Experience the world with us

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Zanzibar – Tanzania by Aaron Von Hagen

by Aaron Von Hagen 

After a long week of flights, safaris and sickness, we were headed to our final destination on this amazing vacation: the island of Zanzibar.

If there’s one thing my family knows how to do, it’s how to take a vacation. We landed in Zanzibar during a tropical rain storm, which, as some of you may know, is only a few minutes long but can drop what seems like buckets of water on the ground. The air was so muggy and humid I could barely breathe getting off the plane. We gathered our luggage and hopped in the waiting vehicles for the journey to Diamonds Star of the East, our resort on the north end of the island. When we arrived, well, I don’t really know what to tell you. We were living it up like royalty.

We had two villas, each with their huge floor plan, as well as indoor and outdoor showers and a private pool. Each villa also comes complete with it’s own butler for 24/7 availability. Since we were staying in the villas, we were all-inclusive, which gave us access to our own private restaurant, private beach and all the other amenities the resort had to offer. I can’t stress how awesome this was!

Our family made friends with most of the staff, particularly a young man named Martin, who went out of his way to make sure that we always had the best service, no matter what. The running joke became “Where’s Martin?” I can’t remember the one dudes name, but this guy made THE best cappuccinos. I went on a cappuccino-bender one day. I regretted it later, but damn was it delicious!

We went on a tour of Stone Town, which was a main site for slave trading back in the day. It was a pretty crazy place! The day we toured it was so goddamn hot we could barely keep it together. The problem with being a photographer is never knowing for sure what gear to bring, and I really regretted my decision to bring all my gear and tripod with me.

There was a day of snorkelling, and although the water was gorgeous, I’m not one for swimming in the ocean that much. I’m a little scared of sharks and the unknown. Whatever! We spent a week just chilling in the sun and spending Christmas with each other and the family of the hotel that took care of us. It was a perfect end to an already unbelievable vacation.

Taken from Aaron Von Hagen Photography
All pictures done by  Aaron Von Hagen

Monday, February 27, 2012

From Door to Diani: it’s just a four hour flight

My weekend in Diani (Kenya) was one that will probably etch itself out in my memory, and every time I think about it, I’ll smile just a little, enough to remember.

Our 1Time flight left J’burg at 7: 45 on Friday morning, and four hours later we landed on a runway boarded by African shrub. The point of this weekend was essentially to celebrate the launch of 1Times inaugural flight from J’burg direct to Mombasa, with its first commercial flight scheduled to take off on the 5th March 2012. To celebrate our arrival then, a fire-engine sprayed a forceful plume of water onto our plane as we taxied to a halt, and people clapped as we exited the plane. Whilst cameras and press stood at a slight distance and airport staff handed us our coconut milk-based drinks, I vainly thought of a scene in La Dolce Vita. Honestly though, it couldn’t be helped. I suspect the moment had taken us all by surprise.

This trip marked my third to Kenya, and not only am I beginning to love it, but I’m even starting to recognise roads, even traffic circles and the odd advert at the side of the road. One large billboard advertised a phone, from which you could (even) update your Facebook status. Seeing the large blue ‘f’ logo shrouded by dust in the middle of an unkempt plot of vacant land though was jarring. On yet another billboard, a fat couple smiled back and beneath them was written: ‘Get tested now’. I thought it ironic that the pair looked so healthy. Side of the road observation really…
Soon enough we had reached the ferry, which would take us away from the island on which Mombasa is located, and onto mainland Kenya. To hasten our 40km drive to our Planhotel resorts (which can sometimes take up to 2hours) we had been allocated a police escort. It was a first for me, and I suddenly wondered how politicians don’t get embarrassed by the hullabaloo. Short of doing a royal wave though, I wasn’t so sure what expression to portray to the locals (walking far beneath our bus windows). Do you look down in pity, or enjoy the moment. I somehow decided to try combine both of these. 

