Tanzania and Zanzibar

Nairobi – Victoria falls:

‪‪7 July 12 Lamu to Nairobi

‪‪I booked a bus ticket on the most decent sounding coach for lamu to Mombasa a few days before I needed to leave. When Friday arrived, I had a final lip smacking Hapa Hapa lemon juice, bought some calamine lotion for my innumerable number of mossie/ bed bug bites and set off on a dhow to the mainland for my epic journey to Nairobi.

‪‪I decided to look as unappealing as possible to deter any attention, and the calamine lotion did the job better than I could have imagined. I covered myself with big pink dots, and combined with  my lobster like sunburn, it looked like I was carrying the plague. Whoever sat next to me while I slept wouldn’t dare go near, let alone touch my bag which my diseased bright pink fingers were clutching.

‪‪The bus was scheduled to leave at 1130, but of course they didn’t even turn the engine on until past one. I flickered in and out of dreamland, being rudely awaken at one of the more comprehensive police barricades. Due to the recent terrorist attacks and threats on the coast, combined with the tension in nearby Somalia, vehicles are halted at an unnecessary amount of roadblocks. A long piece of metal with pencil sized spikes protruding is laid across the road to make sure drivers don’t dismiss the policemen.

‪‪At this one roadblock, everyone was ordered off the bus and made to stand in the sun in groups of men, women and muslims. I stood there as the only foreigner, getting many glances (probably because of my generous use of calamine lotion rather than my origins). All bags were searched and each one of us had to prove our identity to the uniformed, rifle carrying police. Once they were happy we had stood outside long enough and they had rifled through a sufficient amount of underwear in suitcases, we were permitted to continue our long journey.

‪‪A woman and her gorgeous braided baby were my seating companions trough the thatched housing and tropical scenery on the coastal journey from lamu to Mombasa.

‪‪After twisting and turning my seating position as incessantly as Syd from Ice Age trying to get to sleep, countless halts and rearranging of bodies, and attempting smiles at the little girl next to me only to get frightened sobs at the appearance of my skin, we finally arrived in Mombasa well after dark.

‪‪Mombasa is a huge  coastal hub, and as I walked the streets at 10 pm, my blood pumped hard as I thought of the recent bombing that killed three people. I quickly found a bus to Nairobi and jumped on, all too soon back on a bus for another tiring journey. I closed my eyes and after a disjointed night, I was back inthe capital of Kenya and ready for the next leg of my journey.

‪‪Back in the familiar kivi milimani intrepid joining hotel, I washed my clothes and set up a Chinese laundry in the room, showered and made myself feel decent again. Suddenly my roommate for the next month walked in. Ju is Chinese, lived in brazil for ten years and now lives in ballarat. She is the most enthusiastic, loud Chinese person   I have ever met in my life, and has more energy at 51 years than most people have at 5 years old. As we moved locations from the hotel down through the streets of Nairobi to watch spiderman 3D for $5, I learnt loads about her. She didn’t even tire her energy reserves on her recent climb up Kilimanjaro, she skydived for her 40 th birthday and trekked up to Everest base camp on the Tibetan side recently.

‪‪In the evening, we met the rest of the group of 15 people who I will be spending the next 25 days with. Four of them are continuing with intrepid all the way to cape town. Our guide, Chris, rules with an iron fist compared to MJ my previous leader. Which isn’t actually saying much, as MJ was the most relaxed person of all time who thought of each minute of the day as a god given gift.

‪‪Anyway, the group is different to my last, with only one couple, who hail from Ireland. All the rest are single and most traveling alone. We have a selection from Ireland, USA, wales, England, Australia, New Zealand, Holland and Canada. Of course, I am the youngest one again, but this time we range up to 60, and most are mid thirties. Three of the group, including the class clown John and hometown friends Amanda and Cassie, were on the most recent intrepid gorilla trip that only arrived back that afternoon.

‪‪As soon as we got down to the ‘what do you dos’ and  ‘where are you froms’, I discovered that Augusta from holland has a brother living in Taree where I was born. Another two strangers meeting in this small conference room on the other side of the world realized they went to the same school. Six degrees of separation alright!

‪‪After a few Tuska beers and good introductions, I slept like a log but devoured my itchy bites with my fingers somewhere in the night.

 

‪‪9 July 12 – I heaved to get my backpack into its familiar little locker hole at the back of the intrepid bus, and we began south through to Tanzania. I was just getting settled in with the new crew, and before we even managed to get out of Nairobi, the water pump broke. We stood outside and laughed at our misfortune so early on in the trip. It didn’t turn out to be too much of a debacle, as another intrepid truck starting their tour to Zanzibar picked us up on their way through and our bus was sent to the repair shop for some TLC. So off we hopped with a bag of essentials underarm and onto another tour bus.

‪‪In southern Kenya, all the soft pink frilly flowers (probably weeds) waved us goodbye, and Masais exploiting their traditional dress and ornaments tried to convince us to stay in Kenya a little longer.

