Posts Tagged With: Exploring

Changuu Island

We woke up a bit early today so that we could make our way to a bank, explore the city a little bit and have breakfast. Breakfast is held at the rooftop café so we started our day there with coffee, eggs and cake. It’s a really nice and relaxed atmosphere up there since it’s an open concept room with waited service. Afterwards, we ventured out to try and find a bank that would accept our cards and got some half fast directions from the front desk.

Going to the bank was an adventure in itself since there are no road or street signs. We turned down a street and just kind of hoped for the best; we tried asking locals what street we were on but the language barrier is still present. We past a food market that seems to go on forever, dodged cars and pedestrians and then made a right turn down a street which seemed like a real street (everything that we had passed at that point was just little alley ways). Half way down the street, not knowing where we were we finally tried to ask for directions again. This time the guy we flagged down actually spoke English and told us that there was a bank about two blocks further. We thanked him, moved on and found it in about a minute of talking with him.

Once we were all ready to go we decided to continue down this street since it seemed to us that it would lead us back to the main stretch (where the ferry harbour is). We got to the end of the road and discovered that we were at a T in the road and that these were just back alleys not actual streets. Being the adventure types that we are, we decided to go to the right and continue on. The alley reminded me tremendously of Venice since it has a European pedestrian/ Vespa side street feel to it. While we were venturing, we came across a lot of little corner stores, souvenir shops, schools, apartments and other lovely looking buildings. I was really glad that we decided to make a full circuit instead of turning back and taking the long way to the hotel. We made it back onto the main road and made our way back to the hotel, just in time for our excursion.

We were given snorkeling equipment, fruit, and towels; then they sent us down to the beach where we got picked up in a canapé boat. It took about 20 minutes to make our way across the water to Changuu (Prison) Island which wasn’t too bad of a trek. When we got up the island a little ways we were directed to the Tortoise Sanctuary. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but the second our tour guide told us we could go right up to them and touch them I was in heaven! I didn’t think we would be allowed to touch them but I basically just petted a bunch of them and held the babies for an hour. This is my all-time favorite animal interaction experience, and I think the only thing that could top this would be to work there or at another animal sanctuary.

It was sad to leave them, but it was time to go for a tour of the Island “prison”. This island was supposed to be a prison but during its construction the plague broke out and it became a quarantine area. People who had the plague were brought here to help stop the spread of the plague. This venue is now a restaurant and a hotel was built right beside it. Its a very beautiful location but there’s just something about knowing about all of the disease and illness that was brought here and buried. The only real good thing about this island with that history is that by making it a tourist destination, it will always be commemorated.

After the tour, it was time to go snorkeling so we took off towards the boat. I’ve never been snorkeling but I have always been around water so I wasn’t worried about anything. That is, until I put on my gear, jumped in, stuck my head in the water and had some kind of vertigo issue. I wasn’t so much scared of the vertigo itself as I was shocked at myself for having this little episode. Then to top it off I couldn’t get my breathing under control so that freaked me out more! After about 5 minutes of slowly pushing myself to take deep breaths and to stop freaking out I got the hang of it. It was such a cool experience and I’m so glad that I did it because some of the fish, animals and coral that I got to see were amazing. My only regret is that I didn’t bring an underwater camera… but at the same time that gives me an excuse to do it again!

We were in the water for about an hour before we decided to have a beach break and suntan. We got to relax and catch some sleep for about an hour in the sun before we had to start heading back. I was excited to get back to Stone Town so that we could have a real big lunch, I definitely worked up a big appetite after all of our activities.

