My return to Singapore was somewhat eventful after two months away. First of all my bag got lost, to reappear several hours later, but what a pain! (Now possessor of several thousand airmails to add to my new Malaysian Airlines Enrich loyalty account.)
Secondly, a nagging calf pain over the preceding two weeks had morphed itself in my mind into DVT, and my first day back was spent at the docs and at the hospital having ultrasound scans. Good news: not DVT; bad news: a haemotoma (bleeding clot in muscle) which would require 4-6 weeks rest. Good news: let off gym antics; bad news: swimming not so good either. Oi vey.
So what to do as accompanying spouse than to cook husband delicious meals, especially as he was due to desert me for a couple of weeks?
We started with crispy skin cod with hot, sour and sweet sauce (Thailand), served with stir friend garlic and ginger greens,
Roasted hot, sweet, and sour fish
then went on to slow cooked pork with ginger, chilli and sweet soy sauce (kecap manis) from Indonesia, again with more yummy greens, this time my favourite kailan, a local kind of broccoli but much sweeter.
slow cooked pork
Another night we had spicy grilled chicken with lemon grass, but the finest achievement was my tofu and mushroom miso soup (home-made stock OF COURSE) that I made for myself to keep me company while watching an episode of an Arne Dahl Swedish thriller. Who needs a husband with the complete first season to chomp through?
Before husband left, we headed for a local garden centre, in brilliant sunshine. By the time the bus stopped we were in the midst of a minor tropical storm with no umbrella. Queen Victoria was not amused. Choosing plants in the pouring rain is hard, but we are pleased with the result. The garden centre chaps came yesterday and planted everything up in situ; an hour later our irrigation system arrived, orderd online, cash on delivery. Singapore is wonderful!
Bougainvillea, hibiscus, heliconium, ginger, orchid and lantan
I also managed to persuade him to part with more money – this time for a reclining chair (to rest my leg obvs) and a heavy teak carved pole from Indonesia to drape a luxurious piece of cloth, as a wall hanging for the bedroom. Latter yet to be acquired (more money to be spent!). No pics as they arrive on Thursday!
In between all this joint expenditure I have been a busy little bee on my own, arranging for more fabric to be mounted and framed for the guest room, and testing the efficacy of the Singapore bus system.
Talking of framing, just before we left London, the wife of a dear friend, Clare Morton, presented us with this mind-blowing collage of Louise, which includes ephemera from her life, for instance photos from the funeral sheet, the words to Cabaret, little in-jokes on being a vegetarian, fashion and all her foibles, plus cut-outs from the Marathon Kebab House menu and so on. It is simply stunning (all on the back of an old door) and this photo does not do it justice.
Clare’s stunning tribute to Louise
Where was I? Oh yes: in hot pursuit of an Indian visa – yes again,dear reader, our patience is being sorely tried by bureaucracy – the system has changed since three months ago, necessitating a huge bus trip to Little India, where appropriately enough the recently outsourced visa service resides, but not before I had schlepped down to the High Commission, where apart form anything else, I got chatted up by another despairing Brit!
But the upshot is that I have nailed these buses and am merrily riding round Singapore for $1 or less per trip. Very satisfying as I try to convince husband that I am not a spendthrift. (note to Janet: some hope!)
Now we eagerly await our first visitors: Mr Tubby who comes on Monday and then the Mr & Mrs JBs, who arrive on Wednesday for 6 days. Many culinary and artistic pleasures await…
Mirror image – bougainvillea, lantana, hibiscus, heliconium, ginger, orchid and also a little chilli plant
Week 2 of Unwin Tours finds 11 survivors arriving in Nairobi on the second day of the Westgate siege. Nairobi airport, despite great anxieties after the fire that destroyed the arrivals hall, is a doddle and we are soon ensconced in the Country Lodge. Decided to miss out on a planned curry in Westlands, the area of the siege. It seems everyone has the same idea, the hotel restaurant is packed with people not daring to venture out.
Still a fishing port
Another day, another small plane. This time we are fleeced for excess baggage but we are so relieved to be out of Nairobi we don’t care and cough up.
I have been going to Lamu since I was eight: my mother had a long love affair with the island and I was dragged off there at every opportunity during my school holidays, kicking and screaming. What eight-year old wants to visit anywhere which has no electricity, no proper loos, no cars and is so backward, not even coke has arrived? It was so hot we used to sleep on mosquito-infested roofs and bring our own food – tea with condensed milk and that old East African picnic favourite, tinned Plumrose liver pate!
