(starting this episode while waiting for our flight from Zanzibar to Tanga)
We enjoyed our last Sopa breakfast with Upendo and loaded up for the Serengeti airport with lots of time to spare if we saw something along the way which caught our eye. We got caught up in a convoy of vehicles and so decided to take a detour so avoid getting too dusty before our flight. Saw a few lions languishing near a tree we had passed the day before. It appears that this is one of their favourite places. Otherwise the drive to the airport was quiet with a few stops along the way to chat to oncoming drivers. They must have been wondering why our viewing bay was closed... since we were not really following game and wanted to keep the dust out, as much as possible.
We arrived at the airport (actually a mud airstrip with a small hut which served as the terminal building) with lots of time to spare. However our plane was already on the apron and so John decided to take our bags over to it so that the pilot, who loads the baggage, could place the baggage to balance the load. I noticed a civilian seated in the co-pilot's seat on a neighbouring similar plane (Caravan) and so asked the pilot, who was from the US, if this was a full flight and if the co-pilot's seat had been spoken for yet. I lucked out and got to ride shotgun all the way to Arusha without touching any buttons. It was a pretty neat vantage point but the high instrument panel made seeing out the front during flight a difficult proposition. The side windows offered a better view but I got to take a video of the take off and landing.
There was relatively little turbulence, which from the front felt quite scary except when we reached a plateau and had to climb higher while combatting rising air currents coming off the hills. We could see the bomas of the local masai quite clearly and gradually the landscape started getting more populated as we approached Arusha. Soon we were descending into Arusha and a multitude of mabati roofed houses indicating the suburbs of Arusha. We landed (safely despite the co-pilot) and taxied to the terminal where we were able to get a snack (of samosas - veggie and beef) at the terminal restaurant. It appeared that our onward flight to Zanzibar had been slightly delayed but there was not much time to check out the dutyfree (none!) before being summoned to get ready (ie. go through security) to board our next flight.
This one had a trainee co-pilot (could tell he was a trainee because he wore shorts!) and was not full so I could sneak over to the seat just behind the pilot to get a better vantage of the goings on. As we took off, we could see Kilimanjaro clearly in the distance and took several pictures of it framed by the wing struts. As we left Arusha the desolate landscape was increasingly dotted with huge rocks and boulders which blanketed the countryside except for the roads and fields from which they had obviously been cleared. This was the remnants of the volcanic eruption a few centuries ago now marked by the Chyulu mountains which are the youngest volcanic mountains in Kenya. It was amazing the amount of area covered by these volcanic rocks and unavailable for anything unless cleared.
The rocks petered out as we reached the coast and then it was only a few more minutes as we descended into Zanzibar. From my vantage point on the left side of the plane, I was able to take a couple pictures of the crowded area below, not knowing that I was actually taking pictures of Stone Town and the Tembo hotel where we were to spend the next 3 days. A crew of 3 young men from Sun Safari met us at the airport and transported us to Tembo which was the last part of our trip with Visit Africa Ltd. They were exceptional with all their arrangements and all our connections went off without a hitch. Thank you Lewis and Heather.
Tembo was an imperial house that had fallen into disrepair on the seafront before being renovated for a hotel. The rooms were beautifully appointed with antique furniture (including a chest which we used as a suitcase stand) modern washroom facilities with an ornate tiled shower stall and remote controlled air conditioning. All rooms were also equipped with a ceiling fan for those who preferred to use it. A small balcony overlooked the swimming pool (which was probably a courtyard in the original home) and the patio which opened out to a board walk cafe and the beach for those who wished to have a sunset dinner. The location in Stone Town was perfect as it was walking distance from all the main attractions which we were soon to find out, venturing out on our own to Forodhani Gardens for the evening marketplace of gastronomic delights.
I was determined to get into the pool as soon as I saw it but when I went downstairs to get a towel and explore a little, we found that the ocean was just a few more steps away. Why anyone would settle for an artificial ocean is beyond me and without any waves it was like walking into a swimming pool. At first, the water felt cold but after gently easing into it, it was extremely comfortable. I enjoyed the water for about an hour, with a few other residents of the hotel and many of the locals splashing about as well. By then, Lisette had found a comfortable spot on the boardwalk and had ordered an evening tea which I joined in. They had a ornately furnished patio which sported a big screen TV which had CNN on in the background when the channel wasn't on a football game.
