A Travellerspoint blog

I think I just ate a delicious Giraffe

Andy is smarter than me

sunny -29 °C

Namibia is in Africa. I find that difficult to accept as it doesn’t really belong in Africa. With a few exceptions, its clean, organised, relatively uncorrupted and a delightful place to visit … or even live. The capital Windhoek (Vent-huk) is a showcase of civilised living. The compact city of 325,000 is beautiful, totally organised and would fit into any western civilisation as an example to all others. The shopping centres, supermarkets, etc put our own in NZ in the shadow. I wandered about in stunned wonder. Most of all I noticed there is no traffic congestion. I further wondered if there was a chance of exchanging our City Councillors and staff for a couple of years. Then I realised that would be totally unfair to Windhoek.
I suspect the reason for the country’s impressive organisation is because for many years it was settled by then became a German colony. The Teutonic efficiency (and lots of German descendants) remain. I became conscious of this when, on our first night we checked into a German Castle called Heinitzburg. I had to ask Flypaper if she had put me on the correct flight out of Angola.

Since independence in 1990, both Windhoek and Namibia have continued to grow and prosper through obvious good management and little corruption. Other African countries must hate it. In a bid to reduce traffic incidents the police breathalyse everyone involved – even pedestrians. Turns out, pedestrians cause a lot of accidents. (You probably knew that already.)

There is poverty in Namibia – especially in the rural areas where anyone not involved in the tourist industry lives a subsistence existence. The ‘guvmint’ is focused on improving their situation. Times are particularly tough right now as there has been a 4 year drought. That means all the rich people’s cows and goats are dying – resulting in them no longer being rich. This made me think. (This is no holiday – thinking is often required.) Owning cows and other livestock is a big deal in Africa. The reason is, when you get a few (well at least 2 – a cow and a bull) you enjoy annual capital gain. Lots of people in NZ do the same. They buy houses to take advantage of the capital gain – wealth increment with little effort or risk. When the drought comes, or the big bad rulers tax capital gain, the rich suffer … and the poor people are glad.

There is a huge slum around Walvis Bay – but the local ‘guvmint’ is building cheap housing to improve their lot. I mean cheap! Currently, a family 2 or 3 bedroom house, including the land, built by a German company for the municipality, costs between N$36,337 and N$46,736. (That’s about NZ38,000 – NZ48,000. They look good – like the prefab houses of the 1970’s at home. (This wonderful concept sounds familiar doesn’t it.)
To lean more interesting things about this wonderful country check out … https://www.factretriever.com/namibia-facts

Something Flypaper noticed immediately was, the women did not carry loads on their heads. The reason (I believe) is the same as why women in the western world abstain from this wonderful practical tradition … they are conscious of their complicated hair. It’s a vanity thing. Astonishingly, we have seen a few men with head loads. I believe this is the influence of emancipation. Men worldwide are developing feminine habits.

Namibian tourism is booming – its all about visiting their very good public and privately owned game parks. Most African animals can be found here in quantity quite easily. With all due modesty, I am an expert on African animals. I have seen the film ‘Lion King’ twice and the stage show. I also know the meaning of "Hakuna Matata" which is helpful understanding African people. During the first game park safari, I was able to point out to Flypaper the names of many animals. Then she went and spoilt it by buying a book with pictures – and astonishingly, associated names that differed from mine. However, to some degree I made up for it by explaining when we saw warning roadside pictures of various animals, that meant the pictured animal would be on duty ahead for tourists to photograph. Unfortunately, the system is flawed. When (say) and Elephant and Giraffe were depicted, we often discovered they had substituted Wart Hog or Emu. She was thoroughly disgusted to learn, like animals at home, they can’t read – or worse, they were capable of misleading the visitors who were paying for their very protection.

On one 4 hour journey (excellent roads) between our game lodges we thought it prudent to top up the diesel in our Avis 4WD. A small rural town provided a well presented ‘Shell’ station and it took only a couple of minutes for me to instruct the pump attendant in a language he was obviously unfamiliar with. A few seconds later I was greeted from behind by a short skinny young man with interesting teeth. (Unsure if they were a result of tribal custom or a serious accident.) He spoke excellent English which made my gesticulations and ‘Naminglish’ unnecessary. He said, “Hello Sir, my name is Timothy the artist”. Sadly, I responded poorly saying,” You should call yourself Andy the artist. It sounds better”. He was delighted with the idea and exposed even more teeth for my examination. “ I’ll change my name now”, he said and turned to the pump attendant instructing him henceforth to call him Andy. No Deed Poll required in Namibia. He then said, “You called your wife Anne. Is that with an e”? Presumptuous I thought. Why should he assume she was my wife? It wasn’t the time to enter a philosophical discussion, so I said yes – only to have him politely inquire if my own name was like the English Car or the French Singer? “The latter”, I said. Thinking that would stump him so I could attend to other matters for which fuel stations are very convenient. In the few minutes it took us to attend to obtaining relief, paying for fuel and purchasing a bottle of Iced Tea, my new friend had scurried to his shed and returned with 2 small soapstone rocks on short leather straps … astonishingly carved with our names correctly spelt. I was impressed and begged Flypaper to negotiate for what would be our only souvenirs of Africa – while I rummaged in my bag for one of the plastic ‘Tiki’s’ I carry for those deserving of my admiration (or a minor bribe). I explained to ‘Andy the artist’ that our indigenous New Zealand people are now subcontracting to the Chinese to carve these small tokens of high esteem and good luck and I wished him to wear it henceforth and forever. This bought out even more teeth. I decided I wished to see the full set so continued explaining, “If you wear this you will grow to be over 2 metres tall and very strong. Then you can play rugby and beat the South Africans – like we do”. He was almost reduced to tears with delightful anticipation. I, on the other hand was shortly thereafter, devastated to discover Flypaper had paid 200 Namibian dollars each (that’s nearly NZ$40 in total) for the small rocks. I saw similar in the shop for 50.
I am sorely considering, do I never trust Flypaper to important financial transactions in the future or, are poorly educated, rural, entrepreneurial African’s smarter than we think?

