Bosman's Bush Telegraph - 21 August 2000
Greetings from Dar! Yes, we are still in Tanzania and believe it or not still in Dar es Salaam (sounds like a bad deja vu, doesn't it?) although I think that this might possibly be our last communiqué from the land of Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar. We are getting rather itchy to make some progress as it is the middle of August and we have not yet crossed the equator. I don't know who has been doing the navigating! Who ever he (she) is he's fired. We have resolved to head north as soon as possible and are scheduled to set out for the Kenyan border and Mombassa on Wednesday.
We had the most superb seven days in Zanzibar with my Dad and sister and our Zanzibari adventure has arguably been the highlight of the trip so far. Of course this might have something to do with the fact that we were spoiled rotten and treated like kings. Makes a rather pleasant change from camping. It was pure luck that we made it to the island at all as, typically, we left loads of things to be done before we caught our boat and of course, predictably, we were late! The boat was scheduled to depart at 14h00 sharp and we had been told by the booking agent and our porter, Mr Pipe, a very diminutive man in a caftan, that the boat waited for no man/woman and that we were to make sure we were on board by 13h30. Well, we only arrived at the port just after 14h00. A very harassed Mr Pipe grabbed our bags as we arrived at the booking office and started hurtling towards the docks with Nev and I in tow. As it turns out, the majority of the rest of the passengers on the boat were Tanzanian military police officers that were being ferried out to Zanzibar to supervise the coming voter registration. It would appear that although the boat does not ordinarily wait for flat foot passengers such as ourselves it was prepared to wait for its military contingent, who, predictably, were late. Lucky for us. Our arrival at the dock coincided with the ostentatious arrival of 10 or so jeeps carrying soldiers kitted out in riot helmets who started to board the boat in very formal single file. It was at this point that we realized that we could not find out boat tickets, our passports or our money. Although Nev could remember packing them into our bag they seemed to have miraculously vanished into thin air. Mr Pipe insisted that we unpack our luggage to see if we could find the offending tickets and Nev and I set about scrabbling through our bags, spewing all our belongings onto the docks. It must have looked like we were being searched for drugs or some other sort of contraband as we turfed out all our clothes, surrounded by the most intimidating swarms of military police. Poor Mr Pipe was literally hanging onto Nev's arm screeching "Where passports? Where passports?". It took all Nev's self control not to push him backwards into the very dirty water in the Dar harbour. Eventually we had to admit to Mr Pipe that we could not find our tickets or passports and that they had either been left behind in the car or had been stolen. Looking very glum Mr Pipe collected our goods and lead us back to the booking office. It was clear that we would not be on the 14h00 boat and we may not be going to Zanzibar at all. In the booking office Mr Pipe suggested that we go through our luggage "pole pole" (slowly, slowly) and make sure that our passports were not there. Nev put is hand into the first side pocket of our duffle bag and found them! In our panic we had obviously overlooked them - repeatedly (which may have been due to a combination of Mr Pipe's screams and the large number of police around us). Mr Pipe was thrilled and grabbed our bags and began running back to the boat yelling at the skipper in Swahili to wait. The boat was literally on the verge of pulling away when we arrived. The gangplank had been packed away and our luggage was hurled over the edge onto the boat. Nev and I launched ourselves unceremoniously onto the boat and off it went. As we pulled out of the harbour I consulted my watch, it was 14h45 - we had delayed the boat for a full 45 minutes. Our seats had been given to other standby passengers so we were forced to stand with the rif raf in third class on the back of the boat with all the cargo. It was probably better that way we were too embarrassed to show our faces! The boat trip to the island takes about an hour and a half and we arrived just before sunset.
