I already described a visit to Tengeru and our safari. A lot had happened during those two days in Africa… After returning from safari we had a dinner with ladies from Sweden, with whom we were going to spend the next five days and we had to plan the next day. We started the next day with a quick breakfast and then our two Land Rovers arrived. We loaded our luggage and went shopping. We had to buy stuff for the whole week. When shopping, first in the supermarket and later at the local market, I felt a bit like an explorer preparing for the expedition in the nineteenth century. I know I exaggerate a little, but if we ran out of water, someone would have to run to the well in the morning and then boil the water. Being the only man in the group it’s easy to guess who would be responsible for this task 😉 Thats’s why it was important to buy everything from the list.
Perhaps the most emotional moment in Africa for me was a visit to the Polish Cemetery in Tengeru. Tengeru lies near Arusha, about 20 minute drive (a little longer now with all the road works). From Arusha we took a matatu, a local means of transport which are small vans, richly decorated (often in the colours of the English football clubs) packed to the fullest. The system is simple but effective. Vans operate according to more or less specific routes. The crew consists of a driver and a “tout” who shouts the final destination, gets people in and takes the money. There are no specific stops, if you need to get off the matatu stops 🙂
The pleasure of taking matatu will cost you 500 Tanzanian shillings per person which is about £0.18. From the junction with the main road we took a taxi for 10,000 shillings (less than £4) which was not an excessive price because the driver drove us to the cemetery, waited for us to see everything and drove us back to the intersection where again we boarded the matatu. We were a small attraction, being the only white people in the matatu.
The basis of the economy is agriculture but tourism revenues are an important source of income for the people and Government of Tanzania. Kenya is a role model when it comes to tourism. The infrastructure there is more developed almost everyone speaks English and Kenyans are proud to say that they are way ahead of Tanzania. And although the United Republic of Tanzania (the creation of Tanzania was the merger of the British colonies of Tanganika and Zanzibar, hence the name) is younger than Kenya only by one year (if anyone’s interested in the process of creating independent states in Africa, please refer to Ryszard Kapuscinski – it’s worth it!) Difference in progress between two countries is easily noticable.
In a series of short entries I’m going to describe my visit to East Africa. Although it wasn’t my first visit to Africa (I visited Morocco in 2013) this part of Africa stimulates all my senses. The Arabs, the Portuguese, the British left their mark on this part of the continent. This is where Speke, Livingstone and Stanley made their discoveries, Karen Blixen planted coffee (as you can see in Out of Africa). And besides at least a few people from my generation would love to follow in the footsteps of Tomek Wilmowski, the main character of a series of adventure books I read when I was much younger 🙂
Because of the Bank Holidays at the beginning of May in Poland and the 70th anniversary of taking Monte Cassino by Poles today I’m going to serve you a bit of history.
As you probably know, tens of thousands of civilians left USSR with the Anders Army, including many children and orphans and something had to be done with them. Civilians were deployed in such exotic places as Iran (at the Sikorski Museum in London you can see a Persian rug, woven by Polish orphans in 1943 in Isfahan – a gift for General Anders), Africa, India and… Mexico. And the Mexican chapter will be described today. Continue reading
It’s about time to start catching up. The post title suggests that the author should move his butt and start blogging regularly 🙂
We return today to Merida (again), and more specifically to the ruins nearby called Mayapan. My trip to this site was one of the most enjoyable so far. This is due to four factors: my starting point was Merida, which I love, the entire cost of the trip (transportation, entrance) closed at 76 pesos (£3.50), had the whole site almost exclusively for myself and was able to climb every building. Continue reading
The coach to Valladolid (second class of course) took us 3.5 hours. Our CS host, Tony picked us up from the bus station and took us to his restaurant, although it looked more like a bar in a small village in Poland. It was Friday 4pm, the bar half full, a guy was playing melancholic love songs on the keyboard, some elderly couple awkwardly danced around, the tables were occupied by men who probably happened to be on a leave from prison, and their lady companions were probably reinforcing themselves prior to the night shift in the world’s oldest profession, a very dodgy place. Unfortunately I have no pictures as I didn’t think it was safe to take out my camera at that place… Continue reading
I have a small delay, but do not worry not much was happening 🙂 I had to take a break from traveling and rest on the beach – I went, among others, to the island of Holbox, but this time I had the sun all week. Probably I’ll go back again. But to the point, considering it has been 10 days I was in the States, it’s time to catch up.
In Merida we stayed with Cristina from CouchSurfing. We only had a moment to take a look at the city layout, which is duplicated in many Mexican cities and towns that were founded by the Spaniards. In the center there is always a large square, on one side of which is the church and on the other usually a public administration building. From the square, streets, intersecting at right angles and dividing adjacent to the square area into equal squares. Cities founded by Spaniards are very easy to navigate. Cancun, which was built over the past 30-40 years is very chaotic. Often along the square were houses of the Spanish nobility, in the case of Merida it was a family Montejo, which representative, Francisco de Montejo y León (“El Mozo”) founded Merida in 1542 on the site of T’Hó – a Mayan city. We visited the Casa de Montejo which was inhabited by the Montejo family up to the 70s of the last century. You can judge yourselves on what level lived descendants of the conquistadors.
