Lazy day in Zanzibar

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The long lazy days stretch out before us, yawning into eternity.

We drag our bodies out of bed and make the arduous journey of a few steps for breakfast.  The menu is limited when compared to North American standard, though the choices are less taxing for lack of choice.  The Indian Ocean is our view, every colour of blue represented. The beach has ashtray sand, though covered in seaweed.  The  bugs are drawn to the kelp and as such we are not.  Humans do not  lounge on the beach, though cows enjoy the sun and soak up the rays.  There is however much activity walking back and forth,  this is our grand plan for the day.

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We discover Dhow boats being constructed during our trek.  My Carpenter husband is enthralled with this ancient craft.  There are entire families that camp while the work is completed on the boats.  I think about my husband who travels to work and is gone for weeks at a time.  Here it is a family affair and while not everyone is working directly on the boats, having family close, eliminates the sacrifice.  How clever to have priorities clear like crystal.

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The boats are beautiful, joints seemingly invisible, no caulking required.  The work is done with hand tools, the craft passed down through the generations.  My husband recognizes the medieval tools that he has only seen in a book, here they are transferred into the 21st century.

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The boards are bent in a curious way, forced around nearby trees to achieve the desired shape, then placed in the fire to dry the inside while the outside is kept wet thus achieving the desired shape and curve required. It is amazing how the craftsmen know exactly the bend that they are trying to achieve without tools to guide the process.

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We walk slightly off the compound to peruse shops.  The items are different from what we have seen, haggling is part of the process.  We find a painting of a lion that we are told was painted by the Uncle of our shopkeeper.  It reminds us of the safari and seems a good choice.  It is taken from the frame and rolled for our long journey home.  Its interesting that there are several identical paintings of the same lion and I wonder if the Uncle is churning them out, or if a factory is doing the work.

We plan to rent kayaks.  Our friend speaks the language and we order boats for later in the day.  We arrive, western time at the predetermined hour and wait.  The men arrive with one kayak for 8 of us.  They begin the process of scrounging up more boats and life jackets. Like the Titanic there are too few of both.  They scurry up and down the beach in a haphazard way, their efforts do not increase our fleet.  A few of our group decline the adventure to free up resources.  My normally placid husband snaps and voices his displeasure, it changes nothing.

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We embark on the water with a portion of our group, some opting for no life jackets to free up the resources for those who are not good swimmers.  We paddle around and the delay has allowed us to witness the most glorious sunset on the Indian Ocean.  I’m glad at this moment we were detained. I sit back in my kayak and marvel at the beauty of the world.  There is a lesson–good things come to those who wait, or  perhaps its go with the flow? Or when in Africa, shake off the timetables, calendars and clocks of the Western world and just be…

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Grateful, Thankful and Satisfied in Zanzibar

We spend the day relaxing, lazing around our room, reading and relish in the option of stretching out on the bed or sitting on the couch, so many soft surfaces to consider. Such a change from the last few weeks where a cozy spot was not possible as we moved from one place to another, comfort just beyond our reach.

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We pop open a can of Pringles,our staple in this continent and nibble on the salty snack. We wash it down with ginger beer, a tasty refreshment that has kept nausea at bay these last few weeks as we climbed Kilimanjaro and bounced around in Safari vehicles.
Options abound for dinner, there are restaurants and choice that surround and its difficult to choose. Our group plans to dine together and we set out in our clean clothes to peruse the many options available.
The night is dark and stars sprinkle above us, lighting our way as we walk sandals in hand in the cool sand. We find a lovely spot just a short distance from our resort. A table is set on the sandy beach. We sit and our chairs sink into the sand as we hunker down for the duration. Candles abound and the soft lighting is magical. Menus arrive, we are bombarded with choice, drinks, entrees. We decide after considering all our options and I close my eyes and take in the moment. I can hear the waves lap the beach, coupled with a lively band that strums out its chords.

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The food and drinks arrive and we eat and drink relishing each sip and bite. After days of stews, Milo and unbuttered bread, our taste buds explode. It occurs to me how much we take for granted in life and only when its taken away do we realize how fortunate we are. I make a mental note to always be thankful though know that in time the memory will fade.
Satiated, we begin the walk back to our beach bungalow. How lovely to know that there is a permanent structure waiting for us, complete with a comfortable bed and the ability to sleep for as long as we choose.