In our last edition, I wrote about the Planhotel resorts in Malindi and Masai Mara. As it turns out, the Neptune Resorts in Diani to which we were heading are now also owned (and managed) by the same group. All I can say is: long live Planhotel. Firstly, they’re organised and no matter how large or small the group is, their food is always outstanding. And let’s be honest, bad food on a holiday can make for a grumpy constitution. Another point worth highlighting is the fact that the Swiss (Italians) in charge of these resorts always know how to include excellence and class to any environment. For example, all three evenings of our stay were marked by vibrant local entertainment and well run moments, the fluidity of which could have failed at any point given the magnitude of the group. But it didn’t. We were 120 people in total but at some points in the evening, it felt like I was alone with the moon and the saxophonist, as his music gently changed the atmosphere into a reality so charming, it seemed unbelievable at the time. Then on the second evening (and to add to the whole ‘Africa’ experience), we had all been given a piece of shweshwe
cloth with which to fashion an outfit from. The best dressed would receive a prize, and so it was that the day-time practicality of shorts and unflattering t-shirts blossomed into self-designed African dresses and garments. Yes you might be situated in the bush, but I’m a believer that you don’t have to look like a bug as a result. It’s a wonder; the Italians surely know how to introduce La Bella Vita into any ‘rugga-muffin’ context.  

I’ve been going through a swimming phase of late, and so every spare moment of the weekend was spent doing breaststroke
in the resort pool, in the middle of which was situated a pool bar. Happiness came in the form of a gin and tonic (my usual African drink), and so it was that I would take a sip (avoiding the lime), work-out a few complimentary strokes and then find my way back to the tonic for two more sips. If relaxation were to be defined by an action, this would be it.  Another though, would be lying in a hammock (as I’m sure you’ll agree).

The hammock moment came on day two. We had been taken on a private excursion to Wasini Island, about an hour’s boat-ride off the Diani coastline. Just before lunch we snorkeled, and whilst we had to negotiate our way through the seaweed and past a small drifting jelly-fish, the under-water panorama was (as always) a treat. Fish darted below us, and coral left a souvenir on my leg. 

Wasini is a primarily Muslim island, which meant that lunch-time alcohol was banned. Arriving at the jagged shoreline, we snaked our way up a dirty little path to a rustic restaurant, which looked as if it had grown out of the earth itself, completely accepted by its surroundings. In art, we used to learn about ‘landscape architecture’; a term which basically explained the way in which man-made structures ‘gave themselves’ in to their environment. And this ramshackle of a structure reminded me of the phenomenon; where the land adopts that which man has made, seemingly created by nature itself.

In the middle of the table, a light-skinned local then placed a wooden bowl of crabs, which had to be beaten with a pestle and mortar looking implement before the succulent meat could be gnawed at. I’m not sure if it was the fact that I had to work so hard for it, but that juicy crab was the best I’ve tasted. After this simple meal we then had about half- an-hours worth of island style…which meant ‘hammocking’ the moments away. The breeze was warm, and patches of sunlight streamed through the leaves above.

It took us an hour to sail back from Wasini and after a long day out at sea, I felt as if I knew the Kenyan waters intimately. Our bodies were tanned, and it was with a contented feeling that we returned to our Neptune Paradise Resort. 

The next morning (this being Sunday) allowed for a small lie-in, as our appointment on the golf-course was only scheduled for 10:30am. Throughout the weekend, 1Time had dangled amazing prizes (come juicy carrots), and the prize on this particular morning were two return flights to any 1Time destination of choice. All we had to do was whak the ball over the 100metre lake, landing it not only on the green but obviously as close to the flag-pole as possible. I’ve always assumed that I have a natural talent for sport, and here was my moment to prove not only beginner’s luck, but a swing of pure talent. I was told to ‘keep my eye on the ball’, and so I didn’t even lift my gaze to see where the ball finally assumed its resting place. I brimmed with excitement, but only up until the point when I was told that all three had gone scuba-diving. It appears as if I’ve taken after my dad. 

