Trip Start Feb 15, 2008
3Trip End Mar 02, 2008
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In the morning we met two Russians from Siberia who were staying at our hotel. Looks like they successfully sold some timber or some other natural resource, and decided to explore Africa, not being limited by the budget. Compared to us, they didn't have any specific plans and were just taking different transports to travel from Uganda to Kenya to Tanzania. Their driver managed to hit a pedestrian, so they all ended up in the local police station, but after a bribe continued their journey. Somehow they didn't sound very excited about Africa and managed to report only the poverty they saw... It's strange how people differ... We saw so much beauty that little negatives meant absolutely nothing... others focus on negatives so much... you can't help it by feel sorry for them... but on the other hand, I shouldn't be too critical. Maybe if we ended up at the local police station, I'd have a slightly different opinion of Africa as well...
Our flight to Zanzi departs from Kilimanjaro airport... Just 30 mins drive up North and her Majesty Kilimanjaro is standing in front of us. The tallest mountain of Africa: it's composed of three old volcanoes... however, some believe that their eruption is not totally out of the question. Of course, the top is covered with snow. It takes 6 days to climb it and descend... but that's certainly not on our to-do list. Can you believe that ~25000 people make it to the top of Kili per year!? Crazy!!! But I think this includes the number of porters as well... considering it's at least 3 porters per person, I guess it makes it a bit more than 6000 tourists... Ok, that's more realistic. Hey, there are no showers or toilets on that trip, that's for sure, and it's freezing at the top! In case you consider going, it costs about $800.
The airport is very empty... serving 6-10 flights per day. We spot a Qantas middle distance plane parked at the far end of the airport. Considering the size, it is way too small to fly from Australia. Only Swiss and KLM fly to this airport as major airlines are concerned... so perhaps that plane was a gift to Africa and the local airlines just didn't have time to re-paint it.
50 min flight and we are in Zanzibar
Stonetown is a capital of Zanzi but unfortunately it is very run down. Only hotels and a few shops look well-maintained, the rest of the buildings are in a very poor condition. Waterfront is under construction...so looks like someone invested into it and it should look beautiful after it's finished. We heard that Aga Khan wants to invest into Stonetown and Zanzibar and fix it. It would be a fantastic philanthropic step. This is a town of amazing beauty and when it's fixed it'll look truly as a stage for the 1001 nights. Maybe some people will find it depressing, but we were captivated by this place! Imagining what it was like during the Sultan's time, walking through its narrow streets, admiring the mixture of architectural styles, feeling the influence of colonial era and Oman Arabs, bargaining with the locals to the point that they were ready to beat me up, admiring speechlessly beautiful sunset
Historical Note: In case you didn't know Tanzania was born went Tanganyika and Zanzibar were combined into 1 country. Tanganyika was a British name for the Tanzania territory before the 1960. Zanzibar is not one island but an archipelago of Pemba and Unguja and 50 small islands. Stonetown and most resorts are located on Unguja. Zanzi (population 1 million) has its own flag, but otherwise, fully integrated into Tanzania. The history of Zanzibar can be explored at the House of Wonders museum. We wish we had more time to spend there! It is so fascinating... the life of sultans, the slave trade, the story of Princess Salme, the Arabs, the English, Dr. Livingston, etc, etc. We hope to go back some day... hopefully when the town is a bit better restored.
The rest of the day we spend shopping. I enjoyed barganing greatly and we managed to get some very nice things which will help us remember Africa!
After reading the recommendations online we headed to Africa House hotel to watch the sunset... well, it was one of those times when maybe following online suggestions is not a good idea
We had a lovely fancy dinner at Serena Inn (built by Aga Khan)... we sat by the window through which the drops from the sea were reaching our table. Lovely seafood, lovely service and the bill missing a 30$ entry! When we told them that they miscalculated our bill, the locals were shocked with our honesty... but certainly very pleased.
Day 10-14 Feb 24-29
Finally we arrive to our resort "Ocean Paradise" to relax for 5 days after our crazy adventures
The resort is truly lovely. Not very large... maybe 300 people... Mostly retired... There's about 15% of relatively young couples and about 5% of people with young kids. So, either it's the season or it's just Africa is too expensive and only older people can afford to come here.
The food is excellent... Buffets are terrible as weight control is concerned... but we managed to return sort of in a similar shape. The hotel has a local band which is VERY good. Whether it is a Swahili, Ocean or International night, they are up for fantastic singing and dancing to keep everyone happy during the dinner time
Our first trip (150m) to the beach surprises us with the absence of water. Well, it's a low tide and the ocean starts about in 600-700meters. After a few hours of waiting, the water level increases, but not too much... however, some swimming is possible. By the beach the water is quite dirty with sand and sea weed. But, we didn't mind that at all... the water of the temperature of your winter bath is just such a pleasure in February that some seaweed is not going to take smiles off our faces.
