Zanzibar, Pemba & Tanga
13.12.2006 - 13.12.2006
5th - 13th of December 2006
Before I continue, I feel the need to explain the “Chi-Chi/Cinnamin/Sawadika experience”:
I awoke early Tuesday morning and took pictures of Zanzibar Stone Town. I found some car rental companies on the way, and bargained them down from $50 to $40 and finally $30.
I was over the moon, as five of could share a Suzuki Escudo luxury air-conditioned leather 4x4, for all of $6 per day!
I returned home and Chi-Chi, the Rasta who lived and worked at Manch Lodge, said he could better the price and find me the same car, privately, for $28. Two of our ‘crew’ had by now decided that they had seen enough of Zanzibar. Gert was flying out to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to visit his orphaned children he had never met, and Ryu was taking the overnight ferry back to Dar and then a bus to Arusha. So with my mathematical mind, I talked Chi-Chi down to $27 per day for three days, as there were now three of us, so it would cost $9 each per day.
His two Tanzanian friends were about to embark on a trip around the island with five Scandinavian girls, and I thought it would be a good idea to join them in a big bus, or to drive in convoy. Chi-Chi told us his friends were from the mainland and wanted to drive around the island. We spoke to the Swedish girls, but they had lost interest and weren’t going at all, so the two guys, Sadiki and Suleiman, joined us. Jenna and Cecilie had spent time with them and felt comfortable, but I started to smell something fishy when the guy who arrived with the car, had a rental agreement which was clearly stolen from a real car hire company. I refused to sign or get a local special Zanzibar driving permit and insurance, nor would I hand over my passport or pay any deposit. At the last minute, Suleiman revealed that he was actually from Zanzibar, had a local driving permit and would hand over his passport as security.
So we were all set, left most of our gear locked up in a room, and set off on an adventure.
The girls couldn’t remember their names, so we called them Cinnamon and Sawadika. Cinnamon drove like a maniac, and Sadiki was a stoned Rastafarian with your typical island accent.
It became pretty obvious along the way that Suleiman did this thing regularly (taking Mzungu girls around the island with the home of sleeping with them or even finding a wife). He knew all the staff at all the resorts, and took us on a trip that almost seemed pre-planned. Later, they got irritated as the girls wouldn’t let them into or even near their panties. Then they started fighting with each other over Jenna. I did warn them that these girls were decent and they didn’t stand a chance in hell, but they continued to try without success. After a major row, Suleiman decided to throw Sadiki out of the car and sent him packing back to Stone Town on a Daladala.
Suleiman didn’t carry his driving license, his excuse being that his brother was the public prosecutor on the island. He treated the policeman at the checkpoints, which were a dime a dozen, like slaves. He screamed at them when they asked why he was driving Mzungus around, and he drove through the points without permission.
In spite of the motives, attitude and reckless driving, we all thoroughly enjoyed the three days around the island. Everything was cheaper than it usually would be and we saw much more than the average tourist would. All along the way we stopped whenever we wanted, to pick up fresh fruit and veg, while listening to thumping tunes on my iPod.
Without a doubt, the theme music for the trip was Patrice, a French Reggae star that Suleiman couldn’t get enough of! By the third day we knew all the words to and order of the songs on the see through cassette.
I woke up in the morning and decided to wage a war with the coconut. The coconut was a hard nut to crack, and won!
I was very skillfully removing the juicy white flesh from the dry coconut with a blunt butter knife, and handing over chunks to the girls. Halfway through the procedure, I became overconfident and stabbed the knife through the hard coconut shell right through the tip of my left hand ring finger. I bandaged it immediately and was pissed off, as I wouldn’t be able to play the guitar any longer.
We spent the night at an idyllic beach spot called the Seven Tables Restaurant and Bar, which the owner proudly told me caters for ‘South Africans, the UN, and diplomats’. I offered to take promotional pictures of the establishment, only to find out two hours later that the film hadn’t advanced at all, which was just as well because the weather was shit.