Donkeys are the main form of transport still
Her interest was archaeology and her boyfriend was excavating the ancient Islamic settlements on the coast, which date back to the 9-10 centuries. They were in fact city states which formed part of the lucrative dhow trade from India and the Gulf, carrying Chinese pottery, copper and other oriental goods, in return for limes, copra and mangrove poles, which were needed for building in the Gulf.
The main square by the old fort/prison; Renoir-esque dont you think?
While Manda Island and Pate have declined, although the ruins can still be visited, Lamu town, and now Shela, have thrived and grown. The dhow trade is long gone since the Gulf discovered oil, and tourism is the mainstay, with Shela being a haven for the jet set: Princess Caroline of Monaco had several houses there, and there are some exclusive beach houses where the likes of Euan Macgregor and other A-listers visit.
A typical back street in the old town
When I was a teenager, Lamu became much more attractive: bang on the hippy trail around Africa, visiting now became exciting. Mum now had a house in town, and was part of the expatriate community of eccentrics who made Lamu their home. Of these only one or two now remain but Mama Sheila is still remembered by some of Lamu’s older residents who rush up to greet me when I visit, and no one is more delighted to see me than her old housekeeper, Ali Maulidi.
Dear old Ali Maulidi, so happy to see us all
The tree where I buried Mum, on Manda Toto
So here we are after an absence of about four years: the last visit was to bury Mum’s ashes on Manda Toto, the island where she camped while digging on Manda and was happiest. One of my missions is to reunite my father and Louise with my mother and leave them all together in a peaceful and remote resting place.
I have rented a house in Shela on the waterfront so we can be part of everyday life while enjoying the benefits of being out of the hot town and near the beach.
The house comes with four staff, and we are thrilled to discover that Amos used to cook for Princess Caroline. The food is consequently quite delicious – seafood in all guises, a fusion of local with a touch of continental sophistication.
Amos and Festus barbeque some amberjack and a snapper caught by Rick
The only downside is that on arrival we discover the single bedroom is no more than a cupboard: no door, no windows, no fan and no room to swing the cat that has nested on the pillow! After what in Swahili we call a ‘matata’, we find another room in an adjacent house where one couple moves quite happily: after all it has an ensuite infinity pool overlooking the sea! Lamu has come a long way since the long drop ‘choo’ of my youth.
The ‘single bedroom’
Early morning tea, watching the world go by
Dawn from my balcony
Putting the ‘shauri’ behind us quickly – we are here to enjoy ourselves – we soon settle in to island life. The day kicks off at dawn, with the lone fisherman on the pier below the house, who feeds the local cats when he gets lucky; an early morning swim; a breakfast feast of fruit and fresh passion fruit juice; a wander into Lamu town, where little has changed since the 18 century, to the beach, more swimming; delicious lunch – perhaps a little grilled calamari, or white snapper; a siesta; fishing; a little idle shopping in Shela; sundowners – naturally; and dinner – BBQ prawns, a whole fish, or spicy and coconutty Swahili food – fish curry, spinach, lentils, coconut rice, followed by homemade sorbet. What could be better?
Buying the fish in Lamu! Annie, Christine, Diane and Diego
Diego, Christine and Ross on the mashua
We set off in two mashuas for our ashes trip: first a stop to snorkel in the Pate channel; some gentle fishing. The crew grill a big tuna-like fish, marinated in garlic, black pepper, chilli and turmeric, knock up a coleslaw and chapattis and – hey presto – a scrummy lunch! We have brought beer and wine. It IS the simple things that give so much pleasure….
The tide is going out so finding the casurina tree that marks the spot is a little testing, but once found, we jump ashore and dig a little hole and pour in the contents of our two tea caddies that I have nursed round Africa. It feels perfect, though immensely sad. But, as a friend said, so right to leave Louise in the tender care of both her grandparents.