Locals are not allowed to approach the hotel territory, however, they occupy the beach and as soon as you enter "their territory": you get the standard introduction: "Jambo my friend! Hakuna matata! Where are you from, my friend? Italy?" At first they are quite annoying trying to sell you something or to guide you somewhere, but we have to give them a credit: a firm but polite "No" makes them go away... and by day 4 we stop even noticing them.
However, we were rather grateful to their presence when we decided to go on "snorkelling by foot." We brought with us flippers and masks and realized that when the water level is significantly below your knees the latter is actually useless. Considering that during 90% of our time on the beach, the water levels remained that low, we had no choice by to wear our flip flops and set off on a hiking trip into the Indian Ocean. Believe it or not, those three times that we went all the way to the waves were as fascinating as safari! Certainly not any less interesting than our snorkelling experiences in the Maldives last year. Plus this time we could take some amazing photos
The first trip to the waves was not very successful as we didn't realize how long it will take and we burned... Auch! The next few days were quite painful on my shoulders, but it didn't spoil the vacations anyway. On the third day, dressed in T-shirts and covered in a thick layer of sun screen we set off onto a 3 hr trip! How totally amazing, the trip to the corals is long and not very eventful, but when you get there, the wonders of the ocean won't stop surprising you! Having a local with us was very useful. He found some nice shells for us and guided us on the routes with the least number of urchins and he showed us what we can and cannot touch in the ocean. The sea stars, the octopuses, the fish and corals were so great and so on the surface!
On the last day we already felt like the locals and set off for such trip on our own. Half way through to the corals, one of the locals caught up with us. He didn't speak English and was very timid and kept a few meters away. Finally when we got to the corals and Tim managed to hold every possible urchin, star, and cucumber in his hand he called me and said... 'look, what do you think this is'... the moment he was about to touch it, the guide-boy yelled 'NO!' The water above that thing was ~30cm, so visibility was not perfect, but the boy explained with a few words he knew that it was a snake on the coral
You'll see from some pictures that the tides are used by the locals for seaweed farming. Women go into the sea in low tide, sit in the water for half a day, put the sticks into the water, tie ropes between them and add seaweed, so it grows on these ropes. Then they collect all this seaweed, dry it and sell to China. Chinese eat it. First I thought that these sticks are quite unpleasant to have in the water and tourists can hurt themselves if water levels rise and they go swimming... but we haven't seen water level rising high enough ... so I guess this business is no real harm...
Day 15 - Feb 29
We went to Dar Es Salaam by ferry from Stonetown. The ferry was comfortable and packed with people: mostly locals, but there were about 30% of white tourists. Ferry boarding was very bazaar, very chaotic and African, so we had fun:). Dar is the largest city in TZ and unofficial capital. The actual capital is Dodoma. But since Dar has a port and a few embassies and many government offices, it's sort of plays the role of NY of TZ. In Dar we went by foot to our hotel which was supposed to be only 10 mins away and turned out to be quite further. Considering the heavy luggage, we were absolutely exhausted and any explorations of Dar were postponed for the next day
Day 16 - Mar 1
Before heading to the airport at 1 pm, we had a few hours to explore Dar. First we went to the largest covered market in Africa and oh well, it was a truly African experience. Crazy smells, dirt, noise, etc. Without buying anything or taking any pictures we quickly got out of there and walked...and walked and walked until somehow we got back to our hotel! It seemed that taxi took quite a bit to bring us to the market but we managed to easily get back on our own. Dar did not impress much, but we realized it is not worse than Nairobi. It was certainly cheaper... it had better roads and was more Muslim so it had less churches
We've seen a small part of this amazing country. Tanzania has so much more to offer. There are more parks and islands, there are a lot of nice, pleasant and very welcoming people. But the best gift this country can give you is its nature. It's sublime, breathtaking, and unique. I hope TZ will be able to preserve its biosphere as long as possible. We didn't catch any diseases while in Africa, so nothing spoiled the trip. Every day was unforgettable! To make it all so perfect took a lot of planning, but it was worth it!
This is not an advertisement, this is a desire to share something amazing. If you decide to go to Tanzania, let us know, we'll give you all the tips on how to book the trip you'll never forget! We are in love with Africa and we cannot wait to go back ... maybe Madagascar next time or Gabon or Uganda or Reunion...we'll see. For now we are back to working hard and saving some money for the next big adventure!