Thursday, March 22, 2012

Zanzibar Part Two & The End of an Era

Well it has been an eventful week and the course of my time in Africa has changed dramatically. I spent three weeks on Zanzibar and had a great time as you saw in the last post and will read more about here. Now I'm back on the mainland trying to figure out what to do with myself because our group has split up unexpectedly in just the last few days. However, before I get to that lets get back to scuba diving and enjoying the beach.

Because both Weon and Chris are into diving, with Weon being a divemaster and Chris working as an instructor, diving was supposed to be a big focus of the trip. It hasn't exactly turned out that way, but we are diving every once in a while. I was itching to get back in the water and see all the underwater life here around Zanzibar, and today was the first real day to do that. I did a dive a few days before, but it was really just a skills dive doing some practice offshore, today Chris and I were going out on the boat with Divine Diving to the northern tip of the island.

Conditions were fairly good, and I think the dive lasted something like 56 minutes, meaning I'm getting a lot better with my air consumption!

We did two dives from the boat that day and I had a great time. The first dive was not terribly interesting, but the second dive was the best dive I've had here in Africa so far. There was ton of fish, I saw a turtle, cuttlefish, stingrays, morays, shrimp and plenty of nice coral.

I've actually been surprised by how few good sunsets you get out here. Often the sun just dips behind some clouds and disappears before much happens, but this one was nice so I thought I'd share.

The next morning Weon took off and returned to the mainland. He'd been to Zanzibar before and decided to spend some time elsewhere while Chris and I stuck around on the island.

The next morning Chris and I were off to dive again, but first we needed some breakfast because it was going to be a long day. We ended up at this little local place about 30 meters off the beach where for 1500 shillings (just under $1) I got a bowl of beans and two chapatti. The beans were about as bland as possible, but fresh made chapatti is delicious, and due to the Indian influence here on Zanzibar, chapatti has become a staple food on the island.

Chris and I out on the dive boat

It was another enjoyable dive. We were hoping to see white tip sharks, but didn't get lucky. I have to say swimming through big schools of fish is one of my favorite things about being under water though, and we got a good bit of that.

This is called a triggerfish, and it is quite large. I saw it feeding in the sand, and crept up on it all sly like, getting as close as possible to get good video. I got within probably two feet of the big guy, and when we surfaced, Chris said they are known to be a bit aggressive with a very powerful bite. He thought about stopping me, but decided to let me get close just to see what would happen! Luckily I got away unharmed.

(Watch this on full screen with the sound on for maximum effect!)

Here is a quick video I made of the diving we did. I have to say I'm still pretty new to both diving and to cinematography, but I'm especially new to underwater cinematography! That said, I'm very happy with the video I made, by far my best yet. (I just wish the GoPro camera had white balance adjustments or that I had the software to fix it, because the color is way off...)

It must be Thursday night, because this is the weekly party at Cholos, one of the popular beach bars.

The next day Chris and I had nothing much to do, so we decided to take a day trip to Paji beach just for a change of scenery, something to do and to see what was going on on the other side of Zanzibar. To do this we took a dalla dalla to Stone Town (where this photo is taken) and then another to Paji. On the second leg we rode in the cab with the driver, an infinitely more comfortable option than constantly dealing with the people squeezing in and out of the back at every stop.

The claim to fame of Paji beach is that it has good conditions for wind surfing and kite surfing and those kind of things. Beyond that, it seemed nearly empty and with almost no young people we could find.

We headed to a restaurant, Africa Bar or something like that, and ordered some food. While there we meet Ignacio, and Spanish guy who is here running a hotel with his English (if I remember correctly?) girlfriend and their adorable dog. We hung out and chatted for a while, and were eventually told that we probably wouldn't make the dalla dalla back to Nungwei that night, so we might as well come out to the bar tonight with him and sleep on his floor. Say yes to new opportunities, I always say. So we did. Funny thing is I mentioned to James, a friend of mine who is out here in Africa for Peace Corps (not in Tanzania I might add) that I'd gone to Paji and crashed on the floor of some Spanish guys place, and he replied “Ignacio!!!” and knew exactly who I was talking about! Small world sometimes.