A jasmine corsage, bougainvillaea from the garden and a sprig of oleander
Afterwards on the beach
Even in paradise, the real world intrudes, and some of our party are anxious about the proximity to Somalia and the El Shabaab terrorists. We are a stone’s throw away from where a French woman and the poor English couple were kidnapped. While I feel at home in Lamu, I realise that others could not feel so secure. So I depute Rick to interrogate the District Commissioner on the status quo. He comes back reassured, though later events in Nairobi of course confirm my sneaking suspicions that the Kenyans are completely out of control. However, I still maintain that Lamu is safe: it is such a small place and the comings and goings are closely monitored, according to the DC.
lovely kids blowing bubbles
the Old Boys CLub
Our guide Ali with his family
For me, Lamu has maintained its chaotic charm: noisy, shouting people; little donkeys everywhere (shame about the donkey sanctuary); wide-eyed children playing in the street – Jambo, jambo; heavily veiled women are a new phenomenon, though quite often you see the flash of a smile and, as in all cultures, where you greet and talk to people, the rewards are immediate; men sitting round in the main square passing the time of day. And still only three cars, including the dustcart. The water front has barely changed, with one exception: an awning announcing Pizza and Teppenyaki. Oh dear.
the 13 km beach…
The old man feeding the cats outside our house
Lamu street cats
more cat feeding
Lunch is served
And so like all good things, our time draws to a close. Strongly recommend Forodhani house, but for no more than 5 couples. Thanks to Amos, Francis, Festus and Kosmas, and to Babu British, for looking after us so beautifully. Lamu remains my heaven on earth, along with Mana Pools, both places I will keep re-visiting until I, too, can be laid to rest under the casurina tree on Manda Toto.
Sailing into the sunset
Feeding time at the zoo!
Rogue Abdullah Bob with his sweet grand-daughter
The guardian of our house!
Ali and I
Amos and the prawns
Christine and Annie
Rick enjoying the early morning
Rick, Lucille, Christine and Ross
Ross and Annie about to snorkel
Breakfast time: Christine, Michael, Carolina and Lucille. T die for!
Having a Big Vic (not me, idiot, the ele) moment with Stretch and Fi, just outside the camp on the first day
Mana Pools is my idea of heaven. Goliath camp is a collection of seven guest tents, bar, open-air dining room and braai/seating area overlooking the fast-flowing Zambezi. Simply furnished, each tent boasts a flush loo and wood-burning shower.
The camp as seen form the Zambezi – discreet…
A far cry from my earliest memories of camping with my Dad in Tanganyika, where the showers were from buckets and the loo a hole in the ground, or better still, the open air. On one occasion I had just made my post-prandial visit when a pride of 12 lions calmly walked in front of us! In those days, my Dad would build a little fire in the park, and do a great fry up…such memories fuel my great love of the bush, and Mana, a world heritage site where you can walk, seems to approximate my recollection of a carefree childhood more than anywhere else.
our lovely bedroom, bathroom through the flap…
Gladys not too impressed with the visitor outside our tent
This is the fourth time we have stayed in Goliath camp, with living legend tracker and guide Stretch Ferreira, a huge man with a laugh like a hippo and a mane like a lion, who is best known as an elephant whisperer. The Stretch ‘experience’ consists of ‘moments’, as he calls them, up close to elephants and lions, not without some risk and excitement. One such shared moment a couple of years, when we were charged out of nowhere by One Tusk, Stretch says is up there with one of scariest he’s had…I concurr!
The typical day starts with drums at 4.45, tea and porridge by the fire, then a scramble into the landrovers to see what tracks are fresh. Stretch and Reuben, the other guide, noses glued to the roadside, will say things like ‘fresh leopard/lion/wild dog here, only an hour ago,’ and we will disembark, don water bottles and set off for our early morning walk through the bush.
We’re going on a lion hunt – I am looking very purposeful!
On the second morning we were lucky to find the local pride, the Spice Girls and their two litters of young cubs, plus their five adolescent males; the Back Street Boys are absent on a mission. We hear them roar during the night. You never approach a lion in a straight line, so we zig-zag from anthill to anthill until we get close enough to be able to sit and watch them quietly. The next day they kindly stopped by the road for us! ‘Cheap lions’, as Stretch says.
The no 2 Back Street boy with one of his sons and a Spice GIrl
This young guy is going to be impressive
Two watchful Spice GIrls with their litters: two a-piece, a few months in between. They had not eaten for a few days at this stage and were looking thin
I can see you!
our wilderness area coffee spot
On another day, as we sat at Vundu point, a man appeared from nowhere, toting an MK47. ‘Do not be scared’, he said, ‘I am human.’ He was a ranger, part of the anti-poaching squad whose job it is to patrol the park and ‘shoot to kill’. He spoke excellent English and we learned a lot about the career path in National Parks!
