Flying into a habūb

I had never heard of it before nor did I even know what haboob or habūb meant until the plane I was flying in on my way to Khartoum, Sudan encountered it. That flight for me takes the position of the scariest flight I have been in till date, especially considering that, in previous years, there had been two incidents involving an airbus with one claiming twenty-eight lives in Khartoum.

A haboob or habūb is a violent dust/sandstorm especially common in Sudan but generally occurs in arid areas. I understand dust storms pose a significant hazard to aviation and not only do they reduce visibility, they can seriously affect an aircraft in flight and engines can be damaged when the dust is ingested. Also interesting is the fact that they sometimes cannot be forecast. But of course, I didn’t know this as I sat in that plane. I only realized the seriousness of the situation when I could visibly see the aircraft struggling through the wind and when the pilot’s announcement came through the in-flight announcement system.


An approaching haboob in Khartoum. Courtesy Flikr


We took off from Nairobi without any drama, our destination Khartoum, the city where both the Blue Nile and White Nile rivers confluent to form the great Nile river that empties into the Mediterranean sea in Egypt. Everything, flight-wise was going well until we started our approach to Khartoum airport. I noticed we didn’t make the first approach, like we were going in circles, that was odd. I looked out the windows but couldn’t even see the clouds. Then the announcement came, “there is a sandstorm at the airport and the landing conditions are very bad”. I couldn’t help wonder what sort of sandstorm would prevent a thing as big as an airbus from landing? Very naive I know!


The point where the Blue and white Nile rivers confluent

Well, the pilot then decided to fly to and land his aircraft in Cairo, Egypt instead. Where we waited for about 4 hours at the airport I think, for the weather conditions to be better in Khartoum. It felt like eternity especially because all we could be offered as impromptu guests at the Cairo airport was the hard tiled floor to sit on. We finally took off and when we got to Khartoum, the storm was gone but the city had this yellowish grey look, almost like I were looking at the city through a stained glass. The air too was still sand-filled, I could taste sand each time I opened my mouth.

Apart from the flight, I loved it in Khartoum though. The food, sweets and hospitality of the people was outstanding. One particular experience stood out for me. A hilarious yet creepy incident where I was offered to be provided any whisky of my choice by some Arab workers at my hotel, in a country with a sharia law system of zero-tolerance to alcohol. I couldn’t believe what my new ‘friends’ were offering. All I was thinking of was the sharia consequence of being caught drinking whisky at the hotel, which happens to be public flogging.But what if I wasn’t caught, I thought. The temptation was strong, I hadn’t seen a drink for days but then I couldn’t help wonder how they made the whiskey, and if they didn’t make it, how did they get it into the country? I’ll pass, I told them.


The Talking Rock

I saw a video today of someone doing a guided park tour on a motorbike and it reminded me of my trip to Iringa – The stone city, Tanzania. Beautiful place! The reason the video brought back memories of this adventure is because I did something similar, went for a self guided tour game drive in the Ruaha national park against the advice of the park rangers. The only difference was that I was driving. Quite an experience. During the tour, I saw two species of antelopes, the lesser kudu and roan, and some buffalos. I also saw many animals around the waterholes. But this is not the crazy part, it was when we were leaving the park.  I decided to drive the approximately 120 Km  back to Iringa town. Halfway into the journey, I realized I had forgotten my driving license back in my hotel room. That is the problem of carrying a fat Kenyan driving license that can’t fit in your wallet. So, I was wondering how I’d drive past the frequent adhoc Tanzanian police checks on the highway towards Malawi. As fate would have it, I met the cops. But for some reason they didn’t ask me for my license. Perhaps it was because I nodded my head to everything they said, considering I didn’t understand more than half of what they were saying because of my very little knowledge of Swahili even though I had been trying to learn the language for four  years. Yeah I know, I am that slow! But most importantly, I kept nodding because I didn’t want to give myself away by speaking with a foreign accent.

But before the park safari drive, I was taken by my local friends to see the stone sites at Iringa. Of particular interest to me was the Gangilonga Rock, the ‘talking rock’. They say the Hehe chief, chief of the Wahehe people at the time would meet the senior Hehe tribesmen on this rock to mediate how to fight the Germans.


Gangilonga rock

We took a walk from the Ruaha University, where I was meeting my friends to the Gangilonga rock. From the top of the rock, you can see the whole town and was even more beautiful towards sunset. 


I also made a visit to the Isimila stone age site. Quite a scenic one with a lovely reddish earth tint. Many archaeological finds of tools used by hominids and fossils dating back 70,000 to years old were discovered at the site. The area used to be a lake but it has now, with the help of erosion turned into a big canyon with more erosion resistant rocks standing as tall as 30m.


