What better way to recover from a week on the side of Mount Kilimanjaro than relax on the white sands of a tropical island? The post-Kili recovery week spent on Zanzibar was paradise!
Unfortunately, paradise took a lot of travel to get to. Almost 600km down to the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, followed by a ferry ride across to Zanzibar and another hour to get to the north of the island. While I attempted to make up for lost sleep, it was hard to do so when I knew my luggage was strapped to the top of the minibus with nothing but old rope…
Leaving the Arusha area meant the roads became very bumpy and poverty rates began to increase. I spent a long time on the drive thinking about how fortunate I was to have been born in a first world country and have permanent access to clean, running water. I found myself looking forward to going home, if nothing else than to be certain that I could drink the tap water and had access to a toilet instead of a hole in the ground.
Partway through our journey, we were pulled over for speeding (60mph in a 50mph zone). We roasted in our seats as the three guys who were driving us to Dar es Salaam discussed the fine. We then watched a heated argument take place in Swahili. A receipt hadn’t been given for the fine payment which meant the police could have then charged our (for want of a better word) chauffeurs even more money (not our worst encounter with the police – stay tuned for that).
Dar es Salaam is a huge, hectic city with a population of over 4 million, several sky scrapers and an extortionate number of traffic jams. As we drove towards the ferry terminal, now and then I spied scaffolding made of wood and signs of poverty here also. Everything felt a little less ‘hakuna matata’ than it had done in the Kilimanjaro region.
The ferry itself was smooth sailing. Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator was played on the TV screens and the light rocking of the waves sent me to sleep quickly. When I next opened my eyes, everyone was craning their necks to see Stone Town as the sun set. Passports eventually stamped, we piled into another minibus and drove north to Kendwa. My only glimpse of the turquoise sea that day was at the port, as it almost immediately became dark. We drove for around an hour before turning on to a rural road, passing little shops and derelict houses before finally, at long last, checking into paradise.
Hotel treatment was a luxury we had completely forgotten and we all expressed the same awe at air conditioning and working showers over dinner. After I had eaten a delicious pizza (of course), we took a night time stroll on the beach to dip our toes in the water and water the ghost crabs scuttle about.
Having still not seen the beach in daylight, I was very excited for breakfast the next morning. Over fresh fruit and a Spanish omelette, I took in the whitest sand and bluest sea I have ever seen. We spent all day on the beach, though I had to retreat into the shade once it because apparent that my malaria tablets were making me a little too susceptible to the sun’s rays. We were treated to a lovely (albeit cloudy) sunset.
The following day was devoted to snorkelling! This was my first time and I was quite nervous. I’m not the strongest swimmer and I really hate water going up my nose so I was a little apprehensive. My anxiety was made somewhat worse when I saw we’d be going on an old wooden boat! Despite my grandfather’s profession working on a tug boat, I’ve never really had sea legs and Zanzibar’s waves are choppy, although they don’t appear that way from land!
The boat was a sail boat, although we used a motor to get round to the eastern side of the island. Annoyingly, the skies opened on us and we ended up wrapping ourselves in tarpaulin to keep dry – I was immensely glad I had chosen not to bring my camera! Luckily, the rain stopped just as we reached the coral reef. A member of the crew threw chunks of banana overboard to attract the fish and they eagerly snapped them up.
While it wasn’t a massive reef, I still managed to spot some zebra fish and royal blue tangs (aka Dory from Finding Nemo!) and it was only when we had all clambered back aboard that we realised the weird little stings we had felt while in the water must have been pieces of jellyfish!
Our next stop was a completely deserted beach with sands even whiter than our hotel’s. We had freshly grilled tuna with rice and a delicious tomato sauce for lunch – possibly the best meal I had on this trip! Fresh bananas, oranges and mangos were offered as desert and we spent the remaining hour on the white sands, commenting to each other about the insanity the beach actually exists. Google ‘paradise’ and you’ll be on the right track to what we saw.
When our time in heaven was up, the crew raised the sail and we travelled by wind… until it started raining again… and we stopped to help a boat full of fishermen who were stranded at sea because their motor had stopped working. Never a dull moment in Africa!
The next day was extremely busy! We had booked on a tour of Stone Town, Zanzibar’s oldest and most historical settlement and an evening ‘booze cruise’ around sunset. Naturally, Africa Time was our downfall as our ‘minder’ was incredibly late in organising the tour. I got talking to another group from the University of Bath who had conquered Kili a few days after us – one of their members hallucinated that he needed to fight dragons at the summit! Another member of their group joined us on our drive to Stone Town because he had been bitten by a monkey while they were travelling to Zanzibar. The cut wasn’t too deep but he wanted to get it seen just in case! Eeep!