As we drive along, we enjoy a snack. It enables Flypapers jaw to keep working without any noise being emitted and I have opportunity to ruminate on these recordings of my thoughts. In Namibia we considered it appropriate to chew Biltong. That’s dried meat popular in Southern Africa. Flypaper had purchased a selection of “Game Biltong” – lots of different size, shapes, colours and textures – so we enjoyed considering, using various logical reasoning, as to which game meats we were eating. Was it Springbok, Duiker, Oryx, Eland or perhaps the little Dik Dik? I was certain Baboon, Wart Hog, Hyena, Giraffe and Jackal were included. Elephant & Rhino seemed logically to be too tough and nothing tasted like chicken, which I’m aware cats do – so that ruled out Lion and Leopard.

At one of the huge game parks, elephants had beaten down the fence to get in. The obstacle had obviously annoyed then, so they proceed to march around ripping out trees to vent their anger. It stuck me that home in Northland, there exists $3,000,000 worth of dead Pine trees. Could these be used as an anger management exercise? I’ll watch out for other good ideas to give value to some of the stupid things our taxation is being spent on.

I had to point out to Flypaper she had again packed too many clothes and makeup. Women can travel very light here and not feel at all out of place in the rural regions. This is due to the fact all the indigenous women wear no upper body garments and smother themselves with local clay which is freely available to all. (I once made a similar observation on the French Riviera, but the women didn’t bother with the mud until hidden away in their hotel spa.) Here, they stand on the roadside begging one to stop and take a photo for about a dollar. Its lucky I bought plenty of small change as I do like to support the local economy.

I have discovered the National Newspaper (The Namibian) is a great source of entertainment. One story worth repeating, recorded an incident at a fuel service station where a customer was filling 7 x 50 litre plastic containers inside the back of his car. Unexpectedly (?) the petrol caught fire when the owners brother passed a lighted cigarette through the window – all with devastating results – to both the car and the service station. It transpires this same fate had previously befallen the brother at another service station at which they were now banned. In an interview the car owner expressed indignation that he had lost his last car and could not afford another. He was further seriously annoyed that the service station had charged him N$90,000 for the petrol. He planned to take the matter to Court on the basis that, as he had not paid for the petrol at the time of the explosion, the fuel still belonged to the service station and they should be compensating him for the loss of his car. (Seems reasonable to me.)

Of particular interest to both me and the newspaper readers are the Letters to the Editor. Most complain in great detail regarding minor corruption and implore the Anti-corruption Board to investigate. Things like the local doctor seeing his friends and family sooner than patients who arrive even before opening hours and others castigating their local Council for lack of services and rash spending on frivolous things (sounds familiar). Having been the victim of a vehicle knocking me off my bicycle I am particularly sympathetic to the writer of the letter addressed to the President of Namibia personally. “Mr President. I, on behalf of all cyclists in Windhoek, have lost hope, faith, trust and confidence to survive in traffic, as we fear that taxi drivers will kill us through their reckless driving. They should be fined until they obey and respect traffic rules”. I have included this verbatim as a template for all those whining cyclists in our NZ cities who expect special lanes for their personal efforts to save our planet.

As we drive the highways between safari lodges, we constantly see young men tending animals grazed on the “Long mile” (as we used to know it.) The roadside grass. Here in Namibia the grass is sparse and brown, but the cattle, goats and sheep appear to be in excellent condition. (I would know better if I saw their steak on a plate.) While I applaud their resourcefulness and admire their patience (imagine walking in front of a herd of goats up and down the same road for life) I am somewhat concerned with their adoption of the global nonsense known as OSH. (Occupational Health and Safety) In site of the animals being astonishingly well behaved and unconcerned by traffic whizzing past at 120kph (the legal speed limit) and a culture that knows to hit an animal is a life in solitary without remission offence, each of these drovers now waves a red flag at approaching traffic. Flypaper was moved to ask, “Do you think they support the Communist Party”?

Our final night was spent at Swakopmund – Namibia’s gold coast. The most interesting thing I discovered is the origin of the city name. Swakop derives from Tsoaxaub, a Khoi word meaning 'flow of excrement'. This city is named diarrhea !

Posted by Wheelspin 09:09 Archived in Namibia Tagged elephant namibia lion leopard hyena windhoek girraffe swakapmund diarrehea biltong duker wulvis Comments (0)

I recommend the mud

A contraception idea

sunny -30 °C

If you draw a straight line from Heathrow to Auckland airport, its likely the part of the world furthest from that line will South West Africa. Africa was the fist continent Flypaper and I explored together. By the time we’d reached Cape Town I was over it – but Flypaper, in that strange feminine way, retained a sentimental attachment to that harshest of all landmasses. The parts we missed previously were North East (Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan,) and Southwest Africa (Angola, Namibia) so at a moment I was distracted she claims to have said, “Lets fill in the gaps”. For all I new she could have been doing a crossword puzzle. Nek minute (duh) I’m advised, “The civil war is over, so I’ve booked us a few days in Angola”. The war may be over, but the land mines still exist.