The Isimilia stone age site


And then there was the experience of flying from Dar Es Salaam to Iringa in a 6 man commercial plane. It was my first time flying in a very small commercial aircraft. Though it wasn’t as scary as I had imagined or hadn’t, it felt like a taxi except it was flying in the air and it seemed to me that the pilot knew many of his passengers.


Inside the craft seated behind the pilot

It must be the frequency he flies the route and the small number of regulars who fly rather than travel by road from Iringa to Dar Es Salaam. Interestingly, I had only booked a one-way flight from Dar Es Salaam to Iringa, so on my last day in Iringa, I was running around the town like a madman with my friends to book a seat on the plane when we got a call of an available seat on the small plane leaving the next day. The story is I was on a waiting list because when we went to book earlier in the week, the day I was scheduled to leave, the seats were all sold out.

In reminiscing about this experience, another flight story comes to mind. My scary flight to Khartoum, but that is for another post.

800+ steps, 1000ft climb

I posted about my visit to the Blue mountains and hike on this blog sometime last year already but what I didn’t mention was that I took a video of my return climb/hike back up the 1000ft high bush trail.

I thought it was pretty cool to have done both the descent and ascent legs of the hike in 45mins, so I decided to share the video in this post. Some kids made it to the bottom but in my defence for panting as hard as I did in the video, they weren’t going to climb back up the stairway, they used the scenic railway available to take people back to the top of the plateau. 🙂

Here is a little more information about the trail: The Giant Stairway provides a spectacular entry to the Jamison Valley, descending approximately 300m (1000ft) via more than 800 steps and runways. It is located adjacent to the Three Sisters, at the blue mountains, NSW Australia.

A tale of ‘Matooke’

Culture and food are one of those things that complement each other. I think they are best described together. Many people who haven’t visited Africa tend to think Africa is like a single country, yet it is a continent with so much cultural and gastronomical differences even within one country. Some countries have over 200 ethnic groups with a similar wide variety of staple food, but that is away from my point.

A West African likes their food spicy and extremely well presented. They believe looks boosts appetite (which is true). On the contrary, in East Africa, spice and good looks are all optional requirements in the cuisine. Though this is changing now.

With the above in mind, the first time visiting Uganda, I had quite an experience for a person more inclined to West African food. This is when I was just starting my food adventures. I met a group of West Africans whom, no matter how enticing the food was, they had simply refused to like any food from Uganda or it seems. So when I met them, the first thing they told me was food in Uganda is very ‘bad’. I was curious and seek to understand why they thought so, but all they told me was ‘they have something called matooke. This is mashed steamed banana cooked in banana leaves. It looks like what we give to pigs back home”; they also mentioned how the Ugandan beef stew was just boiled pieces of beef with water and salt. OK, that grossed me out even before I had a chance to look at what this ‘matooke’ was like, or worse still, taste like! Problem is, I paid heavily for listening to them because for months, I could only eat potato chips and deep fried chicken from fast food shops. As you would expect, I got really bored with having to eat the same thing every day and the questions began coming up again. Why exactly do the West Africans consider this a very bad meal yet the locals seem to really enjoy them. Continue reading

800 steps down the Three Sisters

I am a dready and dreadys need their dreadlocks groomed or repaired (if you will) every now and then. I had just recently moved to a city where it is fairly hard to find a loctician to groom your dreads. So I jumped on the Internet and searched for hours and viola! I found two of them in the region. Now I had to choose which one to go to, sent mails asking for pricing info and location etc. and though they both were charging the same, their locations was the immediate tie-breaker.
One was in a town close by, while the other was towns away up the famous Blue Mountains of Australia. They mentioned they can come to their clients, but the sound of ‘going up the mountain to repair my dreadlocks’ sounded like a phrase out of a book about ancient African societies. So I told them I’ll go to them.
Woke up early, jumped on the train and when the landscape presented itself, I realised I hadn’t thought of what to expect. It was a beauty! So beautiful I decided to make the 30mins walk to where my locticians lived/work from. (Just on the edge of the woods). After the grooming, I decided to take a little walk to one of the mountain sites, the Three Sisters, and that is where the real thrill began. A simple ‘check-and-leave’ walk quickly turned to a bushwalking trail walk down the 800 steps, Giant stairway to the base of the Katoomba falls and back up. I couldn’t have enough of this breathtaking rock formation. I was in some kind of a landscape lovers’ heaven. The descent was very intimidating and scary (I must admit I almost abandoned the idea of going down to the bottom), but very exciting nonetheless. Needless to say I met many people along the trail who gave up on the task of getting to the bottom.
To finish the day, (as expected, by this time I was very hungry), I stumbled upon a rare find for a foodie like me, a restaurant designed like a hobbit’s house. It felt as if I had become small like those small people and I was in the movie The Hobbit! The waiters and waitresses even dressed like hobbits and the food too was great, organic.
I left the Blue Mountains with groomed dreadlocks and an adventure experience I will never forget.