We hung out at their place for the evening, met a bunch of the other young foreigners who are working out at Paji, had a delicious dinner and went out to one of the bars that was having a party that night. It was nice but I'd been having some back problems I couldn't fully enjoy myself. Rather than dancing and partying it up I mostly just sat in the sand watching the fire dancing (Ignacio, his girlfriend and others), and talked to other people who were out here in Africa doing volunteer work.

The next day nothing happened. Really.

But the day after, I did a little snorkeling just off the shore, and when you are not in the areas already ruined by fishing, and not trapped between the nets of the next spot to be ruined, it's quite nice.

It was this day that I also finished reading the Dune trilogy. I knew vaguely what the story was about when I picked up the book back on the mainland and I'm glad I did, it is one of the best books I've read in a long time. It's so hard for me to read at home for some reason, but when I travel I can devour books.

Once again, we decided to take a little day trip to another beach just for a change of scenery and for something to do. This time it was a closer beach but also on the eastern side of the island, Matemwe. We took a dalla dalla to where the road turns, then decided to walk the rest of the way. While it would have only cost about 60 cents to ride the dalla dalla, I wanted to walk because at the slower pace you can see so much more.

Part way down the road we ran into this young guy and he really wanted to chat and practice his English. I was happy to talk with him, and we walked together for probably half an hour, with him asking such impossible questions as “How is Africa different from America.” For some stupid reason I began talking rather complex ideas like social isolation that often comes with wealth and single family homes and office jobs, verses the more Africa lifestyle of 'sit under the tree all day and chat with your neighbors, friends and family.' No matter my answer, he always answered with “Thank you, can I ask you about...”

I should have just said “The difference between Africa and America is in America we don't carry bundles of sticks on our heads.” haha....

Upon arriving at Matemwe we found it even more empty than Paji was. All it had was a handful of somewhat expensive looking resort hotels, that had about 5 middle age European tourist each. That's it.

We needed lunch so we stopped at a hotels restaurant for burgers (sometimes you just want a burger) and realized just how much more expensive this beach was from Nungwei where we were staying. Snorkeling trips to Mnemba attol, the 'protected' island off the northeast of Zanzibar were listed as being $25. This is funny, because from Nungwei, those trips cost $20 even though it is three times farther from away.

Oh, and they cultivate seaweed here. I've never liked eating seaweed though, unless it's wrapping my sushi.

Lacking a water/sewer system, this is how shops, businesses and homes (that can afford it) get water: the water delivery truck. This is also how a large portion of the vehicles on the road in Africa look: old, run down, overworked, men hanging all over the sides and a large portion of them are made by Tata, an Indian company, which I get a kick out of having spent time in India.

That night it was back to Mangi's, our regular bar. While there, we met a group of Norwegian girls who are out here in Tanzania doing volunteer work at an orphanage.

Now I just need to take this moment to make an observation: there is an unbelievable number of Scandinavian girls in Africa. I've met more Swedish and Norwegian girls in Africa, and on Zanzibar in particular than I have in any other place I've been. (I don't think I've met anyone from Finland though...) Most of them are here in Africa volunteering for two to three months, a few others are in the kind of 'travel the world' school programs I wish we had back in America. Also, it must be simply because guys are less likely to volunteer, but at times I think the foreigner ratio in Africa is at least two females for every male, if not more. Take notes guys, haha.

On this day I finally walked north from our room rather than south. Jambo Brothers, our room, is on the north end of a long string of tourist infrastructure, but between that and the lighthouse about 2k up the beach is still a slice of authentic Africa. This is the part of the island where they actually make the traditional dhow boats that once sailed all the way to India during the spice trade and still crisscross the waters today. It was fascinating to see how these boats are built, with naturally bent pieces of wood for the stays (not sure that's the proper term), timbers shaped and carved by chisel and rope used to plug cracks between the boards.

