Zanzibar – Part I

On our last day in Mombasa as a group, some of us decided to celebrate by having a little fun. So me, Jennifer, Jasmine, Lindsey, and Gracey took to the matatus and set out for the bowling alley. There’s an entire shopping complex off the Mombasa island called Nyali, and it’s there you can find Nakumatt (the Kenyan Wal-mart), a mall of sorts, a movie theater, a bar and a bowling alley. When I return to Mombasa I plan on hitting up the movies with my brothers as well, and maybe taking them bowling, since they’ve never been before.

We had a blast at the bowling alley, and didn’t get back til late. I packed up my stuff and went to sleep. We left for Zanzibar early the next morning.

This year Athman has decided to do something different with the group. Instead of flying us all directly to Dar es Salaam like he normally does, he decided to go by bus, stopping at a place called Tanga on the Kenya-Tanzania border. We arrived at our hotel – the Inn by the Sea – and were ecstatic; a real hotel! There was even steps leading right down to the beach, and some sort of mariner’s club right next to the hotel where we ate dinner. I went swimming right away, and then we were packed into the bus again for another adventure.

They took us to the Amboni caves, local limestone caves in the area where natives have been offering sacrifices for generations. The caves were beautiful, but were really different from the caves I’ve seen back home in the Valley. For starters they were dry caves – there were very few drip formations. They were also much smaller than the caves in Virginia. Still, we had a great time. Despite some anxieties over climbing sections without rails or guards, we all really enjoyed seeing them, especially when at one point they let us pass through a small tunnel from one chamber into the next. When I say small, I mean small. It was about a hundred meters of walking in a crouch, and here and there on hands and knees. By far the coolest part of the excursion. Then we went back to the hotel and settled in, preparing for more travels the next day.

Once again we set out early, this time by bus for Dar es Salaam. Dar is the capital of Tanzania (I think; it might only be the economic capital), situated right on the coast. Across from it is the island of Zanzibar, where the Sultanate of Oman ruled the Swahili coastline for many years. To the north of that is the smaller Pembe island. We didn’t do much that night in Dar because it took forever to get dinner at the restaurant we went to, Chef’s Pride, but it was fun nonetheless. It also happened to be Halloween that day, and both Athman and Ali produced candy for us at different points during the day. It wasn’t much, but it was nice to be reminded of what was going on back home.

The next day I found myself liking Dar so much that I wished we were staying for longer than just a day. I slept in, started the day with a little exercise, then went off to explore the city with Jennifer and Daniel. We walked all the way to the shore where we would be taking the ferry later that day, explored some bookstores (I bought an interesting book on linguistics), found a shop full of pirated movies (including what we thought was Spiderman 3 but wasn’t), and generally just took in the city.

That afternoon we hopped a matatu over to the ferry, where we discovered we had first-class tickets. Now I’ve been on a ferry once or twice, remembering one time in particular when I went to the Outer Banx with Mark, and figured first class meant we were simply on the upper level of the boat or something simple, expecting it to be open air. Instead, what we got was something like the cabin of an airplane, with big comfy seats, air-conditioning, and a great view through the windows. Needless to say I enjoyed the trip very much.

Zanzibar is a pretty amazing place. It’s become a tourist hotspot in the past number of years, so mzungus are everywhere. But the island is packed full of neat things – the Sultan’s palace, all sorts of great restaurants, open air markets selling everything from food to kangas and spices. Plus the town is actually relatively small, so it’s easy to walk anywhere, and I’ve already learned may way around the city. Our troupe is staying at Victoria Guest House, this beautiful little hotel/inn in Stone Town (the old section) of Zanzibar. It’s by far the nicest accomdations we’ve had, yet very simple and compact. It’s four stories, most of the rooms triples, and the top floor has walls open to the air and is where they cook us meals and we have our lectures or sit and read or play games (or even practice karate!). Like our first time in Mombasa, we usually have lectures in the morning, and the rest of the day is ours to do with what we will.

The first day, we discovered that there was a local film festival at the Old Fort nearby, so Ducky, Sivan, Daniel and I all set out to watch March of the Penguins. We judged wrong and went early, and wound up watching The Flying Classroom instead (fun movie if you’ve never seen it). Afterwards, we set out for a cool restaurant called Mercury’s right on the harbor with tables overlooking the sea. When we got there what did we find but another group of our students carousing and having a good time over drinks. I flipped out when I discovered the restaurant had fettuicine alfredo and WINE, neither of which I’ve been able to find in a restaurant yet. So I ordered myself two glasses of red wine and settled to chat the night away with the group.

Earlier that day, I also went shopping with Ali, Gracey, and Lindsey, looking for kangas as gifts. So I picked up a few gifts, and even found a kikoi for myself as well. I’m wearing it right now, in fact. I was so excited when I found it, because Ali told me it’s handwoven Zanzibar fabric of really good quality and it didn’t cost much at all. I’m thinking here in a bit I might head out to find more.

Yesterday I checked out another restaurant called Cassablanca with Torrie, and tonight I plan on looking into this neat place called Africa House, though it looks rather pricey. After that I think I’ll put a stop to my little expeditions, to keep my budget from crying out in pain. Still, overall it’s been a great time so far, and I look forward to seeing what else Zanzibar has to offer.