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Ngorongoro Crater Bwejuu

1st March 2013

An Introduction to Zanzibar, Sun-kissed Paradise

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Moshi Maasai
    Morning began with the birds, a pale pink-purple grey sky, as silver melted into gold and dew evaporated in the warmth of a new day. We walked through the already active city to the Union Cafe for a quick fix of their coffee, apparently highly regarded since it is made freshly from beans, not the instant coffee normally encountered. A Spanish omelette set me up for the day.
    Young children, mainly girls, could be seen heading off to school, small groups of them wearing white head scarves - presumably Muslim.
    On our return to our hotel, we collected our kit and wandered down to Gladys's office, hoping to meet up with her again and thank her for the excellent safari. Sadly she was not there, in fact the office was shut. It was now 07:55, and we had arranged with Nelvin the previous evening that we would be taken to the airport at 8am. The allotted hour approached, and our transport was nowhere to be seen. I panicked, we couldn't leave it much longer, so I headed off to scout for a taxi. After I had covered 100m, I heard a large shout behind me, "Dad!" It was Dan, who had sprinted to catch me and inform me that the transport had turned up, probably at 8am on the dot. I felt a bit silly with myself then, this was Africa after all, and there is always a little slackness in timings. We were somewhat relieved, and Robson, our driver, helped store our kit in the shuttle van, and off we sped to Kilimanjaro International Airport.
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Off to Moshi Market
    I had grown fond of northern Tanzania, and was tinged with a little sadness as we passed through a colourful land full of the strands of humanity that had existed and will continue to exist for ages to come. The colour, the ready smiles and friendly banter with all manner of local strangers had an hypnotic pull. I now realised how Sally had got hooked on East Africa.
    We passed by Kilimanjaro one last time, proudly standing in the clear morning air with its cap of snow; the tallest mountain in Africa, a majestic and moving sight. I wondered how many people were climbing its slopes this morning. Dala-dalas passed by us, with youths hanging out of the open door, shouting and waving frantically with beaming smiles.
    Presently, we reached the airport, a fairly functional set of buildings and operations. Just at the entrance door, a young woman checked passports and tickets, then 10m behind her were the check-in desks. On check-in I presented our passports and flight confirmation document. After a pause, the young man scratched his head and stated, "This is not your ticket. Where is your ticket?" Cold realisation set in, for this Precisionair flight, I had only printed out the flight confirmation, not the ticket. This was the first time ever I had been asked for a ticket, at all other times my passport had sufficed. He was adamant I needed one. The young fellow kindly escorted us out of the building to a Precisionair office next door. Here sat a stocky chap who was clearly up to his neck multitasking umpteen issues from other passengers besides us. He plonked a keyboard with his stocky fingers, handling two conversations on mobile phones simultaneously. His two lackeys seemed to serve no purpose at all. "What is the problem?" he asked. I explained the situation, and then he made a series of phone calls, requesting the credit card details I had used for the booking process. "Sit down there, please," he commanded, pointing to the one remaining seat in the office. I sat while he dealt with the next two passengers' problems, and one of his assistants checked her fingernails while the other yawned. After 10 minutes he received a call relevant to us, and soon we had freshly printed tickets in our hands. "Asante sana!" I shouted as we headed back to join the back of a now very long queue to the check-in desk. There were no further incidents and we safely boarded our flight to Zanzibar.
    During the course of the flight I had a chance to reflect on our safari. As I have said earlier, a safari is not something I personally would have naturally chosen to undertake. I had never really enthused over visiting caged animals in zoos in the past, my visits just rationed to those times when I took my children to those establishments. However, my mind is never completely closed, and being in Tanzania, going out on safari is a "must do". After all, seeing animals in the wild could be an enlightening experience. And so it was that we came to be undertaking a safari in this vast land.
    Organising it was not an arduous task, due to the safari company we chose to use. I had done some research, and coupling this with a recommendation from one of Sally's friends, we opted for Gladys Safaris. All communications were done via email, and it was always with Gladys herself; consistency helps. She had been extremely patient and helpful in sorting out the details over a period of weeks; nothing had been too much trouble. Her warm welcoming smile and assuring air confirmed that we had picked a good egg.