After a quick shower to desalinate, we decided to take a walk along the seafront before nightfall, having been warned about avoiding dark alleys at night. The area was busy with residents enjoying the evening sun and foreigners taking a break from their tours. We walked up to the port where a ferry that had just arrived from Dar was causing a traffic jam so we decided to walk back after checking out the menu at Mercurys. Although it looked interesting and the venue, being on the water, was appealing, we declined as they didn't take cards and Lisette hadn't got around to changing our funds to local currency. As we were to find out, none of the restaurants in the area, including the upscale ones, took credit cards so we had to make sure we had cash in the future.
We were attracted to the stalls at the night-time marketplace at Forodhani gardens but were turned off by the flies who were enjoying all the mishkaki too. We decided to play it safe with mohogo and mahindi which we enjoyed with lime, salt and chili powder. The mahindi, like before, had hard kernels which required more chewing than I was used to. However, that didn't deter me from enjoying it to the last, leaving a bare cob for the stray cats that were all over the gardens. Interestingly, there was not a dog in sight and we never saw one until the end of our stay in Zanzibar when I spied two dogs frolicking out in the low tide at Nungwi. As it got dark, the place livened up, getting busier as the street lights came on and the vendors established their territories. They all had their ambassadors soliciting passersby to their stalls, those speaking better English getting the attention of the foreign tourists while the locals didn't need to be persuaded as they all had their own favourites. Although this area was quite active and didn't appear threatening at all, Lisette felt that we had better heed the travel advice and we started making our way back to Tembo as the next day was to be a busy one on the Safari Blue.
We returned to Tembo for dinner where we both opted for the shrimp curry with rice, a traditional Goan coastal meal. We were not disappointed by the choice and retired for the night more than satisfied. We came back to our room to find the mosquito nets lowered and the faint smell of the insecticidal spray used to eliminate any wily intruders who were looking for a meal. After confirming the pick-up time for the next day, I turned on the air conditioner and turned off the fan, that was left on "full speed" by the turn-down staff. The night was too short, having been woken by the call to 5am prayers by a nearby mosque. Although not intrusive, it was a reminder that we were in a predominantly muslim area.
Big day - Safari Blue - our first water safari was off to a rocky start as we realized that we had forgotten to pack sunscreen. A frantic search for a store that was open and carried SPF50 was fruitful and our obliging driver from Madeira Tours made sure that we had everything we needed. The drive to the staging area for the safari was about 30 minutes, along a smooth wide highway except for the last 100m or so when we left the asphalt which felt like Masai Mara! We arrived to find a few people already there and met up with some other Canadians, from Ottawa and Vancouver. Although we were less than a dozen gathered, we were to learn that we were to expect another few dozen to join us, which caused some consternation among our fellow safari-bluers. However, when the 60-odd crowd was assembled, we were assigned to three boats each carrying between 15-20 people based on the groups travelling together. We lost our Canadian compatriots and were assigned to Sungini, a boat captained by Simba, a wizend sailor with his crew of 4 who kept the Koreans, French, South African and us Canadian passengers happy by plying us with drinks and snacks.
We set off under outboard power with the possibility of returning under sail power if the winds were favourable. On our way to our first snorkelling stop, we stopped to watch a pod of bottlenosed dolphins playfully frolicking in the open ocean. More common are the hump-backed dolphin so we were lucky to see the bottlenoses. The snorkelling area was about 100m off a sandbar island and we were instructed on how to use the equipment which had been smeared with a special cleaning agent to keep the glass from fogging (which we later learnt was Colgate toothpaste!), The flippers were difficult to negotiate while on board and getting off by the ladder but we were thankful for them once in the water. The clear water had a visibility of probably 20 feet to the bottom of the ocean and the magnificent coral formations, huge clams and numerable colourful fish that made for an exiting experience. Not knowing what to expect, I decided to leave my GoPro onboard but immediately regretted that decision and hoped that we would get more opportunities like this.