Angola is likely to be the most difficult country outside the Russian influence to obtain a visa. After many abortive attempts online and discussions with the UK Ambassador, we arrived in Sao Tome without a Visa for our next destination. I’ve been refused entry to a Night Club and some other places I’ll not name, but never to a country. We fronted up at the Sao Tome Embassy for Angola totally confident that our extensive documentation augmented by my natural charm, would do the job. Even that charm failed to avoid the run-around to copy shops, banks … and a delay of a week – followed by a rejection because the ambassador was too busy at a meeting to apply his signature (that’s code for we want a late application fee). With hours to spare we had the most impressive addition to our passports.
Angola, like most of Africa is a basket case. It isn’t going to change much in the foreseeable future. Angola is arguably among the wealthiest countries in Africa and on the list of significant oil, diamond, copper, cobalt, gold, and other mineral resources counties of the world. Everyone wants a piece of Angola and its ripe for plucking. And there's plucker's on every horizon.

There are 3 faces of Angola. (1) The fabulously wealthy oil and mineral resources driven capital city Luanda, dominated by wealthy corporations in huge towers – all controlled by corrupt politicians. Its considered the world’s most expensive city for expats and is now known as the ‘Paris of Africa’. (2) the shanty towns snuggling into every nook and cranny among the wealthy of Luanda and the enormous hinterland that expends over the horizon getting more destitute at the edges, and (3) the poor subsistence farming people of the rural regions.
The 23rd largest county in the world (out of 234.) Officially the population is about 32 million and the population of the capital Luanda is 11 million. However, these official stats are accepted as being grossly understated. The numbers could be 40 million and 15 million – who knows – its impossible to undertake an accurate census. The birth-rate is high and urbanisation is growing at about 6% annually. The net population growth is estimated at 1 person every 25 seconds. There is a slowly growing middle class but the vast majority are living hand to mouth day by day.
Noticeable on the streets are barrow boys. These are young men who have managed to scrounge together enough scrap timber to build a basic wheelbarrow. They hang about everywhere hoping for an opportunity to carry a load for someone usually only a short distance. Eg. Business to vehicle. But they are not on the bottom of the labour heap. They may get a few cents per job – but they can employ another boy to actually do the lifting and pushing for a portion of those few cents. They average wage of these lads is a dollar a day. The rural people often live for less. On a good day, the various “guvmint” ministers will syphon of a couple of hundred million dollars into their respective tax free offshore accounts.
While pondering the inequities I spotted a picture representing the Angolan Scales of Justice. In most countries the scales are balanced. In Angola they are decidedly unbalanced. A Freudian slip?
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Many still manage to climb the ladder of success. I was impressed with the promotional skills of a hairdresser who boldly advertised … “Come in ugly – leave beautiful”. Tempting.
I was told, “Since the civil war there is now freedom of speech – but we never test it”. (Such wisdom from one so young.)

We all have reason to be grateful to our parents. The act of conception ranks pretty high and we can all think of other things. One that springs to mind for me and certainly wouldn’t have been a conscious program of forward planning for me by my parents, was the freedom as a young child to sit outside and eat mud. The immunities gained, the acceptance of soiled clothes and tolerance of the taste has served me well over the years. If you love your children and suspect they may become wanderers – feed them dirt asap.

Luanda has restaurants ranging for superb to preferring starvation. They are consistent in terms of poor service – except for one task. The waiters hover around waiting to snatch up your plate the moment they consider you finished. Sometimes you’re still eating while following them out to the wash-up area. When you do receive food it is a big plate and its full. Sometimes one wonders what its full off but if you poke around you will find some delicious stuff. The rule when traveling in Africa is ‘give it a go’. It can only kill you. The odds are better than not eating and dying of starvation.

An interesting feature of driving in Angola. On 2 lane highways always cruise in the centre lane – pass on the inside. This is because all the taxi buses (and everyone else) simply stops to pick up passengers without pulling off the road. If you drive on the inside, you’ll inevitably crash into the back of someone or at least, take 10 times longer to arrive. Rush hour traffic congestion in Luanda is among the worst in the world. Expatriate workers all have a company driver. If they drive themselves, they will be subject to police harassment or worse … boys on motorbikes (with a pillion passenger witness) will jamb on their brakes in front of you to cause an accident. When the police arrive they advise its cheaper to just pay for a new motorcycle (or even car). The scales of justice in action.

We headed south out of the city for a river cruise and game park visit – both reminiscent of experiences 40 years ago – but Africa doesn’t progress very quickly or much out in the rural regions. There’s birds and animals to be seen and the experience is better than holding your nose playing dodgems in town while fending off pickpockets. We overnighted in a lodge on the river which provided some memorable moments. The first was arriving at 7.30pm – in the dark. We had experienced a flat tyre in the game park so lost an hour. As the only guests’ dinner was left for us. Curried goat we guessed – but other options abound. We crept through the darkness to our cabin – stumbling over tree roots, poor paving and things that moved. The door responded to the key but we couldn’t find the light switch. It was finally discovered in the bathroom. Everything electrical was in the bathroom – but things like shower doors, hot water, towel rail, hooks, etc were missing. While Flypaper unpacked, I decided to take my LED torch and creep back to the jetty to take a photo of the moon across the river. Beautiful – and the crocs around here are quite small. On the way back (looking for the only cabin with a light glowing and a woman silhouetted on the window) I sensed something in the dim glow of the LED scurrying toward me. This is tropical Africa where unknown creatures are genetically programmed to eat white men. Especially white men who can no longer run very fast. I’ll be honest. I nearly had a spontaneous involuntary discharge. The kick delivered to the creature would have cleared the goalpost bar from the halfway line. A very satisfying result. In the morning we discovered lots of 100mm holes dug in the sandy soil beside the pathway. That’s where the giant land crabs live.

