Tazara Railway and Victoria Falls

Tazara stands for Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority, originally this 1800 km track was built by Chinese in 1970’s. This journal entry is from my trip from Dar es Salaam to Victoria Falls in autumn 2010. (Reblog with more images)

On the journey somewhere in Tanzania.

Sept 26 — First day in Dar es Salaam, or “Dar” as locals call it. City is by the sea, there are few restaurants and hotels, but not as much as one could expect from the size of it. This was once center of German East African colony. British annexed it during First World War. Some buildings e.g churches are from that period, although most seem newer. Population is mix of Muslims (city was found by them, and has easy access from Middle East), Christians that came during colonial period, and Indians, also relatively close. Nowadays Chinese seem to grow their presence in this part of world. New cars and motorbikes are Chinese, infrastructure projects also done by them. Dar is biggest city and main port of Tanzania. It’s also industrial center of this otherwise rural country. There are also tourist attractions near by, Zanzibar for example. @ Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Views from Dar es Salaam harbor and fish market.

Sept 27 — Managed to find myself way forward from Dar. Solution is Tazara train from Dar to Capiri-Mposhi, near Lusaka in Zambia. From there Victoria Falls should be relatively close. @ Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

Oct 2 — Tazara is around 1800km track built by Chinese in 1970’s. Chinese letters come by everywhere, in buildings, machines. 40 years ago during cold war, Africa was divided into two sides like rest of the world. Zambia had copper available for world trade, but difficulties delivering it abroad. Mao’s China stepped in to help with African comrades, Tazara railway was largest single foreign-aid project undertaken by China at the time.

Our train left 12 hours late from schedule! At night, we thought there was riot breaking out at the station. People were protesting delays, everyone exhausted and angry of waiting. Heard two possible causes for the ordeal: technical problems with the old train, and politics of two jointly operated railway, between Tanzanians and Zambians. Eventually train got rolling, and has been going steadily ever since. Train is nice way to enjoy views of African countryside, relax, read and just hangout more freely than in sardine can of a bus. @ Train from Dar es Salaam to Capiri-Mposhi

Views along the route.

On every station people were selling fruits and food for the passengers.

Oct 4 — Our trip has progressed nicely, two full days in train from coast to inland. Irony of long delay in the beginning, was that train could have not arrived better time in early morning. From Lusaka I got nice impression, and would not mind to stay there a while, unless transit didn’t arrange so conveniently. Bus to Livinstone started interestingly, preacher marching in our bus back and forth and waving his bible. He shouted to us about dangers of AIDS, poverty and other things people dislike. Finally after couple hallelujahs he collected alms, thanked and left. Blessed trip indeed! Least from quick glance from bus, Zambia seems more industrious than Tanzania did. Roads are better, houses in good paint and modern equipment in agriculture, machines instead of human and animal labor. Been meeting interesting travelers from USA, Australia, Japan and of course Africa. @ Bus from Lusaka to Livingstone

In Livinstone.

Oct 5 — Livingstone is small Zambian town at the Victoria Falls, and has managed to turn its tourism revenues in favor for local community. Main street can be seen in 10 mins, but there is basically everything one can ask for: markets, banks, post office, few bars, restaurants etc. Streets are good, road was excellent all the way from Lusaka, town is clean.

Zambian-Zimbabwean border.

Falls themselves are just as stunning as one might expect. Peak of rain season is in April, thats when water masses coming down from cliffs are in their biggest. Rocks are reverberating due to falling water. Now in October it wasn’t bad either, one can go walking to rocky upstream, go swimming in natural pools that river has carved. Some pools are only few steps away from two hundred meter fall, it’s surreal feeling to go swim in them. Falls are by the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, both sides have great views. At the entrance there is statue of Dr.Livingstone, founder of the falls and African explorer, big hero of his time. He eventually died in this town because of Malaria, and buried in England in 1870’s. @ Livingstone


Kilimanjaro Climb Diary

Diary from camps along the climb highest mountain in Africa, autumn 2010. (Reblog with more images)

Crossing Kenyan-Tanzanian border.

