The second was the young lifeguard/instructor/attendant at the pool. He was curious about my Arabic-sounding name, and was stunned to see how much Urdu resembled Arabic in script when I wrote it on a piece of paper for him. I, in turn, was awfully flattered that he thought Amu was my little sister. It is uplifting to be surrounded by so much eye candy, I thought to myself, as I swam and taught Amu how to float on her back.

We managed to do quite a few things in those ten lovely days. There was Byblos close by, (Jbeil in Arabic) a Phoenician port city made historic by the presence of a Crusader castle and an ancient harbour. Nowadays it hosts an international music festival and is known as the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the world.

We took a trip to the Cedars, famous for the trees which are the national symbol of Lebanon. It was a long drive by bus, but not that long because Lebanon is such a very tiny country, punctuated by Nancy Ajram songs that everyone clapped and sang along to.

As far as Amu is concerned, Nancy Ajram wasn’t just the darling of the entire Lebanese male population but also the personification of her entire Lebanese experience, and I must say I now have an affinity for Middle eastern music that I never had before this trip.

On the way, we stopped at a place called Bsharri, where Kahlil Gibran, Lebanese American artist, poet and writer is buried, and his works exhibited in a Carmelite monastery turned museum, a haunting place. If only we’d had more time to stay and explore and see everything there.

There was also a stop in Tripoli, a city in the northern part of Lebanon, 85 km from Beirut, where a sweet shop by the name of Abdul Rehman Hallab is famously located. Huz and I floundered there, since no one spoke English, and we were the only foreigners on the bus. Somehow we managed to eat baklava and a very rich dessert called halawal jeben, made of cheese, semolina, water and sugar syrup, which all the Lebanese on that bus seemed to be devouring happily.

Another day we took a short day trip to the underground caves at Jeita. An eye-opening and surreally beautiful experience, and I’m so glad we got to see it. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed cameras inside, as all those flashes going off might damage the structures inside, or that’s what they said.

So the days passed happily, walking around Beirut, looking at bullet-ridden buildings in some areas, whereas other areas like downtown Beirut were beautifully renovated and the entire area resembled a European town square, with cobbled streets and quaint buildings. It was delightfully happening to be there especially because our trip coincided with the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and the cafes and outdoor restaurants were packed with people eating, drinking, smoking nargileh, and rooting for their favourites.

We got to eat lots of hummus (with meat too!) and tabbouleh and moutabbel, and falafel and taouk sandwiches by the dozen. The food was simply out of this world, though we found the restaurants to be quite pricey, but I doubt I have enjoyed the local food in any place that I have visited more than I did in Lebanon.

I loved it all.

But all good things must come to an end, though our time in Beirut was cut short in a rather dramatic way, when Hezbollah fired some rockets across the border at Israel, killed a couple of soldiers and captured two, an event that was marked with firing in the air by some triumphant Lebanese as we wandered around an amazing mall with a Lebanese friend.

Unfortunately, Israel retaliated by launching airstrikes and artillery fire against Hezbollah targets in Beirut as well as other places of Lebanon that left a lot of infrastructure badly damaged and killed 1200 people, mostly Lebanese civilians, and displacing approximately one million Lebanese and 300,000-500,000 Israelis.

The airport had been been hit as well, as was the main road connecting Lebanon to Damascus.

It was fortunate that we were there because of Huz’s UNIDO project, so we were assisted along with other UN employees and consultants to leave Beirut for a safer location outside of it.

We had to pack our things in a hurry and leave, and in our haste, I forgot the power cord of my video camera in the hotel room at the Monroe….

We were driven in a van to a pretty posh hotel called Le Royale, further down the coast., and soon after reaching there, as we sat around in the lobby, waiting to be accomodated, who did Amu and I glimpse as he walked to the other side of the lobby and went out a balcony…?

Anthony Bourdain!

‘Mama, isn’t that the man whose show you like watching on tv…the one who eats all those weird things?’ said Amu. And I think we must have high-fived each other, mentally at least, or with our eyes, and we debated what to do next.

Should we go over and meet him…..? My heart skipped many beats as, ultimately, I dared myself to walk over to the balcony door that separated him from the rest of us mortals…..

I couldn’t believe I was actually doing this!