Kenyan holidays are renowned not only for their game-viewing and water sports, but so too for their golf, which has actually been described as one of Kenya's ‘best kept secrets’. Tourism boards market this feature enthusiastically, and so they should. We had a perfect morning and although the golf house looked slightly colonial in appearance, the course itself was well manicured, reminding me slightly of one you would find along Durban’s South Coast (without as much red sand). Regarding golf-safaris though, you would obviously have to select your months of travel though because during summer, the heat can become oppressive. The annual rainfall is then heaviest during the months of April and May, however the rainfall generally occurs before 10am and then again after 5pm, therefore ensuring ample hours of play. I would therefore recommend travelling between the months of June to October, as this marks the cool, dry season.

Back to the itinerary though and after spending ‘Sunday afternoon at leisure’, which meant pooling with intermittent sips of Gin, it was finally time to borrow a navy-blue polka dot dress from my roommate, and walk across to the adjoining Neptune Palm Beach resort for dinner, the facilities and layout of which were only slightly more luxurious than ours.

Surrounding the pool, tables of 12 had been set for the entire group. Despite the numbers though, no delicacy had been spared as tables lay heavy laden with both variety and a quality combination of foods which included crayfish, my personal favourite of the weekend.
This though marked our final night, and I actively avoided thinking about having to leave this weekend of alternate reality. I had embraced the weekend as a holiday. I hardly asked any questions, took only about seven photos in total and did almost zero networking. It was pure luxury, and I simply appreciated each moment that came my way, and so dived into the beauty within which I found myself. 

On the way home, I was paging through the 1Time magazine during the two hour flight from J’burg to Cape Town, and in it was an advert which cut sharp as a knife. There, on a comfortable looking couch was the dark silhouette of a person, an ashy remain of what once was a homebody. The slogan read something like: ‘book before its too late’. So if this article doesn’t do anything else, I hope it encourages you just to pack your bags, book and change that which you thought was unchanging namely: the routine of your existence. Be open to the people you meet, and the experiences you have and realise that watching TV never made for a memory. What makes memories is the heightened sense of being alive, and with that the feelings, the exotic smells and tastes with which you will associate and then remember those moments later on in life.  Ultimately, it’s not about how much money we saved, but rather about the moment we said ‘yes’.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Changing of the Kilimanjaro Sign

After years of cameras flashing and layers of stickers, the Tanzania National Parks decided to change their sign at Uhuru Peak on top of Kilimanjaro.  The old sign has become an icon over the years with people posing in front of it as evidence of reaching the highest peak in Africa. Now the NEW sign took its place at 5,895 m above sea level, with its green background and yellow writing. 

My honest opinion which definitely won’t change the mind of the Tanzania National Parks is that the new sign just doesn’t have the iconic properties of the old sign. It looks rather cheap and put together in a hurry. It won’t change the achievement of getting to the top, but I think more time and effort should have gone into creating the sign. I have climbed Kilimanjaro a few years ago and when I saw the wooden sign they had up there it was my sign to say I have conquered Kilimanjaro, much the same as the sight of the Eiffel Tower when you get to Paris, or the sight of the Big Ben in London, the sight of the Coliseum in Rome, etc.  I just saw it on so many pictures before that I knew this was it…I did it. Now getting to the top you might see the new sign looking like any road sign in South Africa and think…is this it? You will stand in front of it and take a picture and your friends will see your picture and think…Photoshop. 

Perhaps the new sign will also become the icon the old one was for so many years…but for me I think the old one should have stayed. They could have changed the poles and the foundations but the sign should have stayed the same. 

But what do I know? What do you think? 

Juan Nel
Kilimanjaro summit sign kilimanjaro board uhuru peak sign uhuru summit sign

A New Summit Sign for Kilimanjaro

Zanzibar Diary 2010

When my directors told me in early June that I would accompany my colleague Candis to Zanzibar came as a big surprise. I was very excited and nervous at the same time as I have never been to an Island before and never knew what to expect.