In the evening we went to the Santiago square, where we had panuchos (deep fried tortilla with various toppings) and later we went for a ride along passage de Montejo, admiring beautiful residences, mostly occupied now by the banks.
On the second day Cristina had dropped us off at the bus station, where we took a bus to Uxmal (Ushmal), Mayan Ruins probably founded in the sixth century, built in the Puuc style. We arrived in the morning and before noon the bus tours began to arrive, so we could walk pretty much unmolested. Uxmal means “built three times”, although the main temple consists of… five different temples. The main attraction is the Temple of the Magician, 38 metres tall with characteristically rounded sides. This is the main building of the complex, but you can not climb it. Further buildings are also very impressive – Governor’s Palace (these names were given by the Spaniards), ballgame court (pelote – again, Spanish) and a square complex, with function unknown – could be a temple or military academy. I also had the opportunity to play the Indiana Jones when we went into unfrequented part of the complex and found an unrestored temple – of course I had to climb it ( ie to discover and conquer it 🙂 ). On most of the buildings, you can often see the masks of Chaac (god of rain) and Kukulcan (god of wind). It was a very successful day – finally I could see with my own eyes what I just read about…
The day ended with the consumption of mezcal (vodka made of agave), dancing (I only looked) to the accompaniment of songs originating in Russia 😦
The next day, Cristina again had dropped us off at the bus station, and we went to Valladolid, where Tony was waiting for us – our next CS host. But more about that in the next episode.
Time for the first entry of the trip (finally!). The first twelve days I spent with Maria, a friend I met in London. For her it was a holiday, for me, a beginning of the journey into… unknown? Certainly, past experience has shown that you can not plan everything. This is not just another continent, everything else is so different from what we know from Europe. Starting from simple things like weather, through food, music, and the people most of all.
We landed on New Year’s Day in Cancun and were greeted by a heat. At the airport, a lot of people whose sole mission is to help tourists, they all speak English – it doesn’t happen very often in Mexico. Most of the newcomers were heading to the Hotel Zone, which looks like a typical resort. A number of hotels , shopping malls and a lot of European and American tourists. We had booked a hostel in downtown (for just $ 6 per night) and a very good thing that was. On the square near the hostel (Parque Las Palapas) we enjoyed fiesta, people danced (really good), ate, the children were running around – mostly Mexicans. Lots of booths with food (tacos for 15 pesos). After an advice we tried Chicharrones (pig skin fried in deep fat) with cabbage, tomatoes, cheese and plenty of free spicy salsa. Moments later we met Leticia, a Mexican who lives there, who gave us plenty of advices on places to visit and places in Cancun where you can eat well (some of the places we visited). The people of Yucatan are very friendly and always smiley, wished us a Happy New Year and interestingly, we haven’t seen any alcohol.
There’s not much to see in Cancun, the city mainly serves to many as a first stop in the Yucatan Peninsula (3 million people a year land in Cancun). After visiting the Mercado 28, a large market with lots of gift stalls (where because of my white skin I received from one of the vendors nickname Mr. Clean 🙂 ) we took the local bus (old and rickety) to the Hotel Zone, because there are the only ruins in Cancun (El Rey) and Mayan Museum. First disappointment – according to great Lonely Planet museum should be in a different place… Ruins are tiny, but there was not a lot of people, and the small forest, in which the ruins are located is very atmospheric. Modern museum, but only part of the descriptions were in English. In the evening we met for a pint with a pair of Poles we met at the airport, Maya and Szymek (Simon). They have very interesting ideas for articles that they want to write and sell to newspapers in Poland – good luck and maybe see you somewhere in the world!
Next morning, bored of Cancun we boarded a bus to Tulum, the first major ruins. Communication in Mexico takes place mainly by coaches. There are different classes thereof. A second class, favoured by Mexicans is less expensive, but still very comfortable (more legroom than in many “cheap” airlines in Europe), however, there is a small ” but “. These buses pass by all the smallest towns, for it is often the only means of transport between towns and villages. But you can at least see how people live in rural areas. First class coaches are more expensive (to Tulum 40 pesos more), but you stop only in bigger cities. There are also luxury buses, the “business class”. If someone has a lot of money and have to travel for several hours, it makes sense. You should, however, check the domestic flights. A ticket from Cancun to Mexico City costs more or less the same as for a coach, and you save around 22 hours.
