Category Archives: Tanzanian Travel

The Spirit of a Volunteer

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Its one of those words that people utter with awe and amazement. “Volunteer”… Thats what a plucky band of us had the privilege of being called when we taught English and were thoroughly fulfilled with our lot.

It took place on the Island of Zanzibar and it was probably the best experience of my life. Getting to meet the other volunteers who came from all over the world was awesome.

These people chose to spend a chunk of their youth to assist another community, while, at the same time, learning and growing through an experience that will leave a mark for the rest of their lifetimes.

Their wisdom, even at their young ages, brought a sense of hope and joy to the East Coast of the Indian Ocean‘s Spice Island.

The project was teaching English and also at primary schools, along with various community assistance such as school DIY. I was one of the oldest volunteers at 23 years of age.

It is without a doubt that I mention that these most uncommon of people, combined with those we aided are a shining torch to future generations to carry on this tradition.

Lets meet a few of them. There was Manoel, an Economics student from Zurich University. He had studied there for a year and also was in the process of completing three weeks national service for the six years after his first year, when he completed nine weeks worth.

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He was completely different to me, money savvy. He advised me on more than one occasion. What about Aidan, an Irish bank employee who worked in Frankfurt.

His girlfriend, Catherine and himself gave us a great time for the first week. It was later understood that, after leaving us, they headed for the Maasai Mara on Safari and it was here that he proposed to her.

That was happy news, despite us having heard it second hand. They met at a Catholic summer camp, I’m not sure where.

Andre and Lilya, from Bulgaria? Andre had his Private Pilot’s License, something I hope to gain in the future. They had met and then been apart for two years before their relationship started.

This is what he told me, anyway. Lilya and I had some interesting conversations, namely about Shakespeare and the fact that she had formed the opinion that Romeo was on drugs. She may not have been wrong:)

What days we had together. Our free time was spent playing volleyball on the beach or at the bar sipping punches on those sensational white Indian Ocean sands listening to Reggae music from Culture and Tarrus Riley, to name a few.

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We’d buy ten drinks at a time and party till 1:30 a.m. with the same breeze of the Indian Ocean current from the south that cooled us during the day now warmed us. It was a tough life:) Also brutal was the fact that that we had to watch twenty-something women in bikinis.

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As for the people who we met at the bars, they would sit with us and talk all night on the beach. The night sky was like the heavens had been sown with white crystals that set your eyes alight. These were dazzling and we almost always had a clear sky.

Want to try some of their Stoney Tangawizi ginger beer. Its worth buying just for the name but the taste of the cool, fragrant liquid inside means you’ll buy it again and again.

These drinks can be found at almost any bar along the beach and you’ll generally pay between forty to sixty pence per bottle. As for the alcohol, there’s Havana Club and Black Vodka. Preferably you’ll have more sense than to mix these together.

One night a guy, thinking that my half-filled glass of rum had whisky in it, topped the other half off with that drink. Wow! I may be six feet five inches, but even I felt like my head was in the clouds after that one. It was the next morning that I went dolphin swimming at 6 a.m. What a rush!

Well, we bounced around in a ten foot boat the next morning. It was with great excitement that we saw these happy creatures in their natural habitat. They leapt out of the water, dove, swam away and were just fabulous! No decent photos, I’m afraid. I borrowed this one.

A dolphin leaps out of the water in the Indian...

A dolphin leaps out of the water in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of Zanzibar, Tanzania. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Other excitements included the Spice Tour, which also takes place in Jozani Forest, the sanctuary of the Red Colobus Monkeys. Of particular interest is the mangrove swamp, where our guide showed us how the seeds fall off the mother tree and embed themselves in the mud.

Ecology is central to the Archipelago. We were given an eco-tour the first Wednesday after I arrived. This showed us much about the island and its delicate ecosystem.

This tour consisted of us visiting the seaweed plantation, going to a family’s home to see how coconut milk is made…by grating the innards of the fruit out… and paying a visit to Jambiani‘s much revered herbal doctor. These were useful chunks of knowledge tht we could gain an insight with.

Our guide told us that seaweed was the main cash crop on the Island and we were well-reminded of this every morning, when we would look out over the beach into the rising Indian Ocean sun and see handfuls of women and men toiling over their plots, trying to make a few pennies here and there.