After preparing for a whole month for our Educational, final the day (20 July) has arrived.

Day 1: 20 July

My alarm was set for 03:00am as I needed to be at the OR Tambo International Airport at 05:00 am. The moment I woke up I had butterflies in my stomach, because I was so scared of flying (LOL). I felt very ill on my way to the airport but as soon as I arrived and met up with my colleague and the group of agents which went with us, the nerves was all forgotten and I was filled with excitement.

After all the required check in procedures we finally took off for Zanzibar at 07:45am, leaving a very cold Johannesburg behind us. Three hours it was announced that we were about to land in Zanzibar. Once the airplane doors opened we were welcomed with a heat wave of 27 degrees.

We all rushed off to get our visa’s which to my surprise only took 15 minutes. Finally we got our luggage and we noticed an African Encounters board with a tall man and a bright smile on his face, it was our ground operator Exotic Tours! I was relieved to see them as I knew I was now in good hands.

They lead us to our air conditioned tour bus  and we were all handed ice cold mineral water with a cold face cloth to cool to cool us down.

We started our first visit in Stone Town, where we did a inspection at Serena Inn hotel (5 star hotel) and Dhow Place (3 star  hotel) , these hotels are  suggested for one or two nights stay in Stone Town. Walking through Stone Town I was amazed at how beautiful all the building was as all was built from Coral, each building had a significant door, which took you back to ancient times.

We had lunch at Mercury’s a restaurant flooded with tourist and named after the famous Freddy Mercury. I was amazed at how friendly the locals were as each one greeted (Jambo) hello in Swahilli.

We than made our way to the South East Coast where we would overnight at Karafuu Hotel Beach Resort (4 star hotel) Welcomed with a smile, refreshing welcome drinks and the smell of the ocean.

Day 2: 21 July

We had a buffet breakfast, checked out at Karafuu, and headed to all the hotels that we needed to visit on the East Coast such as Dongwe Ocean view a three star hotel very cozy , intimate, great beach and very suitable for honeymooners with a tight budget. We continued to se White Rose, Ngalawa Beach village which has the most tasty food, Uroa Bay Beach Resort, Marumbi and Palumbo.

Finally our last stop would be the famous Blue BayBeach Resort ( 4 Star), the time we reached Blue Bay we were all exhausted and had sore feet of all the site inspections and heat. We all just needed a cool shower and that exactly what we did, but first we did a site inspection of the hotel as well as Sultan Sands which is the sister hotel to Blue Bay. Both of these hotels have stunning room’s great services and friendly staff.

Our rooms welcomed us with a cool refreshed air con atmosphere. Later that evening we enjoyed a buffet dinner with so much to choose from we also entertained by animations (know as there entertainment) masai dancers, which was such a cultural experience. It is amazing how high each masai jumps, and how its is done with so much passion.
After a long day and a entertaining evening is was time to call it a night.

Day 3: 22 July

We had a very early breakfast, checked out and hit the road to go do the Spice Tour at the Spice Farm.
On our way there I thought to myself “spice tour boring” what could be so interesting about spices? Well was I surprised…

We arrived and our local tour guide was waiting for us. He took us through the spice farm and I was amazed at how much different spices there was and how each spices was planted and grew differently. The plantation was filled with nutmeg, ginger, turmeric, cloves, lemon grass, pepper, cinnamon; curry leaves, vanilla pods, and much more. Its such an experience to see how all these spice look as they are picked from the ground and before they are packaged and sent off to the suppliers.

As you walk through the spice farm you keep hearing people singing with the most beautiful voices it was to my surprise that it was a local that climbs the coconut trees. It was with such enjoyment to stand there and watch as this guy climbs this massive tree with is bear hands all the ways to the top, which made it looks as easy as 123.. As soon as he reach the top the signing stops and he shouts down  at you to move out the way, as he drops down a few coconuts, than he climbs down as swiftly and calmly in that same beautiful song and voice. Once he reaches the bottom he cleans the coconut and serves you fresh coconut juice. It was amazing and I will cherish that experience with me always.

