Monday, January 4, 2010

Zanzibar: There and Back

(Pictured here [from top to bottom]: a Zanzibar door; a Red Colobus Monkey; a Zanzibar beach; the face of a building from Stonetown.)

The trip to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania was a real adventure. We left very early from Kigali on December 19 and arrived in Dar es Salaam very late the next day. The bus trip was over 30 (thirty) hours long, but the view was great. Tanzania and Rwanda have very different terrain. In fact, 20 (twenty) minutes after we crossed the Rwandan border into Tanzania, all the hills disappeared; Tanzania is very flat.

Apart from the terrain, I noticed many other differences. I immediately noticed the weather change, for one thing. Rwanda has a very high elevation and we were driving down to sea level, so the heat and humidity rose very quickly. Rwanda is also the most populated country (per square kilometer) in all of Africa; as we drove through Tanzania I noticed that people were not living on top of each other like they were in Rwanda. In fact, there were even times as we were driving that I didn't see a single house or person. Rwanda is also full of bananas; a characteristic not shared with Tanzania.

We arrived in Dar on December 20 and immediately changed our American Dollars to Tanzanian Shillings. Then we caught a ferry across the channel to the archipelago of Zanzibar. The ferry ride was awesome; it was less of a ferry and more of a cruise ship or something. The ferry had air conditioning, flat screen televisions, and very comfortable seats. The ferry ride lasted about 2-3 (two to three) hours.

Once we completed all of our paperwork to enter Zanzibar (there was so much paperwork at every step of this trip!), we met with our host, a friend of a friend that agreed to let us stay at his place for two weeks. His letting us stay at his place for free was awesome news; we found this out about two weeks before we left for the trip. More awesome news was that his house was just outside of Stonetown, which hosts an interesting portion of Zanzibar's shops and architecture.
We received not very awesome news, however, after we exited the ferry and met our host. Specifically, he told us that Zanzibar was currently without power and had been for a few weeks. Our host told us that the government was making promises that the power would be back on within a week; he was hopeful, but sceptical. The power never came.

So the house we stayed at was awesome, but because of the lack of power we didn't have electricity or running water. In order to take showers and wash cloths, we scooped out water from an underground tank that our host had on his property. I have washed cloths by hand and have taken bucket baths SEVERAL times before, so this was no problem for me. The problem was that the house was a sweat box! There was no crosswind, so the house was full of heat, stale air, and God, the mosquitoes! Sleeping was difficult, I soon found out as I lay on a couch covered in sweat and swatting at the mosquitoes that always seemed to bite me right as I was dozing off to sleep.

This didn't affect my mood, though; nothing could dampen my spirits. Well, almost nothing. I did receive some bad news while on the bus ride from Kigali to Dar es Salaam. Jean-Marie, my secondary counterpart and best friend in my village, texted me to let me know that the director of the health center we work at had transferred him to a health center in another village; the village was only like 30 (thirty) minutes away, but he would have to move. This news did not please me at all; I didn't realize how close friends he and I had become until he told me this news. I felt a legitimate sense of loss when he texted me his goodbyes and wished me safe travels.

Putting this bad news behind me, the group and I spent our first day in Zanzibar looking for a good beach. On the way to a beach that our host had recommended, we stumbled upon the Mbweni ruins. These ruins were the site of an old church, an old factory, and many more structures. We explored them for a while and pressed on towards the beach.
The beaches of Zanzibar are bitter-sweet, as we soon learned. We went to many, many beaches and I won't make this blog entry longer by describing each beach adventure, so I'll sum them up. Zanzibar beaches have an incredible low tide. This is cool because you are able to walk around and find a lot of aquatic life. We saw hermit crabs (land and water), clams, starfish (Brandon found one bigger than his head!), sea cucumbers, fiddler crabs, and different kinds of smaller fish. We also found a jelly fish. Well, it found least my leg. (That hurt like hell.) We also found a TON of sea urchins, which I began to loath towards the middle of our trip. I stepped on one and got a thorn in my foot. Malcolm got hurt the worst, though. On New Years Eve he stepped on one and got his foot covered with the spiny protrusions! He is currently getting them pulled out by the PCMO in Kigali.

The night of the first day we visited a place called the Forodhani Gardens. We went there several times after the first night; again, I won't describe every visit in detail, but I'll sum them up. Forodhani Gardens reminded me of the 'Taste of Chicago,' but for Zanzibar. The Gardens is set up in a large courtyard area every evening and there are about 30 (thirty) tables set up in this area. Some tables sold biscuits, breads, and even sugar cane juice (delicious!), but most of the tables were hosted by fishermen; these tables showcased their catches for the day. We walked up to the tables, told them what we wanted, and they cooked it on a grill behind the table. It was great; we ate lobster, crab, muscles, shrimp, squid, octopus (side note: according to some fishermen, eating octopus gives men incredible sexual powers; of course, this was explained to us in much more vulgar terms, but its an interesting bit of cultural information, none-the-less), shellfish, shark, eel, barracuda, tuna, white fish, and so much more...for real cheap too!