But yours truly (Amu in tow) walked over to where Bourdain was sitting with two other men, and they looked over at us as we approached and smiled….

I introduced myself and told him how much I loved ‘No Reservations’, mentioning some of my favourite episodes and I wondered if he was doing a show on Lebanese food here…

He said that’s what they had been working on, and he was so disappointed that their plans had gone awry with this out of the blue war. He seemed a bit worried about how they were going to manage to get out of here, with the airport bombed. He figured they’d have to be rescued by sea…

I remember him asking what I was doing here, and how we intended to get out. I remember babbling a lot of nonsense in reply, firmly ensconced on cloud nine….

But I got a few pictures out of this episode, which are a treasure for me.

Also, the memory of him striding into the restaurant next morning and instructing the chef to make him, in that unmistakeable and oh-so-familiar voice…..”Two eggs. Sunny side up.” 🙂

at Le Royale 🙂

The acclaim surrounding Bourdain’s racy memoir, Kitchen Confidential, led to an offer by the Food Network to host his own food and world-travel show, A Cook’s Tour, which premiered on January 8, 2002. In July 2005, he premiered a new, somewhat similar television series, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, on the Travel Channel. As a further result of the immense popularity of Kitchen Confidential, the Fox sitcom Kitchen Confidential aired in 2005, in which the character “Jack Bourdain” is based loosely on the biography and persona of Anthony Bourdain.

In July 2006, Bourdain was in Beirut filming an episode of No reservations when the Israel-Lebanon conflict broke out. Bourdain and his crew were evacuated with other American citizens on the morning of July 20 by the United States Marines. Because of the unexpected conflict only a few hours of footage were available from the first restaurant on their agenda. Bourdain’s producers compiled the Beirut footage into a No reservations episode which aired on August 21, 2006. Uncharacteristically, the episode included footage of both Bourdain and his production staff, and included not only their initial attempts to film the episode, but also their firsthand encounters with Hezbollah supporters, their days of waiting for news with other expatriates in a Beirut hotel, and their eventual escape aided by a “cleaner” (unseen in the footage), whom Bourdain dubbed “Mr. Wolf” after the character portrayed by Harvey Keitel in Pulp Fiction. The episode was nominated for an Emmy in 2007.

How to keep one’s chin up when one misses one’s boat in Zanzibar

I still don’t know how it happened.

One minute we were sitting in an almost-deserted Forodhani Gardens, sipping cold drinks, chatting with a charming local trying to sell us some colorful scarves and watching the boats bobbing lazily in the water, and Lulu ben was waving a cheerful goodbye to the Kenyan-Indian couples and the toddler, strolling off towards the ferry dock. We could see it from where we sat and were assured that the ferry WE were supposed to board to get back to Dar had not yet arrived, though it was getting closer to 4 pm….

Forodhani...deserted..(photo taken by Tina)
(photo taken by Tina)

The next minute we were jogging as fast as we could, with sinking hearts, towards the ferry dock!

The guy selling scarves jogged alongside Tina, keeping our morale up as we tried not to panic, but as we reached the dock where people were boarding ferries…….we realised ours had just left!

Tina and I were hot, a bit the worse for wear, and completely crestfallen. Our husbands were expecting us back from our day trip by evening, and it seemed from the frantic conversation Lulu ben was engrossed in with a porter that we could either take the midnight ferry (which would travel very slow and get us back to Dar around 6 am )…..or we could catch a plane.

(photo by Tina)

The clouds had gathered, finally providing some respite from the glaring sun, but Tina and I trudged dejectedly behind Lulu ben, (both worrying about how irresponsible our husbands would think we were) back to the ferry office to try and get a refund at least, an exercise in futility. The office was closing and as we walked out of there, it suddenly started to pour…

Lulu ben was busy making phone calls under the shelter of a porch roof. As our guide, she felt responsible for getting us back to Dar without further ado….

The pouring rain turned out to be just a passing shower, and as we stood around waiting for instructions from a friend, it seemed like a great idea to have some more coconuts. A coconut seller with baskets heaped with tiny coconuts stood a little distance away, and Tina gestured to him to bring us a couple.

