'Pole Pole' Part 3 - Zanzibar Rhapsody

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November 5th 2013
Published: November 17th 2013
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Don't stop me nowDon't stop me nowDon't stop me now

I'm having such a good swim, I'm having a ball. Finally I made it to the Indian Ocean and the beautiful beaches of Zanzibar
Right, so where did I leave you last leave you? Ah yes, we’d just returned to Snake Camp on the outskirts of Arusha from the plains of the Serengeti in time for some dinner and a much needed shower, that Serengeti dust gets everywhere, my clothes were as orange as my hair. Saying goodbye to our guides from the Serengeti we met up with Henry, our truck driver for dinner and a beer or two, I passed on the darts this time.

The next morning we would start the long drive south the Dar Es Salaam and catch the ferry to Zanzibar, this was no inconsiderable drive and would require a night camping half way down. In our absence our driver Henry had taken it upon himself to put the truck in for repairs and borrow a 4x4 for the rest of the driver, we were not best pleased at this as we all wanted to carry on to the truck, but the option was he stayed up all night to fix it then drive us, or we take the 4x4. Claims were made it was for our comfort and speed as there were large amounts of diversions on the
Arusha taxisArusha taxisArusha taxis

I thought the dudes were just hanging out, acting cool on the street corners, turns out they are local taxis
road south which in Africa means you drive on a dirt track for the length of the roadworks. Reluctantly we had to accept the 4x4 although it was probably a slight scam to save on petrol money, but in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t too much of a hardship.

After breaking camp the following morning, we headed into Arusha for a bit of shopping before we drove south. With time for a quick coffee before we left, I tried the clove coffee for the first time, quite spicy and a bit different from my usual Nescafe.

We took the road east out of Arusha and as sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti (come on, you all know the song..) it was actually still covered in cloud so we still didn’t even get to see the full splendour of the mountain, ah well, you can’t have everything. We stopped for lunch along the road just outside the town of Moshi at the foot of Kili, always nice to have your lunch on the side of a road by a rubbish pile, but by this point I was quite used to doing things I don’t
Heading east on the T2Heading east on the T2Heading east on the T2

Zanzibar here we come!
normally do. The day continued with a cramped but quite fast drive south past the Pare mountains and fields and fields of geometrically planted sisal. We stopped to take a quick look at the plants as Henry described their many and varied uses. We’d been stopped quite a lot by the police on the way down and then I suddenly realised it was because we were in a British car, Henry always managed to talk his way out of trouble although I was happy not to argue with the locals as there were a lot of AK47s on show.

Finally after a long but interesting drive and a few bumpy diversions, it was time to find our camp for the night and we turned off the main road, crossed the railway line and headed down a dirt track. We were informed we would be staying the night in Zebra Camp, as a fan of all things zebra I was delighted by the news, although we were warned it was a bit more basic than some of the previous places we had stayed. Zebra camp was a beautiful little area besides a small river, full of palm trees and monkeys
Better then the Tate ModernBetter then the Tate ModernBetter then the Tate Modern

I love the painted shop fronts, we should encourage more of it on our highstreets
playing as we arrived. It was a picture perfect African scene and immediately I decided it was my favourite place so far. We were the only ones in the camp and enjoyed the best shower of the trip so far, the water heated by a simple wood burner. Henry rustled up some dinner and while we were waiting I explored the camp. Spanning the river was a precarious looking bridge made up of two lengths of railway track and some old planks. I bravely managed to cross it without falling to take a look at the other side. I was more impressed by the local lady from the village on the other side of the bridge who managed to cross it three times while we were waiting for dinner with one baby strapped to her, a child holding her hand and a huge bundle on her head. The fact there was a four foot drop on one side made the feat even more impressive. Dinner was served and we enjoyed a potted history of Kenya from Henry while we enjoyed the night skies before retiring early ready for the 4.30am start the next morning.