Our guided tour began with a large coastal gardens an old Portuguese fort, beside ‘The House of Wonders’, which was the first Zanzibarian building to have electricity and a lift. From there, we walked down winding alleys to a market place, all the while our guide telling us about the Middle Eastern influence and the Sultans’ rulings prior to British colonisation. Because of this, Zanzibar has an almost 50:50 split between Islam and Christianity.
The marketplace was chock-a-block full of people buying fish, meat, fresh fruit and vegetables and little packets of spice, which smelt incredible. We then navigated through the maze of streets to the location of an old slave market, upon which a church had been built by missionaries after slavery was abolished on Zanzibar. I had expected the slavery to have been largely due to British colonisation but a large proportion of it, I learnt, was Arabic.
We entered and saw the holding cells underneath the church – one of the last remnants of what the land had been used for. Up to 75 people would be held in incredibly cramped conditions in the baking sun. When they were to be sold, they were tied to a tree – there now stands a memorial pole where the tree used to be.
The church itself was very simple inside, but has some interesting features. There was a commemorative cross to a Dr. Livingstone who was largely responsible for abolishing slavery on the island and the cross’s wood comes from the tree growing above his grave in Zambia. Additionally, as African builders were unfamiliar with Western architecture, all the columns inside the church are upside down!
We finally visited the slavery memorial just outside the church before being taken through more streets to a shopping area which sold wooden carvings, bracelets and Tanzanian football shirts. As much as I would have loved to spent all day winding those streets and exploring the shops, we were due to head back to Kendwa for the booze cruise. But, Africa Time being what it is, meant the minivan showed up 20 minutes late and we barely made the boat! And the boat was wooden sail boat we had been on the day before, of course!
While it was labelled a booze cruise, this was in no way the kind you’d find in Magaluf. By comparison, it was a leisurely sail with a lot of alcohol, so let me just take this moment to address any potential future offspring of mine: I have spent enough time as a student to have the foresight that mixing your drinks while aboard a questionably seaworthy vessel will not end prettily. Pick one and stick to it or (naming no names) you will be helped to shore wearing a life jacket.
Our ‘bartender’ (i.e. new drinking buddy) taught us a Tanzanian drinking song about calling a bat back to prolong the night and keep the party going by watching over the drinkers (“wananiita popo, nakesha nakula ujana!”). By the end of the trip (just 7pm!), all that was left was a bottle of wine and some rum. Suffice to say, we all had early nights after that!
Our final day was spent on the beach, but as it started to rain we didn’t stay for long and instead began to prepare for the next two days of travelling we had coming up. At our last meal, we all agreed that it had the atmosphere of a graduation dinner.
Getting back to Moshi was hands down the worst day of travelling I have experienced so far. We awoke at 3am to find that no breakfast arrangements had been made for us by our minder(who, in addition, was late to meet us and made us late), a member of our group then cracked her iPhone in one of the fold-down seats in the minibus, we took ages to get through immigration and then, when we finally boarded the ferry and found seats… we sailed on the worst seas I have ever experienced. People were throwing up left, right and centre (into sick bags, thankfully) and the ferry practically took air as we attempted to cross to the mainland. We even had to slow down because of the awful conditions, making the trip even longer. I’m very glad I didn’t throw up but I definitely came close… and the presence of reruns of Tom and Jerry on the TV screens did very little to stop the nausea.
Back on dry land wasn’t much better, but we finally found our silver lining. A Subway in Dar es Salaam! I have never inhaled food as fast as I did then. Our footlongs at 11am were the first scrap of food we’d had since the previous evening and were incredible. They almost made the subsequent hours on the road bearable. Almost. Once again, we were pulled over by the police (this time for overtaking, I believe…) and the most spiteful police officer possible started questioning us about whether we were “really going back to Moshi and if we had been in the country for two weeks, why couldn’t we speak Swahili yet? Swahili is the national language of Tanzania after all. You would expect the same if we came to the UK”… Ugh.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the army also stopped us later on, where our driver subtly palmed some shillings to an officer. We were stopped again on a rural road waiting for traffic lights to change (due to the road works going on) for what felt like hours and were hounded by teenage street vendors. Our final stop was for the driver to pick up a sack of coal. I gave up completely at that point. I just wanted to be in Moshi! I didn’t even want to have to think about the next long drive from Moshi to Nairobi. That was less painful but just as long. I was catcalled at the Kenyan border (thanks so much…) and the 7 hour layover in Addis Ababa was just fantastic… A painful 48 hours to end the trip with but it certainly made sure I was ready to go home!
A big thank you if you’ve stuck with me through this gargantuan post and all the others from Africa! I’ve had a fantastic time on the continent and can’t wait to go back!