Tales & images from life as me…

Archive for January, 2013

TIA Tales – Doing the shopping


For those of you who are readers from the first world, ‘doing the shopping’ – that repetitive task of buying groceries and household requirements – might be perceived as a chore. Well, sorry guys but when I come home to the UK it’s a treat to go to a supermarket! You are so lucky! You might think it’s nuts that I get all excited and overwhelmed by the aisles and aisles of choices all under one roof. And don’t even get me started on those amazing delis, bakeries and little specialist shops you guys have scattered along your high streets!

But, you see, where I live, it just isn’t all that simple. This is how it goes…

In town there is one small supermarket. It does stock quite a bit but things like cheese (other than cheddar), good chocolate, good quality meats, lettuce, butternut squash … hang on, who am I kidding. They have shelves. And freezers. There’s no meat counter, they don’t sell veg at all. If they do get imported goods in they sell out and don’t re-order for another 6 months and most of the time it’s pretty inconsistent. It’s not bad, but it is expensive and it’s not very big. There are other supermarkets but they all sell the same stuff – nothing imported, and very little that’s refrigerated or frozen – so it’s easier to go to the one we know.

OK, so that leaves us still needing quite a few things… Fruit and veg for a start. So – next stop is the market. It’s an amazing place to spend a couple of hours wandering and chatting to people. Colours, sounds and smells will fill your head and there are choices as far as the eye can see…BUT you don’t usually have a couple of hours to wander and when you’ve been asked for the 50th time if you want bananas, had it pointed out that you are white hundreds of times and realised that mangoes are out of season, the tomato crop that day isn’t great and you can’t find mushrooms or red peppers for love nor money – you do start to lose your sense of humour. And if you’re not careful you can easily lose yourself too – it’s a big place and it’s easy to pop out in a spot you’ve never seen before!

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It’s also likely you’ll be hounded by a string of young boys trying to sell you plastic bags and carry your shopping. I love these guys, but they don’t understand the word ‘no’ whatever language you use! You might well want the help of one or even two of them but can’t possibly hire them all.

Anyway, I’ve now done battle in the market. It’s over 30 degrees and I’m stinky and dusty and have a car loaded with supermarket stuff that’s rapidly going off. But I still need to take care of the cats and dogs. We don’t have tins of whiskers meat so it’s fish and rice for the cats and meat and rice for the dogs. Rice can be taken care of in the market but for the best price on meat I need to head an hour out of town to the stinkiest place you have ever smelled – the meat market.

I actually don’t mind coming here too much as everyone is always so lovely and welcoming, but it’s quite a drive and requires me to bring a big cool box which I unload and then select various unidentifiable parts of goat to fill it with, bargaining over the price for every piece.

The fish comes in the form of a tiny little one called dagaa and looks a little bit like white bait. If you thought the meat market smelled bad – this is incredible! It’s a great source of vitamins etc and comes from Lake Victoria so is found in abundance here. Most Tanzanians love it. It makes me want to throw up.
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Oh and then I also need to buy the chicken. This requires a visit to a little shop on my way home which is full of nothing but frozen chicken. And then my last stop is the egg shop, not far from our house. These two are actually the simplest part of the whole excursion, but imagine going to one shop for one item and another for another. It takes forever.

OK – so we’re around 7 hours into our shopping trip now! That’s on a good day – assuming I haven’t been stopped by police or caught out by ATM machines that don’t work. I’ve achieved literally nothing else all day and when I finally make it home I realise we also would really like some fish for us to eat (not dagaa). Some salmon, trout or cod perhaps?

Well, whilst there is a small fish shop that imports frozen prawns, and sea fish in from the other side of the country (and I could pop there, indeed I sometimes do) they don’t sell salmon or cod or trout. For these I must head to Nairobi! That’s a nine hour drive, or a 2 hour flight! I also would want to get some good quality beef, lamb and pork while I’m there.

We buy it in bulk and freeze it in small packages, and then pack the car in cool boxes. This is generally pretty effective – apart from one time when Damien had a flat tyre and had to offload everything in order to jack up the car… unfortunately he was in the middle of the Serengeti and had just passed a large pride of lions only a few kilometers earlier!

We might also go to Dar es Salaam (another 2hr flight or two day drive). There we’d buy Thai, Mexican, Italian and American imported goods, as well as croissants, cheeses and strawberries or raspberries. Great treats, but sadly things we generally must live without.