We attempted to see Jozani forest and the rare Colobus Monkeys, but Suleiman had other plans again…
We reached the southernmost point of the island and I jumped out of the car into the tropical downpour and ran on the beach, singing in the rain! It was sublime.
I had seen this amazing rock formation jutting out from the peninsula, and planned to jump off it into the perfect azure waters of this paradise. I couldn’t jump off, as the water was only 6 inches deep, but I sat underneath the overhang, with thousands of crabs for company. They were huge guys running sideways (as they do). It was pretty freaky.
We tried to swim with the dolphins again, but it just wasn’t happening. I heard their squeaks, but they didn’t hear mine.
It was a hectic day: We finally went to Jozani forest to see the Red Colobus Monkeys and Mangrove forests.
Besides the stinging nettles, the experience was awesome. The monkeys came too close for photography and were practically playing with my camera! Our guide told us we weren’t allowed closer than five meters. The monkeys had their own agenda and seemed very used to tourists.
We drove all the away up the coast to the top of the island, Suleiman driving the Jeep like it was an indestructible car in a Playstation Game. For some stupid reason he thought the faster he went, the better the road would become. When he was sick of the girls moaning at his driving, I drove for a while!
We stopped at a tourist resort and it was like stepping into Italy! All the shops (curio and others) had Italian names, and the Maasai spoke fluent Italian! I was shocked and then physically ill! They (the Maasai) were wearing sunglasses, bling jewellery, Chinese sandals and Casio diving watches!
We spent the night at Kendwa Rocks, a tourist resort on the north coast. Earlier, I had bought what I thought was Jack Fruit, but was actually Jack Bread, a mix between potatoes and cassava. We cooked up an interesting and never to be repeated dinner, eating it out of coconut and pineapple shells.
I used the kitchenette of Opaz, an Israeli backpacker who was completing his dive master course at the resorts’ water sport operation. He was very concerned that I may use meat or fish in his pots, as his father was the man who says prayers over carcasses ensures the animals are killed and bled in the appropriate manner. He was therefore very kosher. I explained to him that I was a (very naughty) Jew and that I understood. He was relieved when I told him the girls were vegetarian.
Later that evening we joined a beach party, where more than 50 people sat around a huge bonfire, playing drums and singing. Suleiman and friends (he knew most of the locals, not surprisingly), in a drunken and stoned haze, were screaming their tonsils out. On the one hand it was entertaining but it did get irritating after a while.
I had my solitary time at 05:00 when I walked along the desolate beach for two hours, as far as I could. I met dhow builders on the way back, and a man practicing Karate on the beach. I joined him and we showed each other some moves, communicating with martial arts instead of spoken words. It was a weird but memorable experience.
I bought some razor blades – the minora type (just the flat 4-sided flimsy blades), and didn’t have a razor to attach them to. I used Cecilie’s video camera as a mirror, looking at the LCD screen while trying to get rid of my moustache, in order to snorkel without my mask filling up every 30 seconds. It was hilarious! The screen showed everything in reverse and I was too afraid of self-mutilating my nose and lips. It didn’t take long to realize my attempt was futile, as my moustache was so thick and soft that nothing was coming off.
Suleiman came to my rescue and got rid of half of it. A full orange beard with half a moustache looked particularly odd.
It worked though, and with my improved vision I found a stainless steel knife on the sandy ocean floor. It had fallen from the restaurant on stilts above, and was in perfect condition. We needed a new knife to replace the one which went through my finger that we’d left behind at Seven Tables. I also found a watch in perfect working order, which could store 30 telephone numbers and tell the time around the world!
We found a local Nshima and beans eatery on the beach and ate with the fake Maasai.
When it was time to go, Suleiman threw a tantrum, and I wouldn’t budge. He had agreed to give a girl a ride to the airport, and then tried to throw two of his friends in the car. I reminded him we had rented the car together and that he was not ‘our driver’, as he had introduced himself everywhere we went. He drove us back to Stone Town in record Schumacher time, showing his true colors by sulking like a brat. He did manage to slip in a mini spice tour on the way back, stealing some cloves from the roadside (those cloves kept my back pack smelling good for the next week.
We were happy to get home in one piece and I lost it with Chi-Chi for being involved with Suleiman the lunatic, and allowing him to fraternize with (and deceive) his guests.
Jenna had told me story that sounded too far-fetched.
She said that if you made a line of all the Finnish girls born in 1985, every second one would be called Jenna.
On our return to Manch Lodge, I met a Scandinavian girl and decided to test Jenna’s theory:
David: What’s your name?
David: You from Finland?
David: You born in 1985?
Jenna: Yes. (She was looking very concerned by now)
David: Did your parents watch Dallas?
Jenna: Yes, how do you know all of this?
David: Your name is Jenna. Jenna, meet Jenna (I introduced her to my Jenna)
It turns out that many Finnish mothers named their daughters after one of the actresses in Dallas.
I still haven’t found out which actress, nor am I in any hurry to. We all laughed and laughed until we cried.
I met a Danish guy called Claus (he preferred to be called Santa) He only had seven toes (three of them were crushed by a combine harvester). He had been travelling around the world and was on his way home to Copenhagen after two years of travel. His Cape Town overlander was getting serviced in Dar and he had brought his belongings to Zanzibar in a bucket! I didn’t know at the time that I would meet up with him serendipitously, on three more occasions, and end up travelling with him for 2 weeks.
Jenna and I bid an emotional farewell to Cecilie and then hopped onto a ferry to Pemba. It was only $15 and we were treated to luxurious velvet sofas in ‘tourist class’. Once again we were the only Mzungus on board.
I met two politicians on the ferry, who were coming to Pemba to celebrate ‘UHURU’, Tanzania’s Independence Day. I asked them about the police checkpoints on Zanzibar, and to my surprise they told me they were only there to fill the pockets of the policeman posted at them. I told them how shocked and disgusted I was with the ‘Italian Maasai’, and spoke about how the government is abusing and exploiting the Maasai for financial gain, from stealing their land to using them to attract tourists, without much (or any) of the profits going back to them.
They replied that the previous and current president were ‘of Maasai origin’, and that had made it all ok. We discussed politics and they were slightly perturbed when I later told them that I was a journalist (after getting their names of course).
We arrived in Wete on the luxury Greek Aziza II ferry and walked up the hill to Sharouks guesthouse. Mr Sharouk was a dinky little Moslem man, who was as efficient as he was resourceful. He took our laundry, fed us breakfast and organized a motorbike for us to rent. We were only going to spend one day on the island, as the ferry left the next morning and wouldn’t return for another week.
After we were showered and our stomachs filled, we were ready to explore the island.
We had spent an hour having breakfast with a French couple, who had just spent three days travelling across the length and breadth of Pemba. They showed us on the map where to go, and we were both nervous and excited. Nervous because of the supposed state of the roads, excited by the look on their faces when they explained how beautiful and tourist free the Island was.
After waiting for an hour for the first of three possible motorbikes to arrive, along came this complete wreck of a bike that we christened ‘Punanen’, the Finnish word meaning red, which was the color of this Indian 200cc ‘thing’. We fell in love with her, and spent the next six hours firmly attached to her uncomfortable seat.
We visited Ngezi forest and walked under the canopy, following the highly informative signs which explained all the weird and wonderful plants and trees.
On the way out, a man who was 50 meters up in a tree complained when I was about to take a photograph of some woman sorting out the cloves he had just thrown down. I refused to pay him the 5,000 shillings he was asking for, and instead offered to climb up the tree and help him. He almost believed I was serious.
We continued on to the northern most point of the island, where there was a stretch of pure paradise, miles of white sandy beaches, palm trees and turquoise waters.
The roads were atrocious and we battled to pass through the muddy sections at times. Jenna was terrified and I was fearless. I didn’t have much choice in the matter.
The look on the owners face when we arrived at the exclusive Manta Lodge was priceless. His jaw dropped in disbelief at these two exhausted Mzungus who had driven four hours on this excuse of a motorbike all the way from Wete!
He agreed to let us use ‘his beach’ and we rented some gear and snorkeled in the sun. The dive master agreed to give me the fins I had rented, on the condition that I return them three weeks later when I was done with them in Mombassa. I couldn’t believe my luck.
The journey back was way more eventful – we were racing the sunlight, as it would be impossible to continue in the dark. At every mud pool blocking the road, there would be an alternative path that the cyclists would use to get by. We had been using these paths all the way, but because we had to go faster on our return journey, things got out of hand.
I was about to hit a bunch of cyclists, who had nowhere to go except forward, when I had to continue through the mud. We raised our legs into the air hoping to make it through. We didn’t. The bike stopped instantly in the middle of the mud, and we were stuck down to the seat! It was so funny we stayed sitting there for five minutes until we had tears in our eyes from laughing so much!
A passing Daladala helped us out, and we eventually made it home, full of mud and exhausted. Sharouk made us a gourmet meal after which I setup my Mpeg4 to watch ICE AGE 2. We both fell fast asleep while watching.
When Mr Sharouk asked for the keys to Punanen we both immediately refused to hand her over. We planned to ride around the island at 06:00 the next morning, which is exactly what we did.
I awoke at 05:00 and got Jenna out of bed and onto Punanen. The plan was simple. Ride in an easterly direction, take pictures on the way, and then turn around when it was time for the ferry.
The ride was thrilling, passing through torrential downpours, rays of sunlight and dense mangrove forests. After stopping to perform my regular morning sickness routine, I took pictures of the villagers, cloves drying on the side of the road and the growing crops. The light was brilliant!
We made it back home and Mr Sharouk rushed us into packing up, eating breakfast (his egg yolks were yellow, unlike everywhere on Zanzibar) and sending us down to the ferry. He guaranteed us it would leave early. We were certain that wasn’t a possibility. He was right!
We were too sun burnt and exhausted to carry our packs, and threw them on to a wheelbarrow, which an old man insisted he was capable of pushing (pulling down the steep hill).
The ferry left as soon as we jumped on it, and we relaxed for the five hour slow ride to Tanga….
We arrived in Tanga and jumped over the rails of the ferry onto the pier. I almost went head over heels again like I’d done in Zambia.
When we left Pemba in a rush, we couldn’t find the passport control guys, so we needed to get our exit card stamped in Tanga. There was as mad rush for the exit gate, so I decided that I would follow a tout for a change – he seemed decent enough and had worked in the Durban docks for some time. He knew where the passport control office was, so we followed him, only to find it was closed!
Jenna had received an email from her friend Josie, telling her that all she needed to do on arrival in Tanga, was ask for Mzungu Josephine or Rasta David. Josie was an Austrian who had spent time with Jenna volunteering in Zambia.
We asked, and the tout knew both of them, but had no idea where to find them.
We jumped in a taxi to the Inn by the Sea hotel, who I had called from the ferry to check prices and make a reservation. The tout decided to join us for the taxi ride (and collect the obligatory payment).
On arrival, I checked the room, which was run-down and smelly, but cheap, so we paid and scrubbed our filthy bodies clean. There were monkeys running around the gardens, which overlooked the sea we had just sailed on. We bumped into yet another Scandinavian, this one a Finnish-Kenyan-Peugeot-driving-ex-mercenary, who was pretty rough around the edges.
He gave us a lift to town and dropped us at an internet café. The internet didn’t work due to constant power cuts, so we waltzed over to the fruit market, which was surprisingly open on a Sunday.
While we were selecting ripe mangos and perfect tomatoes, Mzungu Josephine walked by with the biggest pineapple I had ever seen. I bought lots of goodies for dinner, except meat, as Josephine was another one who refrained from eating animals.
On the way to her house I found real butter and milk! I was over the moon and bought a huge brick of frozen butter and four sachets of frozen milk. I soon found out why it was frozen, when after only a few hours, the butter had turned to liquid and the milk was getting warm!
After an interesting dinner, we walked back to the Inn by the Sea, on the lookout for thieves (Josie had warned us and insisted we took a taxi). We couldn’t find any taxi’s and walked with eyes in the back of our heads.. On the way I kept seeing bicycles flying past us, each doing exactly the same thing. The guy peddling was looking at the stars and the passenger sitting on the back with his legs crossed was playing with his cell phone. Four of them passed us and I was intrigued, as the faces of the passengers were lit up by their blue lights of their cell phones.
I woke up early and made a fruit platter for breakfast with our market produce from the day before. We packed up our stuff and headed off to Josie’s house, where we were invited to camp in the garden. 500 metres into the walk, our back and shoulders were hurting from the sun burn and the sheer weight. I fantasized how we needed a big open truck to pick us up, so that we didn’t need to take off our packs, which was a huge mission in itself.
Ask and ye shall receive. I’d barely finished telling Jenna about how this truck should look, when along came exactly what we needed, a South African Christian missionary in a big truck. After he kept insisting, we eventually agreed to jump on (we only had another kilometer to go). I commented how the missionaries did an exemplary job in Zambia – as I only saw church goers in Lusaka rejoicing the lord. He laughed.
We dropped our stuff at the house and went on a mission to town to book busses, airline tickets, shop for medication and kangas/kikois/kitengas (different versions of cloth wrapped around your waist).
Both Jenna and Josie had a fetish for them, and couldn’t buy enough.
On the way, my sandals broke again, and not 50 meters down the road did I ran into Omari, who fixed bicycles, but was also a brilliant shoe repairer. I realized then that I would probably get my shoes repaired in each country I visit – do a little feature about it...
We jumped on a Daladala to take us to the beach house of an ex-pat malaria researcher. There were 14 people on board at first, and Josie was telling us how they were now sticking to the law. There was even a medical aid kit and fire extinguisher on board! Then 10 more passengers jumped in, forcing me to hang out the window!
We visited Steve, a South African wildlife photographer busy compiling a picture book. I cooked a vegetarian lunch for all including some choice cheese. His Dutch wife Analiese had traveled from their home in Mozambique with cheese (the kaaskoppies don’t leave home without it!) I was in heaven eating Boerenkaas and the local Gouda from Tanga.
Steve gave me some contacts for Botswana (the Okavongo Delta) and gave me some hope when he told me that my slide film was still superior to digital, except that the latest Hasselblad medium format camera had now reached the 19.2 mega pixel limit, which was equivalent in quality to film.
The Daladala ride home was the best of my life. Half of my body was literally hanging out of the window, taking pictures and videos, greeting the hundreds of shocked locals, whose jaws dropped every time I shouted Jambo/Mambo/Mzungu Mzungu.
This was clearly a first time experience for them, as it was for me.
We joined the local ex-pats for a game of Frisbee, which is a fast-paced game similar to touch rugby, except you have to steal your opponents Frisbee in mid-air and pass it on to a team mate in the ‘end zone’. You weren’t allowed to run with the Frisbee either, you had to stop dead before you passed it on. I found this very difficult to get right.
Most of the ex-pats were involved with malaria research, as the mosquitoes in Tanga were the most resistant-to-anti-malarial drugs on the continent.
We ate the best prawns that evening at a local restaurant operated out of an old red ship container. The meal was free, a treat from the Mzungus. Jenna and I camped in the garden, squeezing into my small tent. It was only the 2nd time on my journey that I had slept in the tent.
Petr, the good German doctor whose house we were staying in, explained that all diarrhea is self-limiting, with the exception of Giardia, which gives you pungent and foul smelling ‘flah-toose’ (farts). Jenna still had the same bout of diarrhea for 10 days, and he told her the only solution was to starve, so that the bacteria had nothing to feed on.
She flatly refused because she loved trying out new food and would just put up with the runs.
We got a Daladala to Peponi Beach Resort between Tanga and Dar es Salaam. Our packs were thrown on top of the vehicle and we had a long uncomfortable two hour journey over a really bad road.
The resort was run by a South African family, and was incredible. For the next 2 days we chilled out under my king-size mosquito net, drinking Tangawizi, smoking camels, making beaded necklaces/bracelets and playing guitar.
The resort was run to precision, there was no cash changing hands, purchases were signed for and the bill settled on departure. Food was to be ordered in advance and arrived like clockwork at exactly the time requested.
I found this memoir in one of my journals:
It’s early Wednesday morning – 07:30.
I’m surrounded by crabs – 100’s of them, and have just returned from a 2 km walk up and down an isolated beach.
I’ve been contemplating Africa over the past few days, wandering what part my life will play in her?
With the exception of the odd bouts of bribery and corruption, the Africa I’ve witnessed over the past two weeks has been encouraging. These include: Aids awareness, poverty relief, volunteer programs, access to medication and Ubuntu – a general sense of patriotism by its citizens.
Excluding the inevitable and unavoidable touts at bus, train, Daladala and ferry terminals, I have encountered a friendliness rivaling most places I’ve traveled through.
The past 10 days have been so unexpected. I never thought I would get so lucky, enjoying the best of every place I’ve seen. I’ve been in the company of local, ex-pats, tourists and myself, and have enjoyed every moment of it (with the exception of the unexplained morning sickness I’ve been experiencing).
Maybe I’ll get some children by immaculate conception, or more realistically my stomach will stop bloating, my flatus (farts) stop stinking and my bowel movements return to normal!
My Swahili is improving at a snail’s pace. It’s such a mission to pick it up, but the LIFs (local indigenous folk) and the seasoned naturalized Mzungus have been teaching me voluntarily. I can now do basic greetings, cool replies for all age groups and sign language for sealing the deal after brief negotiations.
I refuse to pay Mzungu prices, but don’t expect local prices either. I explain to the sellers that I am a non-Swahili-speaking African Mzungu and not a naïve tourist. A little bit of Xhosa and Zulu goes a long way to proving this and getting a discount. Zanzibar and Pemba have left a huge hole in my pocket, which I am going to have to sew closed, or else I won’t make it past Rwanda.
Up until recently I have successfully abstained from cigarettes and soft drinks, but I have subsequently done an about turn. I stumbled upon Tangawizi – the Tanzanian equivalent of Stoney Ginger Beer (exactly the same stuff, in the same bottle, but with a Swahili name – as they say in Thailand: “Same Same, but different”.)
Yesterday I purchased by favorite brand of smokes (Camel lights – in the cool blue pack – hats off to the marketers – I couldn’t resist). I also couldn’t palate the S&M (Sweet Menthol) brand of smokes that Jenna was smoking.
Jenna, the 21-year-old, nubile, Finnish Giraffe, decided that my planning was superior to hers and has joined me for the past week (just the 2 of us). Although it has been a completely platonic relationship, we have grown pretty attached to each other. Recently I have been treating possible relationships like a chess game, thinking umpteen moves ahead, which is a bit pointless really. I dream about taking our future children snowboarding in the Swiss Alps – and if that’s not a possibility, then I have a (feeble) excuse for not getting romantically attached in the first place. My Kenyan buddy David calls me a hopeless romantic. I now understand why!
Today was the day that I decided to shave my beard off – I had seen pictures and was not impressed and I also couldn’t snorkel with the thick moustache. It took forever by candlelight, as we had lost power (which had now become par for the course). I held the candle in my left hand and shaved with my right; having to dismantle and clean the razor after each stroke (my beard was really thick and unruly).
We took a Dhow trip to a sandy island and snorkeled with a group of Belgians from Rwanda. They refused to communicate with us and I never worked out why. The snorkeling was disappointing, as there was a 500 metre coral reef off the island which was one foot deep. I had to constantly look ahead, straining my neck to avoid the spiny urchins that were millimeters from my sensitive belly. After 300 metres a moray eel popped out of its hiding place and gave me a look suggesting that if I come any closer (I was practically kissing the thing) it would attack. I retreated, kicking like a bat out of hell to get back to the refuge of the sandy island.
After the dhow anchored, we had to walk on water for a few hundred meters to get back to the camp. The light, sunset and atmosphere was magnificent.
That night we decided it was too beautiful to sleep under a roof, and I persuaded Jenna to help me erect a structure to hang the mosquito net up on the beach. We wanted to sleep under the stars – especially as it was our last night at Peponi.