Zanzi-bizarre: Frustration and Bliss

Kuchanganyikiwa na neema. That’s Swahili for “frustration and bliss.”

The sun beats down mercilessly as we elbow our way onto the ferry departing for Zanzibar. We rose early, at 4:45am, and departed the campground by 5:45. Once there, we found ourselves subject to a delay arising from some problem  – either made by our trip leader or the ticket office – having to do with our departure time. We were supposed to be on the 7:30am ferry, but instead were bumped to the 9:30am ferry. The ferries never leave on time. This, in turn, affected the plans we had to join a spice tour in Zanzibar at 10am. Everything got pushed back. Grumbling coursed through the troops. I went out in search of a real cup of coffee.

That’s one thing I’ve realized so far in my travels; any country that’s known for producing something, like coffee, wine, chocolate, or fruit, generally gains more by exporting that product than keeping it for domestic consumption. So it is that we drink crappy instant coffee everywhere we go.

By the time we finally pushed our way onto the ferry and sat down, we were sweaty and irritable. Somehow these moments of transit are the most difficult parts of the journey. There’s no order. People swarm and push en mass. An African lady abruptly sprawled out in the aisle and went to sleep there. After two hours, we arrived at the Zanzibar ferry terminal, got our 24 passports stamped, and were on our way. Some of our number, in the meantime, had decided not to come on the spice tour and this created further complications, until finally we were wisked off by our local tour guide, Daniel, to a lunch spot.

We were meant to go on the tour and then eat a lovely lunch in the village, but with all the delays and changes in the number of participants, that was not possible. T.I.A. Africa has turned out to be a much more costly continent to travel in than southeast Asia. The spice tour cost $25 and was a good value, but all those extra activities at $20 or more a pop add up quickly. On the tour we learned a bit about the history of Zanzibar. Daniel identified tumeric plants, cinnimon trees (we chewed the bark, which tasted like spicy wood), ginger (the spiciest ginger I’ve ever had in my life is grown in Zanzibar), lemongrass, green and black pepper, passionfruit, jackfruit, African grapefruit…the list goes on. As it turns out, no spices are endemic to Zanzibar. The extremely rich soil nourishes a great variety of spice plants which are all introduced, most likely from India. We gorged ourselves on fruit at the end of the tour and drank spicy masala tea. Then we watched a small African man climb a giant coconut tree and break into song and dance at the top of it, holding onto the trunk with his arms and flinging his legs out in the air to the beat of his song.

Another hour in a van and we arrived at Nungwi beach around 5pm. We jumped in the shower, which was hot (that was the only time in the next 3 days that shower would have hot water, who knows why?), and within 5 minutes the bathroom flooded because the drain wasn’t working, and then the lights went out.


Eventually we emerged, clean, and bought fruity blended drinks. We sighed a collective relief and listened to the waves crash as darkness decended. The next few days we woke early to snorkel or dive. We saw many fabulous sea creatures: moray eels, lobster, lion fish, mantis shrimp, potato grouper, Napolean wrasse, and, perhaps the coolest of them all, a large octopus who we watched transform, attempting to camoflauge himself.

Other observations about Zanzibar include the local touts strong desire to sell tourists drugs: marijuana, hash, or cocaine. We were approached at least five times a day by a tout who, after learning we didn’t want to snorkel or sunset cruise, offered us drugs, leading us to believe all touts are also drug dealers. Eventually, when approached by a rasta-looking, dread-locked beach bum, we stopped responding.

We ate two incredible meals. The first was grilled kingfish (Colin had kingfish curry), paired with rice or potato and a vegetable, and a bottle of South African white wine (hey hey, CHARDONNAY!). We finished with banana and pistachio ice cream. The other meal (same restaurant) was tuna with a spicy mango puree sauce, fresh vegetables and potatoes. We drank more crisp white South African wine. 

Our last day in Zanzibar, we relocated over to Stone Town where Daniel took us on a walking tour of the city. We stopped at an old church and he guided us down into the slave chambers beneath the floor boards. With 24 of us down there, and the sun high, the air inside the chamber grew thick and it was hard to imagine what it would be like with 75 people. Crammed into the dimly lit, stone-walled chamber, feeling faint, I imagined the conditions of the slave trade in Zanzibar. It was the most sobering experience we’ve had so far.

Afterward, we wandered around the market and I bought a pair of traditional Masai sandals – made from car or motorbike tires – as a secret santa gift. I had to haggle hard to get the price I wanted, and the whole transaction made me feel dirty and tired. Colin and I began making our way back to the hotel, got lost, and then Colin stepped in a giant brown puddle and came out with a chocolate foot. T.I.A.

We finally got back to our hotel with the help of a local (after searching and asking in vain for 15 minutes as our helplessness climaxed until, just in the nick of time, an English speaking Zanzibarian intervened). We sprawled out in the air conditioning. Colin washed his foot and we started out again for the Africa House, where our group was to reconvene for the sunset and cocktails. The sunset was a bit anticlimatic, the cocktails were expensive, and we were drenched in sweat. I had a vague feeling of guilt, spending so much money on cocktails after haggling over one or two dollars in the market. To drown our sorrows, we walked over to the ocean-side night market and bought as many fish kabobs as we could eat. Tuna, shrimp, and kingfish followed by a ginger, lime, sugar cane juice. Dessert was a banana and nutella pancake.

This morning we were meant to catch the 7:30am ferry, but again we caught the 9:30am ferry, and then we were informed that the truck was having battery problems (mild confusion and discontent that these problems were not resolved while we were in Zanzibar for 4 days) and we wouldn’t begin our drive toward Malawi. Instead we had to haggle bus fare for 24 people back to the campground. It turned out the bus driver we enlisted could not count and provided a bus without enough seats, so we had to get a car. While crammed on the bus, sweating, waiting, a man approached the bus selling ice cream. Sunya accidentally got two for the price of one, and gave me a free ice cream. It was the best free ice cream of my life.

Hopefully the bus repair goes as planned. We have two very long days of driving ahead if we are to make it to Malawi by Christmas. For now, we spend one more night camping next to the Indian Ocean.


One comment

  1. Damn, I forgot about those delicious pancakes at the night market in Stone Town! Yum! When we were on Zanzibar, the entire undercarriage of our truck fell off and we got delayed in Dar for a couple days upon our return, so weird that you got delayed in the same place! Can’t wait to see some sweet underwater pics from your diving adventure! Xo

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s