Once you complete the spice tour you are, taken to the little spice market where you can buy these spices from the locals.

We also got to taste the different fruits that are grown on the farm, such as  the Jack Fruit which is a mixture of banana and pineapple, and the custard apple which Candis enjoyed to the fullest, to be honest was not my cup of tea.

After a nice fun day we headed back to Azanzi Beach Hotel where we would overnight. Azanzi is a 4 star boutique hotel, situated on the North East Coast with a spectacular beach. You can enjoy snorkeling as well as glass kayaking and they have the best burgers in the island…

Day 4: 23 July

Woke up early and refreshed had breakfast, checked out and off onto the road for our next site inspection.

We headed to Double Tree By Hilton (4 star), which is situated in the North of the Nungwi Village.  The hotel is part of the Hilton hotel group.

I was amazed at how much effort was put in to welcome us, we were greeted by tall masie dancers, welcomed drinks, cold face cloths and all the manager where waiting with a smile. After we have completed our inspection at the hotel we were told to head to the beach to enjoy some cocktails ad mouth watering snack. We departed for our next inspection which was Myblue Hotel, which is surrounded by blue ocean..

Finally all our site inspections have been done and we headed onto Royal Zanzibar Beach Resort a five star resort in the North right next to MyBlue hotel, where we would be staying for our final night in Zanzibar.

I was very eager to see this resort as it is my Director Ewan’s best resort in Zanzibar.
I wanted to see what the big fuss was about.

Well we final arrived at the Royal at about 12H00 and I was blown away the instant the gates was opened. As you walk in you look straight in the blue Indian Ocean and four different swimming pools. Anderson the manager greeted us with such a soft caring smile and said jambo karibu (means hello welcome), He had us seated down with watermelon juice.  He introduced himself told us about the hotel and handed us our keys to our rooms.

Each room welcomes you with the smell of nutmeg and cloves vary large spacious rooms, with air con, TV, Balcony facing either the sea or pool area. Huge bath tub and vary spacious shower, as well as bath rope and slippers in each closet.
After we were all settled in we headed off to do some shopping in Stone Town, this was so much fun as a girl never gets enough of shopping. The locals are so eager to make a sale and I was amazed at how they know how to bargain. The market is filled with all types of local crafts, spices, material and much more.
At about 16H30 we headed back to the hotel.

We enjoyed a great beach dinner / party with a love band and acrobats to entertain the guests. Later that evening candies and I was lucky to be given the permission to take a swim in the Infinity pool, which looks out onto the sea, it was the most breathtaking view I have ever seen it was clear skies not a star in sight.

Royal Zanzibar Beach Resort in my best and I would highly recommend it to all our clients.

Day 5: 24 July

We had breakfast, did our last inspection of the Royal Zanzibar, said our goodbyes and headed off to the airport.

We were greeted by our ground operator where they handed gifts over to each one of us.   They handled our group check in at the 1Time counter, once checked in which took forever as in Zanzibar the locals move with ease and no stress unlike us South Africans. We finally went through custom, boarded our flight and landed in Johannesburg South Africa at 15H35.

My experience in Zanzibar will be cherished forever and I would recommend it to the young and the old. I enjoyed every minute of it and wish I didn’t have to go home.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

