Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Painful Journey Back to Zanzibar

Once back in Arusha, I was brought to my hotel that the travel agency had booked for me. Can I just say that it was the sketchiest hotel I have ever been in. When you walk in, all you see is a very dark hallway full of doors and unfortunately to get to my room, I had to walk to the other end of the hallway, go up a flight of stairs and then walk back down the second floor hallway. I only left my room to get something to eat at the restaurant that was connected to the Hotel.

The next morning, at about 7:30am, there was a knock on my door, and the travel agent in Arusha was there to bring me to the bus station. Now, when I told him about getting my ticket, I said that I wanted to travel on Scandinavian Express because I was pleased with the ride to Arusha with that company. But he reassured me that the company, Kilimanjaro Express was just as nice, so he took it upon himself to buy me that ticket. And in the morning, it was too late to change the ticket, so he dropped me off at the Kilimanjaro bus station to wait to leave. And when we boarded the bus, I was the only white, non-local on the bus, and it was packed! So needless to say, I was very unhappy with the bus company and the travel agent, but oh well!

And the day only continued to get worse when I reached Dar es Salaam. When I got off the bus I went straight for the taxi stand and found a decent taxi driver. He put my things in the back seat and I sat in the front. Then, just as we were pulling out of the station, he stopped the car and pointed to some other people. He said, “These are my friends, and they are going to the City Center as well, so they are going to come with us.” I said, “WHAT?” So I told him that I would not pay the original price we disgusted, but he wasn’t happy with that either. Then, the other people with us had a bunch of luggage and the trunk would not open, so the driver then handed me my backpack to hold on my lap!!! I was outraged! And to make things better, we got stuck in traffic for about 20 minutes! So when we got to the Jambo Inn where I was hoping to get a room, I chewed him out when he said I didn’t give him enough money, telling him how unprofessional his taxi service was. I’m sure it didn’t make a difference, but it made me feel better.

Things continued in a downward slope when the lady at Jambo Inn told me that they only have triple rooms and I would have to pay for the whole thing! Normally I would have gone to a different place, but it was already dark outside and being alone, I was not about to go around the city. And when we stayed there last time, they had a restaurant, but that night it was closed. So basically I was stuck in my room all night with three beds, my luggage, and a bag of cassava chips (a local snack).

Having a good night of sleep, I woke up early to head to the port to purchase a ferry ticket to get back to Zanzibar. But when I got to the port, the booking office was closed. (another lovely difficulty to add to my troubles) So a man nearby noticed that I was looking for a ticket, and he told me to come with him because he sold tickets. I followed him to a table that was set up, and he flat out told me that I was buying a “black market” ticket for the ferry because they were sold out and he had the only tickets left. So that made me feel really great! But I honestly didn’t have a choice because I would be stuck in Dar for another night.
Luckily, I had no problems on the ferry and I was just happy to be on the way back home to Zanzibar. It was nice however when we docked because all I did was show them my residence permit and I didn’t have to fill out any other customs information. (since I am a resident of Tanzania now) And since I was extremely exhausted, I took a taxi back to the house. When I arrived at the house, it felt so nice to be in a place that I was familiar with and knew well. Everyone was very happy to see me, and the most interested part about my arrival was that I was greeted by 3 other “students” that were staying in the house as well. There were 2 Americans that are part of the International Honors Program and they would only be in Zanzibar for 2 weeks. Then Ellen is from Norway and is learning Swahili to prepare to work at a cancer hospital in Dar for 9 months! So it was definitely a full house, but I was just happy to be back.

My Safari

I woke up super early in the morning to be packed and read to go for my safari. A "tourist" bus as it was called picked me up from my hotel at about 6:15AM and after stopping at 2 other hotels, we were on our way to Arusha. I can't tell you too much about the ride to Arusha because I basically slept the entire way and did not wake up until we were pulling into a parking lot. And once the bus came to a stop, I had to ask the driver if we had arrived in Arusha, at which point he said yes. Haha! So I walked off of the bus only half aware of what was going on. Luckily, the man who was supposed to pick me up from the bus stop was waiting for me. He approached me, introduced himself, and then asked me if I wanted to get some breakfast because we still had about 2 hours before our safari would be leaving. So we then got in his car and went to this really great place for breakfast, but after that he dropped me off at a hotel, where I would wait for the rest of the safari "participants." They also had a rooftop restaurant, so I went upstairs and waited until about 9:15AM when I went downstairs with my things to wait in the lobby.

Sitting across from me were 2 men from France and we started talking while waiting. Previously I had been told that the other people on my safari included 2 Irishmen, and 2 Australians, but I found it odd that these 2 men were waiting to go on a safari as well. And then I reminded myself that Arusha is a big hub for safari travelers. But when the guide for our safari arrived, we discovered that we would be on the same safari! I was happy for this because both of the guys were really nice even though only 1 could speak English (where were those French skills I learned in middle school?)