They were the coolest people I’ve ever met. They were fun, smart, beautiful in the case of the women, and generally happy with their lot in life! What a place, where your heady dreams of fulfillment and paradise come to fruition!

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Spice Island Soaring

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I had booked a flying lesson the previous evening. Now, here I was up in the microlight, soaring like a young man dreams to from the age of three. How about that. How about flying high above the Indian Ocean‘s torquoise waters?

There was a deep blue, cloudless sky that Saturday and Cedric, my instructor, took me into the hangar where his Kitfox microlight was and he showed me around it before having some people roll it out onto the tarmac.

It was at this point that I was asked to take a seat in it. So I did and soon I heard the engine turn over.

The first thousand feet or so after takeoff was a bit bumpy. Its always a rush, though. Soon we started heading east and already could see the east coast where Jambiani is located.  Cedric asked me if I wanted to take the controls. I said yes, of course.

I handled it through a few shallow turns with the stick and a little bit of rudder. I was in paradise. What could be better for a young man like myself.

After we got on the ground, Cedric said that he thought it would be a easy for me to gain a Private Pilots License. This thrilled me! Wow! an instructor had just spoke those words to me!

Don’t Buy Ivory

Stone Town streets

Stone Town streets (Photo credit: Berlotti)

Don’t buy ivory. Thats what we were told. None. Therefore, when I walked down the row of shop in Stone Town and entered one selling little souvenirs that were hopefully only made of Malachite. This hope, I was to find out, was ill founded. My young eyes wandered over the rows of items that included little hippos that you could hold in the palm of your hand and tiny cooking pots, hehe.

One could smell the malachite in these places, a wonderful sense. You could also duck into these buildings, made of cool stone, as the name of the city suggests, to escape the heat. Not that that was intolerable. In fact, it was no worse than you might find in the Mediterranean. They had the most lovely vibrant colours in their products as well. Its as though someone had splattered fifty different shades all over the walls and just let it dry.

Hanging in Stone Town

Hanging in Stone Town (Photo credit: Camera, Lights)

I wanted to buy one to bring home to my mother. I came back off that trip to Zanzibar with an entire carry-on bag just full of souvenirs. Everything from silk to kitchen utensils. I casually strode over, with the floor creaking below me, and, with my long reach, plucked one of the pots off the top shelf.

We asked all the time about the materials used to make them. “How much?” I asked the owner, showing him my prospective merchandise.

“18,000 shillings”. I nearly died! That was almost seven pounds. I was going to ask him what the base material was but that high price made me know inside. “Ivory?”, I again queried him. “Yes” was the answer. I promptly put the item back on the shelf.

A bedrock rule of the charity I was with, teaching English in a place called Jambiani on the east coast, was “Do not buy Ivory!”

The charity was African Impact.

A Coffee in Zanzibar

Stone Town

Stone Town (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fresh sugar cane juice, white sandy beaches, cool granite buildings under the skies of the Indian Ocean…This has to be Zanzibar… I had an hour before my transfer driver picked me up, so I decided to have a wander round the labyrinth of shops selling everything from Kanga dresses to Fanta drinks. Ribena as well. Comforts of old England.

Anyway, as I strode down one of the wider avenues in town, an old man, around seventy, maybe, grabbed my arm and pulled me over to the side of the street, smiling gently. I soon realised that he wasn’t a threat and he kindly asked me if we could drink coffee together. I agreed and we sat with a group of his friends for several minutes sipping good East African coffee.

He asked me the usual questions.”Where are you from?”, “What brings you here?” and so forth. I gather he probably wanted to use his English. Anyway, we talked for a few minutes and he gave me a run-down on Zanzibar’s history. Having no knowledge of the island, I could only end the conversation with…”I guess so, I don’t know…”. Laughs all around!

 

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Tramonto a zanzibar (Photo credit: Pierina Mariani)

 

Zanzibar

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Ah, this Island must be one of the best places on Earth! You can see sandy, unspoiled beaches where the seaweed workers toil, a bright sky, friendly, smiling locals abound! The reasons why people come are many and varied, but one thing is for sure…they’ll never forget it.

