Africa. Stop #random. Few days with nice people in the scorching sun of Zanzibar, Tanzania. Here’s a few words about my short experience in Africa, made possible with the huge pull from my lovely girlfriend, Cristina. One year ago I was really not expecting to set foot on two more continents (Asia and Africa), but life’s full of surprises!
First, I have to mention that it was my only agency-organized trip I’ve been on so far. That means no stress about where you stay, what you do, what you eat, how to move around and where to go for fun. I know, really not my type of travel. And because I’m a control freak, this might have been the last one of its kind. With a bit of help and a little bit of “yolo” mindset, I decided to join the trip only about a week before the departure date. Finding a return ticket was a bit problematic since I was returning earlier, and to Prague instead of Bucharest, but the agency figured that out too at a reasonable price.
Another good reason that weighted in the decision was my cousins and my aunt living in UAE, who I finally had the chance of meeting after too many years to count. Thanks to Radu, we got picked up at the airport and enjoyed a bit of Dubai at night accompanied by a good dinner, and the next day we spent more time driving around the city with my cousin Andrei and Aura, my aunt. It was that once in a lifetime family reunion, possible only because the stars lined up and we were ready to seize the moment.
With no preparation for the trip, no research done in advance, we landed on this African island of Tanzania – Zanzibar in the middle of the night. The way out of the airport was so shady, like a public vegetable market exit, where you get fingerprinted and your luggage X-Ray’d, only to reach the parking lot where a bunch of drivers were trying to offer their services. Not that touchy as in Latin America though. Tired enough after the long flight, we almost missed they drive on the left side of the road. Mostly because the roads are not marked at all, the signals are completely missing, and everyone drives on the center of the road, avoiding heads-on collisions in the last seconds. I felt all the time they’re playing this “chicken” game with the incoming traffic.
And you think Romania is the place to learn how to drive? You think that surviving Bucharest teaches you a lesson? False! Try Africa. Try Colombia. (Or India/China if you’re a true daredevil). However, due to ‘flourishing’ economy of this African state, the bribery is a normal thing. If the police (“polisi”) stops you, just prepare some money. They probably don’t have papers to show anyway. And that makes total sense once you know the two principles governing their lives are “Hakuna matata” (no worries/no problems) and “pole-pole” (slowly/chill/tranquillo).
Leaving behind the general lack of education, the partially built houses in the middle of nowhere with no rooftop or any obvious purpose, and the predominantly manual labor of the fields, we reach the wonderful beaches with creamy white sand and calm waters. A paradise for beach lovers, but not so much for the swimmers, as the sea is full of salad and urchins. The reefs are pretty close to the shore, so in low tide you can swim with the colorful fishes (like we also did one day). Well, “swim” is a far stretch for me since I swallowed half of the ocean while snorkeling that hour.
If you check the map, the island is maybe 70km long and 40km wide, but every trip we took started with at least one hour drive. There are plenty of things to do on the island, and as I heard kite-surfing and scuba-diving are on the table. No wind while we were there and no free places for scuba-diving, but the organized trips were also exciting enough to fill the days.
Zanzibar is well known for its spices. A day at the spice farm was surely a must. That’s where we saw local produce grow: cloves (their king of the spices), cinnamon (their queen of the spices), nutmeg (very fucking expensive and beautiful too), pepper, many exotic fruits, roots, herbs, and the coconut-tree climbers ‘hot, sexy, and full of muscles’. Lunch there was average, but the fruit tasting at the end was really worth it for many of us. Jack fruit, mango, durian, rambutan, maracuja, guavas, coconuts, and some more popular to us like ananas and watermelon (FU English, there’s no pine, nor apple in ‘pineapple’). I was surprised by the way the coffee grows here. It was my first time seeing a coffee tree high above the ground. Alex, meet the strong robusta coffee (coffea canephora). After lunch, happy bellies = happy people. Time to go shopping for some spices sold by the farm (got some saffron threads) and enjoy the next 2h in the shade wating for the driver to return with the car. As they say… “hakuna matata”.
We didn’t quite understand the people dressed up as masai all around the place until the driver told us they do it for the tourists (pictures+money, or blondes+fun-time). We were more impressed by the women carrying huge baskets on their heads and their colorful clothes matching so well with the tones of their skin. Or the construction workers sweating like pigs in the hot sun, with bodies worthy of world class bodybuilding competitions. With that massive size, can’t stop wondering why they don’t wear short pants 🙂 Thanks to the common will of the group we also experienced a bit of the local music and dancing when a band came one evening to sing and dance on the beach. Some improvised instruments, a violin, some maracas (shac-shacs), and some random lyrics, is all they needed to get their ladies’ asses dancing in a slow-reggaeton style. It was a delight watching the single guys drooling over their moves, waiting for their turn to get dragged to the center, by the fire.
Another day was spent on a trip to Zanzibar city, Changuu Island, and the food market on the beach. The colonial city is not very nice, not even close to Cartagena, and the historical buildings are falling apart while there seems to be no interest in restoring them, but the stories told by our guide were passionate and heartwarming. The short history lesson was followed by a boat trip to Prison Island (or Changuu Island). A small island acting like an illegal slave trade lockup, a prison, and later a quarrantine zone, that was now partially transformed into a turtle sanctuary. You can roam among huge land-turtles living in captivity the oldest of which is 192 years old, peacoks, and few other scared animals running around (some say they were dik-dik, I’d call them rabbits). And here you can watch a ravishing act of sex with screams and vomiting. Among turtles. Yes, that’s how they roll. After some snorkeling we filled our bellies on the main island eating street food in Zanzibar city and sharing it with the cats.
And speaking of animals, the next day we went for a hike in the jungle – “Jozani forest”, where we learnt about the plants and trees unique to this place, and chased some boring monkeys. It wasn’t my best day after that street food, so I found it difficult to enjoy it too much. At least the boardwalk through the mangrove forest was relaxing and the opportunity to plant your own mangrove tree was a nice touch. We’ve been taken to some other ‘nice’ places like fancy hotels or expensive restaurants filled with filthy rich europeans coordinating their businesses by the swimming pool, but those are not really worth mentioning. “The Rock” is one of these expensive places, iconic for Zanzibar, where some dared to get a coffee and pay for the luxury. Oh yes, and we also had some free time to linger around the beach/pool/accomodation, aka days off from the trip schedule where we played cards, drank rum, etc, and all that in 5 days!
All in all I’d call it a nice experience, a little taste of Africa. Never again though. Or maybe some Morocco one day. And Egypt 🙂 Because of so many similarities, I can’t stop comparing Africa to Latin America in terms of food, climate, buildings, and… well, people. Needless to say, Latin America wins all categories, but the most striking difference is the people. I don’t want to point out the obvious aspect of color, but the vibe and their way of life.
Till the next adventure, safe travels!