So we loaded all of our things into the back of the Land Cruiser, but then another one of are safarians (and yes I made that up) showed up. She was an American girl who was quite frazzled and in a very bad mood because she was unhappy with her tour operator and felt like she got scammed. I tried to reassure her that she was now where she needed to be and that things would be better now since she was with other travelers, but my consoling words did not help. After talking a bit, I found out that she was from Los Angeles, California and just got out from doing the Peace Corps in Zambia. So I would have thought that she would have a bit of patience after being in an African country for 2 years, but apparently not. Once everyone was loaded on, we were told that we had one more stop to make to pick up our last two safarians. They were a couple from Israel who were traveling for 2 weeks in Tanzania. So once we were all accounted for, we thought we would be on our way, but we then had to stop to meet the cook who would be riding separately, but had to give up the food to put on the Land Cruiser. After that, we stopped at a local "supermarket" to get bottled water, and then our last stop was to get gas for the trip. So by the time we finally left Arusha, it was about 11:30AM, and we were all a bit annoyed.

But I was happy because we were finally on our way! We would first be going to our camp to drop off our luggage and eat some lunch. And I was actually really happy with how nice the camp was because it was basically a hotel. But it again took forever to eat lunch because it took about an hour to get prepared by the cook. (We were told that he left ahead of us so he could start preparing lunch, but then we realized that all the food was with us. Talk about misconception!) Lunch wasn't overly delicious and we would later discover that none of the food would be appetizing. But after that, it was about 2:00pm and we were finally leaving the camp and heading to our first park, Lake Manyara National Park.

Lake Manyara was beautiful, mainly because it has so many different environments. When we first entered, we were in a tropical forest with tall trees and monkeys everywhere! We then went around the brush area of the park where we saw several elephants, giraffe, and a tree climbing lion that is only found in this park and is very rare! We then ventured out towards Lake Manyara which is how the park got its name. Near the Lake we saw herds of wildebeests and zebra, but unfortunately they were far away and there were no paths that could get us closer. I have to say that throughout the trip, our guide was really good with keeping to the park rules, which doesn't always happen here. Sadly, near the end of our trip in the Park, we could see heavy rain near the entrance of the park, and I prayed that it wouldn't disturb our safari. But as we were at the Hippo pond (where there were about 30 hippos just lounging in a big mud pond) it started to rain. But this wasn't just any rain; the rain was falling completely horizontal because of the intense wind in the park! So we all got out of the car so our guide could close the roof, which is off during our game rides in the parks so we can stand up and see everything! We then started to head back towards the entrance of the park. But before getting a few yards, we had to stop again, so our guide could attach a fuse to the car to start the windshield wipers (very sketchy). But thank goodness for that car, because we went through some pretty muddy roads on the way out of the park, and any other car would have probably gotten stuck.

Once back at the camp, we relaxed while we all waited for dinner, which was actually not too bad compared to the rest of our meals. Then after dinner, the Israelis (who are huge partiers!) came out with a handle of Jack Daniels! It was crazy! I mean why would you bring a handle of hard liquor on a safari!!!? But it was at this point I decided to head to bed because I could tell things were about to get crazy and I wanted to be ready to go in the morning. And things got really crazy; come to find out, the whole gang went to a local club and got completely trashed! It definitely showed in the morning as well.

Day 2 of our safari was the earliest day of our trip because we had about a 2 hour drive to reach the Ngornogoro Crater Conservation, and then another hour to get to the rim of the crater. So we headed out at about 7:00AM. And it was incredibly foggy too! I slept for most of the ride before reaching the Conservation entrance, but once we were in the park, I was on the edge of my seat because the fog was so dense that we could barely see the front of the car let alone the road! And the road would wind and curve all over the place; our lives were literally in the hands of the guide. And when we reached the rim of the Crater, it was so anti-climactic because all we saw was fog! So we began our descent into the Crater at which point the fog grew thinner and we could soon see the plants around us.

Once in the crater, we were all awestruck because it was a huge bowl with mountains all around! (New Orleans has nothing on this Crater). Not only was this our earliest day, but it was also our longest because we did not leave until about 3:30pm! And during this time, we saw so many different animals that I cannot list them all. Some of the more memorable ones include, 2 cheetahs that were relaxing on a big rock in the sun, a male and female lion on their "honeymoon" as our guide told us, and a black rhino! which was really far away, but I could still see it. We also stopped by the Hippo pond where there were about 60 hippos all piled together and boy were they loud! They made some of the oddest grunting noises I have ever heard and they would constantly splash muddy water on themselves because they don't have sweat glands. Not only can you see all of these large animals, but we also saw so many exotic, beautiful birds! I tried to take pictures of them, but as you can imagine it wasn't too easy. Probably my favorite part of this day was when we literally drove through a massive heard of wildebeests. We stopped about half way through the heard to take some pictures, but I really enjoyed listening to them eating the grass because they were so loud!