‪‪The (hopefully) mended bus was returned to us just before the border, and we enjoyed being back in our own territory rather than intruders in another.

‪‪As soon as you hit Tanzania, the countryside dilapidates into sparse acacia trees and long stretches of nothingness, as though you have just passed into an entirely new geographical region, even though we only just passed an invisible boundary marking borders.

‪‪In the afternoon, I am back in the exact position I was on my first day in Africa; getting Nutella gelato at Shoprite tourist complex in Arusha. The tourist season is certainly picking up, with loads of buses and safari vehicles pouring out their excited adventurers who are just beginning their African experience.

‪‪The rest of the afternoon, we travel to MtoWamBu in one third of the time it took me a few weeks ago in a viciously cramped dalla dalla. With no bags of fish at my feet or locals sharing their body odour with me, I lay back and enjoy the occasional boab tree that floated into view combined with red splashes of Masai ushering their cattle

‪‪towards some inedible looking plant life.

‪‪On the first night, we set up at Twigga, a large manicured square with a pool and bar that I was complaining about a few weeks ago. What a hypocrite.

‪‪It feels funny going through the rigmarole of learning to set up tents, how to use the three bowl system and generally surviving the night routine all over again.

‪‪Chris gives us all duties for the day each day and is very adamant that if you lose a tent peg or break a cup, you will pay for it. My begrudment towards authority tells me I am clearly not ready to go back to groveling in the defence force yet. Speaking of which, I’ve been thinking about it a lot, I am straight down the middle in deciding whether to go back. The part that wants to go back thinks its great on paper and an ideal stepping stone to more favorable jobs and also likes the idea of ‘restocking the coffers’ as Dad puts it. The other side remembers the mundane day to day parts and complete lack of interest I feel, disregarding the positive bigger picture. It sees it not so much a stepping stone than as an impenetrable wall lined with cows holding bazukas. Either way, just continue to enjoy the freedom. Live and learn, Wingham Primary school motto.

 

‪‪10 – 12 July 12 Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater

 

‪‪The whole campground woke at the crack of dawn to a grown woman having a screaming hissy fit, of which I could decipher ‘i can’t believe you told me to get in the wrong car!!’ and ‘you’ve ruined my whole trip!!’. It was a pathetic embarrassment to woman kind, and we got many sniggers from the boys.

‪‪The intrepid truck transformed into twin safari 4WDs complete with new drivers especially for our anticipated three day trip through the National Parks. After a fresh bout of stomach cramps, I generally took the front seat (which provided a less extreme African massage effect) and spoke to our driver Isiah. Apart from needing to breathe through my mouth thanks to his terrible tooth brushing ability, we got on really well. He has been a safari driver for the past eight years, is easy to please because his favourite animal is the all too common gazelle, and has seen everything and more that would be included in national geographic channels’ top game scenes.

‪‪While Isiah is supposed to be focusing on the slippery gravel road, his dart like eyes spot Leopards in trees and zebra we can only focus on through binoculars. He even warned me of a flesh eating tetsi fly on my door handle that I hadn’t even seen. I’m thinking working in the parks has given our guide abnormally sharp animalistic instincts.

‪‪Anyway, I can’t get too ahead of myself. We set off into the mist, climbing up to 2400 m to pass the Ngorongoro crater rim. We had no idea what we were in for, as the mist shrouded our view of the grand salt lake and surrounding savanna that we would get a spectacular view of on our return through this way.

‪‪The wind at the park entrance had a bitter chill to remind us of the height, but once in the park, we climbed down at a startling pace. The ground leveled out and the mist cleared concurrently, revealing our position. We drove over the flat expanse, surrounded on all sides by fold up sides like we were on the floor of a natural cube. Salt flakes and sulphur found its way into our nostrils with the crisp air, foreign and exciting.

‪‪The Lion King came to life with herds of wildebeest grazing on the plains, their broad shoulders and improportionally  small buttocks making them appear more like a stocky human. I never realized they have a golden mane streaked with black.

‪‪Shades of pink from the sheer number of flamingos covered the shallower parts of the lake, and green dust clouds of sulphur billowed under the heavy hooves of buffalo, creating an unexpected rainbow effect across the crater which the camera had buckleys chance of capturing.

‪‪Awkward ostriches tugged at the ground, the males striking with their lanky red neck and legs, and jet black body like a beanbag strapped to the middle of a pole. The females are dull brown and not half as beautiful as the boys (obviously the opposite to humans).

‪‪Pumba ran wild everywhere, characteristically holding his tail straight and high when trotting, somehow exuding the air of a posh pig.

‪‪We began to pick up on the signs and symbols for action. When a group of safari vehicles in the distance have stopped in a gaggle, you can be sure that something is going down. This gathering is known as a ‘picnic’, and we were invited to many that day.