Next morning we observed the owner of the lodge creeping around with his air rifle trying to ping the rump of the neighbours pig. He explained it was a positive learning experience for the pig which kept it off the lodge property for as long as 2 days. Flypaper suggested he get a dog. “My wife has one”, he said, “It sleeps between us on our bed. I call it condom”.

Angola does at least have one deep thinker and one who is a wordsmith extraordinaire. The front page of his menu advised … “Wine is made to be enjoyed – but sooner or later it must be consumed. This does not require skill or knowledge”. Profound.

Posted by Wheelspin 09:48 Archived in Angola Tagged land mines angola crabs corruption condom Comments (0)

The best prostitutes are at my gate

You can share my banana leaf

rain -31 °C

The Equator runs through 13 countries. Tiny São Tomé is one of them. No wonder its constantly hot and humid. There is around 5,000mm of rain each year. We were fortunate to experience a tropical rainstorm one afternoon. It provided opportunity to witness the adaptability and acceptance of 3rd world existence. Many simply carried on as usual. Their attitude was, “We’re wet today - we’ll be dry tomorrow. Why do anything different between?” Others, like young ladies with complicated hair exhibited more concern. As we in the West worry ourselves about single use plastic bags, 3rd world societies have countless reuse ideas. The girls simply slipped a white plastic shopping bag over their heads and pinched out two eye-holes. Mothers were even more clever. They inserted their baby into a bag and popped it up on their head. Two problems solved and hands free for other things. Instant waterfalls erupted from buildings and cliffs so many stripped off and bought wash day forward. Still others put the lunch dishes out on low roofs from which crude downpipes channeled water (and food scraps) into well placed buckets for later use. The rain conveniently kept the flies off the fish displayed on the roadside – including a shark as large as the dugout canoe from which it was caught. It also turned the compounds into mud, but most people stayed out on the road or under any available shelter. Banana leaves were adopted as umbrellas while young boys played as they do worldwide in the dirty puddles. The laundry ladies in the river were moving frantically to save their washing from the imminent flash flood.

Lunch was up a road that reminded me of 4 Wheel Driving up rocky riverbeds. The building was an old Portuguese colonial plantation house with lots of dormitory style wings added on. It belonged to a wealthy fisherman which made me wonder why more fishermen didn’t live in grand old houses. They served a spectacular fish dish followed by tropical fruits … as usual, enough to make me loosen my belt and Flypaper to complain quietly of tight elastic. Suddenly I wondered and asked our guide, “Is this a guest house for local holiday makers”? ”Sort of”, he replied. “Rich men come from town to meet girls here”. We had just lunched in a bordello.

The towns, villages and rural areas abound with pigs, goats and dogs. All are fossicking for their own existence among rubbish that appears to have been chewed or licked clean previously. The guide explained the dogs were all wild but remained very friendly. The goats tended to be community property and we’re killed for meat on special occasions such as weddings and Saints Day feasts. The most valuable, the pigs, were individually owned. Given we have previously owned farms and have some knowledge of stock identification, I asked how the owners knew which pigs and their many offspring were theirs. “They don’t”, he replied. “The pigs know their owners and often return home”. Really? That’s an unfortunate evolutionary adaption as, when they do, they inevitably end up on the spit and shared for US$4 per kilo.

A prominent and important feature of São Tomé landscape is Cão Grande. (Great Dog Peak) An amazing 663 metre pillar of rock that formed as the core of a volcano which eroded away. It was only recently free climbed by a couple of guys who were annoyed to discover there was nowhere to pitch their tent at the summit. Obviously climbing involves a limited skill set and predictive observation is not among them. The moss growing on the rocks due to high moisture content, and the presence of countless aggressive snakes, make the climb very difficult. Our guide indignantly told that while the people of the region profess to be Christians, they indulge in pagan rites at the base of this huge phallic symbol. Flypaper looked puzzled and started to question him for detail. I smoothly interjected suggesting they saw it as a fossilised rocket ship left by intergalactic space travelers millions of years ago.
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One food we failed to try was Estufa de morcego - a bat stew delicacy that is served on saints days and during fiestas. Shame about that. Most meals include a green leaf plant we saw grown and harvested in jungle plots. When we asked our guide, he told us it was the staple green veg and searched the internet to discover it was called Lucerne. I was happily able to tell him we also ate Lucerne in New Zealand … but ours is processed first.

I’ve previously mentioned the beer and even suggested it may provide gastric protection. This is highly unlikely as it is the worst beer I’ve ever tasted. Given the corrupt corporate owners have no competition and their principal market knows no better, they have no need of improvement or even provide a 2nd recipe. Tourists have no point in exposing them and consider it a better option than the bottled water on the basis there is ample evidence among drinkers it does have an alcoholic content.