So our second day at Ngornogoro Crater came to an end, after we stopped at the viewpoint at the rim of the Crater which was fog free at that point. The view was breathtaking and I was able to get our whole safari group together for a group photo before leaving. On the way back to the camp, we dropped the 2 Frenchmen and the other American off because they were returning to Arusha to do other things, while the 2 Israelis and I headed back to the camp. And this night was much mellower, mainly because we had such a small group left, but I also think the Israelis were a bit tired from the night before. So I went to bed early that night, simply because there was nothing else to do.

Our 3rd and final day would be spent at Tarengire National Park, and I was excited about this because there would only 3 safarians with the guide making it much more personal. We left at about 9:00am after eating breakfast and packing up the car. And I think that overall, this was my favorite park for several reasons. We definitely saw the most animals in this park than in Lake Manyara or Ngornogoro Crater. There were herds of elephants with babies! We also saw several giraffes really close, and there were zebras everywhere! And I have deemed them as my favorite animals on safari. The only down side to Tanrengire was that they had so many tsetse flies, everywhere! There were so many in the park that before we left the entrance to the park, park workers sprayed our car with a chemical to keep them away. And the main reason that these flies are bad is that they carry a disease known as “sleeping sickness.” I’m sure I was bitten at least once, but luckily I had no symptoms of the illness.

As we headed back towards the entrance of the park, I was standing on the front seat with my upper body out the roof of the Land Cruiser just taking in as much as possible because I knew this would be my last chance. I was very sad to be leaving my safari trip, and I definitely agree with the travel books when they say, “you can spend days in just one park.” But my time had come to an end and we were on our way back to Arusha.

Monday, October 20, 2008

A City of Peace and Beauty

After 2 pretty boring days in Dar es Salaam, it was finally time to head up to the North so I could start planning my safari! We decided to go with a bus company called Scandinavian Express because we heard that it was more of a “tourist” bus than a local bus. And we had seen some of the local buses just jam packed with people, and the trip was going to be about 8 hours and we wanted to be comfortable. So we woke up extra early that morning to get to the bus station a little be for boarding time at 8am.

While waiting for the bus to take off, we talked with several other travelers who had traveled all over Africa. One was an American from California who was traveling from Cape Town, South Africa to Nairobi, Kenya. There was also a woman from Holland and she was heading back up to Arusha to head home, but she had previously climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. It was really great to hear about her experiences with that and how she loved it but would not do it again haha. And finally we met a Canadian who had traveled to Tanzania and Eastern Africa in the past, but had some pretty bad experiences so he never was able to complete his trip. For example, when he was in Malawi, he got a ride with a local in his car and midday, the driver fell asleep at the wheel, drove off the road, and they hit a tree. The Canadian wound up back in Canada because he fractured his back and was cut up pretty bad. So he had finally made it back to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

The bus ride was actually rather pleasant because the bus was not even half full, so everyone could have their own row of seats. The scenery was gorgeous as well because after about 2 hours, we drove along the Great Rift Valley and the mountains just kept going and going. This was not something I was used to seeing so I took several bad pictures through the window. I also slept most of the way, which isn’t a big surprise because I sleep in almost any moving vehicle. But after about 9 hours, the bus arrived in Moshi and the 3 of us got off, said goodbye to our new friends because the bus continued on to Arusha.

The main reason we were in Moshi was because 2 years ago, Klara lived there for 6 months doing social work research. And it felt so good to get off the bus and walk around a bit to find a cheap hotel. We wound up staying at Mt. Kilimanjaro Backpackers Hotel for $5/person each night which was incredible! And because Moshi is the closest big city to Mt. Kilimanjaro, our hotel had a rooftop restaurant and bar that I headed to as soon as I put my stuff in our room. The best times to see Mt. Kilimanjaro is in the early morning and the evening when the clouds reveal the snow capped top of the mountain.

As soon as I saw the beautiful view of Mt. Kili, I fell in love. It was so majestic and breathtaking. I just wanted to sit in that restaurant all day and not do anything else but enjoy the city and the view. And as I sat there, I ironically thought of Ernest Hemmingway writing his infamous poem, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” possibly sitting right where I was. I know that is really cheesy, but that was what came into my head at that moment. And the city of Moshi was so peaceful and relaxed; people did not gauk at us when we walked around but instead just went along with their lives.