We climbed back on board and were treated to (ma)dafu water and meat. My second was more mature with less water and a denser, coconut flesh. We arrived at our second snorkelling spot, in the open water close to the edge of a coral reef. As the first few swimmers entered the water we started hearing complaints of discomfort, stinging sensations and even though the guides tried to play it down as 'plankton' there was a rush to get back on board after confirming that the area was infested with jelly fish. Needless to say, we had some very unhappy people on board sporting red welts indicative of jellyfish stings. Later at lunch, we confirmed that the people from the other boats, including the Canadians, had a similar experience. Needless to say, we didn't stay long at that location and instead headed to the next spot which was a sheltered cove bordered with mangrove. Although not very deep, the sea floor was rocky with coral and the shallow depth made visibility murky until you got into the still waters of the mangrove roots where there were lots of tiny fish and crustaceans scurrying about the forest. Although the visibility wasn't the best, we got an idea of why these mangroves are so important to the marine ecosystem as they are the nurseries for many of the oceans fish species. With development along the sea coast and marine farming of shrimp and fish, the mangrove forests are being depleted to the detriment of other marine species.
A short cruise from the cove, we came to a secluded beach shack that was set up for lunch. We were asked to head to the row of tables with the name of our boat and arranged ourselves into groups on the tables. We sat across from the other semi-retired couple from Durban and had at our table a young couple from Cape Town. The fourth couple were from France and spoke limited English. We were again plied with drinks of our choice, a cold beer being my staple. We could get a great aroma from the grill as we sat waiting and were told to take two plates for our food - one for the rice and vegetables and the other for the barbequed seafood - which consisted of rock lobsters (a large crayfish) and two types of grilled fish (which we never did identify). The starches were rice, roasted ugali cakes, sweet potatoes and corn. A call for seconds gave me second thoughts but fortunately I resisted as the piece d'resistance was the parade of dessert fruit being carved fresh and passed down the rows. It started off with mbuya (sugared fruit from the baobab tree which had the taste and consistency of a unitary tamarind with a similar large seed). Lisette has documented all the fruits on her facebook page.
We were totally stuffed when we were invited to top it off with Tanzanian coffee, either black or whitened with Amarula. Couldn't pass that up so the post prandial hike to the old baobab trees was preceded by a pit stop at the latrines, which were kept clean by a dedicated member of the team. The baobab trees were impressive, one standing and the other fallen but still alive and growing. The fallen tree had a large number of footholds by which to climb it but no easy supports so Lisette thought better of getting a better picture and got down as soon as I took one of her in a precarious postion. We made our way back to the beach to find a beach cot to nap on in the shade while we waited for the others to get their turn to ride a sail driven catamaran out to sea and back. Soon it was time to return and by a vote, we decided to make a stop at our original snorkelling location so I would get my chance to film it on the GoPro. No sooner as we reached the drop off spot, I got into the water without the cumbersome flippers but with my camera. That was a mistake as I found it difficult to keep up with the rest of the group swimming off to the boat which had gone ahead to the sand spit for the land lubbers to stretch their legs. Soon I realised that I was being left behind and decided on concentrating on swimming in the right direction than getting sidetracked looking for photo opportunities.
On arriving at the boat, one of the last, I realised that the rest of the passengers were concerned about me as I kept being swept off course by a stiff wind and a bit of a current. The wind was fine for sailing so we hoisted ours and continued back to the mainland under windpower. Exhausted but exhilarated by our adventure we made our way back to Tembo to clean up and keep a date with Mary Madeira who was supposed to come to the hotel to meet us. We had just ordered a tea when Tony Madeira showed up with a friend, Amin, who he had grown up with in Zanzibar and who now lived in the US. He invited us out to dinner and since we had just heard about Camlurs, a Goan-Indian restaurant in Stone Town, he invited us to a meal there. We drove there with the intention of Mary meeting us and ordered our meals, I had a squid curry with rice, Lisette opted for fried shrimp which was supposed to be accompanied with fries but came with pasta! Mary joined us later but didn't order anything as she had been visiting friends all afternoon and had been plied with food and snacks all evening. She dropped us back to Tembo in her little Toyota.
At breakfast the next morning we met Anthony and told him about our experience at Camlurs the previous night. We also asked him about Louis Yohgurt Parlour which was operated by the sister of a friend in Canada. Anthony knew exactly the restaurant, which was just around the corner, and told us that the proprietor, Blanche, usually walked along the beach in front of Tembo, sometimes going for a swim. We told him that we were keen to meet Blanche if he saw her. Sure enough, as we finished our breakfast, Anthony called us to let us know that he had hailed Blanche as she was returning from her swim and she obliged although she was dripping wet and draped with a towel. After introducing ourselves and a brief chat, we promised to visit her at the restaurant.
