Africa Journal 4: Stone Town, Zanzibar

Stone Town, Zanzibar as viewed on our boat to Prison Island

November 23, 2017

The Dala Dala Experience

The day was open. With a late flight out to Nairobi out of Zanzibar Airport at 7:30pm, the day was my oyster. After some discussion with Ellie, we decide to take on Stone Town for the day, giving us both the opportunity to explore it properly. Ellie made the experience more fun than it would have been alone. Not only that, but her two-months of intensive Swahili lessons really helped us communicate with the locals.

To say money, and for a more authentic experience, we elected to take the “dala dala” or minibuses that makes stops along routes on the island but operate in a much more casual fashion than a normal bus line. Plus, it only costs Tsh 2000 ($1) for an hour and a half journey in a crammed vehicle. We just had to wait for it at the Paje roundabout for pickup. I actually enjoyed the ride, not only because it was far cheaper than a taxi, but because we were the only white people in the bus and got to be elbow-to-elbow with locals going about their daily business.

The Old East Africa Slave Market

Remnants of the Slave Trade

Neither of us really planned specifics of Stone Town ahead of time, so we just wandered around for a while before heading towards the harbor. I fortunately was already ahead with sightseeing as I had my original taxi to Paje stop at the Old East Africa Slave Market just a couple days prior. It’s a now a church with the alter being the very location of the auction platform where the slaves dragged over from all over East Africa sold and shipped to the Americas.

The church alter at the former auction block site

Still existing to this day and underneath the church is the confinement areas. One chamber housed women and children, and the other was for men. The men were especially kept in down there long enough so some would die from starvation and dehydration and the strongest could be identified and then sold upstairs. Dozens of men were kept in these rooms in tiny confines, with nowhere to stand with a trough of sorts for human waste. It’s a very sad location but beneficial to see to reflect on their hellish treatment and understand what others endured with the goal of creating an awareness to ensure history never repeats itself. Sadly, in current events, slavery is very much real in this day, such as the captured refugees fleeing western and northern Africa for Europe, for instance.

Local boys play off the shore

Giant Tortoises Doing (Lots of) Time on Prison Island

Onto happier thoughts, Ellie and I scheduled to meet with a couple friends of hers that were staying in Stone Town and planned on venturing to Prison Island that afternoon. The island, known for its former prison of rebellious slaves that turned into a hotel and its tortoise sanctuary. It being one of Stone Town’s best attractions and from what we heard of it, we quickly decided we were in.

The Old Fort is not a bad thing to look at while waiting “forever” for pizza

Zanzibar has a well know market of street food somewhere near the harbor so we set out to find it, even though we didn’t have an exact location. After a pleasant walk around the seafront and down narrow, winding alleys of the neighborhood, we were unsuccessful and with meeting up with the island group in less than 30 minutes we had to settle for western food… pizza at a local cafe. I normally avoid western food on trips like these, but we were in a pinch and I must admit, it was pretty delicious. And we got to look at the Old Fort and clock tower from across the way while we waited. The point of the pizza was to get something quick but turns out it takes darn near a half hour for these things to pop out so we simultaneously ate and briskly walked in classic “rushed American” style. After all, they say Americans are always in a hurry, and we hit that stereotype to a T. Even eating while meeting the group, and continuing all the way to the boats, just 100 or so meters away.

The boat to Prison Island from Stone Town

The group we joined were American high school students on a homestay program and Ellie’s friends were group leaders. Besides the ride over on the wooden craft over to the island, I never got the chance to know them. Ellie didn’t have swimming gear and even though I did (I’ve been lugging around my entire bag with me the whole day), I didn’t want get wet and salty before flying.  So even though the rest of the crew started out with some snorkeling in the beautiful blue waters off the Zanzibar coast, we got dropped off right on the island and started to explore.