As I was enjoying my beautiful view of Mt. Kilimanjaro, I saw something incredible occur across the street. In Moshi, they had sidewalks that would sometimes be missing chunk and the cars had to drive around these huge holes so they didn’t get stuck. Unfortunately a little white car was driving down the street and slammed right into this huge hole! I got concerned for the people in the car to make sure they were okay. But then not 5 seconds after the car got stuck, about 10 men out of nowhere just came and picked up the car and moved it out of the hole making sure everyone in the car was safe. Not one person even got out of the car or had to call for help. This act just amazed me and it proved that there is such an amazing sense of community throughout the country that reached beyond anything else that may come in its way.

But day 2 was another exciting day in Moshi because we went to visit Klara’s friends from 2 years ago when she stayed there. Everyone was really sweet and welcoming to us, and then someone introduced me to a local doctor who owns an NGO. His NGO is called the Living Life Center, and he runs it on his own with one other volunteer helping him. The Doctor was retired and previously worked in the Moshi public hospital. He was nice enough to take us to his clinic and show us his facilities. At the Living Learning Center, he has information sessions on HIV/AIDS prevention and testing. They run malaria and HIV tests at the clinic, they can do minor surgeries, and several other simple medical procedures. He started the clinic because the local people of the area have to walk very far to reach the public hospital and then wait a few hours and then make the journey back home. Therefore a whole day would be wasted where the patient could have been doing work. So with his clinic, it is a closer option for small medical problems that locals may have, and even though the services are not completely free, it is a lot cheaper than going to the hospital.

I was so proud of this doctor because he is doing this out of his heart and he was completely genuine and sincere about his work at the clinic. And I have met some leaders of other NGOs while in Tanzania who have an NGO just for the money, but it was great to meet someone who really cared about the local community. So this was the most exciting event of my day; only continuing to fan my flame of love for Moshi.

That night, I decided that instead of traveling up to Arusha to plan my safari, in the morning, I would try to find a safari tour company in Moshi. Over the past few days, I had heard some pretty bad things about Arusha for tourists including scams and theft. And I wanted to avoid that at all costs. So in the morning, I woke up early and at 8:00am I started my search. I went from company to company getting different quotes and information on safari tours. I wanted a safari that went to Lake Manyara, Tarangire National Park, and Ngornogoro Crater (this is a typical 3 day safari). And after several hours, I finally found a company that gave me exactly that. Exhausted and relieved, I paid the first deposit and then went to the hotel for a nap.

When I woke up, I went upstairs to the rooftop bar for a soda as I watched Mt. Kilimanjaro be revealed from under the clouds for the last time because I would be leaving at 6:00am the next morning for my safari. Klara, Anna, and I went to another rooftop restaurant for our last dinner together. They would remain in Moshi for a few more days before traveling to Lake Victoria and then Rwanda. And that night I went to bed both anxious and excited for my safari the next day!

From Dar to Bagamoyo and Back Again

On Tuesday October 7th, Klara, Anna, and I met up and walked to the dock to board our ferry that would be taking us to Dar es Salaam. Sadly, we had to wake up really early because the boat left at 7:30am and boarding was at 7:00am. But luckily once on the ferry, I slept the entire way to the mainland even though we had economy class tickets in the “non-air conditioning” area. Once the ferry docked, we headed towards an area of Dar that had cheap, budget hotels/hostels that we could stay in for 2 nights. And the first one got the ticket at a place called Jambo Inn (not to be confused with the previous Jambo Brother’s Inn). We basically dropped our stuff in the room and then headed out to see the city.

Now prior to my trip, I had been told by some Zanzibaris that Dar es Salaam was the “New York City” of Tanzania. However, since I have never been to New York, I cannot make a fair judgment, but if New York City is anything like Dar, I really don’t have a desire to visit. Dar was extremely boring with about 5 popular “tourist” spots, but for the most part, the city was a working city that people we to during the day and left at night.

Our first stop of sightseeing was to the Catholic Church that was right on the coast near the dock. It was very beautiful and also called St. Joseph’s Cathedral (just like the Catholic Church in Zanzibar). Then we walked for quite some time to get to the fish market because Anna really wanted to see it. And can I tell you that I have never smelled something as disgusting in my life (and I come from New Orleans). Not to mention all the water and who knows what else we were walking in while at the fish market. And I was not in a happy mood after walking 30 minutes to get to the market, only to tread through smelling muck and leave after about 5 minutes.