You’re beginning to get the picture, right?!

In my phone I keep a Dar list, and a Nairobi list. In the kitchen I keep a whiteboard with a market list and a supermarket list. In my ipad I keep track of all potential opportunities to shop that could come up on the calendar because Damien has to go somewhere for a meeting or a conference or we are off to see family. It’s a juggling act that often results in failure!

So next time you go shopping (if you’re a reader outside Mwanza) – enjoy it and think of me! Mwanza readers who have to go to work for fixed hours every day and don’t actually have 7 hours to complete the weekly shop – I salute you! How do we not all starve to death?! Oh – yeah – curry!!


Galavanting in the Galapagos Islands


A honeymoon conjures images of white sand beaches, suntans, sun sets, sundowners – right? No. Think cool days, even cooler water and some pretty unflattering wetsuits! But the term ‘trip of a lifetime’ has never been better applied than here.

When the first explorers discovered Galapagos they didn’t even give it a name – The Bishop of Panama, back in the 1500s referred to the place as ‘hell’ (well, he did nearly die of thirst, and witnessed ‘monstrous’ animals he had never seen before crawling over lava!). Modern naturalists and travellers frequently apply the title ‘Eden’, a slightly ironic opposite referring to astounding concentration of varied landscapes and wildlife and its incredible ‘innocence’ when it comes to man. Either way it is very hard to write about these islands without applying Biblical terms or thinking in Biblical proportions… and I live next door to the Serengeti. As far as I was concerned, it was heaven (especially if you’d just been given a 400mm lens for Christmas!).

It was one heck of a journey (I’ll spare you the details but suffice to say it took almost a week just in days spent getting there and back, and involved going Mwanza-Dar-Zurich-Heathrow-stopping for a week in the UK with family-Birmingham- Amsterdam-Quito-Baltra and then the whole lot in reverse again!) and we nearly didn’t make day one… on the very last leg of our journey, just five minutes from landing our plane was told Baltra had a hole in its landing strip and we were being diverted to Quayaquil! Typical TIA Tale, I think! But all it meant was one more airport and a couple of hours delay, and suddenly there we were, standing at the tiny boat launch spot ready to hop on a Zodiac and be taken to our ship. And we were greeted not only by khaki-clad, smiling, Ecuadorian naturalists, but also by a Sea Lion and her pup! A great start.

So it turns out the main way to see the islands is by boat (well, duh!). There is one hotel on the inhabited island of Santa Cruz, and it is possible to take day trips on smaller boats, but to really get a feel for this extraordinary place, it’s all about the boat…or ship…whatever. Ours was the Xpedition – equipped with a Jacuzzi on top, the Darwin restaurant downstairs, a couple of bars and several small Zodiac boats to take guests over the islands. It was not in the leagues of the giant cruise ships, I am told, but it was certainly very comfortable and manned by a crew who have won ‘best cruise in the world’ for the past 4 years!

There are so many photos of each stage of this trip (I took a total of over 5,000) that I think I’m going to let them do most of the talking for the purposes of this blog (don’t worry, I’ve made a small selection – it’d take me a year to upload 5,000 with this internet speed!). I’m going to be writing more formal articles in a few magazines, so this is more a visual treat with captions. Please note that all these photos are very low resolution for uploading purposes so apologies is the clarity isn’t all that great, but it should give you some idea of our Galavanting in the Galapagos!

The Sea Lions are everywhere!
On our first morning we were taken to a sea lion colony (which thankfully do not smell at all, unlike the seal colonies of South Africa and Namibia which are quite staggering!). We jumped from the Zodiacs onto the shore with groups of them scattered about just meters away and with barely a reaction to our presence – they had not been taught to fear man. There poaching is zero. An extraordinary fact which made it hard to avoid imagining what Africa might have been like. I’m not suggesting leopards would have come over for a cuddle, but without fear things might be very different, and certainly more prolific.

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but it's important you don't get too close or you could put the little ones at risk...

but it’s important you don’t get too close or you could put the little ones at risk…

In the end it was actually me trying to avoid the animals: Baby seals are frequently left alone for days, and even weeks, at a time on a beach whilst their mothers go fishing. Naturally they get hungry and ask loudly and repeatedly for food from anyone who is passing. Other sea lions have their own ignoring tactics, but when a little tiny sea lion flops up to you uttering groans of hunger it is very hard to turn them down. Of course we had nothing to offer and we quickly learned that we could not risk touching them. If they carried any of our human scent on them when the mother returned they could be rejected and left to starve. We found ourselves actively fleeing from the little pups when they came too close!

