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May 24

This past week’s travels were much needed and deserved. They were filled with loads of new experiences and allowed us to see two very distinct and interesting areas of Tanzania.

Monday was incredibly busy as we tied up loose ends and prepared for our week away, including anticipating potential problems and their solutions. We finally finished the last of our tasks shortly after midnight and were exhausted. We had confidence that any problems that arose could be dealt with by the yogurt mamas. We went to bed with the excitement of knowing that we would be heading to the coast for a week.

On Tuesday morning we awoke bright and early so that we could get out to the airport for our 9 a.m. flight to Dar es Salaam. We checked in and cleared security relatively quickly and easily. At 8:40 a.m. we were boarding the plane and to our surprise it was actually a Boeing 737! The larger plane meant that the flight would take less than 1.5 hours and the reduced turbulence meant that Cynthia would likely not feel the effects of motion sickness. This was good news for everyone, especially Cynthia, given her track record for small African flights! There were no assigned seats on this flight so we quickly grabbed the seats next to the emergency exit, which had ample leg room. This, too, was a huge plus, especially for Brian! Then to our astonishment, we taxied into position and were speeding down the runway preparing for takeoff just as the clock stroke 9 a.m.!!! For the first time, something was actually happening ON TIME! Mid-flight, Cynthia pointed out two peaks that could be seen above the clouds and postulated that they might be the peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru. Not two minutes later, the captain came over the speaker to direct people's attention to the peaks of mounts Kilimanjaro and Meru. It seemed like only minutes later that we could begin to see the Indian Ocean below us. At 10:17, we were touching down in Dar es Salaam ahead of our anticipated schedule. All in all, it was a great flight and a fantastic way to begin our time away from Mwanza.

We stepped off the plane and felt the burn of the hot air as it entered our lungs. Dar es Salaam is essentially at sea level, located right on the Indian Ocean, which puts it nearly 1500 metres lower in altitude than Mwanza. For this reason, Dar tends to be about 10 degrees Celsius warmer than what we were used to in Mwanza. The sun was blazing hot and the humidity made that it feel even hotter.

Kivulini had made arrangements for Issa, a trusted cab driver and longtime friend of Maimuna, to pick us up at the airport. Issa’s English was better than we had suspected and I think that we surprised him with the quality of our Swahili. Issa took us by our hotel where we checked in briefly before heading out into Dar to run do some project- related errands. It appeared as though our good luck had run out as only one of our four errands was completed successfully. Our meeting with CIDA was cancelled at the last minute, VISA forms had yet to arrive from Canada so we could not yet process them, and our research proposal was missing some important documents and could not yet be submitted. We returned to our hotel feeling very disappointed.

Wednesday morning we awoke and decided to get out of Dar as soon as we could. We walked to the ferry docks where we met a very kind, elderly gentleman. He asked where we were from and where we were headed. He told us that he worked at the ferry docks and that he could assist us in acquiring our tickets. We were weary, and we knew not to trust the touts that scam tourists down at the docks, but this man was kind, not forceful, and appeared to be genuine. We told him that we would appreciate his assistance and he took us directly into the ticket booth where he worked so that he could assist us without being hassled by the touts. He helped us get tickets for our ferries to and from Zanzibar and then walked us right to the ferry gate. He politely asked if we were willing to give him any bit of compensation for his helping us. Like we said, he was kind and likely would have been accepting had we said that we would offer him no tip at all. We appreciated his help and so gave him 1,000TSh (~$1USD) for which he was grateful. We said goodbye to him and boarded the ferry to Zanzibar.

There are two types of ferry’s that connect Dar and Zanzibar: the older, slower and less expensive ferry and the newer, faster and more expensive ferry. Having resident permits as we do makes the ferry much more reasonable and thus means that we could afford to take the more expensive route. The ferry moved incredibly fast, reaching Zanzibar in just over 1.5 hours. The first 20 minutes and the last 20 minutes were quite nice as the waves were relatively small and close to shore, but when the ferry was out over deep sea, the waves were large and the ride rough. It was at that 20-minute mark when the distinctive look of motion sickness came over Cynthia’s face and she quickly scarfed down some Gravol. This put her quickly to sleep and saved myself and the other passengers in ways we can all imagine.

The ferry dock on Zanzibar Islandis located about halfway up the island's west coast. In the harbour was an interesting mix of large container ships, small yachts, public ferries, and dhows (small wooden fishing sailboats). The small dhows seemed especially out of place amongst the large private, commercial, and industrial vessels. Their great white triangular sails were incredibly beautiful and graceful as they skillfully slipped between the large lumbering vessels.