Once again, Tina managed to cast her spell, and by the time we’d had our fill of coconuts, the coconut seller had declared his love for her and asked her to marry him…

We walked away from there, Tina laughing heartily as the poor rejected suitor stared after us, and made our way back to the Old Dispensary, which also happened to house the ticketing office for the airline.

Tired, our arms aching from the weight of the things we had bought, including a couple of kilos of an interesting Tanzanian fruit which Lulu ben insisted I take home with me, we hailed a cab which sped us to the Old Dispensary, the driver keeping our things safe in the car while he waited for us to buy our tickets.

So our trip ended where it began…..the Old Dispensary.

It was funny how differently one feels at the beginning of an adventure compared to how one feels towards the end. Though it was an interesting twist in the storyline, nevertheless it was unsettling to have missed the ferry. On top of it, I felt bad for Tina that she didn’t get to have the beachy Zanzibar experience she had probably anticipated.

Tina and I being foreigners ended up paying twice as much for our tickets as Lulu ben, adding insult to injury. But our drive to the airport was pleasant and our cabbie was a decent, soft-spoken man, very polite and well-mannered, getting us there just in time for our flight.

I thought I must have looked frightful, my hair a mess, my face sunburnt, my white clothes stained brown with coconut water and some mysterious yellow blotches that appeared to have leaked from the bags of fruit I had been hugging to me as I ran…

the errant wives 😛

All’s well that ends well though, and I suppose we would never have witnessed the beautiful seascape between Zanzibar and Dar es Salam from the air, a ride that took us all of twenty minutes. We reached Dar around the same time as we would have if we hadn’t missed the blasted ferry.

sky, cloud
Dar coastline nears...

back! safe and sound.

Ah well, at least I managed to buy four colourful scarves for 10000 shillings before missing the boat 🙂

Stone Town in grayscale

We continued to wander around Stone Town after leaving Lulu ben’s place and saw some more beautiful buildings…

mosque premises



We walked through the fish market, which was full of interesting Indian Ocean sea creatures but which quite overpowered the olfactory senses.

fresh octopus
dried octopus

We wandered through the stalls laden with packaged aromatic spices, and I picked up packets of vanilla and cinnamon…some for me, some as gifts…

vegetables (the okra was/were huge!)
bananas? plantain?

The midday sun was making us very hot and the sight of coconuts being expertly sliced at a corner made us stop and have a few, despite Lulu ben’s concern about all of us needing a loo afterwards. They were deliciously cool and sweet, and we drank straight from the coconuts, quenching our thirst most delightfully, scooping out the soft, translucent flesh with spoons carved from the husk itself.

I could have easily had twenty of those little coconuts. Wish I could have taken pictures, but my hands were sticky and I was too preoccupied 🙂

We ate platefuls of something they simply call ‘Mix’, which is basically a concoction of fried lentil ‘bhajias’ soaked in a yogurt based curry, spicy and lemony, with a liberal sprinkling of crunchy crisps, made by an old Kutchi-Memon lady by the name of Sughra.

We chatted with two young Kenyan-Indian couples who had been on the same ferry as us in the morning and apparently had no hang-ups about being appropriately dressed in a conservative place. We laughed sympathetically as one of the couples dealt with their two yr old in the throes of a fizzy drink demanding tantrum.

We meandered through another part of Stone Town where there were quaint souvenir shops here and there and we stopped to peruse these before making our way over to the street that led to the ferry dock.

I spent too much time comparing prices of goods from one shop to the next (and they really DID vary rather dramatically at times) but Lulu ben and Tina (much to their credit) hardly betrayed any impatience. The only thing I ended up buying was a colourful painting of Masaai tribesmen which I haggled over rather satisfactorily, asked the shopkeeper to take it off the canvas frame and roll it up as fast as he could, walking out of the shop triumphantly, one souvenir richer, 15000 Tanzanian shillings poorer. Not a bad deal at all!

(It now hangs, nicely framed, on my living room wall.)


It was 3:35 as we walked out of Stone Town and made our way over to a deserted Forodhani in the afternoon. The ferry was to leave at 4 pm, so we bought some cold soft drinks and found a place to relax for a bit and enjoy the sea view before heading over to the ferry that would take us back to Dar…

(to be continued..)