Sadly we did witness one sobering moment when our human interference does cause damage (skip this section if you’re a softy).

In fact, our influence has caused problems all over the islands over the years as early attempts at settlement brought dogs, cats, rats, goats and several other species that were not endemic and caused all kinds of complexities amongst the real locals – but the good news is a great deal of this is now being properly managed and several islands have actually been restored to their former balance. In the mean time excellent environmental management is working hard to ensure that we tourists have as little impact as possible.

And it wasn’t just the sea lions who were happy to get close. Everywhere we looked animals were simply doing what they do…

Introducing the famous Blue Footed Booby:

And the stunning Sally Light Foot Crab:

These beautiful crabs can be found scattered like jewels over any sea-side rocks.

These beautiful crabs can be found scattered like jewels over any sea-side rocks.

their feathered legs and pop-out eyes make for great photos, especially when they're against the black lava rock

their feathered legs and pop-out eyes make for great photos, especially when they’re against the black lava rock

The Swallow Tailed Gull with it’s striking red eye-rim which is only a feature during mating season – make-up for birds!

captured in flight

captured in flight

preening

preening

Marine Iguanas are everywhere, and they have an oddly endearing habit of snorting salt out of their nostrils at regular intervals to handle the amount of sea water they take in! They’re supremely ugly and yet incredibly attractive with their bright colours and dragon-like crests.
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marine iguanas en masse

Then there’s also the Land Iguana…

their camouflage works perfectly amongst the yellow fallen leaves which they search through for juicy morsels

their camouflage works perfectly amongst the yellow fallen leaves which they search through for juicy morsels

Land iguana close up

and the hybrid! A bit of both but can’t swim, can’t reproduce and lives less years – none of the advantages basically!
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The bird life (I know I’ve mentioned a couple already) is so varied and vibrant it’s impossible not to become a bit of a ‘twitcher’ whilst you there (new term I learned on a safari recently – translation: bird spotting geek… only it’s far less geeky here in Africa and I’m pretty sure it’s not geeky at all in the Galapagos!).

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And it’s not just the wildlife that’s spectacular
The geology proved fascinating, particularly as we were literally standing on the evidence… I could literally have published hundreds of landscape images here. These few will just give you a bit of a feel for the broad differences between the islands.

But we didn’t only get to see the Islands from the land, though. Perhaps the most thrilling perspective of this smile-generating environment is seeing it from under the water. Uh huh! We were actually allowed to snorkel with the animals! Sadly the frequently flash by so fast that it’s hard to get the photos – I missed penguins, marine iguanas, puffer fish and massive sword fish, but I did get sea lions and sea turtles:
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sea lion under water

Oh and do you know the story of the Galapagos Post box?
Well the custom is that anyone who visits the Islands can visit Post Office Bay and pop a postcard into the large whiskey barrel box that’s hidden just off the beach. No need for a stamp though! Each visitor is, instead, asked to sift through the pile and find a postcard addressed to someone who lives not too far from them. They must then hand deliver the card and actually meet the person it is addressed to (no cheating by sticking stamps on once you get home!). Of course we had to post a couple just to see if anyone manages to get them back to Mwanza, Tanzania (I’ll be seriously impressed if they do!) and we also took one addressed to a lady in Bath (near my parents’ place – we’ll deliver next time we’re in the UK) so watch this space for follow up stories on that one. I did hear one lovely tale of a guy who delivered to a girl near where he lived, they fell in love and eventually got married at the post box in the Galapagos! Ahhh!

the post box

Sharks off the back of the boat
The entire time we’d been in the Galapagos we’d been looking out for sharks. We’d been told there are several species there and were, understandably nervous about snorkelling the first couple of times – but the Naturalists just laughed it off and assured us they had no interest in eating tourists and we quickly grew used to hopping in and out of the water and stopped worrying. It wasn’t until the very last day, when a shoal of Jack fish came flying along the side of our boat that we really got to see them in action.

The black tipped reef shark's fin cuts the water between the Blue Footed Boobies but they are not concerned - they know it isn't really after them.

The black tipped reef shark’s fin cuts the water between the Blue Footed Boobies but they are not concerned – they know it isn’t really after them.

