Wednesday, August 13, 2014

African Adventure: Tanzania - Zanzibar

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A dhow off the coast of Zanzibar.
I have a thing for exotic sounding places.  The first exotic sounding place I chose to visit was Kathmandu.  The Wife went along with my madness.  Kathmandu was ... disappointing.  When I suggested adding Zanzibar to the end of our vacation because it sounded so exotic and Freddy Mercury was born there I was a bit surprised that the Wife didn't try to talk me out of it.  I wouldn't have faulted her after the Kathmandu fiasco.  Fortunately for me, and my exotic sounding places thing, Zanzibar turned out to be a bit better than Kathmandu.

June 25th

We left our camp in the Serengeti and headed for the nearest dirt strip airport,  We were a little worried about the weight of our bags.  We would be flying small bush planes form here to Zanzibar and the weight limit was lower than the large planes.  I tried to help by tossing almost all of my underwear and socks back at the Serengeti camp but I still felt our bags were too heavy.  Our driver/guide knew of our concerns and said we had little to worry about here.  Leaving Zanzibar would be a different story.

Our plane arrived and the pilot, the plane's entire crew, started loading the bags on the plane.  Our driver grabbed our bags and, being helpful to the pilot, loaded our bags on the plane himself.  The pilot never had a chance to feel just how heavy our bags were.  Our driver got an extra big tip.  Our plane made one stop in Arusha where we changed to another bush plane.  They didn't weight our bags there either so we were home free.

We were picked up at the airport by our driver who dropped us off at our hotel.  He said our guide would pick us up the next morning for our island tour.  This was a surprise to us as we were expecting a walking tour of the older part of the city known as Stone Town.  We would end up doing the walking tour the next day and, frankly, having the afternoon off gave us some time to decompress and relax from our Safari experience.
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The view off our balcony at sunset.
After checking out our room we headed back down to ask about an ATM and a place to do some shopping.  At the front desk we ran into Mk and Tm who we'd met briefly in Arusha six days earlier.  We set up a dinner date for later that night.

A stop at the ATM and a few blocks and we found a street lined with all kinds of stores.  You could find everything you wanted from east Africa.  We bought some final gifts, a few more magnets, and few more things for ourselves.  I bought a tin toy safari jeep.
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My toy safari jeep.
Zanzibar is very Muslim and it has a very exotic feel to it.  The Wife and I have become very fond of Muslim culture.  There were three or four mosques within a block of our hotel.  Not much farther away was a Catholic church and an Anglican cathedral.

That night there was a slight misunderstanding.  The Wife and I waited in the lobby for Mk and Tm.  They had waited for us in the bar.  We eventually met each other half way between the two places and ended up eating a very good dinner and enjoying nice conversation at the hotel restaurant with views of the Indian ocean.
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The sun setting over the Indian Ocean.
Our hotel was very comfortable.  It was located in Stone Town and on the beach.  The hotel itself didn't have a beach ... well, there was one during low tide but at high tide the beach totally disappeared.  That was the only thing I missed.  If we had been in Zanzibar longer I would have taken the free hotel shuttle to their private beach up the coast from Stone Town.

June 26th
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The path through the Jozani Forest.
Our guide and driver arrived and we headed out of Stone Town.  Our first stop would be the Jozani Forest Chwaka Bay National Park.  A guide from the park took us on a walking tour along jungle lined trails.  Our park guide identified all the plants we passed along with their uses and medicinal properties.  Every plant had at least one use.  Along the trail we saw lizards, tiny frogs, and millipedes.  Overhead monkeys jumped from tree to tree.  This was also where every exposed part of our skin was bitten by bugs.  The Wife got the worst of that.
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The red colobus monkey.
The highlight of Jozani Forest are the Red Colobus Monkeys.  They are rare and they are known for not having thumbs.  They were very used to people and you could get up close to them including nursing mothers.

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A mother and her offspring.
Half of the forest is a mangrove forest.  We walked along a boardwalk and looked at the cool trees and the small crabs crawling on the mud.  Our park guide talked about the importance of the mangroves and the attempts by the Zanzibar government to preserve the forests.

