The Spice Island

Trip Start Sep 01, 2004
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Trip End Apr 25, 2005


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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Sunday, November 14, 2004

Greetings Everyone,

Zanzibar is called the "spice Island" and it's a magical place to visit. Like all of the East African coast line, the Indian Ocean is dazzling. The turquoise water is very clear, bath temperature and the beaches have fantastic, powder like, white sand. All of those pictures that you have seen with those long, white sand beaches, must have been taken some where along here. The water is very saline, like the South Pacific. You can float on your back motionless and watch the clouds pass by for as long as you can stay awake. The only downside is your tan. Jo Ann looks darker than I have ever seen her and me with my Native American coloring have almost turned black. We always wear our hats but it doesn't seem to help much. Walking on the beach is like being in the snow it's so bright.

We flew into Stone Town, the biggest city on Zanzibar, and there were only four of us that got off the plane. There are tourists here but they are all European and most are part of tour groups. The town itself and the countryside, unlike Lamu, has many roads and plenty of transportation options. Old Town, where we are staying, is made up of all of these little alleyways that are anywhere from 3 to 8 feet wide, and just seem to curve around without any real direction. Half of these little alleys are wall to wall shops, on both sides, that sell everything from tourist crap to potatoes. This seems to be the way that all cities were setup hundreds of years ago in almost all the cities we have visited since we left home. When you first arrive it's sometimes tough to get your bearings. I use my own system where I tend to follow the most well worn paths or where the largest number of people flow. I never get lost so I must be doing something right. JoAnn, on the other hand, needs about three trips to the same destination, using the same route, before she gets the hang of things. She says it's a girl/guy thing. Now I know why she keeps me around.

The temperature is hot here and the humidity feels like 100 percent. the first couple of days decided to really splurge and get a hotel room with A/C and a TV, so we could watch BBC to get some election news and enjoy not sweating.

We went on a half day tour of the spice and fruit plantations and now I know about ten times more about fruits and spices than anyone, except maybe JoAnn, needs to know. Of course I will never be able to remember half of it. The tropical fruits are very strange looking, but taste sooooooooooo good. Some of them are so scary looking on the outside you are convinced that nothing inside could taste so good. Zanzibar is mostly known for it's vanilla, and nutmeg, but they do grow coffee and cinnamon also.

After two days in Stone Town we moved up to Metemwe Beach Village on the northeastern tip of the island. It's right on the beach and perfect for swimming, diving, and working on your tan. I was in relax mode and JoAnn was in "keep me busy before I go crazy" mode. We have met so many wonderful people here and formed some friendships that we hope will be lifelong. When you slow down long enough to really spend time with folks, they have amazing stories. Of course almost everyone is from U.K. or Australia, or New Zealand, or Europe. They seem to be the only people that know how to travel. JoAnn went diving one day and felt that the coral and fish life was OK, but not spectacular. I guess we will have to wait for Thailand and Indonesia for the really good stuff.

About one half mile out from the beach there is a reef, so the wave action is minimal on Matemwe during low tide. In the mornings when the tide is out the water within this area is only ankle to knee deep and the water comes to life with men dragging nets for fish, women collecting seaweed to dry and sell to the Japanese, and the children playing and swimming. The women wear their colorful materials which are beautiful against the turquoise water. The boys have fun catching crabs and tying string to their legs. On a normal day there could be 200 or more people up and down the beach doing their daily work and just as quickly, they would vanish as the tides came in. Then the Dhows would appear with the tide from their morning of fishing. We enjoyed watching it and hopefully got some good pictures.

We had planned to travel to The Seychelles and Madagascar over these two weeks but that travel monster reared it's ugly head and bit us. We planned to use small local flights to get us around in this part of the world. The weird thing is that each of these countries have one or two small airlines that never go where you want. To go to Madagascar we would have to fly to Nairobi on one airline, spend a night and then fly to Madascar on another, at a cost of $1200 each. It would be cheaper to fly back to Paris, then on to Madagascar. Then of course we would have two days of travel to get back to Nairobi, to move on to South Africa. We finally gave up and decided to relax on the beach. After two and a half months we probably need some relaxation time.

That gave JoAnn some time to buy a new swimming suit and some more clothes. Now she complains that she can't close her suitcase. My shirts are wearing out rapidly. I only have two, and the continued washing seems to make them thinner and thinner. We are about two weeks out of China so I hope they last until the cold weather.

After being in Africa for a while it's interesting to observe the people. They are very friendly and they always want to talk and joke with me, I suspect, because I'm so loud and laugh so much. They love to try and use their English language skills and get frustrated that they are sometimes so limited. I've learned to ask them easy questions and they really enjoy telling me about their lives. Half the people are what I call "traditional", and seem wary or completely ignore us. The "moderns", the other half, really enjoy the idea that you would like to engage in conversation with them. JoAnn is convinced it's really tied to their religious beliefs. Some of the Muslems seem so hard core and others are more relaxed about things. I suspect it's like that with all religions.

We returned to Stone Town for our last two days to do the Travelpod and get our travel chores completed before moving on. There was no Internet at the beach and that was limiting for us. JoAnn wanted a nice room with air conditioning so we are splurging for two nights. We try and keep our expenses as low as possible, without sleeping in the street, but we have to balance stuff out so we don't get burnt out before the trip is over.

I can tell we have been in Africa for a while because the newness has worn off. It now feels more like home and very few things catch your eye any more. I think the little things still get my attention, but those wide sweeping things that make up Africa seem pretty normal now. I find it funny when tourists get frustrated with the simple things that are part of being here. I'm constantly saying "you have to remember, this is Africa".

We are "Travelers". We stand out to other travelers, and I can pick them out on any street or at any airport. There are not really very many. I haven't met an American "traveler" yet. I suspect Americans really don't do this stuff. The tourists are all clean in their new clothes and have this slight uncomfortable look about them. Travelers are all dressed in their worn clothes and their shoes are completely different. They all move with a more comfortable gait and about ten times more patience. Imagine Don with patience. :^) They all know how to haggle with the locals and find the best deals. I find they are more aware of what is going on around themselves and they all seem to be having fun. I don't think we were "travelers" until we finished Egypt. Now we couldn't hide the fact. Connecting with "travelers"is a real bonus. We find out about future stops, trade hints and hazards, and keep in touch with each other about future destinations. Right now I'm keeping in touch with a young U.K. couple that are about to do India. They plan to go north and hopefully enter Nepal. Right now Nepal is a little shaky, as a destination, and I'm hoping for some "on the ground" info from them, as they should be there about two weeks ahead of us.

We leave for Nairobi tomorrow, then on to South Africa. From there we fly to Victoria Falls for two days, then back to Johannesburg. We then leave Africa and fly to Hong Kong. We will enjoy Hong Kong for four days while we get our Chinese visa, before flying to Beijing. Northern China is already cold so we get to buy some winter clothes. It seems so strange to talk about cold temperatures. Its like going from August in California straight to Alaska in December.

Thanks again to everyone that writes us. Its so nice to hear how everyone is doing. We miss you all and think of you often. Take care.

Don and JoAnn
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