After a sleepy start and
Adieu ArushaAdieu ArushaAdieu Arusha

Time to head south to the ocean
enjoyable dawn, it was back on the road and the final leg down to Dar Es Salaam to catch the ferry to Zanzibar. The outskirts of Dar were pretty chaotic and we got a little lost as we tried to find the port but checked in and enjoyed our complementary lunch of a burger of dubious provenance. We took a quick stroll around the town before embarkation, it felt like a true African port and I imagine there are plenty of stories which have originated from the city. We were taking a catamaran to the island and I think the early start had caught up with us all as we all immediately fell asleep a few minutes after sitting down. When we awoke we were pulling into Stone Town port and caught our first glimpse of the Indian Ocean isle, I’d been looking forward to a swim in the beautiful blue ocean for some time now and couldn’t wait for a dip.

Naturally we still had to enjoy a bit of Pole Pole administration and fill in yet another form and enjoyed some spectacular non-queuing as we waited to be allowed on to the island. Once through we met out guide and took a drive to find a hotel, after all that camping a bit of luxury was in order and we asked to be taken to the four star Tembo Hotel in Stone Town. We all went to see what was on offer and the receptionist offered us an apartment if we were all willing to share a little longer, so as we hadn’t fallen out yet, we decided we could stand a few more days together and took the flat and what a bargain it was as well, happy days. They took us over the road and to our delight realised we’d be staying in the Mercury apartments, the actual building the young Freddie Mercury once lived in (I hope you spotted the Queen theme on the photos) rock and roll!

After setting in and delighting in seeing a real bed for a change we all headed out for an Ethiopian meal, I hadn’t tried the cuisine before but it was delicious, best food of the holiday so far, mmm. And then so to bed, and boy was it a comfortable sleep that night. Camping had been a lot of fun, but it was quite nice
Where are you??Where are you??Where are you??

Kilimanjaro doesn't want to come out to play, this is as good as our view got.
not to have to worry about wild animals attacking the tent for a change. It was also quite amusing to leave the block and open the door to find lots of tourists taking photos, I felt almost famous myself.

The next morning commenced with a tasty breakfast by the beach (they do a mean pancake in Tanzania) and then a walking tour of Stone Town followed by a trip to a Spice plantation. We started out with a stole through the maze of the old streets, lots of ‘Jambos’ greeting us on the way as the local shopkeepers tried to entice us into their shops. It was a bit like time travel walking through the old streets, a real feeling of being in a different world.

As we had driven further and further south in Tanzania, the Arabic influence in the country had increased and Zanzibar reflected the Omani presence which had once been so strong on the island. The island has a strong history in the trade of spices and also slaves. Later on the colonials moved in and they even had the shortest war in history there, lasting a mere 45 minutes when the Sultans of
Come get your juicy tomatoes!Come get your juicy tomatoes!Come get your juicy tomatoes!

You generally will find 10 stalls next to each other along the road side selling exactly the same thing, take your pick
Zanzibar surrendered to the British. The slave trade ended in 1897 and the Anglican Cathedral of Christ Church was built on the site of the slave market. Our tour took us to the former slave market and viewing the cells where they held the slaves are a stark reminder of the brutality that the trade brought to the island and Africa.

Highlights of the tour included the old fort (Ngome Kongwe in Swahili), the beautiful House of Wonders and the Forodhani gardens where the guide pointed out a large spider in a tree which elicited a rather high pitched yelp from yours truly. Zanzibar is also famous for its doors, they have a few different styles including Arabic and Indian. Some also have small chains on them as a reminder of the slave trade and the right side is the woman’s door and the left is the man’s door. Who knew there was so much to learn about a humble door! We then headed to see the markets, you name it, they sell it. The fish and meat markets were rather cloying (word of the holiday) and of course there was a whole section dedicated to the spices of the island, which had a more enjoyable aroma than the fish.

After lunch we headed to a spice plantation tour, as we walked in we smirked to ourselves as we saw some gullible tourists leaving with hats made of leaves, of course we’d never wear them. The plantation tour was fascinating and very educational; it was incredibly interesting to learn all about the spices and plants they grow on the island. Not only are they used for cooking, there are many medicinal uses as well. Of course we get many medicines from plants and if you don’t believe me you are welcome to borrow my old medicinal chemistry books, they are a great read…

We even got a demonstration of coconut tree climbing and a rendition of the tourist favourite ‘akunamata/jambo’ song as the guy descended. You get ample opportunity to buy a CD of the song from opportunistic hawkers on the beach but I managed to resist. As the tour progressed we enjoyed trying many different plants, the lipstick plant was especially cool as it was make up on a tree, however I'm not sure it was my colour. And naturally, as the tour ended we were
One hundred and eighty! uses.One hundred and eighty! uses.One hundred and eighty! uses.