‪‪One starred some lions eating a wildebeest carcasse. Exciting picture if I could get my camera to magically grow a better lens. I tried taking a picture of the eyepiece of the binoculars focused on the lions as Isiah suggested. Legendary idea, but it didn’t work.

‪‪Next on the menu was a pride of lions lounging about just off the road. One actually decided to walk onto the tracks and have a rest in front of a parked 4WD. Photographic chaos ensued.

‪‪The male of the group had a tactical position further away on a sunny crest with an ideal vantage point. Zebras wondered past him dumbly and he didn’t so much as lift a whisker. They were obviously full and we weren’t in for any ‘Battle of the Crater’ scenes today.

‪‪ The girlies lay next to us, rolling on their backs and giving some sun to their bellies. The big cats yawned constantly (to the photo buffs delight) and rose to their feet only to stretch and then slump back down again. Riveting bunch.

‪‪At the next stop, a heap of zebras moved across the road in a (seemingly staged) classic zebra crossing moment.

‪‪On our way out of the famous Ngorongoro crater, we chatted about the  pros and cons of traveling with a professional camera. We stopped for some buffaloes and I promptly dropped my poor little camera off our viewing platform onto the dirt. The noises I made scared the hell out of the buffalos, and now I had lost my camera And we were about to be charged by horned beasts. Reminder Not to buy an SLR anytime soon, Jessica.

‪‪If the crater had blown our minds, then the Serengeti had us frothing at the mouth.

‪‪The drive in was daunting, with such an uneven surface that I made a mental note to buy Isiah some gloves for his hands while driving. The poor man has to alternate the fingers he drives with because they get such a battering. Reading or writing is no option, speech is inaudible through the metal clanking over the dirt, and looking out the window is also a dubious activity; the straight line of the horizon bounces up and down so violently that you convince yourself an earthquake is underway.

‪‪We got there in the end, the dark memory of the drive forgotten with the sighting of vultures fighting over a gazelle carcasse. The birds squabbled and opened their wings wide in shows of dominance. A wary jackal joined the powerful birds in the scavenge, and we couldn’t believe our eyes when a hyena joined in on the action.

‪‪I closed my eyes tight that night to try and savor the brilliant scenes of the day.

‪‪That’s what it’s like, you know. We don’t just drive past loads of animals, but stop every five minutes for a scene that lasts from a few minutes to over an hour. When you put it together in your mind, it’s like chapters that make a movie.

‪‪Only a few of us travelled in the vehicle the next morning, because the other half of the group had chosen to take a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti.  Five hundred dollars buys you a 430 am wakeup, a one hour balloon ride where you watch the sunrise and track animals from the air, then arrive back for a champagne breakfast next to an acacia tree in the middle or the desert. You’d want to drink a damn lot of champagne for five hundred dollars!

‪‪I slept in until 730 (whoops), climbed into the vehicle bleary eyed with a banana in one hand and camera in the other and saw lions, cheetahs and a leopard all before 9 am. Bam, I don’t need no $500 balloon ride, right!? The leopard was a stroke a luck, bolting across the road ahead of us, and with a final flick of its fluid long tail, it was gone. The cheetahs hung around a bit longer to enhance our viewing pleasure. I suppose that’s because they know that if something tries to catch them, they can jog off at a casual 115km/hr!

‪‪Even without the bonus of animals, the Serengeti is a natural phenomena in itself. The land is pancake flat, with an occasional conglomeration of large grassy boulders (like Pride Rock from the Lion King). Often, you find yourself looking out at nothing but two layers; a ruler drawn horizon divides tall brown grass from the clear blue above. Acacia trees grow warily, afraid of the appetite of the giraffes which blend in with the vegetation across the plains. Strange trees with thick tree trunks and branches that curl like an arthritic finger have sausage sized seed pods hanging extended from vines and word about the park is that these trees make for great leopard climbing. Mental note not to climb.

‪‪You can almost always be sure to see a cheerful bunch of gazelles, their black tails waving madly and covering their paper white bum cheeks. Their legs are like sticks, not getting any wider at the foot, and they jump comically, literally bouncing through the long grass, probably scared out of their wits about leopards, while we laugh and continue on.

‪‪In the late morning, we picked up the ballooners of the group. As we drove towards them, it was easy to see  that they had indeed attempted to drink their $500 worth of champagne. Ju was especially wild, singing and dancing and waving a bottle in each hand.

‪‪We confined the tipsy bunch to their own vehicle and headed back to camp for a sleep during the hottest part of the day. I know it sounds lazy, but a walk was out of the question- we were camping in the middle of the goddamn serengeti! At night, I can hear the hyenas laughing between themselves and scheming on who to eat first. The buffalos munch at my ears and leopards perch themselves on the kitchen table, picking at our breakfast. But seriously, they do. No food in tents and don’t go to the toilet without a friend. I swear all of us were wearing wet pants in the mornings.