Crime has always interested me. As an impartial observer of course. I usually favour the perpetrator and appreciate their motives. If I was a judge our jails would have far fewer inmates. As a result, I ask our guides about the crime rate. Its low in São Tomé for the reason that will become obvious. There is a jail on the island, but we are not allowed to drive by, and the death penalty still exists. We were told a story. When a very large sum of cash arrived at a bank, a couple of senior staff decided to steal it on Sunday night. Remember throughout – this is Africa. They fled in one of their personal cars because the other had been borrowed by his driver (e.g. Lower end crime). The police soon found them as neither they nor the funds were present at the bank on Monday morning. The arresting officers saw their own chance and legged it with the money bag. They were smarter – they took a police car with flashing lights to hasten their escape. An hour later they arrived at the most northern point of the island and ran out of road. There’s nowhere to hide on a small island. These guys didn’t become senior police officers without being smart. They found a poor gardener, thrust the money bag into his hands and told him to run. When their colleagues arrived, they pointed into the jungle and proclaimed they were close on the heels of the robber. When the hapless gardener was arrested, he was tortured into a confession which included running all the way from the capital to the coast with the bag on his head in under 2 hours. Somehow the story unraveled and all 5 of the involved parties were slung in jail – just to be sure of a tidy solution without any loose ends.

São Tomé has 2 Cellphone service providers. One is Portuguese – a nation which has been taking advantage of this country for hundreds of years, and the other owned by the Presidents daughter. (The current Pres has only been taking advantage of the people for 3 years and has 2 more to go before election time. The family are making hay quick time.) Of the 200,000 population, about 125,000 have a Cellphone. Only the seriously poor go without. A cheap Chinese phone is about Euro 20 / US$20. A prepaid Voice Only Sim is about Euro 3 with 30 day 900MB usage costing around Euro 4. Data is expensive and individuals pay by the hour. Few bother – which suits the 'guvmint' who don’t really want the citizenry knowing about the standards enjoyed in other places. This could cause unrest which would be a nuisance and is never very pleasant. The hotels and large businesses negotiate a deal that our guide was unfamiliar with. (I’m using it now – its not bad … but could deteriorate if the president’s daughter finds out I mentioned her.)

Another interesting commercial situation. I have been puzzled by the huge number of motorcycles obvious throughout the country. Many appear owned by poor and under employed (they may earn a little from taxi service or contract load carrying.) I asked how it was possible for a poor person to purchase a motorbike. This was an issue the motorcycle importers grappled with for several years and have now developed a system that puts them within reach of all. Hire purchase. In Portuguese it’s called ‘Contratar compra’. It possible to purchase on a yearly, monthly, weekly or daily basis. Yes – sign up to pay a little off each day. It just takes faith, and the sum is small enough to be borrowed from a friend or perhaps services paid in advance. (There are penalties for failure to pay and understand they are onerous and could include no money / no bike or a debt for life.)
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Our hotel in São Tomé for the final 2 nights – arranged so Flypaper can take advantage of their laundry service – is the 2nd best in town and suitable for soft tourists. The map shows a few others but I’m aware there is a couple of places the particularly frugal, hardy or stupid can stay in abject discomfort. The best hotel with constant electricity, stable air-con, western food and free bottled water is the Casino – owned by the president’s son. Our hotel has some lovable idiosyncrasies. Electricity is fairly constant. To have a choice at breakfast one needs to beat 50% of the guests into the dining room. To have protein with the evening meal its necessary to creep out into the garden to discover if the trainee chef has a barbecue operating – it will be fish and pork or fish and goat. All 3 look and taste similar – charred and dry. A nice touch is the fruit and veg display on the disused servery between kitchen and dinning room. They have lined up a long row of the currently available products – just as they arrived from the market. Unwashed carrots, cassava, yams and potatoes. Hairy coconuts, green bananas and other unknown things that will end up on our plate at some later time. Back to the laundry. We have a wager regarding the likelihood of receiving back the same garments we submitted. This could be a serious issue.
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Our hotel is in the best part of town, near many embassies and wealthy homes. This attracts the best class of prostitutes. We had seen girls around town and in the suburbs that our driver tooted and waved at – but our 28-year-old happily married with 2 children guide blushed when I asked him the reason for their friendliness. Today Flypaper and I took a walk along the sea front. Feeling the humidity, she turned back while I continued around the block. Instantly her back turned, young laddies materialised from doorways keen to ply their trade for hard currency. Two that knew a few words in English made some particularly interesting propositions. I was grateful for the attention as one does reach a stage in life when one is ignored by the pretty girls. If it wasn’t so damned hot, I’d do another couple of laps.

A tip for those contemplating 3rd wold travel. All eating places have a resident population of flies. They are innumerable and smart. They know dinners have only two hands and at least one of those is required to transfer food from plate to mouth. That means any gang of 3 or more flies are at an advantage. I have devised a personal strategy that has the disadvantage of making others believe I am either greedy or wasteful. I set up a decoy dish beside my plate that contains food I have observed over the years is of primary interest to a fly. I plan a website offering this knowledge for a modest sum and there are many banks here in São Tomé which will host my account safe from both IRD and refund. Flypaper worries this may be considered a scam, but I’ve reassured her people believe what I tell them.

Posted by Wheelspin 05:10 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged de banana sao cao grande båt tomé stew flypaper estufa morcego prositute Comments (0)

On the slippery pigs back

Triffids grow here

all seasons in one day -31 °C

São Tomé … pronounced Sar-Toom-ay. (without a pause between the words) It took me 2 days to get right after saying Say Oh Tomb. Only after telling Flypaper this was where the famous Sao Crackers were developed was I motivated to correctness.
This is a very poor country. There is a minimum wage rate of 750,000 São Tomé and Príncipe Dobras per month for civil servants. (US$36). And most are only paid that low rate, rising, if you behave, to US$747 pa. Notwithstanding everyone wants to work for the guvmint because their job status enables a bank loan (secured by their salary). Enough to buy a motorbike, get married or a few other good reasons that will keep them indentured to their employer. São Tomé and Príncipe' does not have a minimum wage rate for the private sector. It appears slavery has not been totally abolished.
The last survey in 1995 showed that over 40 percent of the population was living below the poverty line, and 33 percent were living in extreme poverty. (Believe me – this is quite a different line to the one used in NZ). No new survey is planned – just in case it provides the wrong answer again. Virtually all wealth is in the major town – also known as São Tomé. The rural people live as they have for hundreds of years. A subsistent living made possible by readily available wild fruit, vegetables and fish. All self-employment in rural areas is food production. Gardens are usually co-operatively cleared areas of jungle that will produce for a few years then need to lay fellow again to recover. Fish are caught from hollowed out logs. It’s the only life they know, and they seem happy.