We had made plans to meet Tony at his office for a personal tour around Stone Town in the morning. We headed over, walking up the alley we had driven the previous night when Tony pointed out his office just opposite the Dhow Palace hotel, which he also manages. Along the way we kept getting side tracked with all the shops along the way. When we got to the Madeira HQ (it also houses the DHL courier franchise that Mary manages) we got a chance to meet Abdullah, Tony's efficient manager who worked with Lisette to co-ordinate our Zanzibar/Tanga/Dar portion). After confirming our transfer from Tembo to Double Tree Hilton at Nungwi with a tour of the spice farms along the way, we headed off with Tony for a tour of Stone Town - Madeira style. He gave us a real flavour of the area instead of the regular historical tours of the area. Our first stop was to sample the famed Zanzibar Mix from the best cook in town, < ... >. From there we proceeded to the market area, sampleing roasted mohogo, raw mango and jackfruit along the way. As we wound our way around the alleys and byways of Stone Town, Tony pointed out houses of interest (mostly where Goans who had migrated to Canada who we may know had lived) and then paid a visit to the St. Joseph's Cathedral which has been undergoing some renovations but is still in need of major care to save the interior facades that are crumbling due to water damage from a leaky roof. As we found our way back to the Madeira office, we stopped for a refreshig lassi and Victoria (bungo) fruit juice at Louis Yohgurt Parlour and Goan Restaurant. Blanche was a gracious host and refused to accept any payment for the refreshments. We continued on our way after taking a picture with her and we were expecting to head back to the hotel for the afternoon but Tony would have none of it. He had already made arrangements to take us over to his place for lunch which was on the outskirts of town very close to the airport. His promise of a simple meal was brought into doubt after seeing his 'modest' house. The double storied building was constructed with a view to renting out the bottom floor (which he has done) and living quite comfortably upstairs in 3 self contained rooms with a large kitchen/dining and living area.
We relaxed with a cold beer and a tastefully simple lunch of fish curry, fried fish and rice. After enjoying seconds, we got a tour of the house and rooftop with Tony pointing out all the fruit trees he had planted around the house, including a coconut sapling smuggled from Goa! We spent some time relaxing after lunch before we were ready to head back home but not without a driving tour around the city. As we approached the market area, we remembered that there were a few things we wanted to pick up since we would be leaving Stone Town the next day and so Tony found a parking spot just outside the market from where we could venture out. We looked, in vain, for a copy of "100 ways to tie a Kanga" which we had seen previously listed for $25! This thin paperback in black & white coudn't have been worth more than a few dollars so we skipped the expensive copy in the hope of finding a cheaper one (which we eventually did at the Zanzibar airport for $7!) Another 'must have' was Zanzibar halwa so Tony took us to the best store in town where we bought a few packages to take back with us and a couple of samplers. Done for the day, Tony dropped us off at Tembo with the warning that he was going to return as soon as he had installed a new stereo system into his car.
True to his word, Tony was back around 7:30p with Amin in tow to take us out to a night on the town - Forodhani style. We winced at the thougth of the flies but somehow, Tony seemed to know what he was doing and soon we were marvelling at how he had taken over a barbeque, expertly grilling skewers of meat and liver while deftly heating up the nan-like Zanzibar breads. Before we knew it, we were seated at a roadside table, sipping a cold one and nibbling on mishkaki. No sooner had we finished our first course, two Zanzibar pizzas arrived. Having heard the rave about these unique creations, we were eager to sample them and it was like no pizza we had ever tasted. It was a crusty omlette cut into bit-sized slices that left us wanting more when a couple of chillas showed up to enjoy with our tangawizi tea we ordered from Babu's Tea stand. He had a variety of teas and coffees but Tony insisted that we try the ginger brew with sugar only. Having a preference for ginger, I loved the pungent brew, not sure what the others thougth of it but I could see Tony clearly enjoying his choice.
We left Forodhani with much better memories than before and bade a fond farewell to Tony and Amin as we had to pack up our bags from the longest and most enjoyable stay at any one single location on the trip. We were looking forward to two days at Nungwi with just the sea and the sand for company after our tour of the spice farm on the way.