‪‪The afternoon game drive was so good that I may as well die tomorrow and know I’ll be content.

‪‪Hardly ten minutes down the road, we somehow spotted a crocodile swimming downstream. Good stuff, right. So we followed it, and realized it was holding an entire gazelle in its jaw. For the next hour, maybe more, time flew and I grew circles over my eyes as the binoculars became a permanent fixture on my face. The gigantore, prehistoric, spiky, jaggard sea monster ripped this gazelle to pieces and swallowed the whole thing. We even had audio effects; bones crunching, groaning and tearing skin. It was deadly and vicious and violent and wicked and we couldn’t take our eyes off it. I don’t think I even took a picture, the memory is burnt into the back of my eyelids. He ate the whole animal without even the help of a claw, just his jaw. You try that on your dinner! A female croc moseyed on upstream towards big croc and wanted a feed, so they concluded the show with a bit of hanky panky (lots of thrashing teeth and tails) just to make sure our jaws were well and truly fastened to the ground. After the ferocious intercourse, big croc chucked her a bone and paddled off, signaling the farewell.

‪‪Believing the croc episode unbeatable, we continued merely five minutes further and found a mum and dad and – shock- baby hippo. The little face and miniature flapping ears were the most innocent thing of all time.

‪‪Blue balled monkeys came to drink at the waterhole, and general activity entertained us.

‪‪As all of this amazing animal stuff is going on, there is a running commentary from our 4WD. John has a deluded idea that he is the real deal David Attenborough, and often has us squirming with laughter. Amongst this babble, I gazed over at the sun shying slowly from its central position. The hands of god shone down through the clouds, putting a spotlight on the massive herd of elephants and dust and gold ambling toward us. They move slowly under the burden of weight they have to contend with, and I think I could be in a time when prehistoric giants ruled the planet. It’s Jurassic Park, not the Serengeti, right?

‪‪We put two and two together and realized the tribe were heading straight for the waterhole (and us!).  We gazed at the scene until suddenly they were right at our vehicle. We had a bit of a picnic going, and some of the teenage male elephants sized up the cars, flapping their ears and shaking their trunks, backing out of the fight at the last minute when they realized their metallic opponent wasn’t exactly conventional.

‪‪There must have been thirty of the giants at the waterhole, with more stretching out to that hazy, sun kissed horizon. What a weight if you put them all together! It was just beautiful, and for different reasons to the crocodile, I will never forget it.

‪‪We found more awe-inspiring scenes in the slow motion running of giraffes, a lion swatting flies from her eyes lazing in a tree and striped mongoose panicking at the sight of our vehicle. Twitchy looking hyenas plod along unafraid of anything, while everything else runs for cover. A leopard roamed the grass, being polite and staying in view for long enough to admire its powerful body and short hunting legs.

‪‪The experience was topped off with the most unbelievable sunset I have ever laid eyes on. We parked just to gaze at its splendor. A mighty fireball the colour of that gazelles blood glowed as it inched its way southwards. As the sun moved, it tinted the sky burnt orange then beetroot then sunflower yellow. A single acacia sat stereotypically African, just off centre, and our day was complete.

‪‪As expected, we saw hardly anything the next morning on our way out of the park. We had already seen everything!

‪‪It felt hotter than before, and I can’t believe the Masai that live just outside the park don’t melt under the heat of the sun. I stared longingly at the private jets flying in and out of the Serengeti airport. Anything to avoid the African massage on the drive back to MtoWamBu! We endured it again, and Karen was more than delighted when Isiah spotted the 30cm dik-dik, the smallest of the antelope family. I wonder if he has a heat detector implanted in his eye by the Tanzanian government to increase tourists’ game viewing experience.

‪‪We arrived back in Twigga at five, and I worked out my biceps trying to wash the dirt knots from my hay like hair and my new tan of dust. The Serengeti is a very dirty affair.

‪‪I caught up with MJ, tour leader for my last trip. He is taking a family tour down to Zanzibar, and he was genuinely in everything I’ve been up to. He really is the best tour leader if all time, and we spoke like old friends over bony chunks of lamb.

 

‪‪13 July 12 Village tour

‪‪Three guides turned up at camp this morning and took us on a glorious whirlwind tour of the 18000 resident village of MtoWamBu.

‪‪We were shown the rice fields, the biggest plots reserved for those who have been here the longest. The area is home to 120 tribes, and yet still more are migrating to this relatively fertile pocket of the rift valley.

‪‪I nibbled on a grain of rice and observed a field worker picking a leech from her foot. I suppose the work isn’t as fine and dandy as first glance would have you believe.

‪‪We walked backstreets and learnt about the seven kinds of banana they grow, most importantly the ones used in banana beer. We had a ritual sip of maize and smoky bitterness they label beer.

‪‪Children lock hands with us and don’t let go, so join us on our walk through crops of sweet potato and beans, past mud houses that are only half finished until more income can be made.