A reef shark circles below us

A reef shark circles below us

It was a pretty great final scene.

Infrared
One other ‘development’ (sorry that’s photography joke!) since last year’s blogging days is the transformation of my old Canon camera into a fantastic new infrared camera. This is an experiment that I’ve always wanted to try out, but knowing I was off to the Galapagos turned my want into a need – look at the results! And this is before I’ve even learned how to use the colour element! (I’ll get to that!).

A frigate bird assesses his chances against a giant sea turtle

A frigate bird assesses his chances against a giant sea turtle

A  sea lion flops out, perfectly relaxed on the warm lava rock against a backdrop of cactus trees

A sea lion flops out, perfectly relaxed on the warm lava rock against a backdrop of cactus trees

A young albatross stretches his wings, testing them before he attempts to fly for the first time. It is late in the season and he must leave the Islands soon.

A young albatross stretches his wings, testing them before he attempts to fly for the first time. It is late in the season and he must leave the Islands soon.


A male sea lion issues a throaty roar against the surf, establishing his territory.

A male sea lion issues a throaty roar against the surf, establishing his territory.

an inquisitive sea lion approaches the boat before flipping back under the water

an inquisitive sea lion approaches the boat before flipping back under the water

All aboard
The boat and the other guests on board, the staff and all the activities, the food and the cocktails – it really was faultless. We absolutely loved our experience.

this is the main bar area inside the Xpedition - our home for the week.

this is the main bar area inside the Xpedition – our home for the week.

our very comfortable cabin (on day 1 before I'd messed it all up!)

our very comfortable cabin (on day 1 before I’d messed it all up!)


In just a week we had done so much, seen so much and made so many great new friends. We were very sad to leave.

In fact as Darwin wrote: ‘It is the fate of every voyager, when he has just discovered what object in any place is more particularly worthy of his attention, to be hurried from it.’ Too right!

we can’t forget Quito
Of course we were also in Quito before and after the Galapagos tour as it’s the main airport to enter Ecuador through. It perhaps ought to warrant its own blog rather than this little tag on. We were not expecting such a wide variety of things to see and thoroughly enjoyed the markets, the equator, old architecture, potted Histories, volcano views and musical instrument education we ended up experiencing. Here is just a tiny selection of pics from our days there.


2012 – what a year!


Happy New Year everyone! During 2012 I had 9,900 hits on the blog and am awaiting the 10,000th any second now! – Thank you all so much for reading.

I’ve got all sorts of new stories to tell for 2013, including tales of our incredible trip to the Galapagos Islands, but before I move into the New Year I’d like to take a moment to review the last one – it was a pretty full one, involved some of the biggest changes imaginable and so many high points.

I often write about the mad stories or the difficult aspects of ex-pat life, but in truth the past twelve months have been packed full of amazing days and great new things. I think I only came to realise just how true that is when I saw I had taken over 17,000 photos last year! Iphoto has a fantastic feature – it automatically stores images in a file called ‘past 12 months’. I started flicking through and found myself inspired by all that we had fitted in.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to even attempt to include 17,000 images – but I thought a brief summary could be a good way to start the New Year. So…

It all began in January when J (my brother) & Coops (our good friend) and I travelled across Tanzania together. We spent almost three weeks crossing from Mwanza, through Serengeti, through Ngorogoro, Arusha and over to Zanzibar and had all kinds of adventures along the way – including me getting engaged! That trip also got me my first break with a major East African travel magazine. (If you want to see more visit: https://beingmelissakay.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/crossing-tanzania-with-j-coops/)

The Mwanza Charity Ball committee were very happy to be able to give away almost Tsh74 million to 34 different charities as a result of the committee’s efforts in 2011.
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Damien and I visited Naivasha in February trying to find a place to get married – and succeeded! Thank goodness, right at the end of a very long day, we discovered Kongoni Lodge and it’s fabulous staff.