Sisal plantations, used to make ropes, cloth, liquor, twine and even dartboards. Now that's a check out.
presented with our banana leaf hats, ah well, embrace the inner tourist.

After a nice swim in the hotel pool, we headed back to the Forodhani gardens for night market and to try the Zanzibar pizza that was recommended to us. It was fun to watch them cook them up for us and they were really tasty, have one if you ever go.

The following morning we were off to the Jozani forest and then to the east coast and the picturesque beaches of Paje. The forest is famous for its Red Colobus monkeys; they have a most agreeable touch of ginger about them. We took a walk through a beautiful mahogany forest before we came across the monkeys. Crossing the forest path we saw some safari ants, they were incredible, like a motorway of ants. There are the army ones which have huge pincers and they form a tunnel and the non-pincher ants rush through the tunnel to wherever it is they are going. Hard to imagine how they actually understand how to do this, they can’t have much brain in those tiny heads. The monkeys are rather tame and are wonderfully red in appearance (not that
Home sweet homeHome sweet homeHome sweet home

A little more modest than the dwellings we saw in Karen, Nairobi.
I’m biased) and had some very cute babies with them. Once we had enough photos of monkeys we had a walk through a mangrove swamp and headed east to Paje.

Once we arrived at Paje I was all excited to take a dip in the beautiful blue Indian Ocean. Sadly when we arrived the tide was out a very long way and the sky was cloudy, I was a little upset that it wasn’t how I pictured it, my plans were foiled, bad Juju. Walking along the beach you could hear the waves crashing on the reef further out and the locals were out farming their seaweed in the shallows.

However as we sat down for some lunch, the skies cleared and the tide turned and slowly my idea of the perfect tropical beach became reality, it was beautiful and I enjoyed a nice long swim. As it was low season the beach was almost empty apart from a few kite surfers, not sure I’d be able to manage that, suspect I might take off. Heading back to Stone town for dinner, I realised I’d got a bit of sunburn on my feet, they had become nice and stripy from where my sandals were, not a good look! Dinner was interspersed with a few power cuts but our restaurant had a generator to keep us illuminated and post dinner it was to the posh Serena hotel for a G+T, nice but a little soulless however the band were excellent as they played some good African music for the guests.

On our final full day in Zanzibar we’d planned a trip to Prison Island off the coast of the island. Leaving the hotel after breakfast we received the usual offer of a boat trip, as this always happened we just brushed it off and headed back to the apartment. It suddenly dawned on me it probably was our guide for the day so we sheepishly headed back and the guy confirmed he was booked for our trip, duh…

We boarded a dhow outside the hotel and enjoyed the boat ride to the island, it was a lovely journey although I did get a bit splashed on the bumpy seas. The island (aka Changuu, Quarantine or Kibandiko island) was used as a place to keep rebellious slaves and was also a coral mine. The British then built a
Erm, worryingErm, worryingErm, worrying

And even more bizarre, our car was from Conwy in North Wales, it had traveled as far as me.
prison which was never used and instead became a quarantine station for Yellow Fever. Luckily I have had my jab so was allowed to leave. It also has a colony of Aldabra giant tortoises which are rather bizarre creatures. As we arrived it was feeding time so there was a rather pungent aroma of cabbage (a bit like Lincolnshire in the rain) and lots of the large, lumbering animals chewing in a very pole pole manner. They struck me as the victims of a cruel joke of evolution, they looked so ungainly and awkward, still I’m sure they were happy on their little island. The trip ended with a bit of beach time and a snorkel on the small reef by the island, luckily I didn’t see any sharks but I did manage to spook myself thinking about them, so didn’t stay in the water too long (not that I actually know there are any sharks there anyway) but there were some rather nice black and white stripy fish swimming about so I think the power of the Zebra was still with me.