‪‪ Our attention was held for a long time in a little shed filled with wooden handicraft. The Makonde tribe are incredible with tools, tapping away to make one intricate carving for up to two months. They put my brothers stick whittling efforts to irrevocable shame. The wood they use is heavy and takes one hundred years to mature, found only in the highlands belonging to the Masai. The workmanship was too good to walk away from, so from Tanzania I have bought an ornamental comb that would look perfect on a bedside table.

‪‪The guides led us to an artists workshop, which are not hard to find in this village. Rice and painting alike are the greatest cash crops. Caricatures of Masai with stick legs, red robes and long spears filled the canvasses.

‪‪A primary school of wild children was our last stop before a spread of local food. Our stomachs filled quickly on spiced rice, local cabbage and greens, chapatti, eggplant, roasted banana and a mouthwatering beef stew. My stomach is still content, sitting on the bus to Marangu. We have been driving the familiar road to the base of Kilimanjaro since noon, and we have no chance if seeing the snow covered peak, regardless of Chris’s optimism.

 

‪‪Ps: Note to the gorilla group, I managed to use the 5 Kenyan shillings from Carnivore.. It bought me five hot chips from Kibera slum in Nairobi, woo!!

 

14 July 12 – Doing Time

 

From Marangu, we did the death drive to Dar El Salaam. It was so painful that I don’t even want to write about it because of the terrible memories it conjures.

We left before the sun had time to rub his eyes and were like mental patients strapped inside straight jackets which was our bus. From 6 am until 6 pm, 12 hours, half a day of my existence, we sat, stood, ate, slept, fiddled and fidgeted in the vessel which would push the claustrophobic amongst us beyond the borders of sanity.

John, Karen and I paced the bus like animals with zoochosis.

Our only saviour was the shining red button which we buzz three times in order for a short halt masked under the title ‘pee stop’. At this point, we would all bolt out into the bushes and crouch to imitate the release of the bladder, but truly just sucking in the fresh air and savouring the feeling of firm ground underfoot. When you realized there was no escape, you would begrudgingly plod back to the torture chamber, the only hope held in the promise of another pee stop and the idyllic, sparkling Indian ocean which was our destination.

Dads voice rung in my ears that I should look out the window and be aware of my surroundings. I tried, but all that was out there was the jaggard slopes of the Usumbara mountain range. They were beautiful, but for twelve hours on end it gets a little tedious.

I ended up busying my senses with Karens laptop, and we turned on the waterworks strong enough to flood the bus while watching The Kite Runner.

 

15 july 12 To Zanzibar We Go

 

Ju and I woke early and put down the tent quietly as mice then set off on a beach run. One month sitting in a bus and enjoying three meals a day has done wonders for decreasing my fitness. I say beach ‘run’, but it probably resembled something more like a baby struggling with its first steps.

The beach at Dar El Salaam is something out of a Californian dream, with palm trees dotting the fine white sand. Unlike home, the sun rises majestically over the water, reflecting on the ocean and causing it to appear metallic. The mercury liquid laps at the sand, which mirrors the bouquet of colours coming from the sky. When I returned from my panting jog, I joined the group frolicking in the warm water; the perfect morning if sea scoundrels hadn’t bitten my bum.

The ferry over to Zanzibar took about two hours, and we sat on the open top deck, reveling in the beating sunshine. The disastrous tan lines from my Lamu sunburn stint require serious attention, and Zanzibar is the ideal remedy.

I sat next to a good looking European couple and their genetically blessed gorgeous toddler. The whole time, I stressed she was going to fall off the boat, and I jut can’t understand why people want to take their children traveling. They re annoying, cost money and won’t even remember it! Mental note: you are not ready for children.

The pearl of Zanzibar came into view as a string of picturesquely decaying, off-white mansions, fishermen skillfully navigating their one sailed dhow, small black bodies energetically leaping off the wharf, and water somehow clearer than two hours before at the mainland.

The narrow laneways whispered Lamu, but Zanzibar is less crowded and more developed.

Children’s laughter echoed in the wind,  a maze of alleyways ensured we got lost, and squares carved into walls were brimming with local knick knacks screaming for Jessica to take them home.

After an Indian lunch, the group of us spent the afternoon exploring this foreign island, and found ourselves at the old slave market.

In the nineteenth century, the slave trade was booming. Arabs stormed east African villages, adorned the captured with chains and sent them stomping to Zanzibar. Men, women and children walked thousands of kilometers from Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania and Malawi with no belongings and a cruel brand on their arm indicating their newfound status as a slave. Eighty thousand were filtered through Zanzibar each year, as slaves were held here temporarily whilst being sold and were than shipped off to south America, India and the Arab world.

The men were generally castrated, women used as concubines, and children helpful for the plantations, because they could easily climb trees with their limber bodies.