When we got back to town we headed to a nearby restaurant and had some vegetarian birindi. And after we all ate we all decided to head back to the hotel for the most amazing nap ever. It was really hard to get up but knowing that I could just grab a coffee gave me enough motivation to get out of bed. I got myself a cappuccino to wake up and then we all headed over to the Mercury for happy hour for a few drinks. Afterwards we decided to head over to the Farodony Gardens where the fish market was to see what that was all about. We had already been warned by numerous individuals to not eat there since many of the vendors sell their left over fish from days before; which is not a good thing since it could make you very sick (obviously). So with that in mind, we kept our distance but got to see everything that they were selling; and honestly it was hard not to at least try one skewer of shrimp or calamari! After the market we were starving again and decided to try out a new restaurant at the Grand Palace Hotel, which was located on their rooftop. What we didn’t foresee was that they were a Muslim owned hotel and therefore didn’t sell alcohol. It was a bit of a bummer since it was our last dinner but we dealt with it and ordered our food.

The Grand Palace Hotel was literally a block or two away from our hotel so it was a nice little stroll back to Zenji. I do wish that we had a full week here to really explore the whole island, especially considering that I kept hearing about how amazing the North was; but I guess that will have to wait for when I can travel to Zanzibar again. Sad to think that tomorrow is our last day in Africa!

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Zanzibar!

We woke up at 5am, showered got ready and checked out of the hotel for the last time! We managed to get them to store our bigger luggage for the weekend to save us from having to lug it around all weekend. We grabbed a very quick breakfast and headed toward the harbour where the Kilimanjaro II was waiting for us. We were given some advice to make our way to the ferry a good half hour early to ensure we got on and got decent seats. It probably took us about 5 minutes to make our way down to the ferry and about 15 minutes to get through all of the checkpoints.

We boarded the boat and decided to find a seat up front on the deck for the view and to keep everyone feeling as good as possible. I spotted a spot right up front right away, but it was one of those things where I was wondering what was wrong with it since no one was sitting there; turned out it was soaking wet.  Luckily, I like to pack anything that I think might be useful like a towel and we ended up with the best seats in the house!

The scenery right from the harbour, to the fish market, to the little islands along the way were beautiful and definite postcard material. We were all pretty tired, so we were all pretty quiet and I think the girls might have slept a bit but I was too excited to sleep. I put in my headphones blared some dance music and just enjoyed the view.

We got to Stone Town in about an hour and a bit and since Zanzibar considers itself independent (but not really) from Tanzania we had to go through their customs. They checked our passports, yellow fever certificates and asked us all the normal kinds of border questions. It probably took us about 15 minutes to get through it and make our way into the city.

The Zenji hotel is where we stayed, it was about a 2 minute walk from the harbour and we got to stay together in a room called “Sense of Jasmine.” It was a really nice open concept room that had a double and single bed with a saloon door for the bathroom. What the hotel lacked in room views made up for it through its roof top café and the outdoor café out on the main street. I hadn’t had real coffee in just over a month and my first order of business was to get a coffee with a side of espresso!

Once we were all checked in and ready to get about our day we had to make some last minute excursion game plans. We decided to do one called the spice tour for that afternoon and a tour of Prison Island tomorrow; which gives us time to explore a bit on Monday before we take off back to Dar es Salaam. We came in a bit late so we had to take the private tour, but honestly it made it that much more special and memorable.

We got picked up by our driver and he took us to a spice plantation which was built specifically for tourists. There are examples of all of the different kinds of plants that they grow in large plantations elsewhere. This plantation is run by a community that makes most of its income from tourists and their crops. Our tour guide was very good and introduced us to all of the fruit and spices and along the way we were given a leaf cup to hold all of the spices. We got to see and smell different spices like cardamom, iodine, vanilla bean, pepper, cloves, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg (my favorite!!) and a few others. We also got to see how different fruit and produce grow like star fruit, clementines, coco bean, jack fruit, lipstick fruit, aloe vera, custard apple and more. We got to do a lot of cool stuff like trying a bunch of the fruit, drinking fresh coconut water, watching someone climb a coconut tree and getting hand made things made of leaves and flowers. After all of this they supplied us with a picnic for lunch, it was probably the best pilau I have ever had in my entire life! There were so many spices, some baked potato, fish and an amazing masala sauce! I could eat that every day and never get sick of it.