Corruption is rife. Politicians and senior civil servants pay themselves hugely – typically Euro50,000 per month. Most 4 yearly elected new guvmints gain favour by promising to stamp out corruption. To date none have bothered. When you find yourself on the pigs back why kill the pig? That would be silly. On the flight in we were told alcohol was not available on board and the country was alcohol free. The most prosperous businesses – the 2 breweries – are owned by senior politicians. The bottles have no labels. That solves everything.
Quote : Three types of conjugal union are common: the Christian monogamous marriage, the coresidential customary union, and the visiting relationship. In all forms of conjugal unions, the father and husband are expected to contribute to the expenses of the wife and child.
That means men can have multiple wives or keep a mistress and it’s OK to live together and have a family without being married. So long as the guy is paying for the children all is good. I believe only the wealthy take advantage of this law. The poor people are smarter.

When first married, Flypaper made me perfect my table cutlery laying skills. Strangely, before the deal was done, she never mentioned this serious shortcoming. The utensils of various sizes have a proscribed order and must be a certain way up, on the correct side, etc. Its very complicated but on the special occasions I make myself available for the task I risk the undertaking without notes. Here in São Tomé I’ve also observed a cutlery etiquette. Well … a correct way of handling knives. Understandably, all the guys in the rural area carries a large jungle knife. (The women are busy carrying all the other stuff.) It’s used constantly because should you stand still the lush jungle will overgrow your garden … and given time, yourself. As a young student we were made to read a book called The day of the Triffids. I’m pretty sure the Triffids grow here. When strolling around, the guys always carefully hold the blade pointing backwards. In this way, should they stumble they will not stab themselves in the ‘puku’. I intend to adopt this good habit should I ever be forced into table setting in the future. By the way. I bought one of these knives (known as a panga) for our journey (London to Capetown) back in 1976. I grew so attached to it I took it home – probably in my cabin baggage. I still have it but its seldom used since Flypaper bought me a lawnmower, a weed eater, a hedge trimmer and a chainsaw. Such is progress.

On the subject of jungle control, I have noticed small teams of men clearing foliage from around power and telephone lines in the city and other larger teams slashing the jungle back along the edge of the rough tracks known locally as roads. In all instances only the panga was in use. What I did not notice was anyone collecting the slashed material and taking it away. It stays where it falls – on the footpath, over someone’s fence, in the front garden or along the road – often becoming a more difficult barrier than prior to cut. I asked our guide about this obvious labour-saving policy and queried if effected people became annoyed. He shrugged, as one does when stupid questions are asked, and replied, ”If someone is unhappy, they move it themselves”. Thinking about it, I consider this is a wonderful way to live and breeds a very tolerant society. Its works well too. I was quite offended when hindered by branches and other rubbish but quickly realised I had other priorities in life to cleaning up that which nature will deal with in time. I wonder if the Green Party would consider this policy in their next manifesto. Its perfect for them – and I promise them my vote.

Our program included a night at an Eco Tourism Resort. Situated in the southern corner of São Tomé it snuggles into one of the most remote and beautiful places imaginable on this earth. The fine white sandy beach backed by palm trees and chosen by discerning turtles as their preferred place to lay eggs is simply stunning. The sea is warm, the mosquitoes have been eradicated and (being an Eco facility) no cars are allowed near to disrupt perfection. However, during the period I drank my complimentary coconut milk welcome, Jamaican rum punch and Chilean wine, I became both saddened and really annoyed. Realisation of reality does that. A German couple had found this location. They cut down a few dozen magnificent trees (like teak), built 10 chalets and a dining room/admin facility – then advertised world wide to attract other ‘Eco’ minded people to jet in, take smoky old 4WD vehicles through a freshly cut track in virgin jungle to be served by a few low paid locals to keep the place tidy and pander for their guests every unreasonable wish. The inevitable rubbish is disposed of by their staff – probably at the village rubbish tip. They have effectively buggered up one of the nicest places on earth. To appease their conscience the electricity supply is produced by an inefficient windmill and some Asian made photovoltaic solar panels - and they serve only organic locally grown food … plus the imported alcohol and local beer which was a condition of their permit and part of the bribe. The cold hard fact is, these ‘Eco’ entrepreneurs have recognised a place to make money from sucker greenies who arrive and sniff the beautiful flowers believing they are saving the world. I’m ashamed to have contributed to their capitalist con.
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When in Africa, diarrhea is never far from mind. One takes preventive medication and every reasonable precaution but most travelers will have the experience. To date Flypaper and I have escaped … but we have built up useful antibodies and immunities over the years. I’m not referring to Flypaper or our friends’ kitchens but to primitive societies with differing standards of hygiene we have visited. Drinking only bottled water is all very well but I have seen bottling plants taking water from rivers below other villages and, lets face it, the dinner dishes are washed in the local water supply. Once in China we observed this task undertaken in the open public drain behind the restaurant. Here in São Tomé the quantity and variety for fruit consumed is bound to alter one’s bowel routine and often the timing can be both unexpected and far from ideal facilities. (When in Rome etc)