The entrance to the ruins costs 59 pesos and the views are spectacular. Ruins are picturesquely situated, surrounded from three sides by walls (Tulum means wall in Mayan, Mayans, however, called the city Zama – Dawn), with the fourth side adjacent to the Caribbean Sea. Near the shore there’s a coral reef, which makes the whole coast a paradise for divers. In front of one of the buildings (called El Castillo) is the isthmus, where you could get past the reef and get to the city. On the tower of El Castillo Mayans were burning fires, which indicated the boats the way. These are not very large ruins, not as nice as Chichen Itza, but because of the location, highly recommendable. They are also not very old, were inhabited from about the thirteenth century to the first half of the sixteenth. There were a lot of visitors, Americans and Russians dominated (one of American tourists thought iguana basking in the sun is not real…), but you could easily see everything. At the end of the visit it started to rain, so we had to end the visit. The lady selling bus tickets quite effectively ignored me, serving the Mexicans before, until the intervention of others in the queue and my murderous glances forced her to sell me the tickets. In Mexico, you must be patient, customer service is a bit like the one in Poland before 1989, but we, the Poles, are prepared 🙂
The next day we said goodbye to Cancun and boarded the bus to Chiquila, where we took a ferry to the island of Holbox (ohlbosh). Beautiful island, where you can rest properly. Sunbathe, swim, walk on the beach, watch the stars at night, eat well or try kite boarding. All that is provided if the weather is nice … During the four days we spent there, it rained for three. The wind was so strong that Maria could forget about the kite boarding. What can you do when it rains? Sleep, read, sit on the internet, eat, drink the stuff brought from Poland, take a bath in mud, talk with other people, take part in activities organized at the hostel (acro-yoga, pub quiz, watching movies), talk to a Polish girl working at the hostel and pray to the Kukulcan (god of wind) to clear the sky. The only consolation is that apparently when it rains a lot in the winter, the risk of hurricanes in the summer is much smaller. And looking at the materials used to build most of the houses, after passing a large hurricane island probably can be settled again. Luckily got one hot day and when the weather is nice, Holbox is a real paradise.
Well, everything what’s “good” comes to an end, so hopefully looking at the sky, we got on the bus going to Merida, where we had booked a couch at Cristina’s. But I’ll write about our exploits there in the next post 🙂
The day after my wanderings in Vilnius, I decided to go to the Rasos cemetery, where is buried the urn containing the heart of the Marshal Pilsudski (Marshal’s tomb is located on Wawel Hill, about which I wrote here). I walked so slow that pensioners were overtaking me, but I gritted my teeth and at the snail’s pace got to the cemetery. The urn is buried in a common grave with Marshal’s mother, Mary née Billevich Piłsudska. On the grave it’s written only MOTHER AND SON’S HEART and two quotations from Slovacki. The mausoleum is placed in the middle of a small Polish military cemetery, where are buried the soldiers killed in the 1919, 1920, 1939 and 1944. Marshal ‘s wish was that his heart was buried among his soldiers. Military Cemetery is well presented, although on some tombstones names were barely legible. Some of the tombstones are damaged by bullets, but I could not figure out whether this occurred in the course of Operation ” Ostra Brama ” in July 1944 ( the liberation of Vilnius by the Home Army and according to plan “Tempest”, welcoming Russians as the host ).
The Rasos cemetery looks a little worse, a lot of tombstones is neglected and one has to blaze a new path to reach them, but do not forget that this is a very old cemetery, it was founded in 1769. And walking through the cemeteries is my little “thing”, I like to read the names on the tombstones, find out how many years they lived, what they were doing. Of the most famous characters in the cemetery lie, inter alia, Joachim Lelewel (historian, Adam Mickiewicz’s teacher), Rafał Radziwiłłowicz (doctor, psychiatrist, brother of Stefan Zeromski and prototype of Dr. Judym from “Homeless people”), Adam Pilsudski (Marshal’s brother, Senator, Vice President of Vilnius ), Anthony Wiwulski (architect, sculptor, author of the Grunwald Monument in Kraków and the Three Crosses in Vilnius), Maria Piłsudska (the first wife of the Marshal), Eusebius Slovacki ( Julius Slovacki’s father) and many professors and lecturers of the Stefan Batory University (founded in 1579) and other prominent Poles and Lithuanians.
After returning from Kaunas (post coming soon), I went to the Bernardine Cemetery in Vilnius. This cemetery looks much better than Rasos and mostly thanks to the late Andrew Przewoźnik, who was the Secretary General of the Council for the Protection of Memory of Combat and Martyrdom. More than 150 gravestones have been restored by the Council.
This cemetery is not as old as Rasos, it was founded in 1810. Many outstanding Polish and Lithuanian scientists and artists rest there, you can also find the graves of insurgents from 1863 and soldiers from 1919. It was a really strange feeling, strolling among the Polish graves in a city that is not Polish anymore. But don’t worry, I will not call to get Vilnius back 🙂
After a visit to the cemetery, I decided to complete the list of monuments and walked to the Cathedral of Vilnius (dedicated to Saints Stanislaus and Ladislaus), the burial place of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania and the Polish kings at the same time. The cathedral makes a beautiful impression from the outside, but inside it seemed a little harsh, but that’s my opinion. The first temple on the site was probably built in the second half of the thirteenth century.
After the cathedral I went to the Polish church (Holy Ghost’s) for a second. From the outside, the church seems to be squeezed between the buildings, but inside it looks really nice. But the assessment of both churches I leave to you, my dear readers.