Friday, 30 September 2011

Zanzibar - the African Safari [end]

From the previous post: "...Next day morning, Abombe would be dropping us off at the airport from where we would be flying to laid back Zanzibar. The final days of this magnificent journey were upon us..."

Be it an exhilarating journey or a deep thought train, reaching the end is always a bitter-sweet moment. So was this.

The day began as usual with the breakfast, pack up, double-check everything is in the right place, get into the land cruiser and leave for the airport. Having said bye to Joachim, our cook, last night when we arrived at the Oasis resort, now it was time to say bye to Abombe, our kind, faithful, knowledgeable and helpful driver/guide. Having gotten into the small 'Kilimanjaro' airport, we boarded the now familiar ATR aircraft from Precision Air.

Last view of Arusha
We took off on time and were soon winging our way across the sea to the island of Zanzibar and its charms.

Zanzibar

In Muscat, we had met many an Omani whose family had been Zanzibari at some point of time. There is a huge historical narrative that could be written up about it (maybe I will, in another post). I think it would suffice to say that the linkage between Oman and Zanzibar is quite strong. So my appetite for the place, its culture and cuisine had already been whetted even before ever stepping on the land.

As we finally winged over the sea and began the descent it felt great to see fishing trawlers and aquamarine blue water lashing upon the white sand beaches. Landed and collected our baggage from the handlers directly, as there was no luggage conveyor belt. Interestingly, here we had to get our passports out and again stamped with a 'visa' on arrival but there was no additional fees to pay.

We got out of the airport and waited near the exit for a bit. Our driver had not turned up. It seems there had been some mix up about the time we were to arrive and therefore the hotel had not sent the chap. After getting the communication sorted out, the guy was with us in 15 minutes. Not a very big place, really.

Reached the hotel. It was an old building, converted into a hotel. No lifts. We had to climb four levels of stairs and then some, to reach our room. It was a large airy place, with lots of sitting area on the roof as well as in the courtyard. First view was lovely. During low tide, sand bars form near the beach. Some enterprising people would set up temporary luncheon tables and food, which could be had for a fee. Sadly, we didn't have the time to be able to do this, but it certainly looked good from where I was viewing it.

Lunch in the middle of the sea!
Having freshened up, we headed out for a walk to the nearby beach, some of Tanzania's refreshing chilled brews and a wholesome lunch.


Hunger sated, it was time for some walking around and exploring the area, which is called 'stone town'. It is the older part of Zanzibar. It felt good walking around a place, that looked so ancient yet well maintained. It was by the seafront and known as Forodhani in the local parlance. The Arab influence was evident in the architecture and people.

Foradani, Stone Town, Zanzibar
There were quite a few museums around as well, which attested the historical importance Zanzibar had, in the past when slavery used to be a roaringly profitable business and African natives were captured and transported from the very same loading docks to the then new age countries of Europe and America.

The styling of the buildings, columns, stair cases and stained glasses were all very interesting to observe and capture.


One of my companions, was by this time feeling quite the 'non-city' person, having been on the safari for a week. So she went off to get some 'beautification' done and become 'presentable'. I guess, it was important for her.

Meantime, two of us decided to meander around the place. We came to a nice park, where we sat down and were conversing about various subjects. When, a man with rastafarian hair locks and dress, came and sat down right next to us. Asking us, where we were from and as I suspected, it turned out to be a sales pitch for some service. I informed him, we were really not interested. He kept insisting. Had to make it distinctly clear, we were not buying whatever he was selling. He actually had the nerve to get offended. Wow. Talk about aggressive sales.