Sept 18 — After a ~6 hour bumpy drive from Nairobi, I crossed Kenyan-Tanzanian border and arrived to Arusha. Moshi and Arisha are two towns at the foot of Kilimanjaro mountain. Road was very bumpy and both we and our bags were jumping along the way. While road was bad, views were interesting. Never seen African savanna before. Tomorrow begins my 5 day climb to Kilimanjaro, tallest mountain of the whole continent. @ Arusha, Tanzania

Climb beginning from densely forested foot of the mountain.

Sept 19 — We came in the morning from Arusha and started climbing Machame route which is second hardest way to top. Wish I brought enough clothes with me, temp here in 3000 meters is already close to 0 at night. Most of todays climb was in the rainforest, but first camp is just where forest ends. Track was well maintained, should be doable also in rain season. @ Machame gate to Machame hut

Forested low slopes of mountain.

Sept 20 — Nights up here are really freezing, which probably is not surprise to anyone but me! Second day climbing wise was tougher than first but still manageable. Climb took only 5h today, and we started early so had plenty time once camp was reached. Second camp is in more open ground than previous, more space for tents, but winds are stronger. Had a problem getting sleep previous night, hope this is better. @ Machame hut to Shira hut

Arid lava fields and rocky towers.

Sept 21 — Its 2.30pm and am sitting in my tent after climb today. Route was mix of up and down hills and crossing volcanic valleys. Descending was real pain for knees, 0.5-1 meter jumps all the time. Anyway, it went fine without incident, but my back pack felt heavier than before this trip. Nature is simply beautiful and worth all the trouble. Looking at fantastic volcano moulded valleys, cliff walls and towers makes sometimes feel dizzy and risk of losing balance. @ Shira hut to Barranco hut

Having break and rest in between climbs.

Sept 22 — Today was most exhausting day so far, 8hrs of rising and descending hills surrounding the mountain top. We finally reached Barafu hut from where we start climb to top at midnight. Muscles are protesting, but guess one more day is fine. Kilimanjaro, even from this high elevation at 4600 meters looks majestic and remote, impossible to reach. Views from this camp are best so far! Tomorrow after reaching peak, we have last camp, oh I miss it already! 🙂 @ Barranco hut to Barafu hut

Views at the top, around 6000 meters.

Sept 23 — Kilimanjaro is conquered! We reached Uhuru peak at 5985 meters when sun was rising (~6am), after exhausting climb in a dim moon light. Wind and cold top were merciless! Climb would have been tough for anyone, but scenery was breathtaking: gigantic ice glaciers, valleys and volcanic rock formations, curved horizon with cloud mattress reaching somewhere very far! Mountains peaking through floor of clouds, and this all painted in orange, red and yellow colors of rising sun! During climb some people could not handle the exhaustion, and had to turn back. I never done such a climb before, worst was the feel of sleepiness and dizzy head, from lack of oxygen, so that sense of balance gets numb and prone to errors. All I could do was to take smaller steps, and breath high pace like when running. It seemed to work, so remaining challenge was physical load and cold. After reaching the top and awing the scenes, we descended halfway to Mweka hut for last camp. Trees are already growing on these heights. It will be nice to have shower and shave tomorrow after 5-days 🙂 @ Barafu hut to Mweka hut

Sunrise at altitude where horizon is curved.

Sept 24 — Back from Kilimanjaro, and am staying one night in Mochi. Tomorrow bus to Dar es Salaam starts its way at 7am, but been now used to very early wake ups in mountain. Due to cold it simply was not possible sleep enough. Returning from mountain didn’t have any surprises, legs are still like on fire. Looking back, what would I do different before heading to mountain: 1. Travel agent. I used Kenyan one. Moshi or Arusha have tour operators to choose from. These two towns run climbing business and there is also plenty of accommodation available. I’d come directly here. 2. Gear wise I wasn’t prepared well enough. My boots, jacket and clothes were ok during day time. But at higher, and at night just too cold. 3. Tips. Porters (person carrying items for tourists at Kilimanjaro national park) are paid low salaries by travel companies, and tips from tourists mean a lot for them. I had surprise last day when my tips were protested, and had to go for ATM for some more.

Descend has begun.