We bid good night to our friends, making loose plans to meet up tomorrow. Perhaps we will snorkel, kayak, or wander the beach, its difficult to decide at this moment of relaxation. I am not interested in further adventure at this moment, liking that time has stood still for a time.
In many ways this part of the trip is a typical beach vacation and we could be anywhere in the world in our safe, gated community. As I watch the sun set over the Indian Ocean, I am in this moment and content to have the next unfold without plan.

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Enchanted Evening in Zanzibar

We dress excited about our dinner reservation. We have booked Hurumzi, a rooftop restaurant in the heart of Stone Town and on top of the elegant Emerson Hotel.

Out of respect for the many Muslims that call Stone Town home, I’m careful to cover my arms and knees and choose a dress and shawl. I twirl in front of the mirror, loving the feeling of being dressed for dinner.

We arrive at the Emerson and marvel at the stairs, each with a different rise and run. We walk slowly, carefully and concentrate on each step as we ascend.

The restaurant is small and divided. One side has proper tables and chairs, the other features a large rectangular space with floor seating. We opt for the experience, remove our shoes and stake out our pillow for the evening. Our senses absorb the surroundings. The space has Persian rugs and richly coloured pillows of varying fabrics and textures on the carpet and backrest. There are short tables throughout the space. Above our heads a canopy of silk billows in the breeze, the air perfumed. We look over the short walls and are treated to a 360 degree view of the city and ocean.

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Our waiter arrives, dressed in a white robe and a gold hat. He washes our hands with rose water and teaches us this lovely custom. The meal is set, we only need to choose between three main courses. We sip our beverage as we await our meal. The dishes are exquisite each perfectly spiced, flavourful and beautifully presented. Our hands are washed again with rose water at the end of our dining experience.

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The call to prayer is announced. In years past, the Muzim, or leader would climb to the Minaret, a slender tower with a balcony where he would announce the call to prayer. Today this task is accomplished by a loudspeaker and occurs five times a day at specific times that change with sunrise, sunset and latitude and longitude. We listen to the last prayer of the day, the sounds melodic adding to this enchanted night.

We lean back on our pillows, shifting to find comfort and watch the live entertainment. The music is called, Taarab. It is a mixture of Indian, Arab and Swahili, the result unique. The dancer is spell binding as she elegantly moves, seemingly floating, her bare feet hardly touch the ground. She effectively draws us into her exotic world.  Bongo drums play softly in the background, the silk flutters above, stars peak on either side. Beneath, the city moves and life mundane rolls onward. Up here in the stars, magic exists on this night. I close my eyes not wanting this evening to end and commit this night to memory.

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Thanks to Gilles Chartrand for the photos of this night

 Stone Town Past Preserved

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Stone town is the past preserved. Young boys chase each other through the narrow streets, adults are content to mosy. As a child I roamed my streets unfettered without a care in the world. Today at home, our children grow pasty in flesh and slack in body safe in their rooms. They scroll through a virtual world. Here in Stone town, life unfolds in real time, unplugged.

Retail is everywhere, though no big box stores exist. Quaint shops appear doorway after doorway, their items similar. The Proprieters fan themselves on their stoops and chat amicably with their competition. They beckon us to look closer. “Just look,” they say. We venture in and like the spider to the fly once in we are trapped. Haggling is the order of the day. I ask, “how much?”  She responds with a price. I recoil, suggest a lower price, she looks horrified, clucks her tongue, counters with a slightly higher price. I accept for fear of further offence. The trinket is bagged in a recycled tote and I’m released. There are shops that have inflated fixed prices. Haggling, though exhausting, yields a better deal.

We pass a group of men and boys huddled around an antiquated television complete with rabbit ears. They are watching a soccer game in the open air.  They are happy and animated, joy contagious as they cheer for their team and grumble when the opposing team has possession.  My Mom told me that years ago when televisions were expensive that department stores would display them in store windows. People would gather together to watch and share. Those days are over. In our consumer driven culture everyone seems to have at least one flat screen television, lounge chair and privacy. We trade perceived luxury for camaraderie and community.