Lovely Flo joins us for coffee (Rick left and Ross right)
Coffee and cake under a tree at about 9 am, beside the river, by a pan or in a shady spot. On the second day we had been tracking the wild dogs in the Wilderness area, and as we sat down a tray of bacon and avocado sandwiches arrived as if from a local take away!After brunch we might go for a swim in the Zambezi with a glass of wine; the Zambezi mud is an excellent exfoliator, and if you stay in the shallows the risk from crocs is minimal. Elephants and hippos splash in the distance, the carmine bee-eaters and fish eagles swoop and call to each other, the pied kingfisher hovers and dives.
Feeling chilled! it was 38 C (me, Fi and Rick)
In the late afternoons we set out again, often on foot: searching for buffalo; the elusive Boswell, the old bull who stands on his hind legs to reach the acacias, but who on this trip remained elusive; lions and elephant ‘moments’.
A car load of enthusiasts (Siraaj at the wheel, Diego next to him; 2nd row Tim, Annie, Diane; third row Nick, Jean and Catherine)
Our elephant moment proved to be devastating: we came upon the corpse of an elephant, perhaps only two hours old, being guarded by one of the Backstreet Boys and his girlfriend who were mating. Drawing near, despite the mock charges and snarls of fury from the angry male, we saw that the elephant had been shot clean through the skull. Stretch was incensed, he knew the young bull and could not imagine what had happened. He attributed it at first to one of the many visitors who were on an official game count, and who had been allowed to carry guns much against his better judgment.
the dead elephant bull, the lions have been attacking his innards
Big Vic again…the young bull could have grown up to be a great boy like this given the chance…
We found out later that it had been shot by a guide, who claimed it had charged him. But the story did not hold water and the word was that the guide had panicked and made up – literally – a cock and bull story about the elephant chasing him from behind a tree. There was not a tree in sight of the carcass…
Team canoeing: Ross, Fi, Christine, Annie, Reuben (leader) Diane, me with flowers, Reuben Tom, Siraaj, Richard.
Canoeing and fishing are other afternoon activities. Rick and Diego caught two huge Vundu (catfish), the largest weighing up to 40kgs. They were returned, of course, being protected.
Diego with the first fish he has ever caught! 30kgs or so of Vundu!
Rick delighted with his tiger catch
Rick over the moon with this fella
Each time I visit Mana I return to the spot, an island mid-stream, where we sent [our daughter] Louise’s ashes on a final journey to the Indian Ocean. This time Siraaj, one of the camp guides, had prepared a beautiful driftwood boat, loaded with flame-red combritum and fragrant white caparis blooms. As a small croc slithered into the water, I waded in to launch our bouquet, which bobbed merrily downstream. I thought of all my lost loved ones – Mum, Dad and LouLou – as it caught the current. As we paddled on down the mighty Zambezi, we could see it in the vermillion sunset, like an ancient Viking coracle going to its Valhalla.
Combritum and caparis on a piece of driftwood
on the island…
launching our tribute, flanked by Reuben and Siraaj
One evening we went and sat by Mochumi pan, sipping chilled white wine while elephants and baboons frolicked in the murky water. Sometimes the cows and calves – the most dangerous of elephants as the mums are extremely aggressive – are a bit close for comfort .
Sundowners await us on return to camp, or by the river bank. Dinner is a delicious braai with Stretch doing the honours, or a civilized sit-down affair round the huge wild mango table. Flo, co–owner of the camp, and now a good friend, has trained the two camp chefs, Richard and Nicholas, well and the food is delicious. Sarah, a delightful Zimbabwean girl, is our hostess and looks after us beautifully
Oo-er – they crept up silently! Michael and Tim think breathing in helps! Ha!
Christine is baboon watching, I am reading my bird book!
Even the tinies like a good wallow and a shower
The carmines nesting in our camp
Sunset at Long Pool….
shy Nyala buck and his lady at the pan
Let’s get serious’…Nick, Jean,Catherine (hidden) Tim and Annie
Stretch looking with disdain at his ‘football team’; l-r – Reuben, Rick, me, Christine, Nick, Diane, Tim, Annie
This visit we had taken over the whole camp and filled it with friends, many of whom were celebrating birthdays. Quite an undertaking planning a trip for 14 people, chartering planes from the hugely efficient Executive Air, booking hotels, pick-ups, restaurants, briefing the team on essentials…and trying to enjoy the holiday as well!
After our wonderful week in Mana, 11 stalwart souls continued on Unwin Tours to Lamu in Kenya, arriving in the day that the Westgate siege started. But that’s for the next blog….
Thanks husband Ross for supplying professional photos – one up from the normal iPhone adornments.