A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about tourist sites

On matters of Sewage Management

Sadly, i was rapidly running out of time and could only spare a few days in Zimbabwe. And in that time and without transport, it was pretty much impossible to visit either of the 2 places I really wanted to: Mana Pools National Park (the only National Park in Africa where you can walk around on your own amongst the animals) and the ruins at Great Zimbabwe.

And so i just pottered around Harare. I had chance to get over my culture shock, to enjoy people watching, browse the handicraft markets (the cheapest i have come across so far in Africa) and take in an excellent local play called 'Heal the Wounds' about the electoral violence and truth and reconciliation that came later: the very fact that such a play was even allowed to be shown is a great sign - Such a critical look of the government and other parties would have been ruthlessly clamped down and banned only months ago.

But I realised that Zimbabwe and Harare still had a long way to go on a visit to the Tourist Information office in the city. I stumbled across the building by accident, the staff seemed surprised to have a visitor, and the locals I had been staying with were amazed that such a place even existed: They had had no idea at all that it did. The staff were friendly, if bored, but what really did it for me was that the most interesting and prominently displayed leaflet (and there were not many) was produced by the City of Harare Water & Sanitation Department. And explained all about its Sewage Management program.

Only in Africa can Sewage Management be the item with the most information in the Tourist centre of the nations capital.

Posted by Gelli 04:08 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Wandering through the Cradle of Mankind

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I am a nerd. Whilst not always wanting to admit it, if I am honest, i regularly display nerd-like tendencies. And thus it was that everybody was forced out of bed an hour early, solely to satisfy my requirement of visiting Olduvai Gorge, somewhere which the other tourists had never even heard of. The road to the gate of Ngorongoro National Park was wonderfully new and pristine and had the sort of hills that make me crave a bicycle (Italian incidents notwithstanding). The road from the gate on to the rim of the Crater and down the other side is rough, winding, with sheer drops and was, when we passed over it, so misty that visibility was pretty much restricted to inside the vehicle. Which is not always ideal when you are trying to drive over it. By the time we got to Olduvai a few hours later, there were a couple of relieved faces in the vehicle.

As previously mentioned, Olduvai Gorge is where Louis Leakey, Hans Beck and the team discovered signs of human habitation dating back 3.5million years, the oldest yet found anywhere on Earth. The area of Olduvai – which is actually Oldupai, but is called Olduvai because the first European to reach this point (Beck) misheard the tribesmen's pronunciation. Even now, some of the locals dislike Germans solely because Beck was responsible for getting the name wrong. - and Laetoli (where the famous footprints were found) covers a huge area, and is still largely unsearched: teams from all over the world visit every year to help with the ongoing excavations and searches and discoveries, at least on a small scale, are still common. And there is much which remains entirely unknown and/or open to various interpretations. It is just a small glimpse – but a tantalising one – into the origins of humankind.

For us, it was just a 90minute stop to peer into the Gorge, wander the museum, and hear a lecture about what we were seeing and it's discovery given by a very friendly and enthusiastic local, although one who did spend about half of his talk drilling into us the fact that it really should be Oldupai. But it was still good. I would have loved to have had more time to explore the Gorge and the surrounding areas, and to have been able to spend a week or more helping out with the digging, but sadly it is not to be. At least not now, at any rate. Now it was time to continue on our merry way, and see what we might see.

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Posted by Gelli 16:33 Archived in Tanzania Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

So famous even ABBA sung about him

The trail of Napoleon Bonaparte

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When I was originally booking my trip to St. Helena, perhaps unsurprisingly most people kind of looked at me a bit blankly and had never heard of it, before having to have St. Helena's location and status explained to them. The few that had heard about it, basically knew because of a foreign guy who has been dead almost 200years. Although it is understandable, I still always find it a bit strange that such a person can hold that level of fascination for people even now. But then Napoleon Bonaparte was no ordinary foreign gent.

