A Little Spice!

31 10 2008

Posted by: Laura

Travel dates: 8.22.08-8.31.08

There is a difference between travel and vacation. Travel is an active endeavor, requiring patience and time. It fills every moment with planning and discussing trip details, internet researching, and budgeting. At the same time you are trying to take in your surroundings and learn about different cultures and people. Now this isn’t to say that you can’t learn about other cultures on a vacation, but a vacation is more self oriented. The purpose is to relax and escape from stress and life. You eat out in restaurants rather than cooking your food in a dingy kitchen and sharing two stove eyes with six other travelers. You have to take mini-vacations during your travels because otherwise, no one would last long on the road.

This is the traveling part of our story. We crossed the boarder from Malawi to Tanzania heading towards the island of Zanzibar. Another traveler had suggested that we take the train from the border town of Mbeya to Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. The train cuts through a national park, so it’s possible to see wild life on the journey.

When we went to the train station to buy our tickets, the lady told us that the train was going to be late. Instead of the planned departure at 2:00pm, we would be leaving at 7:30 that night. No problem, good to know. When we show up at the train station at 7:00pm, we are told that the train will not be leaving until 3:00am. This is an awkward time because we didn’t want to leave the train station and check back into our hostel and pay for another night just, and have to get up at 2:00am and get a taxi back to the train station. The hundred or so other people waiting for the train were spreading blankets out on the floor. A friendly Tanzanian showed us an area of the train station with seats where we were able to push some chairs together and stretch out. At midnight, we heard rumors that the train was not showing up until the next morning, but there was no one at the ticket window to confirm this information. We didn’t want to leave and miss our train, so we stacked our bags in the corner and went to sleep.

The train arrived the next morning at 8:30am and we left the station at 9:30am. Our delayed departure time also meant that we would be traveling through the national park at night and miss the animals. Twenty four hours later (note: this is two days after we started traveling) we reached Dar es Salaam where we bought a ferry ticket to Zanzibar to start our much needed vacation.

Zanzibar is old Arab trading port, also known as the “Spice Island” because of it’s exportation of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and saffron. The Arab influence is seen in the winding narrow alleyways of Stonetown and the minarets that announce the call to prayer five times a day. We checked into a nicer hotel than we normally do, then went to get our clothes machine washed (remember we’re on vacation). It is impossible to give directions to anywhere else in old part of Stonetown. None of the alleyways have names and they all look the same. A guy at our hostel was nice enough to lead us to a laundry place. It was at least a twenty minute walk. We dropped our clothes off and our guide started leading us back. I was trying to dodge bicycles and carts in the streets when Chris whispered to me, “I think we’re going in a circle.” A few minutes later, we popped out exactly where we had entered the maze. The guy was very embarrassed and apologized a thousand times. If we get nothing else out of the trip, at least Chris will come back with a sense of direction. Don’t worry, my sense of direction is still the same, nonexistent.

During the day we walked around town dodging shopkeepers who aggressively welcome you into their shops. We sampled coffee with different spices and ate three great meals a day (another sign of being on vacation). At night we ate at the outdoor fish market where each fish vendor sets out a table of fish kabobs: tuna, sword fish, barracuda, shrimp, crabs, lobster, spicy lobster. Then you can also get sides of samosas, coconut bread, and veggies. You point to each kabab you want and the cook throws them on the grill. Then you go to the sugar cane cart. This guy puts a stalk of sugar cane through a grinder, you watch this healthy juice flow into your cup. He adds a hint of ginger, then hands you your cup of sugary goodness. I drank so much sugar cane juice that I gave myself a stomach ache.

No vacation is complete without some beach time. After a few days of Stonetown, we headed an hour north to Kendwa Beach.

Zanzibar is known for its beaches, and for good reason. We chose Kendwa beach because the tide is always high enough to swim. Many of the beaches have such low tide, that you can walk into the ocean for a half mile and be in calf deep water. While there are many upscale resorts at Kendwa, there is also a budget friendly backpacker place called Kendwa Rocks.

Every morning I went for a run to another beach and watched the local women fishing by walking into the water with nets. The early morning has low tide, so they could walk out waist deep. The women were so far out that when I brought Chris back with his camera, they just looked like tiny black dots in the turquoise water. You can go on snorkel tours and dolphin watching tours, but we decided to just sit in the sun. There are also boats to other islands, but I didn’t want to leave our beach. Every time I looked at the water, I almost thought it wasn’t real. The temperature was great so that Chris, who normally can’t sit still for more than an hour before he starts to go into heat stroke, relaxed for hours at a time. We spent three days on the beach, then headed back to Stonetown.

When we were in a bookstore in Stonetown, Chris picked up a Bradt Guidebook to Zanzibar. He happened to read about an island near Zanzibar where they had a turtle sanctuary, which was not mentioned in our guidebook. Prison Island is a thirty minute boat ride from Stonetown and has the world’s second largest species of turtle (the largest is in Galapagos). The island used to have a prison, but it has since been turned into a hotel, a voluntary hotel not a compulsory one.

If you show up at 10:00am or 4:00pm, they hand you a stalk of spinach when you walk in the gate and you get to feed the turtles.  The turtles love this stuff. Now turtles are not the fastest creatures, but when they see you with green leaves in your hand, they all start lumbering toward you and stretching out their necks. The turtles are not indigenous to the island but were brought over from the Seychelles Islands in the late 19th century. Our guide told us they are somewhere between fifty and a hundred years old.

As we walked around the sanctuary, we saw a separate fenced off area where they kept the baby turtles that were only a few weeks old and a few inches long. Once the turtles reach a year old, they move to a different fenced off area. When they are large enough, the turtles roam freely around the sanctuary. You are allowed to pet the adult turtles. You can just walk right up to them and rub their necks.  As a backpacker, I carry everything I own almost everywhere I go, so I have to admit I empathize with these guys. After an hour of taking pictures and feeding them spinach, we went back to the mainland.

We ended up staying in Zanzibar for ten days, a slightly excessive vacation, but worth every day. We took the ferry back to Dar es Salaam and got back into travel mode.





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