Wandering around Stone Town

Once upon a time, Zanzibar was ‘one of the most important trading centres in the Indian Ocean region’, and Stone Town (or Mji Mkongwe as it is called in Swahili) was the capital of the Zanzibar Sultanate. It flourished with the commerce of spices and slaves.

Stone Town is a city of prominent historical and artistic importance in East Africa. Its architecture, mostly dating back to the 19th century, reflects the diverse influences underlying the Swahili culture, with a unique mixture of Moorish, Arab, Persian, Indian and European elements. For this reason, the town has been included in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in 2000.

Due to its heritage, Stone Town is also a major tourist attraction in Tanzania, and a large part of its economy depends on tourism-related activities.


April, 2011.

Lulu ben was born and bred and lived in Karachi until a man from Zanzibar proposed to her and she said yes, which is how Fate led her to an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, into a vertical house right in the middle of the crowded, narrow alleyways of the labyrinthine Stone Town. This is where she spent the next 20 years or so of her married life, raised a family of six children, and where her husband continued to stay and run his business from a shop under the house, even after she decided she could no longer bear the claustrophobia…

Now she lives in Dar es salam, all the children are married (save one who is due to be married next year) ….grandchildren abound.

She visits her husband in Zanzibar weekly, and it just so happened that she had Tina and I with her this time. He is recuperating from the shock of undergoing a major surgery recently, and Lulu ben made a beeline for her old house, weaving her way expertly through the alleys, pointing out some historically significant buildings along the way.

I clicked away, my shirt stuck to my back, juggling my bags, my cap and my camera. It was a super hot and very sunny day, and I wished I was wearing shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt instead of the ridiculous outfit I had chosen for myself for the expedition. I had heard that Zanzibar had more of a Muslim/Arab influence, so I thought I’d be better off erring on the side of conservatism.

The coraline rock of Zanzibar was a good building material, but it is also easily eroded.
This is evident by the large number of houses that are in a bad state of repair.
Several buildings have already been renovated and the Stone Town Conservation Authority has been established to co-ordinate the restoration of the town to its original magnificence.
Most of the houses that can be seen today were built in the 19th century
key feature of most buildings is large verandas protected by carved wooden balustrades.
and the doors...
The most well-known feature of Zanzibari houses are the finely decorated wooden doors
sometimes with big brass studs of Indian tradition

Two main types of doors can be distinguished: those of Indian style have rounded tops
some were decorated rather differently.
Lulu ben and I (photo courtesy: Tina)

We continued walking through the convoluted alleys, me stopping to click interesting views and things and getting lost periodically. I was scared once when I couldn’t figure out which lane Lulu ben and Tina had veered into in our search for the Anglican Church. A boy approached me and we exchanged jambos and he asked what I was looking for. I told him I was looking for the people I was with and he suggested I turn left and follow the road. I did as he said, doubtfully, feeling afraid of coming to a dead end where I would then be conveniently mugged. To my relief, as I turned a corner, I finally caught up with the ladies.

But it was a bit creepy…

Stone Town is a living, breathing heritage area, and people live and work here.

Most of the women cover their hair...
shops lined the streets, really clean by Pakistani standards...

Soon we reached Lulu ben’s house. We walked through a small shop that sold a variety of hair accessories and an assortment of other goods, manned by two very old, frail-looking ladies in ridas. They were Lulu ben’s husbands sisters, and she greeted them warmly as they smiled and welcomed us in.

It was really dark inside, and she told us to be careful on the steps as we went upstairs. It reminded me of being in one of those really old buildings in the old parts of Karachi….only different.

the landing..

I finally met the elusive Mr Lulu ben. His name is Saifuddin, and we found him sitting quietly by himself on a chair in his bedroom, lost in thought. Lulu ben met him affectionately and introduced us, and while they talked and caught up with each other, Tina sat on the edge of a bed while I looked around curiously. This picture on the wall caught my eye.

formally dressed and turbaned in sherwanis, a long time ago

She took us further up the stairs to show us the rest of the house and I found the layout to be so unusual…. and interesting. Lulu ben had often felt so cooped up here, especially with so many kids. It would get gloomy and stifling inside, I’d imagine.

She showed us the door which lead to the terrace roof, where she would get some light and some fresh air and I pictured her having tea while the kids ran around….