I've had this thought countless times in Africa and in my travels in Asia as well, but it keeps coming back to me: This is how kids should grow up.

Out here life is SOOO much more social, at every age. Just like I was trying to explain (poorly) to the young man as I walked to Matemwe, in America so many of us have a single family home, our own car and have only a small group of co-workers. We are constantly isolated from each other, we are taught to be afraid of strangers, we are taught that if you are under 15 or so you probably don't have any business doing anything away from your parents or other 'adults.' The only time kids are on their own is taking the bus to school, and once school ends you come home and sit alone again unless you have explicit permission from your parents to go to a friends house and sit in another private space with just one or two other people. It's crazy! Out here in Africa 4 year old’s roam the villages freely, five year old’s take care of babies, six year old’s are already learning a trade from their brothers, parents or neighbors and at all ages people are socializing with a wide group from sunrise to sunset!

Sorry, rant over, but it really is true, I promise.

A group of football players (that's soccer for us Yanks) stretching and working out on the beach.

Local dinner: a scrawny chicken leg and a potato in broth with chapatti.

Once again, it was time to take a dalla dalla to Stone Town. Now if your not in a rush, you have time to be strategic about which dalla dalla you take. The best is to take one of the actual buses rather than the truck with the u-shape bench in the back. Those are quite uncomfortable: you have to shift your position every two minutes as people get on and off, you don't have enough headroom to sit up straight, leg room is poor and the price isn't any less. Now if you take the bus dall dalla, by sitting in the middle you minimize the bumps in the road, but by sitting in the very back or very front (if it has the bench seat facing the driver) you don't have to be constantly moving around or trying to squeeze out of the way every time someone gets in or out and has to walk down the isle. Also, some buses have seats that are intended to fit two on the left and three on the right. However the way transportation works here in Africa is the rule “There is always room for one more.” Now it's almost impossible to fit three on the left, but it is common to squeeze four on the right. If you and a friend get in the smaller bench on the left, you are almost guaranteed a better ride than if you sit on the right. 

The main purpose for the visit was to go to the ATM and hospital, but while we were there I insisted on visiting the 'Beit Al-Ajaib House of Wonders.' There is a photo of the outside in my last post, but the building was built in the 1880s as a ceremonial palace, was one of the first buildings in Africa to have electricity and running water, and is now a pretty good museum which details the history of Zanzibar, explains a lot about the multicultural seafaring culture of the island, Swahili culture in general and is well worth the visit..

The view from the top over the Old Fort (and every other direction) is also spectacular.

Inside the building is a 'last of it's kind' boat. This dhow is the the last known mtepe, a traditional Swahili sailing ship built using the traditional Zanzibar methods of shipbuilding that used no nails, only wooden pegs and coconut fiber hold it together. To know that these ships, some over 30 meters and 180 tons if I recall correctly, were sailing across oceans hundreds of years ago is a stunning fact.

Chris getting a refreshing coconut.

As we continued on our journey, we came across these guys who were dragging a piece of whale across the road....

This is the Zanzibar High Court, directly across the street from the police headquarters. A truly beautiful building, and one I was happy to visit walking past on foot rather than in the huge prisoner transport truck with bars for windows that was parked out front.

As I mentioned earlier one of the main reasons to come to Stone Town was that I needed to visit the hospital. I actually tried the private clinic first, but the man at the desk (who was busy smoking a cigarette) told me it was closed. Anyways, the ear infection I got a month ago in Lake Malawi was back despite two rounds of antibiotics and I was looking to get it solved once and for all.

I showed up, was pointed towards the ear, nose, eye and throat building by the man who controlled the chain blocking the vehicle entrance (keep in mind this is an ancient, peeling paint, colonial style building full of women in traditional dress, not some western hospital) and after a 5 minute wait was seen by... whoever it was sitting in the room. I wasn't sure how much English she actually spoke, or if she even knew what she was doing, but she listened to my story, asked a few questions, gave a quick visual inspection with some unsterilized 1950s era equipment, wrote me 'prescription' for two antibiotics and told me I had a fungal ear infection and that I needed to keep it try. No more of Zanzibar’s beautiful blue water and white sand beaches for me...