We found ourselves overnighting in a grand old cocoa plantation owner’s mansion. Circa 1820. The current owners are descendants of the original family and are making an effort to impress their visitors. While there are few comforts there is privacy and the electricity supply is relatively constant. Given the humidity, the cold shower is a welcome relief. Most surprising was their restaurant. Possibly the finest in West Africa. We have on occasions found restaurants in France, Italy and Portugal where a chef awarded Michelin stars in the city has become disillusioned and returned to their modest village of origin. This was the situation at Roca de Sao Joao. The acclaimed chef returned from Lisbon to provide superb cuisine in the most unexpected place. The menu, the presentation and the taste of the 5 course meal was astonishing. Possibly the best chicken legs in my life. Given the condition of the chickens scratching around in the village I was doubly surprised. I hope the rooster that woke us at 5am the following morning becomes part of the next day’s menu.

Flypaper has suggested with some concern, bless her, I should be writing our last Will & Testament rather than this scintillating review of a country she still can’t pronounce. For the record, its 3.55pm on Monday 13th June. She has said she leaves all her worldly goods to me – I remain undecided. Her concern stems from our lunch a few hours ago. I’ve assured her, if we are still alive now its likely we’ll survive. Around midday we arrived in a Northern town called Fernao Dias where lunch had been promised. We turned off the potholed main street into what could only be described as the town rubbish dump. The car sploshed through muddy stinking puddles to arrive at a makeshift corrugated iron 2 story shanty. To greet us were 3 pigs and 2 goats feeding around the doorstep leading to a dark rickety staircase. The ‘restaurant’ didn’t fill us with confidence – in fact I said to Flypaper, Ï wonder if a picnic lunch wouldn’t be an option. Our driver and guide seemed full of confidence and yapped in eager anticipation while we wondered why there were no other clients. Being captive and feeling like a condemned man I decided the best strategy is to ask for beer. With luck it may put up a good fight against the bacteria we could see leaping about on every surface. A few minutes later we were joined by 3 enormous Sea Crabs. Biggest we have ever seen and steaming red from the cauldron. Flypaper squealed in delight and reached for one with both hands. Her favourite food. It did explain why each table setting had an anvil and gavel. With the addition of some garlic bread and a lime each we proceeded to make a huge mess. (The lady who served us will be at the river tomorrow for sure.) Personally, I hate fighting with my food but there were no other options. An hour spent ripping off the legs and shell off a crab then pounding them with a wooden hammer is not my idea of a last supper, but Flypaper kept muttering, “What a way to go”.
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We’ve arrived at Mucumbli Ponta Fogo guest hose. A collection of self-contained cabins on the cliffs above a rocky shoreline that would be spectacular in an Atlantic storm. All I foresee is a shower that will raise the humidity to saturation. Our chalet is about a kilometre through virgin jungle from the civilised bit which includes the restaurant where our dinner and breakfast has been prepaid – so we are condemned to the walk twice. The bedside information sheet specifies we must keep the door, windows and insect screens securely closed – basically saying they want us to check out without medical intervention. It also says the snakes along the path are harmless – and provides a flashlight to ensure we see them … and to stop us walking off the cliff edge. This place is nearly as dangerous as Australia! Flypaper is concerned the crab will make a comeback and is confining herself to the bathroom for a couple of hours – for my sake and I appreciate that.
Flypaper emerged from the bathroom as both Happy Hour and darkness approached. The crab successfully subdued but with another concern. There is a lizard / gecko in our room. With nothing better to consider in the bathroom she advanced the theory, “If a lizard is inside, a snake could also find its way in”. I’ve pointed out the lizard will tidy up any lurking mosquitoes and in turn would be the snakes preferred diet. Its similar to the old ditty, “There was an old woman that swallowed a fly”. Notwithstanding, I pointed out she married me for protection, I have never failed, and I still require a well-trained housekeeper. She’s somewhat reassured – but has withdrawn her last Will & Testament claiming it was made under duress. I had no fear of the crab’s revenge as Flypaper is like one of those rubber bones they give dogs to chew – indestructible.

Posted by Wheelspin 11:44 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged sao turtle eco tomé panga Comments (0)

