Weekend in Zanzibar

Dar Es Salaam PortLeaving the mess of traffic behind in Dar es Salaam, I hopped a ferry to Zanzibar to enjoy the weekend. The plan: to sit on a white-sand beach and read. As luck would have it, I sat next to a couple on the ferry over to the island, of which one was a BC ’03 grad. Realizing we had many friends in common, it was nice sharing such a small-world experience and talking about the comforts of home. Departing the ferry terminal, I took a few hours to roam Stonetown. The town, which historically sat as the seat of its own sultanate, is entertaining to wander. Stonetown has winding, narrow paths, like those of the Old City in Damascus. While Dar es Salaam did not strike me as dominantly Muslim, Stonetown immediately did. When I was in Oman, I was told of the historical tie to Africa through the vast empire the Omanis built centuries ago, but it becomes more apparent in Zanzibar. Men wear Omani-styled dishdashas. Omani-style dishdashaWomen can be found in headscarves and burkas. I was cautious to take pictures but roamed the narrow alleys as the town hummed with activity: kids played and ran after one another and men and women mingled as they visited small shops or gathered on street corners to chat.

I arrived on the island with no plan. I had booked a hotel on the northern most tip of the island in Nungwi, a hour-and-a-half drive from Stonetown. With no concept of how to get there, I learned a taxi would be $60 one way. Ouch. I found a shared van headed north and paid 10,000 (about $9). Whatever mental images I had associating Zanzibar and Bermuda quickly disappeared. Zanzibar is incredibly poor. The middle of the island looks like the most remote places of Africa, with dirt houses, half-clothed kids running around, and donkey carts pulling farming equipment. Nungwi, I expected would be a developed, beach town. Instead, dirt roads led off the main road and we bounced through a poor town until we arrived at the gates to the hotel. The beachfront is a network of interlocking hostels, bungalows, and wealthy hotels that form the town.

My digs for the weekend
I passed the next two days exactly as I had anticipated: reading and lying on a beach. However, I met a group of Irish med students, which provided a much-needed outlet for entertainment. They had traveled for the past six weeks after completing projects working in hospitals all over Africa. A group at subsequently climbed Kilimanjaro, another traveled in northern Mozambique and experienced the most interesting boarder crossing into Tanzania I’ve ever heard of, and the other went gorilla trekking in Rwanda. We stayed up all night on Saturday as I introduced Kings to the group, thus providing hours of drinking entertainment.

The beach

On Monday morning, faced with the necessity of return to work, I opted to return to the mainland by air. Again, assuming the conveniences of modernity, I figured a flight could easily be booked with a credit card. False. Cash only I was told. Having 39,400 Shillings on me, I was told the flight costs 68,000 and I would pay the guy at the check-in counter. Looking into my wallet, I was about to convert some Rwandan francs into Shillings to cover the gap when I fortuitously found $20 crammed in a pocket. Graced by a good exchange rate, I got 27,600 for the twenty bucks. 67,000 total. Shit, I was short by 1,000. Without a choice, I walked up to the check-in counter, confidently said, “67,000…all set” and the handed the cash over. The guy just nodded in agreement and handed me my boarding pass. I noticed there was a 5000 airport departure fee and turned back to the guy and said, “oh, and that includes the departure fee right?”

I headed to the gate and climbed aboard a 10-seater prop plane to Dar. front row seatThe plane tossed and jumped as it sputtered over crystal-clear blue turquoise waters, and twenty minutes later, we touched down on the mainland. My island adventure was over and back into the traffic jams of the city I went.

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