Zanzibar is the most fabulous combination of sights, sounds and smells. Stonetown itself is a rabbit warren of narrow streets flanked by ancient buildings many of which have original or newly carved wooden and brass doors for which Zanzibar has become famous. The community is still extremely traditional and mostly muslim. Women and girls wear long robes and have their heads covered at all times and some of the men wear traditional muslim garb. Melodious singing of passages from the quoran can be heard from the many mosques in Stonetown at the regular prayer intervals during the day. The first of these is at sunrise which proved to be rather trying for us westerners trying to have a late lie in. Many of the hotels are run by strict muslim tradition and do not serve alcohol or allow it to be drunk on the premises. We stayed in the Chavda hotel in the centre of Stonetown. When Nev and I arrived at the hotel we discovered that they did not have a double room available for us so they booked us into a suite. The suite was almost the size of our flat in Cape Town and was furnished in the most luxurious Zanzibari antiques. The bed was large enough to sleep a small family (or a medium sized one at that!) and was draped with a voluminous mosquito net. There was even a bath - something I had not seen since Zomba in Malawi - and best of all there was an endless supply of hot water. I felt rather like an Arabian princess. We threw open our shutters and let the balmy evening air waft into our room carrying with it the shrieks of local children, the smell of curry and spices (intermingled with rubbish I suspect but we tried to ignore that) and the sounds of the mosque. My Dad and sister arrived that evening after flying to Zanzibar from Johannesburg. It was absolutely wonderful to see them and to catch up on news of home. More importantly, their luggage was laden with goodies ranging from exotic gifts like South African wine (imagine) and the whole range of Harry Potter books to the more mundane things that we had requested including zip lock bags, clean green, a piece of copper pipe to mend our shower, anthisan cream and lip ice!
Our days in Stonetown were spent roaming the narrow streets (and getting lost more times than we can remember), visiting places of interest, shopping, having our hands decorated with the most beautiful henna designs and, of course, eating. One of the culinary highlights was our dinner at the famous Sambusa Two Table restaurant. More than one Zanzibar fundi had recommended Sambusa to my Dad as being the best place to try authentic Zanzibari cuisine. We were advised that a booking was essential as Sambusa literally only had two tables so we set off in search of the restaurant. Nothing, it seems, is easy to find in Stonetown and we spent quite a while wandering around in circles asking directions to the Two Tables. At last we found a sign which pointed us down a scruffy path strewn with rubbish. As we rounded the corner we found what seemed to be just another Zanzibar house which doubled as a scrap yard. There were literally piles of old baths, toilet cisterns, rusty bits of metal strewn all over the place. Could this be the restaurant? It said "Sambusa Two Tables" but it looked nothing like what we imagined the best restaurant in Zanzibar to be. My Dad rang the bell and we waited. Nothing. The second ring elicited some movement from upstairs and the door was unlocked. A bleary Zanzibari gentleman poked his head round the door. He was sweating profusely and we had clearly woken him up from his afternoon siesta. "Yes", he mumbled. "We would like to book dinner for tomorrow night" we ventured apologetically. "No problem" he replied and started to shut the door. "But we have a vegetarian with us" we stuttered pointing at my sister. "No meat, no chicken, no problem" was his response "See you tomorrow" and he locked the door. And that was that. Needless to say we were very nervous when we reported back at Sambusas the following night. This time we were greeted by a much more awake Mr Sambusa. We removed our shoes and padded upstairs where we were ushered to our table which we shared with various other guests. The meal was outstanding. We were served a host of Zanzibari delights including a lentil dahl, king fish and coconut curry and the most tender squid. As the meal was nearing its end Mr Sambusa's ten year old son who was already in his pyjamas switched on the hi fi and the room was filled with traditional taraab music. Before long, Mr Sambusa's bevy of buxom daughters were all treating us to a show of local Zanzibari dancing soon to be joined by their mother (who was even more hefty) and our host himself. It was a fantastic evening. Sambusa Two Tables is an absolute must if you are planning to visit Stonetown.