The pig ate my laundry

The aphrodisiac tree

overcast -30 °C

When planning our journey, Flypaper was aware of 3 days air travel from Minsk to Sao Tome. They were long challenging days … Minsk – Amsterdam – London, London - Lisbon, Lisbon – Accra – Sao Tome. Long walks at airports, delays at every one and bureaucratic nonsense at most. But at least there was one thing we didn’t have to be concerned about. Just prior to leaving home Flypaper bought for me, a pair of bright orange underpants. Oh the ignominy and infamy. The embarrassment on laundry day. Despite my wailing she insisted using the reasoning … In airplane crashes these days, they seem to have problem finding the black box. She was offering a 2nd option.
Arriving late at Sao Tome quickly revived old memories of Africa. Long ago we drove from London to Cape Town. The round trip took up much of a year and we had experiences that beggar belief. Nothing much has changed – except there are many more Africans mingling in the shanty towns and driving the dusty roads. Boarder bureaucracy hasn’t changed. We were shuffled between 3 bulletproof windows and back again. Each officer had a specialist task … one involved reading, another looking at pictures and the 3rd taking money. The return shuffle had each checking the others work. We were 4th in line at 7.30pm. The last off the plane may have arrived by dawn. I suspect it’s a sort of labour multiplication system to bring the unemployment rate down. The same systems operated in banks, embassies, and even photocopy shops we visited.
The bumpy ride into town in an old Mitzi 4WD with sagging suspension dodging potholes reminded us of another experience 40 years ago. We were driving in Tanzania headed for Malawi, cruising quietly along at 30mph dodging potholes, when a Peugeot 504 raced past and swerved across our bow (to miss a giant pothole). Unfortunately, he turned too soon, and the left rear door and rear quarter panel was cleanly ripped open by our Land Rover front bumper. We both stopped – as you do. 7 people leapt out of the Peugeot and collectively started accusing Flypaper and I of attacking their car. It was starting to turn ugly (even though I was using my most imperious colonial voice) when an army jeep pulled up and the officer took charge. He heard both sides and decided we should proceed to the next town to chat with a magistrate. The 7 Africans leapt into their car and roared off to have their story heard first. I politely let the army jeep follow saying we would wallow behind in the dust. Our seeming lack of concern was based on the fact Flypaper had been studying the map. About 2 kilometers ahead (and well before the town) was a small road heading to a seldom used boarder post. We crossed into Malawi (with some further excitement – but that’s another story involving a nude woman) about the time the reception in Tanzania was about to start. Flypaper suspects there is still a warrant out for our arrest despite my telling her about the probable statute of limitations – not mention the demise of all other witnesses.
Sao Tomb has around 200,000 citizens and a land area of 854 sqkm (about half the size of Stewart Island in NZ) Most of the 200km of sealed roads are heavily potholed (many don’t deserve the term sealed road) and the 100km plus of unsealed roads are also rough and potholed. Everyone aspires to have a car. On the way to that goal most have a motorcycle. (The rest just walk in the middle of the road in anticipation of something better one day). We were told many car drivers and motorcyclists have not competed their driving license tests. It is compulsory to wear a crash helmet when in control of a motorcycle. (All though a good defense could be, “the motorcycle was out of control”.) Any of the motorcycles can perform a taxi service and in that instance the rider in control must give his/her helmet to the pillion passenger. This is typical African reasoning. The person paying should have certain privileges. Motorcycles with helmeted passengers tend to go faster than solo ridden machines. That’s because they are on a mission and the passenger would have walked if they weren’t in a hurry. I love this sort of thinking.
Our guide and driver upgraded to a Land Rover for all excursions out of Sao Tome city. The reasoning being that it was more likely to survive the journey. It had traveled 63,000 km and on its 4th clutch. Rather than change to a lower gear the driver pushed in the clutch, increased the engine revs and slowly engaged the clutch again. I so wanted to push him out and take control. This car had 2 horns. The additional one was a beeper that signaled, I’m here – hello – thank you. The factory original was reserved for saying – I’m really annoyed with you. They are used constantly.
Throughout Africa the women are seen carrying huge loads on their heads. Its inspiring and I’ve urged flypaper to take lessons. Baskets, large water containers, groceries, crops, firewood – anything that needs carrying – except their children that are strapped on the back (and traveling in a hazardous situation should mum fall and the load descend out of control). Wonderful as this ability is, we shouldn’t become too overawed. Sometimes 2 men help them get the load up there.
Saturday is a big day for both men and women. The men gather in shady places to drink beer and chin wag. The women gather the children together with all the laundry and all walk to the river. Clothes, bed linen, floor mats - everything washable is loaded on the teams’ heads and off they trot. At the river they gather in their hundreds and proceed to lather everything up. The babies and other children are included in the collective wash. The older boys are a little apart while the mothers discretely scrub up well. Why waste an opportunity when the soap is out and the water is flowing. The clean laundry is then spread over the banks, nearby shrubbery, the bridge and even along the roadside until dry. As I walked back to the Land Rover, Flypaper shouted out the window, “Don’t get any ideas”. She’s become a mind reader. Here that could be considered withcraf.
On the Friday, I had been encouraged to walk 4kms straight up an extinct volcano to see the crater lake – which turned out to be a floating raft of weeds up in the clouds with no other views. Its surely obvious to the guides that I’m past my best. Flypaper wisely decided to sit on a veranda seat among lovely flowers and read her book. It rained turning the steep narrow track through virgin jungle, into a muddy slippery, life threatening experience with no upside. 4 kilometers up in 3 hours was not a record. The downhill part was just a slow. Once we stopped (actually, we stopped 100 times, but one was planned) to look at a dead tree with a sign on it saying the bark was an aphrodisiac. Of course, once the sign identified the tree, everyone rushed up and stripped all the bark off, so it died. For a period a few years back there was a population explosion - seems like they identified the right tree. I arrived back totally knackered and caked in sticky mud. Flypaper decreed every stitch required laundering – even though I pointed out my shirt had been thoroughly washed in the rain coming back. She wavered a moment, gave it her unarguable sniff test and handed my best traveling gear to the guide to take it to the overnight laundry service. When we arrived at 9.30am next morning they first said we had the wrong laundry, then admitted the stuff was lost. But would likely turn up the next day. This was the Saturday we viewed the women in the river and I surmised my gear was down there somewhere on a rock. Pigs are running around all over the country and are happily frolicking among the washer women. I’m sure I saw one consuming the shirt that needn’t have been included – and another running about with a pair of Kiwi Jockey’s hanging off an ear. Flypaper thoughtfully commented, “Pity it wasn’t the orange pair”. We’d find them easily”.

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If you wish to know more about Sao Tome from a more reliable source … https://www.britannica.com/place/Sao-Tome-and-Principe

Posted by Wheelspin 11:30 Archived in Sao Tome and Principe Tagged sao turtle eco tomé panga Comments (0)

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