But the door was locked, so unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the view.

(to be continued…)

Making our way to Stone Town

If memory serves me right, tourists pay twice as much as locals do for a two-way ferry-ride to Zanzibar from Dar. When I talked about haggling in my previous post, I actually meant that Lulu ben (our kind tour guide) tried to pass me off as one of her daughters and Tina as a local Tanzanian rather than a Ghanaian. In cahoots with the friendly ticket agent, Lulu ben managed to buy us tickets for half-price. All we had to do was keep our mouths shut and try not to look like tourists.

So while Lulu ben marched onto the ferry waving to the people she knew and shouting a cheery ‘Jambo!’, Tina and I slunk by her side trying our darndest to blend in, I feeling a bit weaselly, thinking about the consequences if we got caught. My heart thumped in my throat as I handed my ticket to the guard for inspection and felt so relieved as he motioned me to pass through without even suspecting me to be anything other than a local Indian!

Lulu ben and I on the ferry, just before it left Dar

I couldn’t help feeling like a South Asian wallflower next to the impressive African-ness of Tina in her rust-coloured dreadlocks. Tanzanian men didn’t give me a second glance as I walked by, whereas Tina elicited much attention. They were drawn to her, and could tell she wasn’t from around these parts. They tried chatting her up in Kiswahili (which Tina cannot understand or speak) and tried to guess where she was from. It was fascinating to watch, and I was amused, and not at all resentful in my invisibleness, pondering the subtle variations between Africans. I guess Ghanaians are built differently from Tanzanians. In any case, Tina remained coolly aloof and enigmatic, and refused to indulge their curiosity.

The ferry ride was a lovely, relaxing experience once we got over the anxiety of cheating the system, and in two hours it was time to disembark.

As we walked over the ramp that connected the ferry to the dock, Lulu ben told me a story about a Bohri lady who returned from a 40-day Haj, only to fall off this very ramp into the deceptively deep water of the dock….and drowned. Horrified, I steered clear of the edge of the ramp and quickened my pace to get off as fast as I could. How depressing to die just minutes before reaching home after a long long journey…

There was a great hustle and bustle near the dock, and we walked towards the general direction of the main road, where the first building I clapped eyes on was this…

the Old Dispensary

The Aga Khan Trust for Culture restored the Old Dispensary, thereby conserving it, and it is now known also as the Aga Khan Cultural Centre. More about this building here.

Lulu ben marched up the steps and beckoned us to follow her. We walked in and looked around, and it was quiet, cool and empty inside, as I roamed around taking pictures…

inner courtyard

staircase leading up
terrace with a view
the beautiful balcony overlooking the street outside…
and the sea on the other side
Sultan of Zanzibar with some grumpy-looking cronies
As we wandered around inside, I came across this picture on the wall along with some history on the island of Zanzibar. Right across from it, there was a woman standing near a pillar with a tray full of assorted packaged spices. Cloves, cinnamon, pepper, nutmeg, vanilla pods……and lots more.
I stopped for a look and asked Lulu ben if I should buy from here rather than the Spice market and she looked at me, baffled, no doubt wondering why I’d be interested in buying spices of all things.  I decided to walk on and think about spices later……I was sure I’d come across them again….
All I knew about Zanzibar was a vague notion of there being an exciting spice market somewhere, and some spectacular beaches and beautiful resort hotels. At this point I still harboured the hope that I’d get to see it all before I left. 
How very silly of me.
Next post: wandering around Stone Town..

Islands and ferry-rides

Many of you may recall that I went along with Huz to Tanzania in March and wrote about parts of the trip here, here, here, here and here.

I just realized that I did not follow up on that series with some of the other expeditions I went on while there. Therefore, I shall immediately proceed to write another bunch of photo-rich posts (since y’all like those so much) and fill you in on all the other stuff….

Here goes.

April, 2011.

It was a hot, humid day in Dar es salam, Tanzania. Huz and Willem were to be off to work as usual, and Tina and I had decided to go to Zanzibar with Lulu ben for a day trip. Tina had heard so much about Zanzibar and how lovely it was that there was no way she was going back to Ghana without having seen the famous beaches there.