The slaves were tied to a jojoba tree and whipped, the most resilient being sold for the highest prices.  The most expensive slave was sold for ten rupees, equivalent to one dollar in today’s terms.

We listened to this dark history whilst sitting in a huge church built by Christian missionaries, located directly on top of that jojoba tree.

We learnt of David Livingstones lifelong plight to banish the slave trade, which was finally abolished in 1874, only two months after Livingstones death. A cross made from the tree which his heart was buried under hung  symbolically in the church.

It was a sombre and moving experience when the guide led us down into the cramped, bare chambers which had been used to hold the slaves during their stint at Zanzibar. Their necks were shackled together, and in one cell about the size of a bedroom at ADFA, but with a roof so low a man could not stand  upright, they stuffed in 75 bodies. The slave trade continued occurring illegally until 1908.

Our heavy feet walked eagerly away from this place nightmares are made of, and happier scenes of ancient communal baths, delicate Muslim girls swathed in fabric with smiles still visible through peaking eyes, and street vendors offering tart mangoes and blood red chilli salt filled the cobbled lanes.

On the afternoon beach, dhows lined the water with swan like gracefulness, perfectly spaced and returning to shore with promises of the days catch.

Young men in silhouettes practiced martial arts and gymnastics, their flips and hoots inviting critical crowds of locals to determine the one who outshines the rest.

The group met at Africa House, where I could hardly afford water, let alone beer. So Ju offered to come with me to the open air food market, a glowing mass of tables laden with every type of seafood I know plus more, lobster claws, prawn skewers and kingfish fillets piled so high they swayed in the breeze. Locals and tourists alike haggled for Swahili pizzas and kebabs; a refreshing drink of sugarcane juice to clear the palate and then you are ready for more.

It was bliss, and when we licked our lips of the last traces of gooey banana nutella pizza, we made the huge mistake of visiting the Zanzibar international Film Festival.

It just sounded like such a great cultural opportunity (and a great place to rest our splitting-at-the-seam stomachs). It cost five dollars to get in, so we knew we had to make the most of it after paying such an astronomical price. The film festival is in its fifteenth year of being held; a week long event in which amateur films from across Africa are viewed and judged. We arrived for the final night, and the winning film was going to be shown.

If they ever actually did get around to showing it, we will never know.

Ju and I failed to get comfortable on the rocky seats in this open amphitheatre, but we kept reminding each other how lucky we were to get here in time to see this cultural phenomena.

The first act looked promising as two sarong bound little girls came onto the stage and a hush fell over the arena. The crowd uniformly leaned forward to hear the angelic voices of children. Well, most children. As soon as they opened their mouths, the audience slumped back, wincing at the nasal screech and blasting of the microphone. I tried as inconspicuously as possible to block my ears, and I swear hundreds of people around me were following suite. I looked at ju and forced a polite nod – there was no way we could smile or we were both in danger of breaking into hysterics. The performance was terrible. They bowed and we clapped them offstage, and then came hour after hour of award presentations. The winner of the awards were inevitably always ‘Uhlanga’, a film group from south Africa. The films three female actresses bounced onstage decked out in killer heels and cheek flashing leopard print numbers while the cultural minister hugged them a little too enthusiastically. So much for following the islands Muslim modesty code!

The fashion was the one thing that entertained me- one award presenter wearing fishnet black diamonteed heels teemed with a pink satin dress had the meringue look nailed.

The worst film festival of all time was topped of with a cultural performance which we were apparently lucky to be watching. My eyes stirred in renewed anticipation. Twenty men dressed in white robes and red vests with the traditional bowl hats arranged themselves onstage. It began with humming and soft movements, then somehow transformed into a full blown Bollywood act. The men, who were obviously never destined for stardom, waved around all out of sync, while a weighty balding figure held his sweaty lips far too close to the microphone and monotonously bellowed away in swahili. It might have been bearable if it didn’t go on for over twenty minutes. I looked over at ju, who had her head in her hands, rocking and groaning. We got out of there as quickly as possible, relieved we weren’t one of the unlucky tourists who sat themselves in front of the cultural minister where it would be too disrespectful to leave. Give me One Direction any day!

We ran into the rest of the group and retired to the Freddie Mercury bar for a much needed drink.

 

16 July 12 From Stone Town to the Beach

 

At breakfast, I realized my newfound love for papaya. I also realized what a fast- working natural laxative my newfound love is, with effects in under five minutes of consumption. Papaya is now strictly rationed to areas within 200m of decent facilities.

We met with our memorable guide, Ali T, for one of Zanzibars must-do spice tours. Ali had us in stitches before we even got into the mini van, hamming up his voice to incorporate accents from all around the world and you couldn’t help but notice the mischievous glint in his eyes as he teased us. He filled the morning with anecdotes delivered with an African twang that never left his voice, no matter how hard he tried to say ‘bottl o’ watar’ in an English accent.

