Sunrise over sea, snorkelling with lions & Maasai hosts

Life really has been a beach of late. We arrived in Zanzibar intending to stay five days; two weeks later we finally dragged ourselves away. It is an island that can quite simply be described as paradise and I loved every minute of our white sand, palm fringed, tropical breeze existence. After wandering the streets of Stone Town, we made our way to the east coast to a beach called Matemwe where the waves crashed on the outer coral reef and the sand was so white it was like talcum powder. We met up with new-found friends from our safari and headed out on a dug-out canoe to go snorkelling on the reef. The colours were spectacular, the water so turquoise it was almost luminous.

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We were joined by a couple of English friends we’d picked up along the way for Kirsty’s final night – a giant punch party complete with tropical juices and local gin. The tiny restaurant that was hosting us soon cleared out as we moved back the tables and danced to the ‘Jambo Jambo’ CD Kirsty had bought in Dar. We danced and drank our punch under the stars and it was a wonderful farewell to an amazing friend. We tearfully put Kirsty on the ferry the next day, trying to get our heads around the fact that the three musketeers were now down to two.

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More time in paradise was urgently needed.

We spent most of our time at a spectacular beach further down the coast called Paje – aka Paradise. I’m not sure it means that but it should. I’ve never been anywhere so breathtaking and lying under palm fringed umbrellas on the beach having massages from local women and sipping gin and tonics with the sweetest Zanzibari limes I’ve ever tasted was heaven. I managed to find a guitar from the local Rasta guys and sat on the beach writing a song as the local children came and danced before me, swaying in the sand. I couldn’t help but smile.

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From African safari to the spice islands of the Indian Ocean

Mambo Jambo from the spice islands, the Indian Ocean, the land where palm trees sway, where dhows glide blissfully across the horizon, where the sun sets spectacularly and the call to prayer is frequent – Zanzibar!
It is difficult to believe how quickly you can go from village to genocide memorial to big city to safari to paradise islands… Well, when I say quickly, there were some of the most epic bus trips of my life along the way… We left Kigali on what was meant to be a 12 hour bus trip across the border into Tanzania. If only life here was so simple. We ended up dumped in some end-of-the-earth taxi park in a town called Nzega, told the bus was coming ‘soon’. How soon? Three minutes. Great.
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Two hours later, still no sign of any kind of bus (although one did come into the taxi park called the “Virgin Express” – it wasn’t going our way though…).
Finally, after dark, the bus arrived, packed with people and no spare seats. It was only a four hour trip so we said we’d stand. We were desperate. At one point I was sitting on the knee of some boy wearing a t-shirt that said WEAR CONDOMS! (he worked for an AIDS awareness organisation), Cherie was being burnt from sitting on the engine and when Kirsty tried to close her eyes to sleep the guy I was sitting on told her to keep her eyes open because if we stopped suddenly she’d be thrown through the windscreen and would need to be looking out to brace herself. Life was good. We finally made it to Mwanza, a Tanzanian town on the southern shores of Lake Victoria, long after dark and were guided by a friendly local guy to a place to stay. 18 hours of chaotic African travel – we slept well that night!
In Mwanza we decided that given everyone but us comes to Africa to see the animals, we should splash out and do the same – safari! We spent three incredible days travelling through the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater where zebras, giraffes, elephants, gazelle, baboons, buffalos and lions roam… It was truly spectacular.
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The Serengeti is what you dream about when you think of Africa – dry plains stretch forever with acacia trees punctuating the landscape and wild animals wander. I think I took more photos of trees than animals but to be standing with your head out the roof of a 4WD in the middle of Africa watching giraffes and elephants roam takes your breath away.
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Reconciling horror with beauty

Last time I wrote it was the eve of our Rwandan adventure and now as I sit in Kigali on our last night in Rwanda, it is difficult to get my head around the week we have spent here – never mind to try to put it into words.

After an epic 10 hour bus trip that brought us from capital to capital – Kampala to Kigali, we arrived exhausted and exhilarated. The drive through northern Rwanda south to Kigali is spectacular and it was clear to see why this place is called ‘the land of a thousand hills’. I lost count within the first hour. Densely cultivated countryside sprawled across the hills in a patchwork of every kind of green imaginable. Mud huts clung to the edge of steep valleys as women and children carried all kinds of things on their heads around the winding roads. Stacks of terracotta roofing tiles, jerry cans full of water, a spade head, giant bunches of bananas, huge clay pots, two-metre long lengths of sugarcane, an uncountable number of giant sacks of potatoes, a man in a tiny village dressed immaculately in a suit with a briefcase on his head, another man carrying a 4-foot high sack of firewood – sitting vertically on his head… The list goes on.

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So the first thing that hits you about Rwanda is its overwhelming beauty. However, this is quickly undercut by the unspeakable horror that took place here not so long ago. On day one, Kirsty and I went wandering only to stumble across Hotel des Milles Collines aka Hotel Rwanda. For those of you who haven’t seen the film, it documents a local Rwandan man who managed the hotel and during the genocide gave refuge to over a thousand Tutsis, ultimately saving their lives. We entered the immaculate foyer and ended up in the most beautiful gardens sitting beneath umbrellas sipping coffee. It was hard to try and picture the scene here in 1994 when people lived in constant fear of death and were so desperate they drank the swimming pool to stay alive.

The following day, Cherie joined us from her gorilla trekking experience and the three of us went to the Kigali Memorial Centre – a museum dedicated to the genocide. It was truly horrific. The museum is incredibly well done and gives a build up to the genocide, trying to offer some kind of explanation as to how something so unthinkable could have taken place in a world that had so clearly denounced genocide after the Holocaust. There is a very moving quotation that states:

“When they said ‘never again’ after the Holocaust, was it meant for some people and not for others?”

The pictures and stories deteriorate into a scene of absolute horror as the genocide takes hold of the country. Over 800,000 Tutsis were murdered in 100 days, a rate of death that I still cannot begin to get my head around. The complete apathy of the international community is chilling; the world literally stood by and watched as people were slaughtered, mostly with machetes, all over the country. People were sending messages to the world, reporters were sending stories to editors but the world was not interested. America had recently been embarrassed by a major blunder in Somalia and didn’t want to get involved again. The press said people were ‘sick of Africa’ and, besides, Princess Diana and Prince Charles were getting divorced – that was what sold papers.

I am in the middle of reading an incredible book called “We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families” by Philip Gourevitch, an American journalist who came to Rwanda after the genocide to try and find some answers. That night, lying in bed, images of horror still fresh in my mind, I read about massacres that took place in a church in Kigali called Sainte Famille. Realisation hit me – we were staying at the Sainte Famille. I lay in bed looking around me, trying to take in stories of thousands hiding in these very rooms as the massacres took place outside the doors. There were lists of names of Tutsis to be killed and the Father of the church actually helped the genocidaires to locate these people from within the church. Needless to say, I did not sleep that night. Continue reading