Eventually, we caught up with the now 'glamorous' version of our companion and headed out to for some local cuisine. Had to walk around a bit, before we finally managed to locate a restaurant that had only local Zanzibari food. It was an interesting fare, though bit bland. We tried about 6 different types of food and ended it with a local dessert, as well. I discovered that what is termed 'cassava' in Zanzibar is 'tapioca' in Kerala. Muhogo wa nazi literally translates to 'coconut cassava'. Ugali - maize flour cooked to a dough like consistency eaten usually with beef and sauces or vegetable stew, was another local dish, favoured at Forodhani. Vitumbua - rice cup cakes, reminded me of the Khushboo idly found in Chennai, India. Hot and soft Crepes were also interesting.

Post dinner, we headed out to the 'night market' that would be set up near the park we had been in the afternoon. So through twisting alleyways we made our way to the market. The walk distinctly reminded me of the paths I had walked through, on my way to school, in the older part of Ahmedabad in my childhood. Interestingly, there were quite a few Indian shop keepers there as well. And the place was redolent of the six spices that Zanzibar was now renowned for.

By the time we made it to the night market, one of the visiting trio had become too exhausted to continue and retired for the night. The remaining two, then explored the various food fare on display, for the night market was exactly that. A temporarily set up area where hawkers would come on their push carts, display various kinds of sea food, and it would be cooked right in front of you. Some of the food reminded me of a 'tapas' style of cooking.

After this, we drifted toward the old fort in the same Foradani area, where we witnessed a uniquely local style of musical performance known as Taarab. Then it was back to hotel, climb up four floors and some deep slumber.

Inner courtyard
Next day morning, waking up the salty sea breeze twinged with the smell of fish, it felt quite different to the past week. It was pack up time. Went down for a standard continental breakfast, deposited the bags and took off again for a walk around the place, before we headed to the pier where we were taking the ferry to Dar-es-Salaam, the capital of Tanzania and our exit point back to Muscat.

When we reached the ferry site, it was crowded with passengers. After a week of the open vistasendless plains and gorges, it felt a bit stifling. Finally, made it on board the ferry.


As we started the two and a half hour journey to Dar-es-Salaam, while viewing Forodhani from the sea, there was a twinge of regret at not having spend enough time here and a hope to return back to this place and discover more of what it had to offer. I felt this way once before, on the Andaman and Nicobar islands in India (a post will be up soon).


After docking at Dar-es-Salaam, we found our way out, with the unmistakable sounds of a city ringing in the ears. Apart from slight nausea that one of my companions felt on riding the waves, nothing untoward had happened. We were met by the brother of one of our colleagues, who was kind enough to show us a bit of the city and take us to a restaurant.

As I was walking to the restaurant, I looked up and saw a beautiful set of murals depicting the wildlife of Tanzania, on the under hang of the roof.


I must state, that while the lunch was good, the location and the view were simply outstanding. It was an outdoor restaurant by a cove, and the shimmering water out there was crystal clear and tantalizingly close by, so much so that I wished I had the time to put on swimming trunks and jump in.


After having seen and partaken in such beauty, it was that time when the airport looms in front of you and the realisation stings as it settles in, it was time to head back. While a part me looks forward to being back to the known and familiar, the soul still yearns for experiencing more such beauty that only Earth has.

If reading is living, writing is re-living. I have thoroughly enjoyed bringing to life and immortalising these memories. I hope you too have enjoyed every bit of it. And shared the joy with your friends too. As they say in Swahili, asante sana and kwaheri for now.

3 comments:

  1. I live in Dar es salaam. You have covered Zanzibar very well. Msuri, sanaa!

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  2. Looks like a nice place from your narration and the pictures. Thanks for sharing Anish. :)

    Saru

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  3. Jambo Hariharan. Asante sanaa, indeed it is a pleasure to get an affirmative comment. Also I am sure, I could be much better. Tanzania is a beauty to behold :)

    Thank you Saru, for the positive feedback and suggestions. Very helpful and kind of you. I did set up the FB page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/anish-whatalife/157282057696666), but found this new dynamic template to be rather nice even though I can't yet customise it fully. How do you feel about the FB page and the template?

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Your comments are welcome. I am all ears.