The ferry docked; we disembarked, and went to Stone Town after a brief stop at the health and immigration office. Immediately we were approached by a flood of aggressive and invasive touts trying to earn commissions by taking us to this hotel or that. We had already booked a hotel and had a pretty good idea of how to get there from the ferry docks and so we kept our eyes forward and forged our way past them. One particular tout was incredibly persistent as he harassed us right to the lobby of the hotel. We attempted to negotiate the price of the first hotel with little luck, so we left and headed for a second hotel. It was on our walk from the first hotel to the second that both Brian, and then Cynthia, had to pull the annoying tout aside and politely but bluntly tell him that we did not require his assistance. Finally, he got the picture and let us be. We successfully navigated our way to the second hotel without further aid or hindrance. We settled on a good price at the second hotel, checked in, and set out to explore Stone Town.

The history of Zanzibar is a really fascinating one. It was used as a major stop on Arab trade routes, and as a result, Islamic and Arabic influence is very evident in the architecture and the culture. The Portuguese ruled over Zanzibar for a short period of time before the Arabs returned and regained control. The streets are very narrow and do not accommodate today's large automobiles. The narrow, winding streets can be very disorienting and make your feel as though you are in a giant labyrinth. We managed to get lost in Stone Town numerous times in our few days there. This was not a problem, however, as you can simply walk to one of the few main roads that encompass Stone Town to regain your bearings. Nowadays, Zanzibar is a fairly major tourist destination and the amount of English spoken there makes asking for directions relatively easy.

For lunch, we went to a great restaurant on the beach called Mercury’s. It is named after Freddie Mercury of the rock group Queen who actually grew up in Zanzibar. It was here that we bought ourselves a couple of t-shirts that say “MZUNGU” (Swahili word meaning white person/foreigner/European) on the back. One really has to be a white person living in Africa to understand just how entertaining such a t-shirt really is. It was also here that we observed something rather disturbing. Looking out onto the Indian Ocean, Cynthia noticed that an African man was bathing a small monkey in the ocean. The monkey was on a string that was tied tightly around its waist and had obviously been converted into a pet. The man roughly scrubbed the monkey with sand before swinging it around and tossing it out into the sea with the string. Several times the monkey swam back to shore only to be picked up, swung around, and hurled back into the ocean. Once the man was done washing the monkey, he tied it to the top of a wooden boat that was parked up on the beach. The monkey was left there to dry in the heat of the mid-afternoon sun. There was no water for the monkey to drink nor shelter from the hot sun. The monkey constantly attempted to free itself from the string that bound it to the top of the boat. It is our assumption that the monkey is used as a street performer to acquire tips from the many tourists who vacation in Zanzibar. It was quite a sad and disturbing event to see.

After lunch we returned to the labyrinth of streets in Stone Town. There were tons of over-priced souvenir shops that all carried many of the same things at roughly three times the cost they would be in Mwanza. At one point, we saw a large cargo truck trying to creep down the narrow streets with only inches to spare on either side. Brian went to take a picture, but the truck driver signaled “no photo” and we obeyed. We eventually found our way to the old Hamamni Persian baths. We paid the entrance fee and went inside. The baths have been out of use for over a hundred years now and lighting was rather minimal (as light entered solely through strategically placed windows in the roof). The architecture was fantastic, though. There were many rooms and several baths; some baths were private while others were large and could likely accommodate many people at once.

From there, we went to the old slave market. Here, we received a guided tour from an elderly African man. The tour was fascinating! All that remains of the old slave market are two of the holding cells in the basement. Each holding cell was roughly 12 feet long, six feet wide, and six feet tall. There was one small hole in the wall near the roof, approximately 10 inches by 4 inches in size, for ventilation. Around 50 people were then packed into each of these cells with chains shackled around their necks. Many slaves perished in these horrific conditions. The slaves who survived their time in the holding cells were then sold in the market above. Prior to being sold they were taken to the large tree in the middle of the market called the whipping tree where they were whipped in order to display their fitness for potential buyers. From here, slaves were sold and then transported on tightly packed ships to Arabia, Persia, and islands throughout the Indian Ocean. The slave market was finally closed down in the 1870s, more than 10 years after slave trade had been abolished on the African west coast. An Anglican church was constructed on the site of the old market following its closure. The church has some amazing stained-glass windows and one of the oldest pipe organs in all of Africa. Outside the church, a monument was constructed in memory of the slaves that had been traded via the market. In the courtyard of this church is one of the few places in Africa where one can see both a Christian church and a mosque standing side-by-side.

For dinner that night, we ate in a famous outdoor seafood market in Stone Town. Many vendors with their open barbeques sell skewers of fresh seafood for very reasonable prices. The selection was overwhelming considering that tilapia is about the only fresh seafood available in Mwanza. The food was absolutely fantastic and definitely what we had been looking forward to.