Our next stop of the day was a spice farm.  Zanzibar is one of several islands called the Spice Islands.  We toured the farm smelling and tasting different spices right of the plant/tree.  The variety was amazing.  As we toured our guide wove us hats, jewelry, and crowns from palm leaves.  Yes ... we got a wacky picture taken wearing all this stuff.  It will never see the light of day.  The tour ended with a palm tree climbing demonstration - see the awesome video here.

We had a few hours back at the hotel for lunch and a brief nap (i.e. watching the World Cup) before we headed out with our guide on a walking tour of Stone Town.  We passed by the home of Freddy Mercury ... or at least one of the houses that claims to be his childhood home.  We learned about the history of stone town and its connection with the Arab world.  We learned about the Arab slave trade.  We visited the Anglican cathedral that is built over the old slave market.  We learned about the architecture, the magnificent doors (the Wife wanted to bring one home), and visited the non-tourist market.
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The memorial to the Arabian slave trade.
The sun was going down as we were returning to the hotel.  In a park along the ocean a crowd had gathered and were watching the horizon intently.  Someone pointed and a cheer went through the crowd.  They had seen the moon.  Ramadan would start the next day.
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The crowd waiting for a glimpse of the moon and the start of Ramadan.
June 27th

Our flight was at 6:00 PM.  We had to check out from our hotel at 10:00 AM.  We arranged to have our luggage stored at the hotel.  Talking with our guide the day before, we arranged to have a ride on a dhow out to Prison Island.
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A dhow sailing the choppy water as seen from our dhow.
We walked with our guide to another hotel where we boarded our dhow.  The boat was run by two sailors.  It was made of rough hand-hewn wood and what looked like a hand sewn sail.  It was breezy and I was mildly concerned it would be a rough ride but once we got out on the water it wasn't bad at all.  The sun was out, the wind blew us to the island ... a perfect day for sailing.

We arrived at the island, once owned by an Omani, purchased by the government of Zanzibar to be made into a prison.  Once the prison was built, it was never used as a prison, it was used as a quarantine island instead.  Today there is a resort on the island that looks awesome.
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The aldabra giant tortoise.
On the island we visited the last new animal of our Africa trip: the Aldabra Giant Tortoise.  We walked among the tortoises, originally a gift from the government of the Seychelles, and watched them move slowly around their home.  They were used to people and you could touch them.  They seemed to like having their shell rubbed or at least they were curious about what was touching them as they would stretch out their necks and lift their heads.  Some had their age painted on their shells.  The oldest was 155.

We visited the prison building that is now a restaurant and had a drink while we looked out over the Indian ocean.  Our superhero powers activated again when we met someone who graduated from high school in Omaha and had gone to Iowa State.  Again ... it's a small world.
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A gorgeous view along the pier on Prison Island.
We got our feet wet getting back into our dhow - I have officially dipped my toes in the Indian Ocean - and returned to the main island.  We visited the French style catholic church before heading back to the hotel.

Back at the hotel we ate lunch.  I felt a little bad eating and drink when I knew the staff, including our awesome waitress Grace, were fasting for Ramadan.

After lunch the hotel was nice to us and allowed us to use the shower facilities in the spa so we would be fresh for our flight home.  The shower was one of those handle shower heads and the pressure was so strong I lost control of it several times and I think I ended up getting the entire room wet.   After I got out, dried off, and put on fresh clothes I proceeded to sweat through those clothes.  The Wife had the same experience except she was also visited by a little lizard.  Not sure those showers did anything really.

We then emptied out all the non-essential clothes from our bags and gave them to our guide and the hotel staff.  Our flight to the mainland was a small twelve seater again.

Our driver picked us up an hour or so later and took us to the airport where they weighed our bags.  We ended up 4.4 lbs (2 kg) over the limit which they didn't seem to mind.   Our flight to the mainland was only about twenty minutes.  We were pleasantly surprised when there was a driver waiting for us to drive us to the nearby international terminal.  We hadn't expected this and I thought we would be paying for a taxi.

The rest of our flights from Dar-Es-Salaam to Zurich to Newark to Omaha went without a hitch.  I spent most of my time watching movies.

Zanzibar turned out to be an awesome end to our African adventure.

Pictures of Zanzibar can be found in my Zanzibar 2014 Flickr album.

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