When we all squeezed out of the mini van, I was desperate for a wee, so I ducked behind the truck. It started making reversing sounds, and I laughed thinking they were pretending to reverse over me. The last thing I expected was for the van to speed off, leaving me squatting on the road with my pants hanging around my ankles. I sprung up so fast you’d have thought I’d just been tasered. I yelped like a wounded animal, and forget Ali’s antics, I had everyones tears streaming from laughter! Always prepared to be the source of entertainment.

Ali took us through a selection of lemongrass, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, cardamom, turmeric, ginger and almond plants and trees. We licked, touched and sniffed away with so much eagerness that our nostrils stopped working for the rest of Zanzibar.

It is always an eye opening experience, finding out where your food comes from. I think of cooking in mums kitchen, where I felt smug in the knowledge that ground cinnamon comes from those curly brown sticks. I was shocked to find that those sticks are the bark of a big tree which also produces menthol.

I never thought about the origins of the sweet smelling vanilla essence in a bottle until I had a whole vanilla seed pod in my hot little hand on the spice tour. And  I couldn’t let it go! I rubbed the minute black beads of vanillary goodness all over my nose and even tried my luck to see if it worked as a perfume.

The perfume idea reminds me of when I was young (ironic statement) and Bec Rourke and I were inspired to crush the lemon myrtle plant out of the back of my house at Wherrol Flat and mix it with water, then rub it vigorously into our necks. Bec promptly got a scary red rash over her fair skin and I’m sure I got the blame.

Ali gave us a sampling of fresh ginger, masala and lemongrass teas. I’m glad we were sitting on a balcony, because as soon as the sickly sweet and thick masala liquid tickled at my tonsils, I spat it over the edge.

After this, Ali’s sidekick with the scarily precise machete skills hacked us piece after piece of exotic fruits. Jackfruit, custard apple and a lychee looking construction  starred in the butchering, and I couldn’t get enough.

The same superhuman fruit chopper demonstrated his absence of fear (and sanity), climbing a 20 m high coconut tree with nothing but a crusty rope tied between his feet to provide support. Once at the bushy head of the smooth pole of a tree, he proceeded to hold on with only his hands, swinging his legs out horizontally, singing and laughing concurrently. He quickly put the notion of women being the only multitaskers to death. Superman crawled down the tree in a monkey like fashion, grinning at us with our gaping mouths and racing pulses. The show was complete with the presentation of bamboo crowns for each of us, spicy souvenirs and takeaway succulent coconut chunks.

We drove on for a feast of deep fried fish and banana curry at a little homestead, where Cassie pointed out our next door neighbor was the ‘ Edible Mushroom Production Unit’. We secretly hoped some of the mushrooms might have seeped into our food, and drove the hour and a half to Kendwa rocks on alert for purple people eating monsters alongside the road.

I almost forgot to mention the godlike make specimen we saw chopping wood as went in for lunch. His pumped up black physique glistened in the sunlight, and all the girls were propelled by the forces of attraction to stop and gape. He was ripped, and I’ve been reminded not to forget his addition in my journal (in order to let the memory live on).

Our resort at Kendwa rocks can only be described as paradise. We dumped our bags in our bungalows on the sand and sprinted for the beach.

Sapphire blue water splashed around our dumbfounded laughs and exclamations that this place was unbelievable. The town is non-existent, and the only local produce pushers are the rasta guys, selling painted sarongs and  leather bracelets, with a billowing cloud of pot smoke enveloping their brain. There are a string of resorts along the precious stretch of sand, but most people bags a sun lounge further off the beachfront with more convenient access to the bar, so you hardly notice them.

Happy hour began an the appropriate time of 330, and I certainly made the most of that 20 cent saving on drinks. To put it modestly, all of us got bleary eyed, confidence building, hangover inducingly sloshed. Before dinner.

I didn’t even have the sense to take my things up to the safety of my room, let alone put on pants! And it came with consequences.

I ran around the beach bar, chatting madly to one group, playing pool with another, snagging the odd slice of pizza and joining every shot party like I’d known the buyer for all time. I brazenly introduced myself to a group of hunky Danish men, and I think I must have latched on to them for the whole night due to their suspicious willingness to buy me all the drinks I could wish for. They also funded the (naturally) heavy drinking habits of a gang of Irish uni students, and probably the whole bar for that matter. We partied on until 4am, and the Danish guys had a hefty bar tab accumulating on a room number which turned out to be in no way associated with them. The ran away at the end of the night and flew back to Denmark the next day, leaving the resort with an empty fridge and me with a hangover to go down in the memory books.

When I finally dragged myself out of bed, shaking pringle crumbs off my sleep creased body, I checked to see if I was still the prowd owner of an Australian passport. I was in luck, I had somehow brought everything back with me, except my beloved diary.