But we then headed towards the National Museum of Tanzania where we had a conflict of interest because I really wanted to go inside and see the exhibits, but Anna said, “I’m not much of a museum person.” At this point I wanted to tell her, “I walked through a smelly fish market for you; you can at least come into a museum about the history of the country you are traveling through!” But I held my tongue. And the museum was actually really cool. It went through each age of colonialism and how the country was affected over the years, but I was still amazed at how unpreserved the different artifacts were. In about 20 years, half of the things won’t be there because they would have deteriorated. There was also a memorial from the 1998 terrorist bombing of the US Embassy in Tanzania, and I have to say that it was a little creepy. There were remains of the bomb attack including a car, bicycle, a glass window, and a statue of a woman whose arms had been blown off. Feeling a little bit sad, we continued into the “biology” area of the museum which lifted our spirits. They had a great exhibit on the development of the human and when it got to the current human species, there was only a mirror. I thought that was extremely clever.

So after about an hour at the museum, we headed to have some lunch and amazingly enough, we found a Subway! I was so excited that I marched right in and got in line. However, I was extremely disappointed when the worker told me that there was no Turkey or Ham. So I had a sandwich with pepperoni, lettuce, black olives, pickles, and “sweet onion sauce” that was nothing like what is in the US. So even though it was definitely not the most delicious thing I ever tasted, it was still a Subway sandwich. And after an unsatisfying lunch, Anna and Klara just wanted to continue to walk around Dar, but soon it started to rain, at which point we got in a taxi and went to an area called Slipways.

When we arrived, before us was a huge shopping area with a bunch of really great shops. So we looked around a bit and then had some ice cream at a local ice cream shop. We stayed here for the remainder of the night and then took a taxi back to our hotel. Luckily Jambo Inn has a restaurant in it that was still open when we arrived. So we settled down there and ordered some late dinner. While waiting for our food, two extremely drunk Americans came and started talking to us. They told us how they were traveling around filming different areas of Africa for National Geographic and that they met the Dali Lama. I seriously doubt if any of their story was true, aside from the fact that they were American.

After dinner we planned our next day. We decided to go to a small city called Bagamoyo which is about 2 hours just north of Dar. We read that Bagamoyo had a lot of history for the country because during German colonization, it was the capital of East Africa. So we set our alarms to wake us up rather early the next morning to get a good start on the day. But the first thing on our agenda was to get our bus tickets for the next morning to take us north to Moshi near Mt. Kilimanjaro. Then we headed to the dalla dalla stop to take us to Bagamoyo. Unfortunately, there was not a bus that went all the way from Dar to Bagamoyo, so we had to stop in another city and switch buses to get where we needed to be.

About 2 and a half hour later, we arrived in the very small, quiet town of Bagamoyo. And of course, right when we arrived, Klara and Anna wanted to know which direction the beach was in. We started walking in the direction that some passerby told us we needed to go, but after a few meters, we stopped to ask again. The second man we asked spoke fairly good English and told us that we needed to go back from the way we came. So we walked back and then headed in the right direction. On the way we visited an art gallery where they painted and sculpted. And one artist sculpted large busts of different political leaders, and they were huge and very colorful. When talking with the guys that created the artwork, we learned that Bagamoyo has one of the largest art schools in the country and students from all over come to learn and study there.

After a little while we found the beach, which was mainly a fishing beach with absolutely no tourists around, but just locals. It was pretty cool to see the local fishermen selling their catch with their boats pulled up on shore next to them. It really gives you an appreciation for the locals in the country and how they still have “trades” that they pride themselves in. We walked all along the coast and then went in several art shops along the way, but the art here was different than all the shops everywhere in Zanzibar. The art here was more original and had something different about it. And in one of the shops, I fell in love with a Tinga Tinga painting and I decided to buy it because I knew the money would be going directly to the artist. The men who worked in that shop were also really nice and they even played their handmade drums and sang to us.

Feeling very happy with my newly purchased painting, we headed back to the main area of town, away from the beach. However, it was about midday and it was unbearably hot outside with no shade and no wind anywhere. But Anna and Klara still wanted to “wander” around the city and see absolutely everything there was to see. So I reluctantly followed along, but at one point I told them that I wanted to stop and get something to drink and rest in the shade. So we stopped, but when we started walking again, we could not find our way back towards the dalla dalla stop. In fact, we had to completely backtrack from the way we came which made me really ticked off because I was sweating bullets and very cranky. We finally made it back to the dalla dalla stop and rode the two hours back into Dar. That night I slept exceptionally well because I was so exhausted from the day in the blazing hot, African sun.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Exciting Travels

The past 2 days have been rather exciting because I did some overnight traveling. My friend Klara, her sister, and I wanted to travel to the northern tip of the island to a beach called Nungwi. I have decided that before my time here is over, I want to travel to the North, South and East points of the island because I am living in the West. So everything in our travel books said that Nungwi is considered to be the "party" spot on the island and a very big tourist area, so we were very anxious to see what it was like. But we had decided that this was going to be a very low budget trip because it was only going to be for one night.