Thursday morning we went on a guided spice tour. Historically, spices and slaves were the two major exports of Zanzibar and were central to why it was sought after as a hub for trade. Now tourism has replaced the spice trade at the centre of Zanzibar’s economy. Nonetheless, many spices are still grown on Zanzibar and are thus exported throughout the world. It was very interesting to see and learn about how various spices are grown, including cloves, cinnamon, pepper, cumin, curry, cocoa, and vanilla. The list of spices that are grown in Zanzibar is incredible. After the tour we were given a fantastic lunch of rice and fish spiced with many of the flavours we had seen on the day's tour. We then said good-bye and caught a shuttle bus up to the north beaches of the island.

We arrived on the large section of beach known as Kendwa on the west coast, roughly two kilometres south of the northern tip of the island. It was late afternoon and we were dying to go swimming in the Indian Ocean. We settled on a price of $10USD a night each and checked our things. We went straight to our swimsuits and then into the water! It was the first time either of us had set foot in that ocean. It was a warm 28 degrees Celsius. From the water, we looked back at the beautiful white beaches of Kendwa. That evening we watched as the sun set over the water amidst a spattering of clouds.

On Friday morning we awoke to rain! We were not impressed with nature for giving us rain during our beach vacation. Over breakfast, we noticed a number of people heading over to the SCUBA dive shop next door called “SCUBA DO." We decided to check it out as well. We learned that we could become certified PADI SCUBA divers in just two days if we went through all the requisite learning materials and completed the required dives. The rain did not look like it was letting up, so we thought this would be a perfect day to watch the DVDs and go through the learning materials. We did just that, and by 3 p.m. we completed the first two chapters of the PADI dive book and were suiting up for our first confined water dive. The two of us, along with John, our Australian dive instructor, walked out to the beach loaded down with our full SCUBA gear. We got in the water up to our waists, put on our fins, began to breathe through our regulators, and then put our faces in the water as we swam around at the surface. We then lowered down onto our knees so that we were fully submerged and kneeling on the bottom. We sat there for a while in order to get used to breathing through a regulator. We then moved on to a number of skills, such as removing the regulator and clearing the mask. It was here that Cynthia began to feel a bit of motion sickness. This, combined with the uncomfortable feeling of wearing a mask and breathing through a regulator, meant that she cut her dive short and exited the water. SCUBA DO was really nice and did not charge her anything. Brian remained in the water and continued the lesson.

On Saturday morning, we again awoke to rain! At 10 a.m., Brian headed out in the SCUBA DO dive boat for his first open-water dive. There were 12 divers (10 certified experienced divers and two new divers), a driver, and two instructors in the boat. We traveled through some fairly rough water to get to the location off the east side of the island. We geared up in the boat and sat on the side in anticipation. We were briefed by the instructors and on the count of three, we all rolled backwards into the ocean. Just the whole backwards roll into the water was fun. We swam to the edge of the reef and then began to slowly let the air out of our vests. The visibility under the water was incredible! We could see for at least 15 metres in each direction. I and the other new diver stayed with John while the experienced divers and the other instructor went off to explore the reef. On the sandy bottom of the ocean, roughly 12 metres below the surface, we went over a few skills. We then adjusted our buoyancy and began our exploration of the reef. The fish and the coral in the reef were amazing! The colours and variety of the fish and coral were absolutely beautiful! Before I knew it, we were beginning our ascent to the surface. We had been underwater for 42 minutes. It was quite the rush to get back up on the boat after experiencing my first open-water dive. The boat collected up all of the divers and we returned to the resort.

I joined Cynthia for lunch and was incredibly hungry. Diving seems to require such little energy, yet it makes you feel as though you haven’t eaten all day! Cynthia and I shared our experiences of the morning's events over lunch. In contrast to the excitement of my open water SCUBA dive, Cynthia’s morning was relaxing filled with reading and having henna designs drawn on her feet by a local henna artist. That afternoon, I returned to SCUBA DO and completed the third and final requisite chapter in the PADI dive book for my certification. Mid-afternoon I was back out on the dive boat heading out to sea with John. This time we headed to a small reef a few hundred metres off the beaches of Kendwa. Visibility for this dive was considerably less at only about six metres. Again we descended to 12 metres and found a safe spot to go over the last of my diving skills. We then set out to explore the reef and the underwater life inhabiting it. Like on the previous dive, the colours and variety of the fish and the coral were awesome. It was on this dive that we saw a lion fish with its fanciful fins and poisonous spines. As well, we saw an absolutely massive octopus that was occupying a decent sized hole in the reef. Time seemed to fly by while under the water, and before I knew it, we were beginning our ascent to the surface. We were back up on the surface breathing without our regulators after 45 minutes under the sea. We returned to the dive boat and all I could think about was where and when my next dive could be. Sadly, this would be my last dive in Zanzibar (for now), but I am definitely hooked on diving. Back at SCUBA DO, John and I filled out the paper work for my certification over a beer and talked about how to go about furthering my dive certification.