A final comment. Yesterday in Mweka hut one porter died due to heart attack probably resulting from carrying heavy loads on high altitudes. Man was 6 years younger than me. Its the darker side of Kilimanjaro tourism, work of a slave like porters call it themselves. Kilimanjaro is natural park, without roads for vehicles or even donkeys. All is carried by people. And so they carry things like sun stools and beer for tourists, and get paid few dollars for this crazy job @ Moshi, Tanzania

Leica Photography In The Tropics — Then and Now

This is a camera geeking post!

After introduction in mid 1920’s, Leica photography became synonym for more agile and reactive way of taking photographs. It made possible to use a camera in situations and locations that hadn’t been considered with earlier equipment. Bit like iPhone of its day, Leica camera defined a before-and-after point in photographic world. Lets travel back to 1937 and take Leica into a jungle! Quotes bellow are from book The Leica Manual, Willard D. Morgan, 1937.

Kilimanjaro national park, Tanzania.

“Several years of photographic work under difficult tropical conditions … a 600-mile trek across the Central African Highlands in the middle of the rainy season . . . 400 miles by dugout canoe in the humid swamplands of southern New Guinea . . , and the highly variable conditions encountered in the uplands of Fiji and the Solomon Islands, have satisfied me of the singular advantages of the Leica camera, and the Leica method in general, for hot-country work.

One virtue which the Leica possesses is: It is the only camera I know of that when in use is sufficiently sealed to guard the film inside from moisture. Practically no humidity, I find, penetrates the closed camera. If the film has been cared for properly before and after use satisfactory results are certain. Nothing can happen to it while it is in use.”

Infrared photos taken with Leica M8. Victoria Falls at Zambian-Zimbabwean border. Iguazu Falls at Brazilian-Argentinean border.

“My own methods of caring for film under tropical conditions methods which have proven completely successful are these.

I purchase all the film I need before leaving home. Even the less durable grades of super-speed pan will, I know from experience, last at least a year, if one takes care. And, so far as the tropics are concerned, I distrust the mails.

Some travelers order film to be sent out to them at various stages of their voyaging. The idea seems reasonable. Fresh film, straight from the factory, it should be fine. It is, unless it happens on the way to have had a long trip through tropical waters in the mail room of an average steamer. I have been in those mail rooms. They are usually amidships near the engines; near the equator their normal temperature is often well above 120(F). And somewhere, in the midst of it, someone’s film is simmering. For the same reason I allow no cases containing film to be taken to the baggage room. They stay with me in the cabin.”

Irrawaddy, main waterway of Burma.

“Film should be carried in a steel African uniform box. Boxes made in England for use in Africa and well worth the high price one pays for them boxes guaranteed airtight and watertight. I have one which is large enough to hold, except for the cameras themselves, all of a rather extensive photographic equipment. It is roughly the size of an ordinary suitcase. And one should improve it in one particular which the makers overlooked. African uniform boxes are painted black when one gets them. Mine is now painted with a white enamel. When, as it often is, the box is being carried in the sunlight on the top of an African’s head or a South Sea Islander’s shoulders, the difference in the interior temperatures between a black box and a white one is decidedly perceptible. And very important.”

Leica Manual — A Manual For The Amateur And Professional Covering The Entire Field Of Leica Photography by Willard D. Morgan; Henry M. Lester. Source.

Mayan temple complex in Tikal, in the sea of Guatemalan jungle.

Khmer temples in Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

Taj Mahal, India.

50 years later, African uniform boxes and steamers had largely disappeared. But world of photography was still analog. Gunter Osterloh, Leica M Advanced Photo School gives few tips about problem fungus can cause to photographic equipment. Quote:

“Long visits to areas with a hot and humid climate expose the entire photographic outfit to the risk of fungus growth. Film, lenses, leather cases, all of them can be damaged by fungus. The more frequently we expose cameras, lenses, and accessories to fresh air, the lower the risk of fungus formation. Fungus growth is much more likely to occur when the equipment is not used very often.

Film react even more sensitively to a hot and humid tropical climate than cameras and lenses. Problems result from the absorption of humidity by the film, causing it to swell and to stick to the inside of its cartridge, for example, or to the take-up spool of the camera. The emulsion may then be torn from its support during the winding or rewinding operation, destroying any pictures that may have been taken on it. Bits of emulsion that remain behind (mostly in the vicinity of the pressure plate) will foster the growth of fungus.”

Leica M Advanced Photo School, latest edition is on Amazon.