Our means of getting there was the dalla dalla which is the local "buses." Basically is is a long pick up truck with a covered back and benches that line the inside. This is the only public mode of transportation on the island and it is also the cheapest. So we cramped in the dalla dalla with about 17 other people for the one hour long trip up to Nungwi. It was to say the least, uncomfortable because I got car sick and at one point I could not feel my feet. I have traveled many other times on a dalla dalla, but never for this long.

But we finally arrived in Nungwi and where we were dropped off was in the middle of the local village. So we asked an old man where the Jambo Brother's Inn was because our travel book recommended it for "budget" trips. The old man actually walked us to the Inn and it was a good thing because I don't think we would have ever found it on our own. When we arrived, we asked how much and if we could see the room before deciding to stay there. The man to us it would be $45 USD for 3 of us for one night, and the room, though basic was fairly nice. It had 3 large beds all fully equip with mosquito nets. But Klara wanted to look around at some other places to see if we could find something cheaper. Anna and I eagerly volunteered to stay with the "luggage" in the shade because both of us felt fine staying at Jambo Brother's. After about an hour of looking around, Klara returned to say that all the others were $50 a night and equally as "fancy" as the Jambo Brother's. So we paid and went to our room. Unfortunately, I had to be the one to discover that the toilet did not flush, but we decided to worry about it later and head out to the beach.

The water was crystal clear and the sand was the whitest I had seen in Zanzibar. But we were the only "tourists" around, so we were naturally a spectacle for all the locals. I would say about 10 different people (mainly men) came up to us while we were on the beach to talk to us and welcome us to Nungwi. This is very common everywhere in Zanzibar especially during the low tourist season, but I have to say that after 2 or three, it gets really annoying! At about 6:00pm, we decided to find a place to have dinner and one of our "friends" we met earlier suggested a couple of places on the beach for us to eat. So we walked along the beach and found a bunch of restaurants all in a row, but in the end we wound up eating at the Fat Fish Restaurant and Bar. It had a beautiful view of the ocean and we could watch the sunset.

After dinner we walked around a big and found a pretty popular bar right on the beach and we decided to have a few drinks. Then we ran into some guys we had met earlier that day who were locals. Klara and Anna had become closer friends with them than I did because I think I was sleeping when they met us on the beach earlier that day. But they told us about a local club they were going to that had really good music, and they invited us to join them. The first place we tried to go to was closed, so we walked quite a long way to get to this other club. Now since this is a pretty rural local area that is nestled on the beach, it was really really dark, but the sky was absolutely amazing. And when it was about the darkest part, my mom calls me to chat on the phone. It was very bad timing, but I told her where I was and kept the conversation short and sweet because I needed to pay attention to where I was walking.

So we finally arrived at the club and it was a really awesome place. It was basically a Reggae Club that had all locals there. However, no one seemed to care that we were there, so we found a seat and ordered some drinks. The dance floor was right under the open sky where you could see every star. It was really great too because everyone was so nice and they all loved to dance to the music. So after being there for about an hour, we decided to head back, but unfortunately, it seemed darker walking back. As I was getting my phone out to shed some light on the road, I tripped and fell, scraping my arms and knees. I said a few choice words but I was okay. I got up and brushed myself off, but from that point on, we walked slower.

The next day we headed out to the beach again, but only for a little while because we wanted to get back to town. After another, more comfortable ride on the dalla dalla, we were back in town and it actually felt really nice to be in a place that I was familiar with. My homestay family was eager to hear about my adventures in Nungwi, but for the remainder of the day, I relaxed at home, tired from the trip.

But I am sad to say that this may be my last blog for about a week. In a few days I will be traveling to the mainland with Klara and her sister. We will go to Dar es Salaam and then catch a bus that after 8 hours will take us up to Moshi. Moshi is at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, so I am very excited to see and experience that. Then I will continue to Arusha where I plan on going on a safari for a few days. After that I will head back to Dar es Salaam and return to Zanzibar where I can tell you all of my exciting travel news. But I hope everyone at home is still doing well especially with the whole "financial crisis" going on. It is all over the news here, but not really affecting anyone in Zanzibar.