Most of our time was divided between hanging out at the beaches and walking through Stonetown. Stone town is very cool; again, this is where the bulk of Zanzibar's shops and cool architecture reside. The streets of Stonetown were narrow and motorbikes and bicycles honked noisily and zipped past us as we wandered the streets. The smell of deliciousness filled the air as we walked past curios displaying exotic spices and items from Kenya, Tanzania, the Middle East, and India. Zanzibar doors, covered in 4-6 (four to six) inch spikes, lined either side of the narrow roads. (Side Note: These spikes are a characteristic of architecture found in India. Apparently, Indian palace doors are lined with these spikes to prevent intruders from overtaking their palaces with elephants. There are no elephants in Zanzibar and, even if there were, the streets would be too narrow to allow an attack on any curio via elephant.) Shop owners greeted us in English and Swahili (the native tongue of Zanzibar and all of Tanzania, for that matter) and invited us in to view their wares, try their teas, and purchase their spices.

We shopped at these curios for quite some time. Though most of us had limited funds, we agreed that having a 'Secret Santa' Christmas would be pretty cool...and it was. Malcolm drew my name from the hat and got me a real cool Tanzanian soccer jersey; I picked Tom and got him this cool Masai weapon; I forget its name, but it was club-like. Christmas was fun, in spite of it being the hottest Christmas ever for me and being half way around the world from my family.

Two days after Christmas, by this time there was like 12 people (all from different NGOs and NPOs) in our host's house, we decided to take a 'spice tour' as one, big group. Being on the 'Spice Island' we couldn't leave without experiencing this attraction. The tour was of a 'spice garden,' a king's palace, the slave caves, and the local beach; we also had lunch included in the tour.

It was amazing; our guide drove us out to the countryside and led us through a 'spice garden' and pointed out the various spices and fruits that grow in a typical Zanzibarian 'spice garden.'
Wait, wait, wait!
Not only did he point them out to us, he let us eat some too! We tried fruit like jackfruit (which tastes like a cross between pineapple and banana), coconut (straight from the tree), pineapple (no biggie), starfruit, lichee fruit, and more. And we tried spices like vanilla, cinnamon, lemon grass, nutmeg, cardamon, and many more. After walking the garden we ate at a local place and continued our journey to see the king's palace, the caves where Arab slavers contained the African slaves they caught, and the local beach. The attractions after lunch were okay, but I thought the best part of the tour was in the morning: walking through the gardens and eating everything our guide suggested we try.
The next day Tom, Malea, Miya, and I visited the Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park and took a park tour. This tour included a walk through the forest, monkey tracking, and a visit to the mangroves; we could have also seen sea turtles for a few dollars extra, but we were tired after those three attractions and we really didn't have the money. At any rate, the walk through the jungle was beautiful and the mangroves were pretty cool. What I liked best were the monkeys! Zanzibar has a very special breed of monkey called the Red Colobus; apparently, they are found only in Zanzibar. We tracked them down alright, but there wasn't much tracking involved at all! As soon as we started walking towards where the monkeys are usually spotted, we stumbled upon them instantly. There must have been 30-40 (thirty to forty)!

Two days after that tour, we took a tour of the old Anglican Church, which, before the church's creation, was the site of the slave trade market. We toured the church, the tunnels underneath the church, and we saw the memorial built for the slaves that had passed through this area. I would recommend this tour if you are interested in Zanzibar history and want to spend some time out of the sun; this tour doesn't take much time, though. If you have some time and are interested in outdoor activities, however, the two previous tours I mentioned are the best bang for your buck.

The next day was New Years Eve; we visited Kendwa Rocks...a beach resort...I bet you thought I was going to talk about another tour, right? Nope. The tours are done. Anyway, Kendwa Rocks had, by far, the best beach ever. In the evening there was a big NYE party, but I did not partake. I know, I know. Laaaaaaaaame! But I was so tired! I had eaten an awesome meal and I just wanted to rest. The room I was in had a fan (the resort had a generator, so they had some power), a nice bed, a shower, and NO mosquitoes. I read a bit, listened to some music, and passed out. That is how I rang in 2010.
The next day, our trip to Zanzibar was officially finished. We packed up our gear and took the ferry back to Dar es Salaam. We knew someone in Dar, so we stayed at her place for the night. She showed us a little of the city, but we mainly just hung out at the mall. That's right, baby! Dar's got a mall! I felt like I was back in the States...air conditioning, ice cream, a fast food place, everything! Hell, they even had a real movie theater! (I became sooooo home sick that day.) So we all took in a movie...'Sherlock Holmes'...very entertaining, I thought...a bit long, yes...but I was eating popcorn in a legitimate, air conditioned movie theater...I didn't want the movie to end!

When we got to her place, which was also air conditioned, we watched CABLE T.V.! Cable, man! I still had to sleep on a couch, but it was the best couch ever. Her apartment complex even had an elevator! (Again, I was really, really home sick that day.)
After a good night's rest, we got up early in the morning and began the 30 (thirty) hour bus ride back to Kigali. The trip back was horrible. Not because we were leaving, though that did suck, but because the bus was in shambles and the driver was crazy. On the way from Kigali to Dar, the bus ride was good. The seats were nice, the driver knew how to drive, and the bus even had a television...we watched music videos and the great JCVD flick 'Bloodsport' English! The way back was NOT on the same bus. We seriously thought we were going to die a couple of times. Anyway, we made it to Kigali safe and sound.

Once I got back to Kigali, I immediately started working on loading pictures to facebook and writing on my blog. And that was my trip to Zanzibar...
ALSO! It has almost been a full year since I have started Peace Corps. I'd like to do a 2009 reflection entry at the end of this month or some time in February. Keep a look out for that...