Boats anchors at Prison Island

We were in a time crunch, well I was because I had a flight to catch, but Ellie was nice enough to adjust to my schedule and saw the same things as me even though she’d have to repeat them later with her group after I leave on my separate ride back to the mainland. Now with little time and an island to explore, we headed straight for the tortoise sanctuary – the highlight of the trip over. Both of us snapping loads of photos each, we entered the sanctuary containing at least 20 or 30 humongous tortoises with dozens more younger ones. The hugest must have had shells of 2.5 or so feet long and 3 or 4 feet long with their long necks extended for some grub, and were known to be 120, 140, 160, up to 186 years old. It’s amazing how such a big, super slow animal has such a long lifespan. Leafy stems were included, giving us the opportunity to feed them, touch them, and simply observe them up-close and personal.


Prison Breaks and Goodbyes

Satisfied with the amount of tortoise interaction just had, we quickly saw some the old prison facilities, and even took a moment to enjoy a male peacock really flaunting its stuff to an apparently uninterested hen. My previously scheduled boat was about to arrive so we had to cut the roaming short. After a nice goodbye and well-wishing, I was off to mainland and then to the airport as Ellie rejoined her friends that just arrived from the snorkeling.

The Prison-turned-Hotel on Prison Island

The Next Leg of the Adventure

As I have been writing on the plane from Zanzibar to Nairobi, the plane is now preparing for landing. Next time: Kenya.


Africa Journal 3: Paje, Zanzibar

Paje Beach, Zanzibar

November 21, 2017

I can say with certainty that things are well underway. I feel like I’m actually in the thick of my vacation now that I’ve passed through the early parts of my agenda and content that I’m in my travel element completely once again.

Zanzibar Background

These past couple of days were spent on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar. The largely conservative Muslim region is a hot spot to westerners on beach holidays. The contradiction is vacation-goers sporting bikinis while sipping on excessive amounts of alcohol in a land where local women are largely covered in niqabs, hijabs, and at a minimum, longs pants and shirts with wrist-long sleeves. This clash has caused occasional issues with tourists ignorant or defiant of the customs leading to angered and sometimes outraged Zanzibar citizens. Luckily, I didn’t see such clashes and have only heard of it, both first hand and otherwise. Largely, Stone Town (the old, colonial town in the west and the major port city) is where customs must be adhered to a respectable degree and the beach resort and hostel areas on the other coasts is where the tight rules of conservative Islam are relaxed.


Setting Sail

I arrived in Stone Town on November 19th, the day I wrote my last entry. At that time, I was contently typing away with a beer in the hostel tiki shack restaurant and bar, but earlier it started with the ferry from Dar es Salaam to Stone Town.

Zanzibar Spice Farm

I said goodbye to now friend Amani Prosper, the brother of my coworker in the USA. It was a short, but great visit with the family, but the ferry was calling to whisk me away to Zanzibar. Since I didn’t opt for the $50 V.I.P. ticket, the $35 regular ticket got me in a well-kept compartment of the vessel, however, even with relative timeliness, finding an open seat was a typical “Hi there, is this seat open?” scenario. It was stuffy, too, and compact, which was far from ideal as I was still tired from the night before, but after making our way out of the port, we were granted access to the deck on the seaward side of the boat, opening up to fresh air, a nice ocean breeze, and nice views of passerby gigantic shipping container ships and other ships. This was, until the breeze turned into a whipping wind and it just POURED.

The rain refused to stop and after getting through passport control, my plan to walk around Stone Town was shot and instead elected to taxi it straight to the hostel on the other side of the island in Paje.

Entrance to my Paje hostel

Hostel Folk

I met some cool people at the hostel. I got the chance to meet and hang out with a couple of Brits, a few Germans (there were so many Germans), and another from Colorado, Ellie. The non-Americans I got to know more-so in the hostel confines over casual drinks and food, and one fun night at an area club/bar. Ellie and I spent more time together. We were in the same room as a couple of the German girls and had good conversation right off the bat. We weren’t hanging out every waking moment but it was funny that when we did our own things, our paths crossed very soon after. I found it fascinating how she studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa and just completed a two-month Swahili language immersion and was taking a little time to relax before heading off to a rural village outside of Mombasa, Kenya. She in return took interest in my previous travels and experiences, which I very much enjoyed sharing with her. We became friends very quickly.