    Gladys had done us proud by choosing Kepha as our driver and guide, plus Erasto as our chef. These lads complimented each other splendidly and formed an admirable team. They had done their utmost to ensure our safari was a memorable experience. We had been expertly shown the wonders of this land, well informed, educated in Swahili, and eaten like kings. What more could we ask for?
    For me, to see the wealth of different animals in both variety and quantity, in the wild, roaming freely as they were meant to be, was a mind-blowing experience, an essential ingredient of the spirit of Africa. And to see the annual migration, with enormous herds stretching from horizon to horizon, was an emotional experience. I had witnessed a primeval scene that had existed for millennia, and hopefully will continue for millennia to come.
    And all this wildlife was an overlay carpeting absolutely stunning scenery fringed by glorious daybreaks and sunsets. Unforgettable!
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Last Lingering Look at Kilimanjaro
    Our small commercial plane glided across azure skies, over ancient lands teeming with wildlife, and soon we were crossing a turquoise sea to a green gem, Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago, and referred to informally as Zanzibar. The history of Zanzibar was written by the winds which aided seafaring traders from Africa, India and Arabia, to meet in a cultural melting pot, from which they transported ivory, spices, slaves, skins and iron.
    Africans are known to have inhabited both Zanzibar and Pemba islands possibly before the birth of Christ. The original African inhabitants of Zanzibar are believed to have migrated from the African mainland, probably and initially in search of better fishing facilities on a seasonal basis. Due to the lack of political unity based on an inter-tribal organization throughout the islands, the settlers remained vulnerable to attack and were liable to conquest by Asiatic and European countries whose nationals travelled from time to time through the centuries to the East Coast of Africa in search of trade and adventure.
    While most of Europe was still floundering in the Dark Ages, the light of the Oriental world had already fallen on Zanzibar. Early visitors to Zanzibar and Pemba included Persians, Hindus, Jews, Arabs, Phoenicians and possibly Assyrians. They arrived on the East African coast with the monsoon and left again, their holds groaning with trade goods. They brought metal tools, weapons and jewellery and took away ivory, tortoiseshell, slaves and palm oil. The 9th Century Tales of Sinbad the Sailor from the eastern fairy-tale Arabian Nights reflect the seafaring tradition of the people of the Persian Gulf. It was they who named the coast Zanj el Barr, meaning "land of black people". Ancient African settlers therefore had contact with a potpourri of cultures and managed not only to survive and absorb some of the newcomers, but also to adopt many of their political, economic and social methods of organization. The Africans did not seem to have put up any resistance to these invaders but they became used to their comings and goings which were dictated by the seasonal monsoon winds. Because of the African inherent vulnerability, which was due to the absence of unity among the various ethnic groups, Arabs were able to establish a colonial regime in the islands.
    Ancient traders from Shiraz, then a small town in southern Iran (Persia), began in about the tenth century A.D. to arrive in Zanzibar in large numbers and to intermarry with local Bantu people there. They used Zanzibar as a base for voyages between the Middle East, India, and Africa and established garrisons on the islands.
    Vasco da Gama's visit in 1498 marked the beginning of European influence. Around 1503, Zanzibar became part of the Portuguese Empire when Captain Ruy Lourenšo Ravasco Marques landed and demanded and received tribute from the sultan in exchange for peace. By 1729, with their Indian empire in disarray, the Portuguese were forced to flee Tanzania by the Omani Arabs. The establishment by the Muscat Arabs of an Arab colonial state in the nineteenth century was a relatively recent affair.
    Slaving had gone on for at least 2000 years, but under the Zanzibar sultans it reached its awful peak. Up to 30,000 slaves a year were brought to Zanzibar in the early 1870s, to work the clove plantations or to be sold in the market. Great caravans left Bagamoyo for the interior, returning with slaves and ivory. Zanzibar traders made fortunes, and helped to depopulate huge areas.
    The power of the sultans dwindled as the British exerted diplomatic and military authority. Control of Zanzibar eventually came into the hands of the British Empire; part of the political impetus for this was the 19th century movement for the abolition of the slave trade. Reluctantly, Sultan Barghash closed the slave market in Zanzibar in 1873. The relationship between Britain and the German Empire, at that time the nearest relevant colonial power, was formalised by the 1890 Heligoland-Zanzibar Treaty, in which Germany agreed to "recognize the British protectorate over ... the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba". That year, Zanzibar became a protectorate (not a colony) of Britain.