Once we were finished eating, our driver came back and picked us up for the second half of our trip which was an afternoon at the beach. When we got to a clearing down a little dirt road, we were asked if we wanted a tour of the coral cave. For 2,000Tsh we didn’t see a problem with that and headed over to the cave opening with our tour guide. I’ve never been educated on the slave trade, past the underground railway and what I’ve seen in movies; it was an eye opening experience to learn, on-site, how things got so out of hand. This cave was used to hide slaves at night from the British navy once this practice was exposed as a human rights violation. The cave didn’t used to have stairs so slaves were expected to climb down a rope and to go into the deepest part of the cave to sleep. When the slaves were bought and sold they were sneaked out a passage that leads close to the Indian Ocean where they would get shipped.

I learned a lot about how slaves were caught and brought to Zanzibar for the slave trade, I didn’t realize that it was such an intricate procedure with so much support behind it in those times. Warring tribes would sell the opposing tribe, people were kidnapped and tribe chiefs would sell their people for a certain price. The people buying and kidnapping them were from Arabian countries and were the middle men in this whole thing. Their strategy was to capture and buy individuals who were all from different backgrounds so that they couldn’t speak to each other and potentially escape.

The atmosphere in the cave is comparable to the atmosphere and feelings that I got while visiting Dachau (a German concentration camp). It just feels like there is a lingering energy of sadness and stillness. Having learned everything that I did in about a half hour and trying to sort through my feelings about this whole situation was difficult but I’m glad that I have a deeper understanding of this history.

After our cave exploring and history lesson we made our way down a little path toward the beach. This path turned into gigantic steps leading down to the beach; it was a workout in itself. We spent about an hour wading in the warm water, talking about the cave and what literature we should all look into to learn more.

On the way back to the hotel I was so tired I just fell asleep and woke up when we got back. The dangerous driving is still the same as on the mainland but the scenery is nothing but tall and healthy palm trees, plantations and greenery. We were all starving and decided to head over to “The Mercury Restaurant” which is named after Freddy Mercury from Queen. The view from the deck was absolutely gorgeous; we were there right in time for the sunset over the harbour. It was an expensive place to go but the view and the mood is worth it. I ate a lot, laughed a lot and talked a lot so needless to say as soon as I was finished my meal I was more than ready for bed!

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On the Road Again

Last night was our last night at the hotel; we had a little breakfast and got picked up around 9am by Rodney (the VETA IT teacher and the same guy who drove us to Mikumi National Park). I was all set to leave when Rodney told us we were headed to VETA instead of hitting the road right away, because he had to pick something up. We got to the school and headed for the computer lab where I e-mailed and facebooked my friends and family to let them know that this would be my last time communicating with them until I get home on Tuesday. After about a half hour and more goodbyes, Rodney was ready to go. It was harder to say goodbye this morning compared to last night but it was still nice to see everyone one last time.

This road trip was a lot of fun and was a nice change of scenery for me. I got to sit up front with Rodney which meant I got to make sure that he didn’t blast anymore Shania Twain or Celine Dion with the bass cranked. I was also really thankful that we had done a quick grocery run yesterday considering that we didn’t stop once for food or anything else besides gas. I did try to subtle tell Rodney that I could go for lunch but I think something got lost in the translation; he just started talking about how he wanted to have ugali and that he was hungry, but I think he meant it more as a statement than anything else.

There wasn’t anything too interesting to really mention, the only thing that stood out was the insane traffic once we hit Dar es Salaam. We were switching lanes every couple of minutes to gain inches and almost cut off an ambulance since we were sideways and blocking two lanes. Luckily the car keeping us from merging moved ahead a bit and we squeezed in. We were in rush hour for a while and then went a bit off road. Rodney told us that we were actually going to meet his parents before taking us to the New Africa Hotel, so we went along with it. There wasn’t much of a point in meeting them besides saying a quick hello and taking a few pictures, but it was still nice to see a more intimate home setting.