We tour the birth home of Freddy Mercury of Queen fame. There are odd items for sale, nearly as odd as the man himself. Freddy has achieved superstardom status in the Island of Spice and is marketed for profit. He was born here though spent his youth between India and Zanzibar before settling in Great Britain. His stardom occurred years after leaving Zanzibar. The tenuous connection is a conduit for currency in Zanzibar. Still, I imagine his carefree, boyhood days on this Island a sharp contrast to the life he led as an adult

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We have learned a great deal during our tour. I’m left with a longing of times past when our life was much like this one. We have sacrificed a great deal for our modern conveniences and there is no way to turn back or stop the clock.

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Stone Town Market

We continue our tour of Stone Town.   My heart and spirit lightens as we walk away from the slave market and towards the vibrant market.

There is a richness of colour with the many spices, clothing and foods for sale. People shop daily as there is inadequate refrigeration, likely due to the antiquated electricity. I think of our home with its over sized refrigerator and extra freezer both filled to capacity for two. The contents difficult to see, too much choice leads to too much waste.

In Stone Town the food is fresh and the people close to their food. It’s disconcerting to see fish, chicken and beef still attached to its source. The fresh meat smells assault. We are removed from this at home. The animals we consume are typically pumped full of hormones. Our markets bright, meat safely stowed in a foam container, cleanly covered in plastic wrap.  Our health suffers amidst the sterility.

There are so many flies here, munching on the fish and chicken flesh. I quickly decide if I lived here I would become a vegetarian. We round the corner and I see some grapes, though on closer inspection they are covered in flies. There are no fly zones here, a keep away fly stick does its best amidst the fruit.  The fruit and vegetables seem small and less than perfect, though closer to reality. The majority of what we see would not make its way into our large supermarkets, though it would go for twice the price in an organic market, the price out of reach for most.  In Stone town, everyone eats fresh, organic produce.

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Zanzibar is the spice island. There are many vendors selling spices, the delicious smells of no interest to the flies. We linger and peruse the many options. The smells pungent, our mouths water with the possibilities. Prices are reasonable and we buy in bulk to share with friends and family at home.  We hold fresh cinnamon bark, the size of a tree limb, and learn how it grows. I think of my cinnamon dust at home, with its dear price, lack of aroma and glass jar.
We have learned so much today. We are fortunate to live where we do with our choice, clean water and reliable electricity. Still, in our want of convenience, variety and beauty I wonder what we are sacrificing in health.  There is much to ponder.

Travelling to Stone Town, Zanzibar

We bump along safari rutted roads which soon change to a pock marked road and then to a smooth highway where we zip along at what feels like breakneck speed.  I check the speedometer and we are not speeding, just a sharp contrast to the last week of crawling along in search of animals.

I’m excited for the next part of the trip where we will be sleeping in real beds and have the opportunity to be clean daily.  I look out the window at the scenery that passes too quickly, though at times details are clear.  People sit on the porches, lounging in the hot sun, while the work of their homes piles up around them.  I mentally complete the work of painting, repairing and landscaping to create a prettier picture.  There seems to be no urgency here.  I wonder how the people are able to relax with so much work?  Perhaps there is a balance and my life and the one viewed here are at either end of the spectrum.  I wonder if my seemingly endless lists of to-do’s and must-do’s rob me of the present.

We meet up with the other group to tour a coffee plantation.  John and I are excited about the prospect of a proper cup of coffee.  We stand through the inservice of how coffee is made, though there is no opportunity to either sample the wares or to purchase a cup of joe.  I think of how this could be marketed and envision a coffee shop where one could buy a coffee and have a snack while relaxing in the beauty of the plantation.  I wonder why this has not been created and decide that the only ones that would partake would be tourist folks who have been on a camping safari and have climbed Kilimanjaro without a proper cup of coffee.  Its still a pretty place and there is a proper toilet that includes toilet paper.  I wash my hands and let the water run over them, while I wash them not once, twice, but three times.  I look in the mirror and for the first time in a week look at my face.  I smile at my reflection, happy to be back to civilization.