Sunday morning was bright and sunny. It was only fitting that we were scheduled to return to Stone Town by shuttle bus at 10 a.m. before catching the 4 p.m. ferry back to Dar. We enjoyed a last swim in the Indian Ocean and checked out of the resort. Back in Stone Town, we walked around and purchased a few souvenirs before returning to the ferry docks. At the docks, we ran into that same annoying tout that had pestered us several days prior. He asked how our stay was and welcomed us back to the island any time. Aboard the ferry, we met a hearing-impaired woman. Cynthia’s UWO t-shirt caught her attention. She was very excited, being a fellow Canadian. In fact, she is from Port Perry, Ontario. She was even more excited when she realized that Cynthia knew a good bit of sign language from her work in speech therapy back in Oakville.

Cynthia popped her Gravol and slept the whole way back to Dar. In Dar, we were greeted by Issa, who picked us up at the dock and took us back to our hotel. We felt very lucky to have a friend of Kivulini’s who was able to drive us around town for extremely reasonable rates. Most taxi drivers here would have seen that we were mzungus and would have taken advantage of us by charging us astronomical rates. As a sign of our gratitude we offered to treat Issa to dinner.

On Monday morning, we awoke to light rain and a slightly overcast sky. We were in Dar, however, meaning that it was 28 degrees Celsius and humid despite the other weather conditions. Issa drove us out to the offices of CIDA located at the Canadian embassy in order to pick up the VISA forms for the new interns. Our friends at CIDA had the forms ready and waiting for us, and even offered us one of their drivers to assist us in processing the forms. We dropped everything off at immigration and returned to CIDA for a brief meeting with Mary, the intern coordinator. Mary was really helpful and was interested to hear about how our project was coming along (regardless of the fact that we are not CIDA-funded interns). We shared with her what the project is about, what has been done in the past four months, where the project is likely to go, and how we intend to continue it (i.e. sustainability, funding, etc). It was a really productive meeting and it was nice to have the feeling of being back home in Canada again. We said goodbye to Mary and thanked her for taking the time to meet with us. We left the embassy and made a bee-line for the Subway restaurant that we had seen previously. We were so excited to see a North American fast-food joint, and we could not wait to splurge a little on a nice Subway sandwich! Cynthia was immediately brought back to her days as a staff member at Essex Hall and making runs across Western Road to grab a fresh 12-inch chicken sub on those great Subway buns. It was such a great treat and ended up costing roughly the same that a subway lunch in Canada would cost (which still makes it an expensive meal here in Tanzania).

After lunch, Issa drove us out to the airport. Once at the airport, we paid and thanked Issa for all his help. We waved goodbye and went into the terminal. We began to check in when the person at the counter told us “your ticket is for tomorrow’s 4 p.m. Air Tanzania flight, not today’s.” We were in total disbelief. The travel agent in Mwanza had written down the wrong departure date and so we were not scheduled to fly until the next day. Luckily, the flight was not booked solid, and we were able to have our tickets adjusted without any sort of fee. We were thankful that it all worked out. In the end, we boarded the plane, found our way to our seats (which were assigned this time), and awaited takeoff. Takeoff occurred right on time, and we touched down in Mwanza at around 5:30 p.m. We made arrangements for our local taxi driver in Mwanza to pick us up, and so there he was. Driving home from the Mwanza airport was a great feeling. We both noted how nice it was to feel as though we had returned home. Mwanza truly is our home now.

We pulled up to our apartment shortly after 6 p.m. to find Mama Joyce and her daughter Eva up on the balcony of our apartment. They were just moving the day's yogurt into the fridge. Mama Joyce told us about how everything had run smoothly with the yogurt process. We were relieved to hear this good news. That evening, we unpacked, had a small home-cooked meal, and headed off to bed early.

Looking back at the week, it was a really fun one (despite the rain in Zanzibar). We ended up accomplishing all of our goals in Dar, and we had a great time exploring Stone Town. We had a fantastic vacation in Kendwa, and the yogurt project was successfully maintained by the community in our absence. A great success to the program we’d say!!! That’s all for this week. Until next week,

May 31, 2005 | Permalink


Very Nice Blog! I like scuba diving very much but this scuba diving blog is worth of reading.

Posted by: Scuba Diving | Dec 26, 2007 8:08:18 AM

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