Friday, December 14, 2012

Ciao Pemba, Jambo Tanzania!

It seems like just yesterday Ashlea, Riaz, and I were in Ottawa dreaming up plans to spend our Christmas and New Year's lounging on the island of Zanzibar.  And now, we are two days away from flying out of Pemba into Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania for 3 weeks of travelling, stories, and adventure that only the three of us can attract. Amazing how quickly 5 months can fly by...

From Dar-es-Salaam, we will travel north up the coast until we take the ferry to Zanzibar Island and also visit our Tanzanian twin of Pemba Island.

Stay tuned for photos and stories...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It's a Boy!

Ashlea and I are proud to announce the newest addition to our Pemba family: Pedro Savanno Webber Hamilton. 
What started out as a hasty decision by Sarah to rescue a dog we constantly saw outside our yoga studio, barely able to walk out of the sand by the road, has turned into our newest housemate.  I was barely able to look at him when she first brought him home; you could see every bone in his body, he was covered in mange, and it was hard to ignore the crooked head, limp right leg, and both ears being basically torn apart.
With just a few days of food and rest, he began to walk, wag his tail, and recognize our voices.  I could have taken in any number of animals in Pemba but this little guy charmed all of us and I think Ashlea and I were both hesitant to just let him go!  Not too many people would be willing to love Skeletor Dog.
We brought him home last week, a bit unsure of what we were embarking on (and I am still thinking about all the consequences of bringing him in) but it has been amazing and totally worthwhile to watch what regular meals and an outpouring of gentle voices, ear scratches, belly rubs, and long walks on the beach will do to a dog that once was a skeleton closer to death than life.
Now we must think about what Pedro will be eating for breakfast and dinner and he certainly will not be winning any beauty contests.  But the bones are nearly hidden by fat, the leg seems stronger (although still bends over like a warthog when he eats), and it's hard to see that his ears are torn because his eyes are so warm and trusting. 
And who needs a supermodel dog when you have one who sits on the front step and watches your every moment inside the house, who spends hours getting bitten on the nose by crabs, and who won't let you out of his sight on beach walks?  Our welcome home from work is now a lot more exciting and we have a permanent #1 fan in our little Pedro!

Taratibu - Solid as a Rock

5 women, 1 cooler, 2 boxes of bottled water, 5 backpacks,
1 Mozambican playlist, and a lot of love (and sweat and dust)
It is a tough life to lead when you must take monthly breaks from the beach and head into the bush with five lovely woman and a 4x4 full of food and Mozambican dance music.  Yet another early morning departure with an even more packed car than before and off we went to Taratibu Bush Camp, in Ancuabe district of Quirimbas National Park, for a short weekend of getting away from the hustle and bustle of Pemba city life.

As per the website, we were anticipating "the rustic Taratibu Bush Camp (meaning to go slowly and carefully) nestled between three soaring granite outcrops known as inselbergs, within the boundaries of the Quirimbas National Park features huge sub-tropical rain-forest trees which shelter a great diversity of bird life, insects and various primate species".  Totally true!

We filled up Sarah's trusty beast of a 4x4, bartered for tomatoes and mangoes on the side of the road, and began the dusty drive.  Things were going very well-the breakfast of biscuits was eaten, dance moves were tried out, and everyone was laughing when we decided to stop for a quick rest break.  We had already pulled off the main road and had begun the bumpier and dustier trek into essentially the middle of nowhere.

When we all piled back in the car and Nil turned the engine, the car made a sound like it was a space shuttle about to take off.  After a couple attempts and the result still being the engine doing a non-stop revving, we all got out of the car and put on our mechanic faces.  Nil's suggestion was to open the hood and "let it breathe, it just needs fresh air".  This was our only remedy so we all stuck our heads in to try to diagnose the problem.  After a half-hearted attempt to remember where water goes for the engine, Yumi called her boyfriend in Maputo who told us to look for the accelerator cable.  Of course, all five of us knew exactly where that was...  But somehow, after the 20 minutes of fresh air, with all of us waiting nervously to see if our last days would be spent in rural Mozambique, the car started like nothing had happened.  We made a vow not to stop until we reached Taratibu...

5 professional mechanics on the scene
"It just needs to breathe"
Hello Taratibu!
Taratibu's reception service
After literally driving through people's backyards, the landscape turned from dusty village to giant forests and mountain ranges and we entered Taratibu to a screaming herd of monkeys.  We were the only guests there and the only people around except for our guide and the woman in charge of the houses.  Of course we were there purely for the rugged adventure, but we settled in and began cooking and eating.