Napoleon had a fairly busy life, though we won't go into too much detail here. Suffice to say that after fighting the Napoleonic Wars (during which amongst much much else, he introduced the Metric system, re-introduced slavery, sold Louisiana, lost the Battle of Trafalgar and established Switzerland) and almost taking over the whole of Europe, surrendering and being exiled to Elba (where he was not as a prisoner as such, but was given sovereignty over the Island), deciding to escape, re-stablishing himself as French emperor and losing the Battle of Waterloo, he eventually choose to surrender to the British. Who promptly stuffed him on a ship and exiled him to St. Helena.

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Portrait of Napoleon

Napoleon was not, necessarily, the happiest of campers by this turn of events. Upon arrival at St. Helena on 15 October 1815, he said “It is not an attractive place: I should have done better to remain in Egypt”. As the world knows, despite occasional rumoured plans by his supporters (including use of a submarine, at times when submarines were rudimentary at best, and certainly not capable of reaching St. Helena) the British were not going to let him escape from St. Helena bringing around 2000 troops – plus warships – to guard him, and event putting garison on Ascension and Tristan da Cunha islands to prevent their use as a staging post by supporters. He thus died on St. Helena 6years later on 5 May 1821.

I couldn't really come all this way and for so long without taking in some of the Napoleonic sites. His arrival has been in such a hurry, that the house being converted for his imprisonment was nowhere near ready. So, on arrival, he spent his first night in Jamestown in Porteous House (allegedly in the same bed as used a few years earlier by the Duke of Wellington, of Battle of Trafalgar fame, though it probably wasn't) before managing to convince a landowner, William Balcombe, to let him move into a residence at the Briars, roughly 2km out of Jamestown, and where he became very friendly with Williams 13year old daughter Betsy. Apparently they were the happiest 2months of his imprisonment. These days, the Briars Pavilion where he lived is owned by the French and open to tourists by appointment. And, it must be said, it is a very nicely sighted house.

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The Briars Pavilion, and from the side with the Heart Shaped Waterfall behind. Below, Longwood House, Napoleon's final home and place of death

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Longwood House, by contrast, was originally a cow shed before being turned into a 5room house, and extended to a sixth for Napoleon and his party. 20 people lived there, plus any number of large rats, and even now it is not exactly ideally located: Longwood plain alternates at random between misty and wet, and scorchingly hot. Nowadays, it is also owned by the French government, and has been preserved with many original items (such as his famous bathtub where he used to spend hours) and filled out with replica pieces. Walking around it now, it seems very pleasant and imagining how damp and miserable it must have been is slightly tricky, especially on a lovely sunny day. But there is still some sort of strange feeling that you get when you walk through the door, that is hard to explain. It seems almost irrelevant that the gardens are very picturesque until you discover that Napoleon took up gardening, and remodelled the grounds himself. Things were very different in those days, and somehow i can't imagine Hitler, for example, becoming the Alan Titchmarsh of his day.

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Napoleon's favoured place of relaxation, his bathtub, and the Gardens at Longwood House

Napoleon died of stomach cancer in 1821. His tomb, in Sane Valley, is actually in a gorgeous little grotto that again somehow imparts a feeling of quiet awe being there. The fact that the grave is both massive and entirely unmarked somehow adds to the depth of seriousness: The grave is unmarked due to a political squable as Governor at the time, Hudson Lowe, insisted that it should be marked as “Napoleon Bonaparte” whereas the his remaining French entourage insisted on just Napoleon, as was customary for royalty. They never agreed, and so it remains nameless.

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Napoleon's unmarked grave

Napoleon was also of such importance and esteem as a figurehead for the French, that even after his death he was closely guarded until his body was removed and passed over to the now more friendly French. Even now, 170years after his body was removed to France, the guardhouse remains. For anybody that happens to remember Ripping Yarns, I have visions of the British guards worried that Napoleon might attempt one last escape, as per Escape from Stalag Luft 112B...

Of course, the other reason for doing the Napoleon tour with a group instead of trying to arrange it personally, was the transport. Basil Corker transports guests in his 1929 Chevrolet Charabanc, and whilst it may not be the most practical of vehicles for the island (on the many steep uphill sections, it actually is quicker to get out and walk) it's still great fun.

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The Charabanc

Posted by Gelli 14:45 Archived in St Helena Tagged tourist_sites Comments (4)

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