Spice Tour

With limited time for organized activities, I booked a solo trip for a spice tour. It’s about what it sounds like, it’s a tour consisting of looking at and consuming spices, but it is also more fun than that. It was partial day of walking around a spice farm where they did indeed have a wide variety of spices growing.

Produce fresh of the plant at the spice farm

The guide would take me around to each plant, explain what it is consumed in and what ailments it may alleviate. Many came with a good old sniff sample and some I got to taste, such as the ginger root. Towards the end, we got to see an entertaining man shimmy up a coconut tree, chanting and dancing his way  to the top and along his descent. Let’s just say he made it look easy and if I attempted I probably wouldn’t be pretty!

Newly appointed “King of Africa”

We celebrated the successful climb with sipping milk out of fresh coconut and I was awarded a woven crown and necktie by the child who was following in wake for the much of time. This, of course, was for my newfound title of “King of Africa”. Naturally this was a touristy thing, but I had fun with it nonetheless. After seeing so many spices and fruits on the way, we got to enjoy the fruits of their labor in dishes prepared by a widowed women foundation who benefit from some of the proceeds of the optional goods for purchase after all of this. The food was very good, consisting of Pilau rice, a curry dish, fresh fruits sliced before my eyes, and a prepared banana dish. Still proudly wearing my crown and tie, it was time to head back the hostel.

Fresh as it gets!

Beach Combing

With some day to seize yet, there was still time for an afternoon of walking the white sands of Paje Beach and a couple of $2 half liter Kilimanjaro beers over an ocean view as I sifted through my photos of the day. Not a bad way to cap off my day in Paje!

Fresh coconut milk on the beach, yes, please!


Africa- Journal 2: Days in Dar

Dar es Salaam, Tanzania near the harbor

November 19, 2017

The trip is well under way. My splendid time in Dar es Salaam with the Prosper family has come and gone and I now have found my way to Zanzibar island off the Tanzanian coast.

Dar es Salaam (“Dar” for short) was even better than I anticipated. Although the city itself wasn’t honestly anything to fall in love with, it was the company that made the experience one to remember. My stay was with a Tanzania family, of whom are the family of a Tanzanian coworker. I quickly found that they were such great hosts right from the start. Even though I arrived at 3 a.m., they insisted on picking me up from the airport. Amani, the bother of my coworker, made me feel welcomed straight away and got us home so we could both get some rest before the day, because, after all, I have been traveling for the last 21 hours and he was up way earlier than is alarm clock would be set on a Saturday morning as I can pretty safely assume. After a struggled night sleep trying to cope with the jet lag, I awoke and found a hearty breakfast was in the making. Eggs from hens in the coop out back, mangoes from a tree also just steps away, and some of the freshest pineapple I’ve had…and tons of it! I found out quickly that I usually underestimate how much I can eat.

With the Prosper family

As much as I’d like to just stay and eat all day, I had to the see the city and Amani helped me do just that. After a bajaj (the three-wheeled, compact taxi vehicle, elsewhere as an auto-rickshaw, trike, or tuk-tuk) ride to the bus station and the bus to the city center, we bought a ticket for the Kilimanjaro Ferry ticket to Zanzibar for use the next day. We continued walking to enjoy the path along the harbor glancing by some colonial government buildings such as for the Tanzanian Court of Appeals, their High Court, and the Surveying and Mapping Department, and others. Fortunately walking was very welcomed after than long, seat-ridden flight because we continued to walk and walk that, seeing the National Museum of Tanzania and the fish market at the harbor – even tasting the catch! Amani bought an entire bag full of whole, seasoned, fried, small fishes, and had a couple – eyes, fins and all – and to my surprise, they weren’t half bad!