Friday, October 3, 2008

An Island Party

I must express my most sincere apology for not writing for the past week because I know that everyone at home checks my blog everyday with the hope of news from Africa, but after all, I am in Africa! So last weekend I did some pretty exciting things. On Saturday my Swedish friend Klara and I went to the House of Wonders which used to be the Sultan of Oman’s Palace (it is an attachment of the other palace I went to). It is also the first building in Africa to have a “lift” or elevator, but it is now a museum and I would definitely not use the elevator. Most of the things in the museum were fairly interesting, but the best part was the view. The House of Wonders is the biggest and tallest building in Stone Town and it is the first thing you see by boat when coming to the coast. Visitors are allowed to go on the 3rd floor balcony which wraps around the whole house enabling you to see the ocean and the island. As you can imagine I took many pictures which will eventually make it up on Snapfish. Another really exciting thing that happened on Saturday was that Klara’s little sister arrived in Zanzibar after her flight was delayed 6 hours in Nairobi! Poor thing. But she made it to the island that night and being to tired I wasn’t able to meet her until Sunday.

Now on Sunday we had bigger plans…we planned a trip to visit a nearby island called Prison Island. It was only about a 30 minute boat ride there and the water was fairly calm. Now the boat we were in was very small but it did have a motor which made me very happy. However, right when we arrived on the shore, the sky opened up and it began to pour! We stayed in the boat a little longer until the rain slowed down, and our “captain” was nice enough to take us around the island a bit. The main attraction for people visiting Prison Island is the giant tortoises that live there. In the past, the tortoises were able to just live on the beach and roam freely, but do to poaching and fishermen, they live in a reserved park on the island. This was the first stop we made, and it was by far the best part of the day! The tortoises were enormous, weighing about 150 pounds and some were that old too! We were able to fee them spinach and even allowed to pet them! They really like people and were very friendly; you just have to mind you fingers when feeding them.

After visiting with the tortoises for about 45 minutes, we continued to walk around the island. The reason the island is named Prison Island is because it was a stopping point for slave traders on their way to Zanzibar, and if they had any slaves giving them “trouble” they would leave them on that island. We did get to see some of the old slave quarters that were now turned into bathrooms…Don’t ask. Our captain left us on the main pier of the island where we saw some fishermen down on the beach below us. They had such a wide variety of fish that they caught, and I am sure that about half of them were illegal because they were so bright and colorful…not for eating. They had also caught and octopus, squid, and a blue spotted stingray.

We then decided to go lay on the little bit of sand that the island had because most of the shores were rocks. What I found interesting was that the sand was not sand but finely crushed shells that had been beaten up over the years. There were also a lot of shells and starfish lining the beach, so that kept me really occupied. Unfortunately it continued to rain all day and we would run under the pier and coral rock caves on the coast to stay dry. But all in all it was a great trip; great until it was time to leave. Since the weather had continued to worsen, the ocean, in return was choppy and rough. The ride back took about an hour and consisted of the boat literally going up on the waves and then crashing down and we all got wet. I was clinging on the piece of wood I was sitting on for dear life. At one point I even took a video of the boat and the water, that way you at home can understand what I went through. The funniest part was when I got off the boat. Because I had been used to moving up and down the whole time, when I stood up and took a step, I feel down on my butt! It was quite funny and amusing for both me and the others on the boat. And despite all of the waves, I did not get sick (probably because I did not eat anything before or during our trip).

Earlier this week I received my certificate for completing the Beginners Course of Swahili, and I was surprised to find that the certificate is very nicely made. Also, in preparation for the Ede celebration, I decided to go with one of my Zanzibarian friends to get henna. Henna is a very popular tradition on the island because there is a lot of Indian influence here. And when I went to get it done, the lady did it so fast! I only had my hands done, but the local women get their hands and arms as well as their feet and calves done. I have to admit that it looks really good on my now tan skin!

Since the local Muslims saw the moon on Tuesday night, the Ede celebration would be on Wednesday. My Ede began by being awaken from the constant ringing of the door bell. In the morning, children go from door to door asking for money or food, and the people who answer the door give them the equivalent to a few cents. So that was a lovely thing to wake up to. But for lunch, I went with Mama Rahma and some of her family members to a big family party on the other side of the Island. The house was beautiful and right on the beach. So I spent most of the afternoon walking along the beach with some of the ladies in the family, and I practiced my Swahili skills too!

Then later that evening, Klara, her sister, and I went to a big festival that takes place in town, but only during Ede. It was crazy! There were literally thousands of people in this very large field with music blaring all around. There were vendors selling food, drinks, and a lot of toys for the children because they collected all the money in the morning and then spend it at night. For most of the time, the three of us sat off to the side where we could just watch all the madness happening, but not necessarily be in it all. I have to say that it was a really great time to be in Zanzibar and witness this great celebration that only happens once a year.

So I think that is enough for now, but I am going to post another blog right after this one to tell you about some other fun times I had recently.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A little Zanizbar Culture and History for Ya!

