Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas in Pangani

The decomposing gecko filled with maggots was worse than anybody could ever have imagined. About ten days after the gecko incident, when I should have been enjoying the start of our Christmas holidays, I was struck by a major catastrophe. An event so shocking, so terribly unfortunate, that it could have completely ruined my festive season. Luckily, I had Pangani and my friends visiting from China to lift my spirits.

Arden and Andrei and their two boys – Kostya and Sasha, arrived on the Monday. Thursday, they headed up Kilimanjaro. Arden and the boys only went up 4000m, as the boys are only nine they aren’t allowed to go any higher. I fetched them on Saturday afternoon. I never realised how steep the road was to the Kilimanjaro Park. But, my car battled up manfully. The assistant guide, who’d come down the mountain with Arden and the boys, took the prepaid park card from me and went back up to the admin block at the park, to pay for their extra night’s stay up the mountain. Unfortunately, he typed in the postal code instead of the password, not once, but three times. So, the bank blocked the card. Drat! An hour and a half later, I managed to persuade the park officials to let Arden and the boys leave the park as I was coming back to fetch Andrei on the Monday. Andrei was summiting Kilimanjaro the Sunday morning. They kept the blocked park card as security.

Sunday morning and we were up bright and early, ready to go to Maji Moto the hot springs at Chemke. A secret spot not written about in any guide book. Last year, a drunken female student tourist went skinny dipping in the middle of the night and was taken by a crocodile. Obviously, not a good idea to swim there at night, so completely sober, and in broad daylight, Arden, all the kids and myself, managed to find our way to the magic pool. We did get lost, stopped a random guy on his bike to ask him the way, and it just so turned out that he was the manager of the pool even though he was kilometres away when we accidentally stumbled upon him. Our luck in bumping into him so far away from the pool in the middle of nowhere when we were lost, seemed like a sign that I was overcoming the bad karma from the dead disgusting gecko. Things were looking up. An amazing day, that hot pool is definitely something special. Small fish chomped on our dry skin as we lazed in the perfectly heated pool. We left to head home, stopped off for a bite at a local restaurant, and were completely unaware of what we would find when we arrived home.

Someone had broken into my house whilst we were at the hot pool! They removed the fly screen on the window at exactly the spot where I access the internet with my laptop! The laptop could not be seen from the window or door! The conclusion one reaches, is that whoever broke in, had known that that’s where I work on my laptop. So, they removed the fly screen, and one of the glass shutters in the window, then used a long stick to poke through the narrow gap and drag my laptop, rechargeable battery charger, bag with digital camera and video camera, laptop bag with my yellow fever certificate, classroom keys and both my portable hard drives – with all my 10 years worth of music on it. A major blow! All my photos from my travels in China were on my portable hard drives, all my cd’s that I had copied onto the hard drive so that I didn’t have to ship two big boxes filled with cd’s. I gave them all away before I left China, as soon as I had copied them. And of course, all my notes and manuscript for my new book, The Case of Billy B, that I’d been revising and doing the final edit and formatting. Disaster! Both the police and askari (security guard) believe that the culprit knew the house and the property, and is in all likelihood the guy who had pretended to be a guide and diddled me out of $100. That gecko sure was bad news! I felt dead inside. Violated. Distraught. All our photos taken in Tanzania and in Cape Town. Gone. My life memories. Words cannot describe the feeling I felt. I think the shock hasn’t quite set in. I thought I’d been so clever to back up everything this time on portable hard drives, as twice before in China I’d lost all my work, documents, music, photos when they’d stolen my laptops. I don’t know when I’ll be able to afford to buy another laptop. But then, at least I have my life and we weren’t harmed and we weren’t there when it happened. There is always good in everything.

Andrei, with his guide and team of porters descended from the summit. He set a record in reaching the summit from the last camp. The altitude sickness only effected him slightly. He is an animal. Whereas Arden was struggling to walk for two days after her descent, Andrei had us take him straight to the Marangu Hotel where he had stashed his bike, and he cycled all 30km back to Moshi, then went for a 2km swim in the school pool. Unbelievable! Tuesday, we were all up bright and early and headed out to Pangani. Andrei, The Animal, decided he wanted to cycle 120km of the way to Pangani. This is just a day after his descent from Kilimanjaro. He left several hours before us, and we met him along the way. We stopped off at a little local pub/restaurant for lunch. Beef and rice turned out to be liver and rice, which was okay in my book, but not for some of the others. At Muheza, we took the shortcut to Pangani, which was 42km on a narrow windy dirt road. Once again, it wasn’t the matter of just turning off and heading straight. The road forks and you have to decide which fork to take each time. I made the executive decision to always head left as that was the side the coast was, even though we couldn’t see it. The decision proved to be correct. I was stopped once for driving 68km in a 30km area, and luckily was given a spot fine of $20, which went straight into the policeman’s pocket seeing as he didn’t give me a receipt. Obviously an early Christmas present! After what seemed like hours of narrowly missing bicycles carrying baskets of mangoes, goats, chicken, stray children, endless palm trees, we finally spotted the sea and within 5 minutes we found the road to our hideaway. The house Ernest Hemmingway had once stayed in. Totally cool. We’d been warned that the house was very basic, but it turned out to be much better than we’d expected. The boys pitched the tents, us three old ladies dragged the beds onto the huge veranda and put up our mosquito nets, ready for our first night in Pangani. It was far too hot to sleep inside the house, and the veranda, with it’s awesome view of the Indian Ocean and sound of rolling waves was definitely a prime spot. The nets protected us from the swarms of bugs which descended on our nets every night. The flying cockroaches were a little gross.