Devil Ear Mountain (our name, not official Mozambican mountain name)
One of the many rock faces surrounding the camp

Fairy trees protecting the camp
Our bungalow

The firepit

Jawbones of the 30 adult elephants poached last year
First order of business: making lunch

Part of the giant monkey and baboon family
that kept us company and ate our fruit peels
After a long lunch and sunbathing on the rocks, we realized, at some point we would have to get up and actually go for a nature walk.  I think a few of our group were lured into this only by the promise of a "sunset bar" at the top of the mountain.  We may not be the typical adventurer clients that Taratibu receives but we still appreciated it for many different reasons.  I think the top two reasons were the open kitchen where we feasted and the ability to sunbathe on hot rocks (somewhat tainted by the bright green snake fell out of the tree right by us).  Our guide's hour long walk was actually 15 minutes which gave us plenty of time to prepare the Amarula cocktails, take an obscene amount of photos, and admire the beauty of Taratibu's mountain ranges.

Our trusty guide

Yumi's sunset bar - according to the Amarula commercials,
"it's what every African drinks at sunset"

A 15 minute walk requires a large dinner and numerous bottles of red wine
Yumi and Nil preparing the barbeque

After sleeping like the dead in the quiet of Taratibu, we woke up for a quick breakfast before a 2.5 hour hike through the forest and mountains.  Not quite what we expected and I was waiting for round two of sunstroke in the heat up there, but it was beautiful to climb to the top of the peaks and look down into the valley at the hidden camp.  You would never imagine that people were living down there as the trees camouflaged everything.

The trek started out easy...

Yumi, our yoga teacher, showing us how it's done

The tree roots are a world of their own

Taratibu fairies

Rest stop between scaling the mountain side

Yah Ho!

The road to Taratibu

Once again, another weekend where I realised how lucky I am - to be in Mozambique, to be with these people, and to come back with the stories of climbing mountains, running away from baboon herds, and being completely isolated from everything.  I never imagined that parts of the earth looked like this and I feel so fortunate to have been to a place on a map I never thought I would visit.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Beach Girls Hit the Bush-Ola Niassa!

When the opportunity to trek hundreds of kilometres into the remote wilderness of northern Mozambique comes up, you do not say no. The women of Wimbe needed a break from the beach and what better place to get in touch with nature than Niassa Reserve, a conservation area slightly bigger than Switzerland. If the promise of seeing elephants and lions did not assure me of its wildness, the 10 hour drive into the bush was a reminder of just how far away we were from the world of Pemba.


Taking advantage of a local holiday, the five of us (Ashlea, Sarah, Anna, Nil, and I) woke up at 3:30am, loaded up the pickup truck and were out of Pemba city limits by 4am.  You know it is an early morning when you go to bed to the neighbour's party and wake up to it still going strong.  Loud Mozambican music and cookies are welcome any time of day and they kept us going as we drove north west, farther and farther away from the beach.  The scenery changed as we wove through small villages and dodged the large lumber trucks that were clearing out the old growth forests.  Although the distance in kilometres is not huge, the state of the roads made for a slow drive (even when we accidentally ended up driving down an airport tarmac) and I got more and more excited for our final landing in Niassa. 

Impromptu dance formation outside of Balama village

Pemba Bush Babies on their way!

I'm guessing this man doesn't often see this on his daily commute
but he seemed to enjoy the photo op

One of the smoother parts of the road and a row of Flame of the Forest trees

The beginning of the massive construction and logging operations

Between Balama and Marupa (just a little warm out)

Evidence of the slash and burn techniques to create machambas
We also saw huge logging trucks loaded down with unregulated timber.

To a few people's surprise, we did not get lost, did not have any car problems (aside from the leaking diesel jug which I had the pleasure of filling up the day before we left) and we sang our way into the park with West African pop and the sightings of kudu, sables, and bushbucks.  After a warm welcome and introduction to the absolutely beautiful Lugenda Wilderness Camp along the Lugenda River, we went on our first safari drive where we were ambushed by elephants and beautiful birds.  The afternoon safari turned into sundowners on the side of a mountain overlooking the river and Ngalongue mountain range.
Our trusty guides - Donald and Buana (aka Bernie)
Just another Thursday afternoon with a wild elephant

One of the mountains hugging Lugenda
The sound of the birds was incredible on our sunset mountain top

Reserve land for as far as you can see
Not a bad place for a glass of wine

After dinner with the German couples also staying at the camp (who probably wondered how they got stuck with 5 girls who did not stop talking or enjoying the open bar), we had a night drive where I saw my first lion!  Anna and I spotted a head in the bush and as we drove closer, we saw the young male lounging in the grass.   After the excitement of seeing the lion, bush babies jumping from tree to tree, and civet and jennet cats, it was time for bed in our luxury safari tents where Ashlea and I almost got charged by a herd of elephants.  We had to sneak around the side with Donald (our guide) and his giant gun.  But after a long day, the bed was very welcome!