16 February 1923: Carter opens tomb of King Tut

On this day in 1923, in Thebes, Egypt, English archaeologist Howard Carter enters the sealed burial chamber of the ancient Egyptian ruler King Tutankhamen.
 Because the ancient Egyptians saw their pharaohs as gods, they carefully preserved their bodies after death, burying them in elaborate tombs containing rich treasures to accompany the rulers into the afterlife. In the 19th century, archeologists from all over the world flocked to Egypt, where they uncovered a number of these tombs. Many had long ago been broken into by robbers and stripped of their riches. When Carter arrived in Egypt in 1891, he became convinced there was at least one undiscovered tomb--that of the little known Tutankhamen, or King Tut, who lived around 1400 B.C. and died when he was still a teenager. Backed by a rich Brit, Lord Carnarvon, Carter searched for five years without success. In early 1922, Lord Carnarvon wanted to call off the search, but Carter convinced him to hold on one more year. In November 1922, the wait paid off, when Carter's team found steps hidden in the debris near the entrance of another tomb. The steps led to an ancient sealed doorway bearing the name Tutankhamen. When Carter and Lord Carnarvon entered the tomb's interior chambers on November 26, they were thrilled to find it virtually intact, with its treasures untouched after more than 3,000 years. The men began exploring the four rooms of the tomb, and on February 16, 1923, under the watchful eyes of a number of important officials, Carter opened the door to the last chamber. Inside lay a sarcophagus with three coffins nested inside one another. The last coffin, made of solid gold, contained the mummified body of King Tut. Among the riches found in the tomb--golden shrines, jewelry, statues, a chariot, weapons, clothing--the perfectly preserved mummy was the most valuable, as it was the first one ever to be discovered. Despite rumors that a curse would befall anyone who disturbed the tomb, its treasures were carefully catalogued, removed and included in a famous traveling exhibition called the "Treasures of Tutankhamen." The exhibition's permanent home is the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Back in Time: My 1st visit to Zanzibar in 2006

I had never been to an island destination before so I did not know what expect when I got Zanzibar. The first thing that struck me as we flew over the island to land was how crystal clear the water was from the air. After landing and disembarking from the aircraft a wave of heat and humidity hits you like you’ve never felt before, with in 5 minutes yours clothes are wet. The airport is very small, the arrivals hall can’t be more than 20 meters long, the people working there don’t seem to be in a hurry to get your bags off the airplane at all. All you can do is wait for them. After all you are now on the “ISLAND??? now man and things work a little slower here so its no use stressing over these small things. 
Finally got my bag and we were off the find our transfer company. As we walked out to the arrivals they were waiting for us with a board with our names on it. Got into a nice aircon bus which was a well come relief from the heat and humidity outside. We were now off to Stone Town. Stone town is a maze of buildings where people in my opinion just build buildings wherever they want because to drive in these roads takes a lot of skill. I don’t think I will ever get a car to rental there. The buildings are very old with a big Arabian and Indian influence in most of them. There are few hotels in Stone town for people who want to spend a night or two. My favorite hotels in town are Tembo House and Zanzibar Serena Inn mainly because of the style, location and decor. As you drive down through the island you see how poor the locals are and how they live off the land of this spice island, by growing fruit and spices that they sell. Fishing is also a major industry for the locals. The standard of hotels around the island varies from your budget accommodation, bed and bathroom to your deluxe 5 star all inclusive hotels with all the bells and whistles that a person need to have a great holiday. For me one of the most impressive things to see was how Paje by Night a very budget and basic hotel makes his money. All the people that come stay there because of the atmosphere they create for their clients to have an awesome time, and most of the time they are repeat clients because the owners are so down to earth. Then you have Gemma dell Est a 5 star all inclusive hotel where everything you need is at your finger tips, all sodas, most beers and all the food you can eat at your finger tips, not to forget all the cocktails are all included to. The beaches in Zanzibar reminded me of baking powder they are soft and white. Then you get the sea life, you don’t need to be a scuba diver to see the most beautiful fish while you are snorkeling close to the beach on the nearest reef the fish are abundant. It’s easy to see why the hotels make such awesome fish to eat. The people in Zanzibar all speak Swahili and are very very friendly, whether you are walking on a beach or into the hotel you they all greet you, Jambo meaning hello and Karibu - welcome or my favorite Hakuna Matata which means no worries I would say that this paradise needs to be visited by everyone once in their lives to see how humans are supposed to be living, not in the hustle and bustle of city life by lying on the beach in Zanzibar sipping away on your Pina Colada See you in Zanzibar Soon