The beach at Pangani was virtually deserted, just a few visitors from the ultra-exclusive luxury tented lodge next door that charges $110 per person per day! I was only paying $12 a day for the house which had better views! It was a perfect setting, one in which helped me to relax and come to terms with my burglary and what I’d lost. Tony and Siobhan’s cell phones were on the coffee table and also stolen, dragged off the table with a stick and pulled towards the window. But enough about my burglary. I cooked all our meals on a fire, barbecuing meat and making delectable potjies in my black cast iron cooking pot. I impressed even myself. Arden and I headed into the town which was quite dilapidated but quaint at the same time, and bought fresh fish and langoustines. The langoustines were huge. More like crayfish and we paid $8 for four. The next day, we went back and bought nine for $15. Delicious! Grilled on the barbecue, awesome. Andrei went crazy and besides eating his share of the tails, ate the contents of all nine heads and bodies! He went running every morning and did his laps in the sea, and then pull ups on the rafters! Unfortunately, it didn’t inspire any of us to become fitter and copy him. It was just too hot. Swimming, tanning, reading, chatting, cooking, exploring. The days flew past. Initially we had planned to stay until the 28th December, then catch an Arab dhow across to Zanzibar. But, we heard that Zanzibar had no power for two weeks and they reckoned probably two weeks more. Someone had accidentally severed the undersea power cable, and when they tried to fix it, they accidentally blew up the repaired part. Typical. But we were having so much fun with Andrei and Arden, that we decided to return with them and go on safari together. So, the 30th December we are heading to the Ngorongoro Crater where the wildlife viewing is supposed to be spectacular. They leave Tanzania on the 1st January to head back to China and we are going to miss them terribly. But at least, we can send back Kerri’s gifts with them!

We went on a dhow to Sand Island, a sand bar in the middle of the ocean surrounded by coral reefs. Great snorkelling and swimming in water so warm, you almost don’t believe it’s in an ocean. Of course, the sun block wasn’t enough and we all got burnt to a crisp! Then, we went exploring Pangani’s sordid past – it was a big centre of the slave trade. The old slave prison is still in use as Pangani’s prison, the slave depot is crumbling away and being overgrown by vegetation. Nobody wants to be reminded of the slave trade that made the now sleepy town a bustling port a century ago. The warehouse where the slaves were kept while waiting for the dhows to carry them away to far off lands is still there, and large blocks in the river show where the jetty once was, where young men and women chained together once walked to an uncertain future. We saw the Boma, built by a crazy sultan who believed that if you buried live slaves in the foundations, the building would be more secure and stand forever. But most of all, we saw happy friendly smiling people, eager to help and sell you their wares. Pangani was a dream holiday. It reminded me of my childhood summer holidays, packing the car with groceries and things we needed for roughing it at the coast. Christmas was special. I made a barbecue, cooked potatoes for a potato salad on an open fire, and custard for our Christmas pudding. Tony wore a santa hat and acted as the Christmas fairy, handing the gifts out from under the little plastic made in China tree, I’d bought in Arusha a couple of weeks ago. Andrei cycled the 340km back to Moshi!

One thing I realised, is that people can create their own misery. You can choose whether or not to see the negative or positive in anything. We had someone with us who hates Africa and all she could see was the negative in everything. However, the beauty of the surroundings and great company did not let her reprimanding looks, caustic comments or sour expression ruin our holiday. We had a ball. We loved Pangani! When your children turn to you and say, this was one of the best holidays ever, you know that it was good. Pangani was exceptional. Who cares about my lost electronic goods. They can be replaced. But the memories from this amazing holiday, will endure forever. Maybe, some of Hemmingway rubbed off on me after all.   You can check out some of our great photos from this trip on wish you all a successful and happy 2010!

No comments: