Mambo Jambo from the spice islands, the Indian Ocean, the land where palm trees sway, where dhows glide blissfully across the horizon, where the sun sets spectacularly and the call to prayer is frequent – Zanzibar!
It is difficult to believe how quickly you can go from village to genocide memorial to big city to safari to paradise islands… Well, when I say quickly, there were some of the most epic bus trips of my life along the way… We left Kigali on what was meant to be a 12 hour bus trip across the border into Tanzania. If only life here was so simple. We ended up dumped in some end-of-the-earth taxi park in a town called Nzega, told the bus was coming ‘soon’. How soon? Three minutes. Great.
Two hours later, still no sign of any kind of bus (although one did come into the taxi park called the “Virgin Express” – it wasn’t going our way though…).
Finally, after dark, the bus arrived, packed with people and no spare seats. It was only a four hour trip so we said we’d stand. We were desperate. At one point I was sitting on the knee of some boy wearing a t-shirt that said WEAR CONDOMS! (he worked for an AIDS awareness organisation), Cherie was being burnt from sitting on the engine and when Kirsty tried to close her eyes to sleep the guy I was sitting on told her to keep her eyes open because if we stopped suddenly she’d be thrown through the windscreen and would need to be looking out to brace herself. Life was good. We finally made it to Mwanza, a Tanzanian town on the southern shores of Lake Victoria, long after dark and were guided by a friendly local guy to a place to stay. 18 hours of chaotic African travel – we slept well that night!
In Mwanza we decided that given everyone but us comes to Africa to see the animals, we should splash out and do the same – safari! We spent three incredible days travelling through the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater where zebras, giraffes, elephants, gazelle, baboons, buffalos and lions roam… It was truly spectacular.
The Serengeti is what you dream about when you think of Africa – dry plains stretch forever with acacia trees punctuating the landscape and wild animals wander. I think I took more photos of trees than animals but to be standing with your head out the roof of a 4WD in the middle of Africa watching giraffes and elephants roam takes your breath away.
At the end of our first day we were heading back to camp when we saw our first lioness – she had just killed an antelope and was tearing it to pieces just metres from where we stood. It was gory but somehow beautiful to be in their world, watching them as they went about their business. I was also grateful that she seemed very satisfied with her meal and was not interested in finding dessert…
We camped that night actually in the park which was amazing – except for the not so welcoming sign at the entrance:
Our tent was pitched as close to the edge of the camp as you could get. I hoped the animals realised that we were in fact INSIDE the camp and therefore out of bounds…
The next day we drove to Ngorongoro Crater – one of the ‘eighth wonders of the world’. It was spectacular, albeit freezing! We ended up wearing all the clothes we had brought with us as we drove down into the crater (but even wearing four t-shirts does not make you warm I learned). It was like being on the moon – except that there were lakes, elephants, zebras and lions… It was an incredible experience, one that will be forever imprinted on my mind.
We ended up in Arusha where we caught yet another epic bus to Dar es Salaam (common theme here!). Eight hours quickly turned into twelve – why do we even ask the time anymore?? – but my patience has grown immense (ish) and I’m learning that everything here is so out of your control that you simply cannot try and have any control over your life. I’m sure that’s a great skill to have learned! Dar was amazing and we were mesmerised. It’s a thriving metropolis with roads, traffic lights, buildings (that have been completed), cars and many, many trucks. It’s one of the main ports for East Africa and the volume of traffic was impressive. I finally caught my first glimpse of the sea in three months and this beach-girl-at-heart was ecstatic. The line-up of ships across the horizon waiting to enter the port was made even more surreal by the tiny traditional dhows which sailed bravely between them. I’m still working out how I can chat up a local sailor to take us out on one…
Yesterday we caught the ferry over to Zanzibar which was an experience in itself. The ferry was divided into different classes – with a compulsory VIP class for foreigners. I was not happy being in our segregated section (which despite being ‘VIP’ had fleas!) so went off wandering to the top deck where the views of the Indian Ocean were spectacular. We stood out like sore thumbs amongst the local Muslim population who are all covered head-to-toe but I was too excited at being covered in salty spray to mind the stares. We pulled into the quay and stumbled off the ferry, laden with everything plus the kitchen sink. On our volunteer budget we’d decided to splash out and buy casks of wine for our island indulgence and as we trudged up the gangplank I attempted to carry mine on my head. God knows how they do it here – I had a headache within minutes. And it was simply too dangerous to risk losing 5 litres of South Africa’s finest wine over the railing. It was a short-lived stint.
We made straight for the nearest bar (it has been a while!) and had G&Ts in the thick, humid afternoon as dhows sailed past, the sea sparkled like something out of a Disney film and life was, quite simply, perfect. It is hard to believe that we are still in Africa; this is worlds away from all we have known so far and at times I feel guilty to be surrounded by such beauty and indulgence but I tell myself that if I am to really throw myself into the last two months at KAASO, I will just appreciate this time for what it is – paradise. It’s not often you get to come to Zanzibar, a place that has long been shrouded in mystery in my mind, now come to life…
The winding streets and alleyways of Stone Town where we currently are feel more like Western Europe than Africa but the women covered up in their full-length burkas remind me more of Turkey. There are the most incredible food markets on the waterfront where we ate fresh fish kebabs last night and watched the sun set with glasses of wine and it was bliss. Tomorrow we’re off on a snorkelling adventure at some secluded beach and then we will spend a few days on the east coast of the island.
On Sunday we lose Kirsty who is flying back to the UK for the next chapter of her life. I am so sad to be losing her and it’s not going to be the same without her but the time we’ve shared will be with us forever – and she’s promised to meet me at Gatwick airport in November with a latte!! It’s pretty amazing to have come to Africa with someone you didn’t know and to leave with a new best friend. As Kirsty says, our three month blind date has been a roaring success!
Cherie and I will continue our travels until school goes back in early September. At this stage, it’s looking like an extended stay on Zanzibar is on the cards… Palm trees, white sand beaches, endless heat, turquoise water – we must make the most of it before our return to village life!