It was hard to capture our sighting of him as bright lights are hard on his eyes and head.

After an early morning wake up call by fighting vervet monkeys and the Bodum coffee press delivery to our door, it was time for our first full day in Niassa.

Ladies of the bush

Our day began with more elephants, but also a huge variety of birds and wildlife like sables, bush buck, elan, kudu, and impala on our way to climb the face of one of the hills to see the cave paintings from about 4000 years ago.

The rocks were covered in these blonde hair bushes. 
It is the height of the dry season and rainy season will
begin in mid-November (when the lodge closes).


Lugenda's airport

A monkey orange tree

Panga panga tree

Weaver bird nests

It was a lot steeper than I thought

The climb down was a lot less graceful with fewer smiles
View from the top
Our bush mobile

They believe the lines are each person or family and the circle with lines represents a clan

A traditional medicine man in the area uses the cave for ceremonies



After our hike, we parked the bush mobile and headed into the forest on foot, hoping not to see the lion from the night before.  We did come to a watering hole surrounded by wildebeest and a herd of elephants.  Elephants are much more aggressive than I realized so as they came closer and closer to us, I just hoped Donald was right in saying they have poor eyesight and the wind was in our favour.  Always good when surrounded by mama and elephants and babies.  After they left, we investigated the watering hole, including rubbing our hands with the clay they bathe themselves in.


We walked down to a calmer section of the Lugenda river (and also free of crocodiles)
With our guides' heads turned, we also waded in the water
(after Anna, our parasite and tropical medicine expert, assured us it was fine)
A king fisher was also working on finding lunch

Aunty, they have Jimmy birds in Africa too!

During our siesta after the busy morning, the camp managers got a radio message that 6 elephant carcasses had been found that morning with the tusks sawed off.  The word went out to the park scouts to begin looking for the poachers.  I did not realize the extent of poaching that is occuring and the complicated linkages and corruption that come with any illicit trade.  Thousands of elephants are killed each year in Niassa reserve alone.

We only spent one night in Lugenda camp and moved on to the even more isolated Lusingi camp in the early evening.  On our drive there, the guides heard a gunshot and went to investigate to see if there were other poachers.  They left us in the truck, slightly terrified that poachers were around (especially when the bush plane began circling overhead to look for movement) but there was no evidence of anything and we continued on our way.  They are still looking for the poachers. 

Waiting for the guides to return and also hoping that poachers were not hanging around

Lugenda Camp - It is amazing to think this is hiding in the bush....


Ben, the resident elephant (and the reason you have to be escorted with a gun to your tent)

Drinking from the pool


After we arrived in camp on Friday night, we met some more bushmen who were staying there that night and heard some tales from their time in the reserves.  Before bed, we went on a night drive and with the new moon and no lights, the sky was more stars than black night and I saw more shooting stars than I have seen in all of my life.  A beautiful way to end the day and prepare us for another day of adventure...
On Saturday morning, we went on an hours long walk through the bush around Lusingi camp, looking at more birds and trees I had never seen before.  We looped around along the river bed in the midday sun before collapsing at camp.  My day was cut a bit short as I managed to get sunstroke and had a personal safari sighting of the inside of the toilet bowl.  But with some TLC, I made it for the drive to the hippo bowl where we watched the sunset and listened to the loud hippos warn us of their presence. 

Some photos of Lusingi camp - a bit more rustic but even more beautiful  



The Bushmen

Python skin on the wall
Black mambos are also very common
Sunday morning, our last day, dawned a bit sadder than the others as we realized it was time to go home.  I think we all felt and needed, in our own ways, a little bit of the magic that comes with driving away, being away from phones and computers, and losing track of hours and days.  Time went by too quickly and it was definitely a quieter car going home than it was on the way there.  With good intentions of leaving at dawn, hanging out with the hippos, breakfast and photo shoots slowed us down but I think it was in the hope of delaying our return!    

The drive home wasn't that quiet with Anna's costume accessories


A Coke in Marupa, a village I hope I never have to go back to