Returning to the hotel for some lunch I tried Masala tea for the first time, it
The dusty roadThe dusty roadThe dusty road

Heading south through the sisal fields
was quite nice and a bit like Horlicks strangely. Later in the afternoon we set out to find a mask shop we’d spotted on the tour we took, it was rather hard to find and we ended up going round and round in circles, I’d just about given up hope (as well as having a sense of direction) then we stumbled upon it finally. Chatting to the owner he explained it once belonged to his father and was more of a hobby than a business for him, it was a great little shop and really felt exotic and almost magical in its own way. As it was our last night on the island, we met up with our fellow travellers, Emma and Paul, for dinner at a cute little street café and enjoyed watching all the crabs play in the moonlight, they are most amusing little things.

The next day it was time to leave the island and head back to Dar, we said goodbye to our new friends who were staying on a few days longer and caught the catamaran back to the port. It was a very bumpy journey back and lots of people decided they wanted to revisit their lunch once again, mmm, nice. For our last stay in Africa we’d opted for a bit of globalisation and picked a nice chain hotel for the night. Being back in Dar felt more African than the Middle East feel of Zanzibar however we weren’t quite brave enough to take a walk around after dark so had dinner in the roof bar of the hotel, they were even offering helicopter transfers from the top to the airport, flashy, we opted for a cab though, it was a little cheaper.

The next morning and it was time to leave Africa sadly, we had a flight from Dar back to Nairobi and then on to Heathrow. In my wisdom when booking I’d left us a good 6 hours in Nairobi just in case anything went wrong. We nearly did miss our flight from Dar, but that wasn’t the fault of Africa, just my fault in not checking the flight time properly, not my normal modus operandi. Slightly annoyed at myself as we had to rush so much at the airport, we managed to just make the flight and settled in and was rewarded with a view of the top
Heading off roadHeading off roadHeading off road

Somewhere down this road is camp..
of Kilimanjaro finally as we passed over.

On arrival in Nairobi we had another little mix up as we were directed to the transfers bus rather than the arrivals bus, it took us nearly an hour to make it to the arrivals area and luckily our bags were still going around on the carousel, looking rather forlorn, still we weren’t in a rush. As we sat down for a coffee to contemplate getting from arrivals back to the other terminal the tour guide from our first night recognised us and came over to ask how our holiday had been. As we had so much time we asked her about going somewhere for dinner so she got the same driver we had to take us to a local restaurant for a real flavour of Kenya. The place was at the top of a local shopping centre and you pick your meat, they BBQ it for you and we enjoyed some beer and reggae music for our last supper, it was a fitting end to the adventure.

And that was it, Africa is an amazing place, a bit challenging at times but if you accept a bit of pole pole,
Zebra CampZebra CampZebra Camp

The best place we stayed, it was lovely
it is a lot of fun. There are plenty of problems still and I couldn’t even think what the solution to it all could be, but the people are friendly and good fun and there is so much to see and do, I hope I get to explore much more of it. And of course, I want a zebra...

Additional photos below
Photos: 82, Displayed: 35


Serious campingSerious camping
Serious camping

Well, we did have someone to cook for us on the fire, so maybe not quite that serious
The bridge to Zebra CampThe bridge to Zebra Camp
The bridge to Zebra Camp

A rather haphazard construction of railway tracks and old planks, it creaked, alot..
The other sideThe other side
The other side

There is a village somewhere in there

3rd December 2013

Stand on Zanzibar
I'm old enough to remember when Zanzibar and Tanganyika were separate countries. I always thought that Zanzibar sounded marvelously exotic, and I wanted to visit. Thanks for your blog - now I want to visit even more! PS> the comment title is the title of a book written by John Brunner in 1968.
4th December 2013

Thanks for your kind comment Karen, I might have to check out that book.
11th August 2014

Beach Holiday
Thank you for sharing about beach holiday.........its makes easy my journey.......
13th September 2014

Zanzibar - sounds brilliant!
I once read a book about Zanzibar and thought it might be the only place in Africa I would consider traveling to. Your blog really does make it sound like an interesting and wild place to visit. Thank you for the write up, I always enjoy reading them! Ps. How comes you have been away for a month? What's happened to work?

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