The vendor selling fishes that we bought and ate from
Auction at the fish market, Dar es Salaam

Now that we’ve satisfied our appetite for the moment, we set out on the ferry across the harbor. The ships that file into the harbor are humongous and stacked tall of shipping containers laid one on the other and another. Due to the size of the vessels and the relatively short passage between shores, a cheap ferry runs continuously back and forth during the day. Since it’s a necessity for many locals, rather than a typical tourist attraction, a one-way ticket is a mere Tsh 200 (US$0.10). I wish everything was that inexpensive! After capturing some view of the beach and the harbor, we set back to the side from where we once came.

Vehicles and pedestrians unloading off the harbor ferry

The day was winding down, and with the thirst derived from being in the hot sun of the late southern hemisphere spring in Tanzania, I was starting to feel a bit out of it. But we persevered, heading to one last museum on the way home. It was the Village Museum, as it’s called, which was a site that recreated tribal huts of the different ethnic groups in all corners of the country. We got to walk in, look at recreated tools, and feel like tribesmen for an hour or two.

Hut at the Village Museum in Dar es Salaam

No matter what kind of structure you reside in, you need and eat and we once again have another filling meal of the wonderful cooking and preparation by Amani’s mother. After dinner, full and having no need to eat, we go to a local societal club where we, can you guess it?… ate more food. This time hunks of goat, chicken, grilled banana are on the menu and, of course, beer. Though the night started as a chill few beers and food over a projection of the football (soccer) match, it turned into an active night on the town at a couple of the city’s hot spots. It was a welcomed glimpse into local night life as there were few to no foreigners at these places besides myself, which I much enjoy. The night faded into early morning and by the time our bajaj took us home we ran into Amani’s father who was starting his day while ours was ending. 10 a.m. arrived, and I reluctantly got up – I had a ferry to catch.

Just some of the spread by Mrs. Prosper. There was more before I had something to do with it.

Africa- Journal 1: The Start of the Trip of a Lifetime

Some of the many elephants spotted on safari. Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

November 17, 2017

When it comes to epic trips to do in one’s lifetime, an African safari is certainly one that comes to my mind. It’s right up there with walking climbing the Great Wall of China or gazing upon the northern lights. Since I have a seemingly automatic and natural allure to these bucket list trips, I’m embarking on this very African extravaganza. Safari isn’t the only thing on my mind that this vast, beautiful, chaotic continent has to offer. Although I have done extensive research and planning into this trip, I can’t wait to see it all unfold over these next three and a half weeks, and share my experiences during and following my journeys.

Some of the fun to come – Atop Victoria Falls, on Livingstone Island, Zambia

As a write, I’m sitting at the bar in the international transfers terminal at the Istanbul Ataturk International Airport. At this point I’m still flush with excitement and anticipation of arriving in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, my first stop along the trip. So far it’s been a comfortable journey. It all got going with a great send-off from my Uncle Bob and Aunt Kim over some drinks at a brewery near the Chicago O’Hare airport. They’re the best hosts around and really know how to help kick the trip off right. Soon enough after, I whisked myself away through the airport security and the journey had officially begun.

Boarding a jet bound for Nairobi bound for Kigali.

Although the flight was standard with no surprises, I got the same thrill that I have every time I fly, particularly abroad. To me, there’s an incredible sensation about the moment when an airplane’s jets engage, propelling the vessel into motion, accelerating and accelerating to the point where suddenly feel a sudden lift in combination with the quick disappearance of the rumbling of the tire on the runway pavement, followed by the inclination of the plane’s nose towards the sky. There’s just something about disconnecting from where you were and knowing the next time you touch the ground is going to be somewhere totally different. This feeling is the strongest the moment I leave US soil because there’s something about being in a foreign land, and when the tether is severed for weeks at a time, it’s strangely liberating.

There’s something about reaching new nations. On Victoria Falls Bridge at the Zambian border.

Well my beer is finished here in Istanbul and I have the next leg of my transit to catch. Here we go!