We got a call from Anthony letting us know that the ferry bureau closed at 6pm and that we had better get a move on if we wanted to get to Zanzibar. We made it to the hotel with seconds to spare, got checked in, through our bags in the rooms and ran back down. Anthony was already downstairs waiting for us, and through sheer luck he knew the cruise company and asked them to stay open for us since it was nearing 6:30pm. We were running across the street when Anthony told us what the costs were so we had to make a quick bank detour and then fast walked as quickly as we could without getting hit by oncoming traffic or talkative pedestrians. We bought our tickets which are priced according to locality, so we had to buy the more expensive tickets; but they were worth it!

I can’t even attempt to begin explaining how epic it was to sit down, take a deep breath and then make my way upstairs for dinner. I was so tired, I had a wicked headache and I could sleep for a month; but the food I ate that night was a hundred percent worthwhile. It was a Thai restaurant located on the top floor of the hotel which overlooks the harbour. The atmosphere was very lively, they had karaoke and dancing and the restaurant off to the side. There was also a big football (soccer) match on and everyone was up there watching it and cheering them on. I picked what I wanted to eat and drink in about a millisecond and could not wait! I ordered a green vegetarian curry with steamed rice and spring rolls; A-MA-ZING! I’d recommend this restaurant to anybody traveling out that way, it was so good.

The only part of this whole experience that was a tad unfortunate was that my harbour view room was right underneath the dance floor and that wasn’t about to help my headache. On a positive note though I was so excited to wake up at 5am to grab the ferry over to Stone Town at 6:30pm that I didn’t care.

*Sneak peek of the harbour while we were taking off*

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Dancing Shoes

Friday we ended up going to VETA so that we could figure out a game plan with some of the teachers as to what we could help with that day. There really wasn’t very much on the agenda since St. Gasper was busy with their high security event and the school has half days on Fridays. We hung out in the computer lab for a little bit. Later on, we were asked if we would like a tour of Dodoma University which we all promptly agreed to do.

Saying that the University is huge is a complete understatement. It’s the largest University in Eastern and Central Africa and is situated in the mountains. It took us about a half hour to actually get up to the university, and it felt a lot longer because it was so hot out. When we got up there we could see that the buildings are all spread out all across the side of the mountain. We realized that each main building has its own kind of city feel to it and that they all represent a different field of study. We visited the education buildings, registration, study halls and even a hospital. The hospital was really unique because of its open concept; and coming from a country that keeps their hospitals air tight it was interesting to view for myself.

In the late afternoon we headed back to the Hotel and relaxed and got ready for an employee recognition event which was put on by VETA.

The event started around 7:30 and we got there right on time to grab a table in the front. They put this on in a fairly large hall which probably sits about 100 or so. There weren’t too many decorations but they did have a head table with some nice table clothes and white patterned curtains in the background.

Friday night was really interesting because we got to try our hand at a couple of firsts for us. When they served us a buffet chicken dinner, we realized that there were no utensils and that everyone was eating with their hands. Another new aspect was that as soon as anyone finished their beverage of choice there was about a 15 second wait time for another without having to ask. Finally, when we needed to use the bathroom it was just a hole in the ground which was definitely a new experience.

We got to dance a little bit to some of their routines which were a lot of fun, especially since I have two left feet when it comes to in sync line dancing. The music was all in Swahili and everyone there was really into it. We have dubbed one of the professors, “Mr. Fantastic”; his English is a bit poor so he tends to only say things like “very fantastic!” and “very very good!” and it gets more enthusiastic after he drinks pop non-stop for hours on end. He kept ordering Mountain Dews and Heather taught him their slogan “do the dew” which he really liked saying too after he understood the play on words.

Tomorrow we have been asked to come out and go hiking with some of the teachers in the rock hills. And then afterwards, we are headed to the wedding! Looking forward to dressing up!

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