Zanzibar – Part II

So to pick up where I left off, Africa House turned out to be great. It was a real high-class establishment, and I got myself a nice glass of South African wine (Danny recommends – 3 out of 5 stars!). Jennifer and Jasmine accompanied me, and while Jennifer and I have made fast friends, Jasmine and I have had some tiffs in the past. But that night and lately everything seems to have smoothed over completely, and so I’ve been really enjoying her company lately as well. It was also thoroughly hilarious when Jasmine ‘scolded’ the children of a huge group of singing German tourists sitting out on the balcony who were running around the restaurant like all hell had broken loose. A fierce “HEY!” and a scowl stopped them dead. Then as soon as they ran off we all busted up laughing.

The next day was pretty uneventful at first, and then after doing a really good karate workout I went to dinner with Athman, Ali, Daniel, Lindsey, Gracey, and maybe two others I can’t remember to a local Swahili restaurant where we got loaded up with food. You order a plate of pilau (rice) and they literally give you an entire plate heaped with pilau. But of course we had to sample the other things as well, so it was a huge meal. How much did I pay for it in all? About 1,000 Tanzanian shillings. How much is that in American dollars? About one :)

Despite the massive dinner, we hit up an ice cream joint afterwards, Daniel and I scheming to find the best way to get the most ice cream possible (their scoops were WAY too tiny). Later when we went back on the last day, we discovered that the chocolate cake/ice cream mix worked out best. :)

The next day we set off for the Jozani forest, a mangrove swamp that’s home to an extremely rare species of monkey, which we got to see and take a ton of pictures of. It’s also home to many of the world’s most potent plants used for medicines. We had a picnic lunch on the boardwalk in the forest, and then drove to a place called Sun & Sea View Hotel. Because Jozani forest is on the other side of the island from Stone Town and Victoria Guest House where we were staying, Athman put us up in this hotel for the night.

The beach at the hotel was hands-down the prettiest I’ve ever seen. The sand was bleach white, the water blue, and picturesque palm trees swaying in the wind. As to the hotel itself, each room was its own little bungalow set off a little path. We even had dinner that night in the open-air restaurant overlooking the sea. I couldn’t resist going for a run on the beach, and then relaxing in the water for a good while. Later, the hotel even arranged for some traditional African dancing, pretty similar to what we saw in Kaloleni, except choreographed. Honestly, though, I was super impressed with the drummers; I’ve never seen people use the drums like that. And the dancing is nothing like the stereotypical image people have of African dancing, with Maasai warriors jumping in the air and a sense of pagan ritual and all that. Instead it’s very simple, move to the rhythm kind of dancing, that almost reminds me of Spanish dances somewhat.

So naturally we were sad to leave, and the next day was pretty much uneventful as we traveled back to Stone Town. The day after, we visited a spice farm, and had a surprisingly fascinating and entertaining tour of the plantation. They let us smell all the plants, made little baskets and things out of leaves, explained how they all grew, and let us try the different fruits. Zanzibar is famous for its spices too, so we were all sure to buy some before we left.

Day 70 – this is perhaps the single best day I’ve had since coming to Kenya. Today we went to Chumbe Island on a fun 45-minute boat ride out. The entire island is a research center dedicated to preserving the surrounding ecosystem. A huge section of coral reefs and related wildlife sits right off the coast, and the corals are claimed to be some of the best in the world. I’d have to agree – they were far more stunning and well-preserved than the others we saw earlier this semester. Frida, a woman from Norway who just arrived to work there 4 weeks ago and is staying for 2 years, took us snorkeling and showed us all sorts of amazing things about the reef. We even saw a massive sea turtle! We followed it for a while, then had to let it go because turtles start using up their oxygen when they get too stressed and can drown.

Later, we took a intertidal walk on the beach. This isn’t something tourists normally get to do. For starters, the program allows only a limited number of tourists on the island. But in the typical serendipitous fashion it seems there are only 2 days out of each month when the tide gets low enough to go exploring the intertidal region. So Frida took us on a walk in the tide region, and we saw sea critters galore – sea cucumbers, anenomes, sea worms, starfish, crabs (including the coconut crab – the largest land crab in the world), mussels and shells and sea urchins and sea urchin skeletons and tons more.

Finally we had to leave, all of us dreading the return because we all had essays to write due the next day. But none of us realized Athman had different plans. Instead, he took us to the Dhow Palace for dinner, followed by ice cream, to celebrate our last night together as a group before starting ISP. The Dhow Palace is almost beyond words. It’s something like 5 stories, with a huge inner courtyard, complete with modern swimming pool, bar and what not, and all the rooms have balconies facing inward. The restaurant is on the roof, divided in two by a flowing set of stairs, so that the restaurant sits on two different levels. Both are replete with broad windows overlooking the city and verandas allowing you to eat out on the balcony. And to add to the effect, the power went out during dinner, and we found ourselves having dinner by candlelight. All in all, it was an amazing finish to an amazing day.

So now it’s two days later, and I’m back with my family in Mombasa. They were all excited to have me back home, and now I’m preparing myself to go to Nairobi for a few days for preliminary research on my ISP. From here on, I think it will be pretty much smooth sailing. The crazy schedule-oriented, travel-filled life I’ve been living for the past month in the next few days will be replaced with a much more laid-back, hit the books kinda style, and I’m looking forward to the slower pace, and living a normal Swahili life for a while.

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.