My own experience echoes Osterloh. When living in Thailand I foolishly left my equipment into a closed bag for few months. After finally taken out, outer lens elements were already growing fungus, but it hadn’t penetrated inside yet. Watch out especially with expensive gear such as Leica’s!

Golden Triangle seen from Thai side, at the confluence of the Ruak River and the Mekong River. The location is border tripoint of Thailand (behind), Laos (right) and Burma (left).

Lets go forward 30 years to 2017. World has largely shifted from analog to digital (film is also experiencing a resurgence like vinyl records and tube radios). Photo can be shared instantly and without costs across the globe. Democratization of photography has progressed also further. Where there was perhaps one Mr. Morgan to hundred thousand who didn’t own any camera, and one Mr. Osterloh to ten thousand the same. Today, thanks to phone cameras, figures are opposite.

What else to consider today, if heading somewhere warm and humid? Past several years I’ve been lugging my Leica and other cameras into tropical countries in Africa, South Asia and America. Couple points to take into account:

– Obviously our dependency on electronics has become a norm. Batteries for the camera and other equipment, and needed accessories (chargers, adapters) all add weight to the backpack. Same goes with storage and backups. Connectivity with the rest of the world. Editing and sharing work on the go.

– Electronic dry boxes are nowadays affordable and a cheap insurance against the fungal growth. The device contains a small cooler, which removes moisture from the air by condensing it out. Consider them if you live in tropics for longer periods of time. Silica gel bags are alternative for those who have to change location frequently.

Sunset at Vinales, Cuba and Vang Vieng, Laos.

– Digital sensor is more vulnerable to dust than film. Sooner or later spots start to appear on your photos even if you are careful when and where changing lenses. For a long trip, sensor cleaning solution is must have backup, least for me.

– Developing countries often have shoddy power grids. Leaving a gadget plugged in for long periods risk it to power spikes that can fry delicate electronics. Cameras that can share same batteries reduce need for constant charging. Wall chargers disconnect the device from direct connection with grid.

Then and now, many things are different but some similarities also do exist. Leica’s still a specialist tool and costs a fortune!

Further reading: Article by The New Yorker from 2007.

Swakopmunde and Pondicherry

Swakopmunde is in Namibian coast, South West Africa. Pondicherry East coast of India. They have very little else in common, but what history had reserved for them after high hopes in the beginning.

October 2010 — Swakopmunde is similar low profile small town with neighboring Valves Bay, 30 mins drive North. Came this morning in a shuttle bus, and have walked through the city attractions now around 2pm. Town tries to balance on a thin line between desert and ocean. Beach is nice, and South Atlantic waves are magnificent. Sun is merciless, winds strong and water cool. German language comes across everywhere such as street and building names, as well as German tourists who probably feel homey here. Early 1900’s posters about steamer connections to Hamburg adds nice touch. Atmosphere is sleepy, waiting.

Had a long chat yesterday in Walvis with a young rapper calling himself Smooth James, I met when walking and admiring flamingos of Walvis Bay Lagoon. This light voiced, 20 year old kind looking Namibian boy dreams about career as singer in USA, has made few songs (got copy of his CD) and tries to make his way in local sing contests and auditions. Only advice I could give to the boy was try also to get an education, despite his bigger ambitions. Don’t know how feasible my advice was e.g. money wise, but least it wasn’t rejected out right. Maybe just politely ignored. @ Swakopmunde

February 2012 — Since Madurai, been traveling ten days in South India. My train took me to Chennai, former Madras and British starting point of colonizing India since 1700’s. After few days in Chennai, jumped to bus back South. I wanted to see some more of Bengal coast history and cultural places. So I arrived today to Pondicherry, small town and former colonial outpost. Its architecture and feel immediately reminded the visit to Swakopmunde in Namibia coast.

This was not German but French, but similarities were striking, long strait coast and towns oldest buildings built right on edge of sea. Kind of outpost, where to load the boats from Europe: soldiers, equipment, goods. Many Indians still speak French, after all this time. Pondicherry’s destiny was similar to Swakopmunde’s. It eventually got occupied by British in the wars between the European powers, and then reduced to secondary status since they already had main port (taken earlier and from better place) in the region. @ Pondicherry