On one of the other nights in Stonetown we dined at the Forodani Gardens. Every night all the local vendors set us stalls in the Forodhani Gardens and peddle their wares to the locals and tourists. Each stall has a paraffin lamp and a brazier on which the vendor prepares his speciality. We bravely tried lobster and crab (trying to forget the sights and smells that we had seen at the very unhygienic fish market the morning before!) which are ridiculously cheap as well as skewers of beef, samoosas, bean balls and chapattis. It was at the Forodhani gardens that we discovered the famous Zanzibar sweet pizza, an absolutely heavenly delight made of bananas, mango and chocolate folded into wafer thin pizza dough and cooked until the chocolate melts. Its prepared by a guy who calls himself the Zanzibar Master of Pizza. Scrumptious! We ended the evening with a cup of coffee at a coffee stand where our table companions included a couple of Zanzibari teenagers, who struck up a conversation with my Dad and sister about South African soccer, Bafana Bafana and Mark Fish (It seemed that during our 7 days there we must have had that same conversation countless times. Bafana Bafana would appear to be very big in Tanzania), and a wizened old Maasai woman with her high cheekbones and stretched earlobes who was enjoying a cuppa and a chapatti after a long night of curio selling. Where else in the world could this happen? It was magic.
After our three nights in Stonetown we headed for the Mapenzi Beach resort which is on the north eastern coast of the island. En route to Mapenzi however we took in the obligatory spice tour - Zanzibar is, after all, the legendary spice island. Our guide took us on a leisurely stroll through the spice gardens and started an impromptu smelling and tasting competition. At each new bush he would crumple some leaves or have us taste a seed and then we were required to guess which spice was grown on the bush. We fared abysmally. Julie did the best of all having done far more cooking than the rest of us put together. We tasted and smelled all sorts of exotic spices including cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and, of course, cloves. We also tasted all sorts of new and interesting fruits like the mangoustine, the jack fruit and the red banana. Our guide explained all the uses of each and every spice and regaled us with all sorts of stories and old wives tales about them. We learned that nutmeg is an aphrodisiac (lock up those baking supplies!), ginger is good for sore throats, white and black pepper come from the same pepper corn and the colour is determined by the degree of ripeness, there are only four types of coffee grown naturally although there are hundreds of blends sold commercially. Fascinating stuff. Throughout the tour the local children kept bringing us gifts. Before long, all four of us were wearing crowns made of leaves as well as bracelets and rings. I was even given a handbag and Julie was given a posy of beautiful pink flowers. We looked like right idiots but felt very special. After stocking up on spices we headed for Mapenzi.
Mapenzi is one of those beach resorts where absolutely everything is laid on! From three enormous buffet meals a day to drinks to towels for the pool. We spent four of the most decadent days at Mapenzi surpassed only, I suspect, by our honeymoon. Of course, being the decadent twins, Nev and I took full advantage of the facilities and felt well and truly pampered. Our eat fest was interrupted only by bouts of archery, pool, darts and the very occasional swim in the ocean. We took long naps and read books. It was heavenly. Thank you Dad! We did however manage to get off our butts to spend one day scuba diving. We did two dives of the Mnemba Atoll (snazzy word for island) just off the north eastern coast. The reefs were spectacular and we saw all sorts of gorgeous and exotic fish. Zanzibar would seem to have some of the best dive sites in the world. The two that we saw were magnificent. We even saw a very rare sun fish from the boat on our way back to shore. No one had seen one before and there was great excitement amongst the boat crew. Within seconds of the sighting, the entire crew had donned masks and fins and were in the water checking it out. Of course the tourists did not take long to catch on that something was up and before long the boat had cleared and everyone was swimming along side the fish trying to identify it.
All in all we had a blissful holiday away from our holiday and were quite ratty and irritable to have to return to cooking our own dinner and sleeping in our tent. That seems to have passed though and its back to business as usual. Next stop Kenya.
We hope that you are all well. Thank you so much for all the good wishes following our Kili climb. We really appreciate them. We understand that SA 4x4 magazine has published one of our articles in this month's edition if anyone is keen to check it out. We have however not seen it ourselves.
Please keep sending emails we do love getting them
lots of love
Penny and Neville