We arrive in Arusha, a third world place mixed with first world, a city struggling to be current.  The car horns honk incessantly while the goats amble down the centre of the road.  There are smooth concrete sidewalks that gradually turn to rubble.  There are people begging for food while they stand in front of a restaurant.  There are well made buildings, high-rises mixed with shantytowns.  There are many big name companies represented, and I wonder about the salaries that are earned.

We stop at a gift shop, there are no locals shopping here, it has been created for tourists.  It is a pretty place, with sculptures, restaurants, coffee shops and expensive bric-a-brac. It is an oasis in a sea of poverty.  I feel guilty, as its clear this place is not open to the people who live in this city, the people that call Africa home.  This pretty place is for the pampered, spoiled people who only visit. For two weeks we have had the opportunity of seeing the place on the same level as the guides and now we are back to being sheltered from the people.  Our experience will now be more pedestrian and like the sculptures surrounding us, fake.

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We meet with the Director of our Safari experience.  She asks us for feedback, we  provide, though its soon clear that she is only interested in positive feedback.  She seems to regard us as spoiled.  It is doubtful that any of our suggestions will be put to use for subsequent groups.

We find out from her that our flight to Stone Town, Zanzibar will be delayed for several hours.  At first it will be four hours, then later we are told it will be six hours. They have found a Safari lodge for us to wait.  We have no rooms, no access to showers, but we are in a pretty place.  There is a pool, bar and restaurant.  Our mountain of luggage and lounging bodies occupy a large portion of the bar area.  I order a cheeseburger and fries and  relish every bite.  It tastes most excellent and rivals any burger I’ve had back home in  beef country, Alberta.

It’s finally time to go to the airport.  We get through customs as a group and then sit around and wait as minutes turn to hours and then several more, Africa time.  In what seems like forever, the time arrives to board the plane to Zanzibar.  We have been waiting all day.  We arrive the next day at 1:00 a.m.  The humidity immediately assaults despite the early hour.  My clothes instantly stick to my body and my body greedily sucks up the moisture.

We are greeted by our tour guide, such a friendly man with a beautiful smile.  We begin to walk towards the waiting bus and then a shout causes us to abruptly stop.  One suitcase has gone missing and we must all check our bags against the claim checks to find out the claim check that corresponds to the missing bag.  This is akin to solving the theory of relativity at this very late hour.  We all work through this task and the bag is found after checking the last tag.  We climb aboard the air conditioned bus and amble through the narrow streets of Stone Town.  I’m excited to explore in the light of day, but for now my eyes are forward as I travel ever closer to a shower.  We arrive at the Dhow Palace, obtain our room keys and haul our too many bags up the three flights of stairs to our room.

Goodbye

At our campsite, the bees have taken over our shared shower.  I decide I will pass on the shower and wait for Zanzibar tomorrow.  Others’ in our group decide that they will persevere and are stung many times for their efforts.  We eat our final dinner together, sit by the campfire and chat about the expected tip that we will give tomorrow.  We come up with a plan and retreat to our tents for our final night.

I scarcely sleep this last night. The baboons are yelling as the lions are near.   This racket continues for the majority of the night.  John sleeps sound, his snoring adding to the cacophony of sound.The sound travels odd, but it does seem as though they are just outside the tent.  I am afraid to look out the tent window, so I say a prayer that I will not be eaten by a lion on my last night of the Safari. Morning arrives, I’m alive, my prayers answered.  Stephen tells us that the lions were outside our tent, lion footprints are noticeable. I’m glad that we will be leaving today.  I’m excited for Zanzibar.  The rest of our group seems to feel the same as we all pack up quickly today  We take a few final pictures of our group and then happily get into the vehicles for our final safari ride.

The lodge experience would have been nice, but it would have been so much like typical accommodations.  We were fortunate to spend time with our Guides, cooks and helpers and in this manner had a richer experience.  I wish that I had been in better spirits, wish that I did not feel so ill from Kilimanjaro.  Each day when we photographed the animals, I forgot all my aches, pains and sadness and was in the moment. If I could have had a proper shower nightly, and a cozy bed to share with my husband, it would have been perfect.  I do know that millions of people  would have gladly traded places with me and I was grateful for the experience.

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