Take Stone Town, on the west coast and also the capital, for example. One may come by sea and be dropped of right in the centre of the capital of the Island.

Stone Town Alleyway

Stone Town Alleyway (Photo credit: fabulousfabs)

Here you’ll  find Forodhani Gardens, an open area that, during the evening time, comes alive with the hustle and bustle of the Night Market. This is one of the most interesting exhibits of Zanzibar.

You can try falafel from the Middle East, spicy potato, a local dish, and chapattis all in the same meal.

Oh, and don’t forget to try some sugar cane juice! Across the road from the gardens lies the old Sultans palace, now the Museum of Zanzibar. You’ll have an enlightening experience here. See it below.

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If you head inland you surely will come to the shopping district that is a labyrinth of small shops all lined up where you can buy clothes locally woven with beautiful African colours that are vibrant in the extreme, and lots of hand-made pots plus other souvenirs generally made from Malachite.

Be sure to ask if something is Ivory, which is illegal. If it is Ivory, don’t buy it. You can help to stop elephant poaching that way. A tour of Stone Town is easy…there are guides all over and will be willing to tell you all about the city and its past…including the Arab Sultans and the slave trade.

Ivory has always been a highly valuable materi...

Ivory has always been a highly valuable material for carving. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can also enter the slave chambers and experience them for yourself, although this is not for the faint-hearted.

Now, heading east, you will find out why it is called the Spice Island.

Stone Town’s Spice Market is full of the smells of paradise; mint leaves and vanilla spice may be bought here for less than a pound.

Another advantage of Zanzibar: cheap, almost free living.

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Dalla Dalla‘s! These jaunty vehicles are the best way to travel around the island. With their lack of suspension, wooden crate-like structures for cabins that always find room for more people…

even if it means crouching down, not strapped down, in the seating area with fifty other people, a dead shark that stinks on top, tarpaulin mats over the side and sweaty bodies…you will find them charming.

Don’t forget that the drivers know the word “accelerator” from 150-yards away but don’t know “brake” even if you’re in the front cab and screaming it at them.

And that the roads are filled with potholes.I remind you of the lack of suspension in these vehicles. Does this sound like fun? If you wish to find the beaches of the Island, the east and north coasts are the best for this.

Azure skies, beaches almost bleached white by the sun, crystal clear water and bars where juices and ales may be bought for sixty-pence await you here.

You can spend many a day and night carefree, swimming at 6:00 am when the water is still warmer than the air.

These beaches, when full-moon parties are in swing, come alive with tourists and locals, vibrant with the lifeblood of their island…happiness and joy.

These parties usually include liberal amounts of alcohol, despite the island being 95% Muslim.

One should not travel alone to these parties, safety in numbers always. Remember, when travelling by taxi, to negotiate the fare before setting out.

The main tourist extra-curricular activities in Zanzibar include the must-do Dolphin Tour where you will head out beyond the Island’s coral reef about a mile or so…and do the unthinkable…swim with Dolphins in the open Indian Ocean!

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Dolphins (Photo credit: ryn413)

The Spice Tour is an exhibition of Jozani forest; an area in the middle of the Island, equidistant between Stone Town in the west and the east coast.

This is where the mangrove swamp is located and you may hire a guide here for a very low price.This area is also famous for its endangered but very cute Red Colobus Monkeys.

The Dalla Dalla and taxi drivers always use those otherwise-underused brakes here. There are many other tours that can be undertaken, it’s magnificent!

Red Colobus Monkey

Red Colobus Monkey (Photo credit: Adrian Maidment)

As for travelling to the island, Emirates Airlines have scheduled services from London to Nairobi or Dar Es Salaam, on the Tanzanian mainland, via Dubai where a very refreshing air-cooled terminal awaits. From either of these two cities, you may fly or, in the latter’s case, sail to Stone Town.

My personal trip set me back about £760. A more expensive option would be to fly direct to Nairobi and then on…you can expect to pay around 850 UK pounds in that scenario.

Flying from London is about a six-hour journey to Dubai, another four and a half to Nairobi and an hour and forty minutes to Zanzibar.

If you choose the Dar Es Salaam route then you should expect to pay about fifty pounds for the flight or ferry to the island.

Now thats about all but just remember to stay safe and allow the Spice Island to enchant you!