I wasn’t too sure about this trip. The ferry left the dock at 9 in the morning and it took 2 hours to get to Zanzibar. The return ferry left at 4 in the afternoon, so we would only get 4 hours or so to explore whatever we could, and it seemed there was no way we could go to Nungwi, where the lovely beaches were, and back in time for the ferry.

The only thing we could realistically manage to do was explore Stone Town, and judging by Huz’s stories (from previous trips he’d made alone) there was nothing very interesting to see there, except some very old, decrepit buildings.

But there was nothing better to do, so we decided to go ahead. Tickets were haggled over and bought by our Swahili-speaking hostess, Lulu ben, and soon we were on a ferry and on our way.

We sat on the carpeted floor of the uppermost deck, since all the seats were taken. It was really nice to get such a panoramic view of the Indian Ocean, blue and vast, as the mainland receded from view.

sky, sea
budding island...?
Tina and Kenyan kiddo
kiddo peruses magazine
my favourite picture 🙂

Tina played with a little Kenyan boy, whose parents watched smilingly as we entertained him. Lulu ben and I talked about her life in Tanzania, first in Zanzibar and then in Dar es salam, so far away from her parents in Karachi and all her sisters, and how her five daughters and one son became her entire world. She regaled me with interesting stories, and it felt to me as if she hadn’t had a conversation like this in a long long time…talking to someone from Karachi was refreshing for her, and I, of course, was delighted to listen 🙂

There was a friendly Canadian lady on the ferry who had been backpacking all over Africa and was now going to see Zanzibar. That’s her in the green blouse.

Somewhere along the way, the ferry made a perpendicularish turn from the Tanzanian coastline and made a beeline eastwards towards Zanzibar. Soon, another coastline appeared on the horizon, and I headed over towards the other side of the ferry to take some pictures.

more coastline

getting closer..
the water is very clean and blue as we approach the ferry dock....

Next post: Making our way to Stone Town…


I don’t think I ever grasped the concept of animals living wild and free (despite the evidence showcased by NatGeo)…..until we drove several metres into Mikumi. We weren’t even close to the entrance of the park when we saw these…


coming at us!
decide not to mess with us


Godfrey joked about our mission being accomplished, no need to spend money on the park, we could turn around and go back home now. 😀

The plan was to rent a lodge for the day and one night, rent a car and a guide, dump our bags, freshen up and go for a game drive. After the nitty-gritties had been taken care of, payments made, etc, we drove down some convoluted paths to the place we were to stay. On the way there was some excitement as we spotted an old lion sitting under a tree. ‘Simba!’ yelled Brian, and we watched as the lion yawned mightily, got up, and walked over to another shady bush.

Personally, I didn’t see the big deal in spotting a lion. I think zebras and giraffes are way prettier to look at. 🙂

The road to Mikumi-part 2

..contd from part 1….

Godfrey had been in a meeting with the president (!!!) all day and hadn’t had the chance to have lunch before picking us up for Mikumi. He had a headache, and I was glad I’d packed Panadol, a bag of salted cashews and Lays. The tea at his house did the trick, and he quietly crunched chips as he drove out of Dar es Salam, Brian strapped safely into the passenger seat where he promptly fell asleep, and Huz and me in the back seat.

I didn’t realise the city was so big. It took a pretty long time to reach the outer precincts and eventually a fork in the road. The perpendicular road led to Arusha….. (I almost stretched out my arm towards it….)

A policeman waved us down and motioned to Godfrey to stop along the side, and as he walked towards the car, my heart started thumping for some weird reason and my imagination went into overdrive.

He peered at Godfrey and asked him where he was going, glancing at us as he did so. Godfrey explained we were going to Mikumi. Then he asked who we were and where we were from. It was just a routine security check, but while he inspected our passports, Godfrey whispered that he was probably going to think of a way to get some money out of us. Sure enough, though he found no fault with our passports (much to his disappointment), he found it objectionable that Godfrey was driving around with just a photocopy of his drivers’ license and not the original. There ensued a discussion in Kiswahili, with Godfrey pooh-poohing the policeman’s half-hearted contention and sticking to his ground until he realised there was no way he could intimidate Godfrey into giving him anything. Not understanding any of it, I relaxed only when we were waved off and moved on, none the poorer.