    The death of the pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini on 25 August 1896 and the succession of Sultan Khalid bin Barghash, who the British did not approve, led to the Anglo-Zanzibar War. On the morning of 27 August 1896, ships of the Royal Navy destroyed the Beit al Hukum Palace. A cease fire was declared 38 minutes later, and to this day the bombardment stands as the shortest war in history. From 1890 to 1913, traditional viziers were appointed to govern as puppets, switching to a system of British residents (effectively governors) from 1913 to 1963. Zanzibar was declared independent in 1963. The two territories of Zanzibar and Tanganyika merged into the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, which was later changed to Tanzania.
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Sally's Bungalow
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Dan and I Opted for This One
    After 70 minutes in the air, our plane performed a graceful arc over Kiwani Bay and gently landed on a baking land strip. The temperature inside the plane was hot, outside it was like a furnace.
    After a few paperwork preliminaries, we were out of the airport and in a cab heading out to Bwejuu on the eastern side of the island. Sally had already visited Zanzibar with her cousin and partner, and knew well that ATMs could only be found in the vicinity of the airport and Stone Town, so we took the wise precaution of getting the driver to pull in at an ATM before we had travelled too far away from civilisation.
Twisted Palms Beach, Tide a Long, Long Way Out      (please use scroll bar)

    It was a slow crawl away from the airport. The roadside was a mass of people selling fruit and vegetables, all arranged in ingeniously creative stacked piles. I guess the artistic aspects of their displays alleviated the boredom of sitting out all day in the sun selling their wares. All manner of hardware, timber products (predominantly enormous beds), and everything essential to life could be bought by the side of the road.
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Maasai Lads Playing Football as the Tide Comes In
    Cars, busses, handcarts, bikes, and motorbikes were pulled in by the roadside in order for the occupants to make purchases. Indeed these temporary roadside businesses seemed to be doing more trade than the businesses set back beyond the strip of dirt. It was all a hive of busy activity. "Is it market day?" I asked our driver. "No, today is quiet," he replied. How could it possibly get busier than it is now I wondered.
    A lot of the dala-dalas here were open sided, with canvas roofs, and a low bench running the length of each side. They looked more like cattle trucks than people carriers. These travelled along the highway crammed full of people. One flat back sped past us with a gang of lads sitting on the low sides, all in animated conversation. If the driver braked suddenly, they would all be on the road.
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Sally's Sea Shells
    Soon we left the built up area behind, and we were travelling through thick bush which hemmed us in on both sides. Sally informed me Colobus Monkeys roamed the island, and I kept my eyes peeled for them. I found moving through a terrain, where my horizons are the bushes on the side of the road, rather tedious.
    After what seemed like an age, we entered the inhabited area of Bwejuu. We took a turnoff and negotiated our way past a herd of bellowing cows meandering down the road, and arrived at our base for the next few days, the Twisted Palms Lodge.
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Dhow Setting Sail
    Two tall, slim Maasai lads, complete with long sticks, opened the gate to the lodge, and hurriedly whisked our luggage off. Soon we were greeted by Laura, who escorted us around to the reception area where we met Renato. They were Italians, she from southern Italy, he from Bari. The couple had started working for a large travel company, and gradually worked their way to obtaining their own lodge. Sally explained to me how many Italians come to Zanzibar for their vacations, particularly the northern end of the island.
    The smell of coconut and seaweed drifted in on the breeze from the ocean. While we were sorting out the administrative details, we were joined by Maria and Jana, a Swedish couple. Now we had a quorum, our hosts gave us the usual spiel for new guests, and the Maasai lads then showed us to our rooms. We had two thatched bungalows situated on a rise, each equipped with a single and double bed plus the usual bathroom facilities. The rooms were simply adorned, with shelves constructed out of sticks and chord, as were the chairs. The beds were somewhat unusual, resembling concrete snooker tables, covered in colourful, patterned material, with a mattress dropped into place in the "playing" area. Towels arranged like origami in the shape of a swan, with red petals on them, added a charming touch.
