Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, Tanzania . . . "Mambo"

As we have been travelling through Africa during the wet season, we knew we would encounter some rain along the way. So it was not really a surprise when it rained non-stop for the first four days in Zanzibar. We were not pleased but we were not unhappy. This, after all, was what we had signed-up for.

Our misery began later when we chatted to an expat who told us that it “never rains like this in Zanzibar” and that it had, in fact, not rained this heavily or constantly in more than ten years. After this conversation we felt cheated of the trip we were supposed to have: the visit to Zanzibar with intermittent light showers. However, in Africa, as in Australia, you can't complain too loudly or too long about rain because (of course) rain is “good for the farmers”. So we went out exploring Stone Town in the rain with our best happy-for-the-farmers faces.

“Zanzibar” literally means “Land of the Blacks”. The word originates from the Arabic words “zinj” meaning black and “barr” meaning land. Very creative. There is a strong Aribic influence in Zanzibar and much of the East African coast. Stone Town in Zanzibar is a maze of narrow streets, many are just wide enough for a bike. The streets are lined with homes and shops, some of which have enormous carved wooden doors with amazingly detailed designs. Despite Stone Town’s attributes, I must admit that at least on the first day, I was more interested in shopping than architecture.

Luckily for me, given the constant rain, exploring the shops in the narrow streets of Stone Town was the best way to amuse ourselves for a few days. Phil was looking for a Zanzibar chest and I was desperate to buy some new clothes after a conversation I had in a bar about a month ago . . .

Me: So there are prostitutes here. How can you tell who are the prostitutes?

Friendly Expat: Over there, that is a prostitute. In fact, all those girls are prostitutes.

Me: (Incredulous) But how can you tell? She is wearing exactly what I am wearing.

Expat: Hmmmm. (Sympathetic smile)

Who knew that jeans and a strappy top could get you into so much trouble . . .

Given that we are heading further into Muslim territory the further north we travel, I decided that any shopping expedition in Zanzibar must include long-sleeved cotton tops. Such conservative dressing should have the dual benefit of demonstrating some cultural sensitivity and differentiating myself from a lady of the night. I will let you know if it works.

In an attempt not to let the rain stop our exploration of the island, we decided to go on a "Spice Tour". The tours visit a few farms to see how they produce pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, tumeric, cloves, lemon grass, cardamon and various other spices for which Zanzibar has been historically known. Not forgetting Zanzibar's other great historical trading money spinner- slaves - the tour also made a quick stop at an underground slave holding cell.

Phil was fascinated with the spices: “So this is a vanilla bean!” He asked several questions and I suspect he was making mental notes to plan a five course African-themed dinner party upon our return. My enquiries, on the other hand, focused on what the tour guides were going to feed us for lunch. It doesn’t take much to guess who the chef is in our relationship.

After the Spice Tour we set off for Kendwa beach in the north of Zanzibar where, thankfully, bikinis are acceptable. Fortunately we missed a few hundred dead dolphins by one day. They had washed up onto the Kendwa beach, died in their hundreds and had been buried or removed the day before we arrived. There was much speculation as to the cause of the dead dolphins . . . US submarine signals interfering with the dolphins' sonars was one of the more imaginative.

After a few days on the northern beaches we went to the east coast of Zanzibar to compare the beach experience there. The extremely low tide on the east coast meant that it was not the swimming beach that Kendwa was, but when you are relaxing on a beach in Zanzibar there is nothing that you can complain about. We met some cool Canadians in one of the places we stayed and card games with them kept us entertained when the sun wasn’t shining.

Very sadly and very slowly (two weeks after arrival) it was time to say goodbye to Zanzibar and we hopped on a ferry for mainland Tanzania. A very short (3 hours) but very unpleasant journey during which the girl sitting opposite us lost her lunch into a leaky black plastic bag. We weren’t sick but I was slightly nervous when the boat was thrown around a bit. Phil, of course, was not even remotely concerned. I have found that he has demonstrated a concerning mix of fearlessness and insane optimism through most of our travels. I would try to drum this out of him but it happens to balance well with my cowardice and pessimism.

However, I was somewhat comforted to discover a chink in his armour on our return to Dar es Salaam . . .

Phil: (Casually, almost suspiciously so . . .) What are you spraying the repellent for?

Me: I saw a couple of cockroaches in here.

Phil: (With a look that says the apocalypse is upon us) Cockroaches!! Where?!

Yes, it's true. Superman could not deal with kryptonite and Phil cannot handle cockroaches.

So, we found ourselves back in Dar es Salaam with cockroaches and more rain. In fact, we have been stuck in Dar for six days for certain administrative reasons, one of which was a trip to the dentist for me. It was an interesting visit, the conclusion of which was the dentist’s comment that I should see a psychiatrist. (Note to self: Attempt to behave like a normal person during next visit to the dentist.)

It hasn’t all been dentists and cockroaches in Dar es Salaam though. We entertained ourselves by a visit to the National Museum (or “The House of Remembering” as it was much more poetically called by the taxi driver) and a trip to the movies. It is nice to see a familiar face, even if that face is Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 3.

We escape Dar tomorrow and head north for some exercise. After five months of fried eggs for breakfast we need it.

Next entry before the end of the month.

PS- Phil has loaded up some more photos so click on the 'Cape Town to Cairo Photos' link or click right here http://www.qtcphotos.blogspot.com to see photos of Botswana, Vic Falls and Malawi.


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