The road was long and as we were in Anna’s car, we had to choose from her CD’s for road music. Apparently she liked ballads and romantic songs so we alternated between Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie as we whizzed along the highway, and though it was dark except for the car headlights, I could make out the shapes of trees on both sides. I was lulled into dozing, but opened my eyes every now and then to check the time or to listen to the conversation between the men, and occasionally put in my two-bit. It turned out that Godfrey would pick up Anna on the way, from a place called Morogoro, a small town about an hour and a half away from the park. And there was yet another change of plan. Though we had special permission to get into the park AFTER the gates had closed for the evening, we were told that it would be unsafe to reach there after 11 o’ clock since the generators were turned off then. So now we would have to spend the night at Morogoro.

By this time, I was feeling thoroughly adventurous, and every new development brought a thrill. I was hurtling through space in the middle of the Tanzanian countryside, unable to get a grasp of my surroundings because of the darkness, but it didn’t matter. The only thing familiar was ‘Say you, Say me’ and ‘Endless Love’, and of course Huz sitting next to me. I put my hand in his and smiled in the dark. Staring ahead through the windshield, I noticed a strange glow up ahead and suddenly we were engulfed in…..

……FOG….! The world turned phantasmagoric and I imagined I saw luminous eyes of strange beasts through the tall grass……fireflies were flashing around and playing tricks with my head.

I marvelled at the road. It was a smooth drive without even a single bump, and Godfrey drove fast, covering the distance between Dar and Morogoro rapidly. Even so, I think it took us a little over four hours to reach the town. That’s about twice as long as it takes to reach Hyderabad from Karachi….and I find THAT to be too long.

Godfrey called up Anna to find out where she was and we made our way over a potholed side road to find her standing with two people outside a guesthouse. She got in the front seat and settled the now awake Brian onto her lap, said goodbye to her friends and we set off to look for a place to spend the night in.

I’m not sure anymore, but I think the hotel we found to stay in was called ‘Morogoro Hotel’ (well, let’s just call it that.) Felt great to get out of the car and stretch my legs in the parking lot, and we collected our bags and made our way over to the reception, behind the desk of which was a rather disconcerting sight of predator and prey.

scuttling off with moth in mouth!

We were assigned separate rooms, Godfrey’s family and us, and we walked through a tubelit inner courtyard to get to the building that housed the rooms for rent, with a plan to meet again in a few minutes for a quick dinner. It was eerily empty, and our footsteps echoed along the corridors that afforded some further peculiar sights….

took this pic in the morning before we left....the solitary sewing machine in the middle of an empty space just HAD to be remembered 🙂

An attendant led the way and transported our bags and unlocked a door for us off an empty corridor.

took this one before leaving too

A very basic room, and a far cry from the luxuries of the Kempinski, but really neat and clean…I realised it’s been a long time since I stayed at a cheap hotel…..but somehow, that thrilled me. Weird, I know. And the smell of cheap soap in the bathroom reminded me of trips up north, way back when….

Over a dinner of stew made with a tough old chicken and rice, I got better acquainted with Anna, who told us to use bottled water to brush instead of tap water as we parted ways for the night. We obeyed without asking why and went to bed straight away, considering we had to be up again at 6:30 in the morning, Huz making sure we were completely surrounded by mosquito netting.

It took me a long time to fall asleep, and when I did it was only to wake again every half an hour, or so it felt. On top of that, there was a rooster somewhere outside, utterly convinced dawn was about to break at what seemed like 4 am, and therefore started crowing at regular intervals forthwith. So I was awake, my head on the hard little pillow, when I glimpsed the sky lightening through a chink in the curtains, and I got up to see what I could of the outside world.

the outside world

We got dressed and went to have breakfast downstairs in a dining hall with a quaint array of breakfast goodies. I was beginning to really enjoy a cup of Africafe, though it was accompanied by arguably the worst omelette in the world, despite being made with the best intentions. But I filled up on fresh juicy pineapple and was happy, and soon we were checked out, back in the car and on our way.

Morogoro Hotel

Daylight brought pretty cool revelations. Apparently, Morogoro is built on flat land at the base of green hills. And the entire drive from there to Mikumi was probably one of the most beautifully scenic I have ever laid eyes on.

those are clouds covering them thar hills!

And then, we reached Mikumi.