Today I have officially been gone from the US for a month, and I don't know where the time went! I am about finished with the "beginners" course of Swahili at which point I will start with the "intermediate" course. I also learned that since I will be at the school for 3 months, I will actually "graduate" from the school and leave with a certificate basically saying that I am supposed to be able to speak Swahili haha! But I was pretty pumped when I heard that! Also, there are only a few days left in Ramadan and then it will be Ede. Now Ede religiously is only one day, but in Zanzibar they celebrate it for 4 days! And just to simplify things, Ede is like Christmas for Muslims--a time to pray, celebrate with family, give gifts (especially to children), and eat amazing food! So Zanzibar will be having a big party for 4 days next week and I am soooo excited to be a part of it! It is all the locals talk about, and some people re-do their houses and get new carpets, curtains, and paintings. Last night Hafith was actually complaining about how expensive everything is during this time; a typical dad mentality who has a 1 year old and a 7 year old.

This past weekend I spent a lot of time at the beach...go figure. But I actually got somewhat of a tan, so that was pretty exciting. The locals do not understand why "westerners" want to become darker. If you see anyone from Zanzibar by the beach, they are normally in a t-shirt and pants, trying to protect their skin (smart idea). But on Saturday, some of the people I was with wanted to go to a local market by the beach we were at. Normally this would be about a 7 minute dalla dalla bus ride, but they wanted to walk. Trying not to be the "Debbie Downer," I did not voice my concern about it being waaaay too hot to walk that far in the middle of the day! So we walked and we walked and we walked, for about 20 minutes in the direct sunlight! I was literally pouring sweat from everywhere and so were they, and it was at this point that we all wished we had taken the dalla dalla. But at least we got to the market and were only there for about 10 minutes. In my opinion, the only good thing I got out of the market trip was to discover that things were cheapest there than anywhere else because it is a local market, away from all the tourist places. The next day at the beach, I met a really nice girl from London currently living in Dar es Salaam, but she came to Zanzibar for the weekend. We talked a lot and exchanged phone numbers, so that if and when I travel the Dar, I will certainly have to give her a call.

I know that I have said that the food here is amazing, which it is, but for some reason, every night at dinner, I lose my appetite and I can't eat a lot. This apparently really bothers Mama Rahma because every night, she asks me if something is wrong because I am not eating a lot. She has also asked me a lot of questions about what I like to eat, but this is a hard question to answer because the food at home is not comparable with the food here. When asked if I liked seafood, I of course said yes and told her that I come from an area that is well known for its seafood. The very next night she cooked "seafood" which basically was a whole fish that was grilled and then cut in half. When I say whole fish, this means that it was not de-scaled, the head was still on, and it was looking right at me. So feeling rather bad that she cooked it for me, I went to pick a piece up to at least try it, but once I touched it, there was no way I could bring myself to eat it, unless I wanted to be sick. So Mama Rahma and I will continue to have this ongoing battle of trying to find out what I really like.

Also, the teacher who has been teaching us this whole month had a family emergency in Dar es Salaam, so we have a different teacher for the last week. And our new teacher is amazing! We basically just talk the whole class and don't worry too much about the book. He said that the important thing is that we are comfortable with talking basic Swahili. And to this statement, I couldn't agree more! Just in this week so far, I feel so much more confident in my communicating skills. I am hoping to continue private lessons with this teacher in October, being that the school is closed in October because it is their "planning month" (whatever that means).

Today being Wednesday, the school takes the beginner students somewhere to learn about the local area, so today we went to the Palace Museum located on the coast of Stone Town. It was fairly interesting, but I was so amazed at how un-preserved things were. First of all, there is no air conditioning in the building and therefore they have all the windows open letting in all the humid air from the ocean right in through the windows. Also, a lot of things that should maybe be in glass cases weren't. It was just amazing to me that century old history is not being cared for as it should be. But basically the palace was home of the Omani Sultan in the 1800s. Right next to the Palace Museum is the House of Wonders which we didn't get to see today, but I will definitely make my way there sometime soon. I have learned that the history of Zanzibar is completely separate from the rest of Tanzania and Africa. Mainly because they were not part of the European colonization of Africa. They had already been inhabited by the Arabs from Oman, and at one point Zanzibar was the capital of Oman. Now I have not completely figured that one out just yet? Also, the shortest war in history took place on Zanzibar, lasting only 45 minutes! WOW!

So there is your little dose of Zanzibar history and I'm sure I will find out a lot more history during my travels here. As far as my plans for this weekend, my friend Klara (from Sweden) and I are going to go to another island about 30 minutes away from the Zanzibar port called Prison Island. This island was part of the great slave trade that took place in Zanzibar, and it is also home to the large tortoises. So I am really excited about that, and I can add those to my monkey pictures! But until next time! Kwaheri!