Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Doesn’t the name Zanzibar sound exotic?  It’s referred to as the Spice Island, and I was expecting the gorgeous beach and tourqoise water, but we learned it is also home to 1,000,000 people, 97% of whom are Muslim (unlike the rest of Tanzania which is predominantly Christian.)

We arrived from the Serengeti after three legs of flights on a single engine 12 seater plane.  I felt slightly better having my father (an old Marine pilot) seated up front serving as back up to the pilot.  There was still no backup however for that single engine.  After the first leg, the man on the tarmac told us one of the six of our party would have to go on another plane.  Mark gallantly offered to be the one, stating he’d like Papa the back up pilot to fly with the rest of us.  I didn't like splitting up, but at any rate we all arrived safely despite lots of clouds and bumps.

It had apparently been raining a lot on the island and our first views of Zanzibar were of object poverty and lots of mud puddles.  And literally beyond the airport we saw no white faces other than our own.  As we were still on the budget supplemented by my parents, we flew through the crowded villages in our pre-arranged transport too quickly for me to catch good pictures of the beautiful children we passed, playing obliviously as children everywhere do.

We arrived after an hour driving to a small village and were ushered through large metal gates to a big house I recognized from the Home Away pictures.  We were greeted by 9 staff members – this was a bit overwhelming.  I was expecting cleaning services and a cook if we wanted one, but we were introduced to no less than 9 people, with jobs from security to pool man to driver to dishwasher.   This isn't something we are at all used to.  Happily, as the days in the beautiful beach-front house wore on, we got to know several of the staff and came to feel a little better about the arrangement.   It was also fun watching the gardener climb the trees to harvest the coconuts.

Mostly we did nothing – literally.  We ate three great meals a day served to us in one of three outdoor dining rooms and moved from bed to couch to pool lounger and once in a great while took a walk on the beach.  It was a wonderful way to rest up after Safari and enjoy my parents before they had to leave.

We did rouse ourselves enough one day to go snorkeling on the reef (with dolphins) and another to drive back into town and take a tour of a “spice farm.”  The spice farms, as best we could tell, were just the jungle planted with various spices in a random and not terribly discernable order.   It was fun though and also educational.  Our guide asked us to guess the spices by their smell and then explained all of the uses for each plant.  His assistant made us jewelry and hats out of the palm fronds and other plants we passed by.

After that we walked around Stone Town, through the fish market and to the original slave market.  It was very sobering.

On one of our rare walks, a group of approximately 60 school age girls spilled onto the beach dressed in their long dresses and veils.  They were very curious about us and made a pretty site on the wide white beach. 

Part of our favorite group from the Safari camp in Serengeti had also headed to Zanzibar to rest up prior to heading home.  Brooke and Lauren joined us one night at our house for dinner.  We were surprised the young and pretty girls would want to hang out with our family on the last night of their Africa trip, but they did and we had a wonderful time reliving our Safari memories and catching up on our adventures since.

The best part of this time though was undoubtedly sitting in our second story outdoor living room, watching the people of Zanzibar walk or bike or sail by and commenting to each other on the same.

Tomorrow morning we say goodbye to my parents and pick back up our itinerate lifestyle, no longer protected by their reassuring presence and more liberal budget.   As we have had very limited access to the internet these past couple of weeks, I have been feeling anxiety about my lack of planning for our forward travel.  It feels a bit like the time before we started out when we were all unsure of what to expect.  Today though we walked to a cafĂ© and, for the price of a few drinks. we got through to the world and now, with a couple of plans in place, I’m feeling some better.

Going forward it will take 3 nights to work our way back to Dar Es Salam (via ferry vs.  the scareways airline) and then head to Mauritius via Johannesberg.   After a week in Mauritius (where we have little idea what to expect) we are booked on a plane to Cape Town, South Africa.  We have yet to secure lodgings, but regardless are looking forward to our time there, expecting it to feel like civilization after all of our time in distant and exotic locals.

Friday, November 25, 2011


Safari has been, by unanimous vote, the best week of our trip – no contest.  I will have to apologize in advance that both my vocabulary and my point and shoot camera are woefully inadequate to the task of sharing our experience with you.  Every vista was spectacular.  Every game drive packed full of beautiful and exotic animals, often in mind numbing quantities.

We slept mostly in tents (albeit quite fancy ones) in pristine natural environs.  There were never more than 14 guests total in our camps and sometimes we had them all to ourselves.  We were served meals by friendly camp staff that taught us rudimentary Swahili and built us roaring campfires they referred to as bush TV.  After dinner they would escort us to our tents as lions and other predators sometimes roamed the camps at night.

We stayed one night in a lodge on a working coffee plantation.   The views were yet again lovely, but the best part of this accommodation was the pool.  Safari is very dirty business.  Dust sticks to your sunscreen, and on top of that you must frequently apply bug spray to attempt to thwart the bugs – most especially the biting tse-tse fly.  Add to this that water is very precious in eastern Africa and showers are required to be extremely short.  Flushing is on a very necessary basis only.

 Every day we would set out to drive the parks in our converted landcruiser with our driver/guide Kessy, searching for animals to observe and photograph.  Kessy was a huge repository of information, and we learned as we bounced around in our seats.  The big five is a term leftover from the days of hunting safaris rather than photographic ones, and refers to the five most valuable animals when dead – elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and buffalo.   In addition giraffe, zebra, hyena, hippos, cheetah, baboons and wart hogs are high on everyone’s list to see.   We saw them all, plus the huge heards of wildebeast that make up the world’s most famous migration.  Sometimes the animals were far away (park regulations require that vehicles stay on the roads) but often they were very close, lions in particular would roam around the tires of our truck.  I'm sure you know a group of lions is referred to as a pride.  But did you know a group of hippos is a float?  And a group of giraffe is a stretch? (except for you John Watson - we are sure you already knew :)

 One of the highlights of our trip were the walking safaris we went on with our two Masaii guides.  They spoke very good English, and we compared notes on everything from body piercings to marriage to religion and politics while traversing a wide-open piece of the very scenic Ngorongoro conservation area. 

Our last accommodation, Camp Lewana in the Serengeti, was our favorite.  The food was good, the service excellent and our fellow guests super fun (hellooo to Brooke, Lauren and Courtney!) After dinner the staff would sing and dance around the table and we all got up to join them.  They said we were the only group ever to do so.  All those other people were definitely missing out.

It is now the too quick end of our 8 days of safari, and we are headed to Zanzibar, an island off the coast of Tanzania, to rest up and enjoy our last days with my parents and the pristine waters off the African coast.

My best advice from our whole trip thus far is, if you have the ability to go to East Africa, you should immediately make plans to do so!