We spent Easter in the Mara at Olarro with Damien’s parents. The hotel is stunning, set in the hills overlooking the Mara Triangle, and we saw some incredible game and enjoyed cosy fireside evenings. (Full details at: https://beingmelissakay.wordpress.com/2012/04/11/messing-about-in-the-mara/)
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In April my baby Kite, which I’d been watching from it’s very first days in the nest opposite my office window, grew up and flew! And our road got washed away like it does every year!
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The band played several gigs in the early part of the year – including going ‘on tour’ to Geita Gold Mine for a night! Sadly we had to say goodbye to several members and the band was no more after June. We miss you guys ☹
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Actually, we said goodbye to a lot of amazing people during 2012 – too many to mention but sadly several of them were very close friends (you know who you are) and I wish them all the very best wherever they may be in 2013. It’s a tough part of ex-pat life, the constant goodbyes. I just said another set to my family as we left the UK to return here, and it doesn’t get any easier, but… the show must go on.

Throughout the year we took several trips to Wag Hill and spent some lovely days on the lake, making the most of the weekend and Damien’s boat.
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There were two Craft fairs – Easter and Christmas, for the third year running. They grow each time and make for great community events. Thanks for all the support and help again this year Mwanza.
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Thanks to Authentic Tanzania for giving my next big break – They decided to trust that I could pull off some national travel press coverage and asked me to join them in Selous for a truly wild safari. It was AMAZING. (The full details are on: http://beingmelissakay.wordpress.com/2012/08/20/tia-tales-authentic-selous/)
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In June we went to a fabulous Indian wedding in Mombasa and had a great time celebrating with friends, before I headed home for some serious wedding preparation.
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The UK was all about shopping, though we did manage a brilliant hen do (thanks bridesmaids!) and a lovely trip to a real old-fashioned circus.
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I had a pretty full-on time there – it was also the Olympics and Britain was out to show its very best. It really was incredible, London was buzzing and my brother, sister, their partners and my brilliant friends Jenni & Mike made an amazing last day of my trip by touring around some of the top Olympic sites and drinking it all in.


Sadly on my way home stress levels peaked as my dress was (temporarily) lost by the airline on my return journey! But it all resolved itself!

I made it back just a day before it was time to leave for Ruaha national park and an Authentic Tanzania Photographic Workshop safari with Sven Liebchen and Paul Joynson-Hicks. What a trip! (full details on: http://beingmelissakay.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/ruaha-photo-workshop-safari/) These are times when I really love my new job! This trip helped me create new contacts in the international travel press and get a five page feature in Digital Photographer.
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Finally, back in Mwanza it was house parties, a couple of Serengeti weekends and another hen party for me, thanks to my friends here in the Southern Hemisphere! (been off tequila ever since!)
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And then all of sudden family and friends were arriving for our wedding! (How on earth I had found time to plan it and keep working with all the stuff I just mentioned going on as well I really don’t know!). We had our civil ceremony on our balcony at home, then the main event in Naivasha, Kenya at the end of October (full details at: http://beingmelissakay.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/tia-tales-the-wedding/) . We followed this up in November with a fairy-light fest at the yacht club in Mwanza to celebrate with friends there and finally did a party in a barn in the UK (where my bridesmaids and I wore wellies with our dresses!)
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ONE OTHER PIC TO BE POSTED WHEN MY BRO-IN-LAW EMAILS IT – I LEFT THE FLASH DRIVE HE GAVE ME BEHIND – DOH!

Finally we did Christmas carols at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and celebrated Christmas with my lovely family (including my 103 year old grandmother!), before setting off on our honeymoon (more on that later!). Phew!

And as for this blog…Well, you guys have been amazing. People in 74 countries looked at the blog (50 countries regularly check in). WordPress tells me that 600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 9,900 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 17 years to get that many views!

Most popular posts were ‘The Good Stuff’ (http://beingmelissakay.wordpress.com/2012/05/05/tia-tales-the-good-stuff/), ‘ex-pat 007’ (http://beingmelissakay.wordpress.com/2012/08/27/ex-pat-007-an-insight-into-ex-pat-life/) and ‘building work’ (http://beingmelissakay.wordpress.com/2012/03/08/tia-tales-building-work/).

Thanks to Carriepots, 3llen, Nina, Kate & Michael as my top commenters – please keep it up, I always love hearing from you all.

In 2012, there were 43 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 326 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 582 MB. That’s about 6 pictures per week.
And as for my writing – I received an email New Year’s day to let me know one of my short stories has been a selected for inclusion in a collection of short stories. It’ll be on sale via Amazon in the next month or so! I’m still working on the novel and the magazine work and number of private clients is building all the time. I’m excited to start 2013 – there are already so many great adventures planned and all sorts of writing challenges ahead. I have a feeling it’s going to be a good one.

Watch this space!