I rolled down to the beach, questioning how my body could ever feel well enough to walk again, and spent the short remains of the day bitching with Ed and Keira about how pathetic we felt. A lump of black tar had somehow lodged itself in the pit of my stomach and the toxic stuff was trying to seep out.

We were a pathetic site, and when the others arrived back after their day of snorkeling with blistering sunburn, we all reveled in pain together.

I scraped myself off the sand for a halfhearted look for my diary and a swim under the burning pink glow of sunset. At this very moment, a packed booze cruise boat of teenagers started chanting my name. I waved, groaning and confused, trying to rack my brains for the fuzzy events of the night before. What had I done with my diary?

The group decided to be respectable and go out for dinner – I even put pants on. We went to basically the only other option, next door. The beach front tables were thriving with tourists, and we sat down for our very long wait for dinner, learning about the juicy adventures of Ju in the meantime.

Keira, Karen and Ju had taken a walk to the aquarium when I was in my alcohol poisoned slumber. A nice local began to chat to Ju, and succeeded in in getting her full attention. Rumor has it that by the time they reached the aquarium, the pair were well acquainted, hand holding, smiles and fireworks galore. Ju disappeared in a cloud of taxi dust on a lunch date with her male companion, leaving Keira and Karen with awe stricken faces, blown away by her confidence.

Well, as girls do, we speculated for the whole afternoon about where she might be and more importantly, what she might be doing! Now here she was in the flesh, just arrived back from her six hour lunch date, flushing and exhausted (okay, she wasn’t flushed). We learnt that we really should listen to our elders, because with years of experience, they are the pros at this game. We bombarded Ju with requests for details and found out far too much about my saucy tent mate. Let’s just say I won’t eat lamb sausages again for a while.

We also blew our minds at her story of reaching the peak on mount Kilimanjaro – in more than one way! Go Ju!

Despite this gossolicious conversation, we were getting hungry. It was 930 and half the table had eaten (expected on Africa) but our half had been finger tapping for a good hour and a half. The evening before when we were eating back at our local waterhole, one of the meals took 2 and a half hours to arrive, so the whole tables’ bill was shredded. I was hungry, but I could deal with it if it meant another free meal!

A couple of us were nodding off, and generally passive Irish Neil was up to his neck with it when Karen’s meal came out but she was forced to eat with her fingers because cutlery never arrived. Neil leapt onto the table like a lion beginning the lethal hunt for its prey, and sprinted over to the counter, roaring for an explanation to this madness. Mine, Amanda’s and Neil’s dinner wasn’t even on the order, so a battle between Chris as Neil’s interpreter, the lazy table waiter blaming the kitchen and the manager blaming the waitor caused a curious audience to congregate. Everyone else toddled off to bed while Amanda, myself and a fuming Neil ate pizza at 1030 at our original bar. The cherry on the cake is that Neil’s breakfast never arrived the next morning, and we all agreed the tourist police will be after him to assassinate this man who would potentially spread the word about Zanzibars terrible table service. It became a running joke that his face is now hanging in the Zanzibar immigration office; do not let this man in.

We were leaving at 10 am the next morning and I had a hole in my heart where my precious diary had once fitted. It consumed my mind, and I vowed I had learnt a proper lesson to look after everything I care about. Just before leaving, I was about to accept it was gone for good. The Danish boys from the bar had taken it and were going to cash it in for millions.

I scoured the sand and asked the bar staff at least hourly whether they had located it, I even asked the name chanting uni students of its whereabouts. Finally, I went to ask the bar staff for the final decider, and the bar man had a long conversation to the security guard in Swahili. How long does it take to ask about a goddamn book? I hung my heart low, prepared for rejection as the security guard walked off. But he came back a moment later with the priceless cardboard bound book that Laura kebby craftily filled with heartfelt advice and gave to me to stuff with my thousands of messy words. My smile shattered my jaw as I ran up and shook the strangers hand and have him $5 because in this world, it’s the only way he understands my appreciation. I hugged it to my chest, and I promised I would fill every page then return her to the safety of 29 Kiora street. And no more parties.

We spent the morning in the van on the way back to the ferry terminal at stone town. I took one last look at the shores of Zanzibar, freezing the moment in my memory bank and hoping i might return again. Maybe for my honeymoon. And my birthday.

The ferry ride was horrible, I blocked my ears and hummed to stamp out the sounds of people being sick from the turbulent ocean waves. We thought it had been rough, but couldn’t believe our ears when we discovered the passenger ferry we just passed had capsized. It was quickly declared a national disaster, and initial reports told of 250 drowned souls. Back at the mainland, we texted our families, assuring them of our safety. The next day we rejoiced at news that 138 people had been rescued, but 100 or so were still missing. It was such a horrible disaster, and we felt far too close for comfort.

I dreamt of driving past a pile of wounded children who had fallen off their bikes and we didn’t stop to help them. Why did so many people die on a ship only an hour from the mainland? It happened last year as well, only that 800 people perished.

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