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Twisted Palms Restaurant
    I immediately set about washing some clothes and putting them out to dry in the fierce sun, before enjoying a tingling shower. Then it was off to the beach to take some photos and enjoy a soda water in the lodge restaurant/bar, a wooden construction standing high up on pilings above the beach. Sally and Dan joined me later, and we partook in a late lunch.
    We watched the tide slowly creeping its way across the vast plain of soft sand and seaweed, from the pounding reef in the distance to the shelving shoreline before us. A nearby dhow became slowly buoyant as the water gurgled around it. Once the owner had it partially rigged, he summoned a group to join him. They waded out and clambered awkwardly aboard the craft with its high steep sides. After a little more adjustment to the rigging, the sail was hoisted, and they all drifted off slowly towards the surf breaking over the coral reef. Later, we spotted them snorkelling near the reef. Another nearby motorised vessel had taken folk out on a fishing trip. The Maasai lads were taking time out with a couple of others. Using their long sticks for improvised goals, they were having a game of football on the dazzling white sandy beach, oblivious to the harsh heat.
    As the sun was lowering itself in the sky and shadows were lengthening, the three of us took a stroll for what seemed like miles along the beach, which consisted of powdery white sand, very soft to walk upon, indeed almost like flour. Almost transparent Ghost Crabs occasionally scuttled at amazing speeds across their white plain. Locals were met along the way, smiling and shouting, "Jambo!", even the tiny children. We had covered a fair distance when Sally decided to turn back; she feared we would be cut-off by the rapidly approaching tide.
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Dan and Sally Enjoying an Evening Stroll
    Dan and I carried on for a while before turning in land and picking up a sandy track, which we hoped would provide a land-based return route. We passed football fields of pure sand where youths were either running circuits around the "field", or engaged in kick about sessions with temporary goals. After a while, we found ourselves passing through what could be best described as a farm, which had just disgorged a herd of cows, perhaps after milking time, which were now lazily plodding their way unsupervised down the sandy trail.
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Training on the Local Football Pitch - Must Be Hard Work Running About on That
    The trail started to head inland, not exactly the direction we wanted to head, so we picked a way back to the beach, and walked back to the lodge in bare feet through the surging tide. The temperature of the sea was like warm bath water, not exactly refreshing in the still warm evening sun.
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Cows Heading off after Milking

    We all did our own things for a while: reading, writing notes, napping, showering etc., before meeting up and venturing down onto the beach. The sun was long down, and the moon hadn't yet risen, so we were treated to the most marvellous view of the heavens. Millions of stars could be seen, and the Milky Way stood out like a mare's tail across the inky black background. The vault of the nocturnal sky swung slowly over our heads.
    Walking 50m across the soft sands, which still emanated the stored heat of the day, we reached the next lodge to sample the food there. They were clearly about to close when I entered. "Are you still serving food?" I asked the young man who greeted me. He hesitated, and looked towards the kitchen staff. Sally and Dan then entered the dining area, and sensing it would be worth their while, the young man relented with, "Yes, I think we can manage it." We had forgotten that a lot of the eating establishments close at 9pm.
    A chap and three women, all of northern European origin, sat at a table in the corner. We chose the only table left which had a table cloth covering it, and gave our order, Sally ordering hers in fluent Swahili. This resulted in Swahili banter between her and the waiter. He originated from Arusha, had trained to work in the Serengeti, but now worked and lived on Zanzibar. When the young man learned of Sally's employment in Kenya, the conversation took a political turn. The merits of the various candidates were discussed, including Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta. The latter's participation in the elections was rather puzzling, since he was due to appear in the International Courts for crimes he committed against humanity during the previous elections. Once the Kenyan politics were put to rights, the discussion turned to business. It was low now, and about to plummet as the low season rapidly approached.
    Suitably sustained, we walked back along the now moonlit beach, chatting about the stars, and about the remarkable contrast we had encountered in the day, between the oppressive heat of the dusty interior of Tanzania, and the sun-kissed paradise we now found ourselves in.


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Ngorongoro Crater Bwejuu
Last updated 9.4.2013