Without paying a cent (try that in America!) I was off to the pharmacy, and was promptly told they didn't have either of the medications in stock. We walked out of the door and across the street to a private pharmacy where I was able to find one of the two medications, and then upon coming another pharmacy was able to find the second medication.

Chad, I bet you never expected your Gin Optics sunglasses and Nik Apparel shirts to appear in a 'photo shoot' in a Zanzibarian hospital, haha....

One of the many markets on our way back to the dalla dalla home.

It must be Thursday again, because this is the Thursday party at Cholos, this time with a group of local performers.

This has to be my favorite African toy. I grew up with battery powered 4x4 radio control cars, in Africa (or at least in Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania) they make the cars by hand out of scraps and push them with a stick. And you know? I bet they have just as much fun.

So for probably 10 years I've wanted to go to Burning Man. I remember reading about it for the first time in either Popular Science or Popular Mechanics way back in high school. This year I told myself I'd finally go, because with each year it gets bigger and bigger, full of more and more yuppies and tourists who just want to do drugs, and bit by bit loses it's original spirit. Or so I've read. However, as you obviously know I found myself in Africa instead of in Central or South America as I'd planned, making coming back to the US for Burning Man much more difficult. But then I heard about AfrikaBurn, a 'regional Burning Man event' that takes place Tankwa, South Africa and was happening in late April! If you don't know what Burning Man is, it is essentially a 5-day arts festival that takes place in the desert. A little hard to explain really. South Africa is a good ways away from where I am now in Tanzania, but I mulled over the idea for a week or something, and decided I just had to go. When we began this trip we always said we ought to be able to go off and do our own thing for two weeks or whatever, then return to the group and that was my plan. After all, people always tell me you will always regret the things you didn't do more than the things you did. To give you an idea of Burning Man (in the US) verses AfrikaBurn (in South Africa), Burning Man is an American 'counterculture' institution. Last year it sold 53,963 tickets according to Wikipedia. AfrikaBurn by comparison has only been going since 2006, and this year sold out for the first time with 5,000 tickets.

I bought one of those tickets.

It was that day I got some rather surprising news. Chris had accepted a scuba diving job here on Zanzibar and that meant the end of Weon, Chris and I traveling together up Africa as a group. To be fair it was a job offer anyone would have a hard time turning down: the pay, the location, the experience, and the free place to live pictured here were all excellent, but it did come as a bit of a shock. But also to be fair the trip hadn't been going as well as we'd all hoped and we'd had some difficulties as a group. It gave all of us a lot to think about, and Weon and I in particular had a lot of thinking to do with what our next moves would be.

The next day I was back at the One Stop Tours & Safaris office, which had by far the fastest internet connection I've found in all of Africa. There hasn't been another place where I'd even imagined I'd be able to upload the 223mb scuba dive video above, so I was thrilled to find it and exploit it to it's fullest.

It was there that I saw one of the most blatant aspects of the issue I'm about to discuss: the local players. In Asia (the Philippines and Thailand in particular) it was all about the local women seducing tourist Western men into believing they were dating/in love/whatever in order to have foreigners sending them money. Here in Africa it is all about the local guys seducing Western women into believing they were dating/in love/whatever to make money. Every day you can watch the Maasai guys walk up and down the beach with a different female tourist on their arm. I knew right away what was going on, but I wouldn't write about it here with out confirming my observations with a local source first.

According to my local source, who spends every day at his shop on the beach watching it happen and has even helped sign for money transfers when the guys don't know how to read/write, some of these guys have 5 or more 'girlfriends' who send them money each month, bringing in hundreds of dollars at a time. In once sense it does some good, because at least according to my source, this money is usually used to support their families/communities, but I've met 'girlfriends' who came back to Africa to visit their 'boyfriends' and been totally ignored by them. Bringing this back to the photo, it is off these Maasai guys chatting on Facebook and on “Skype dates” with their 'girlfriends.'

I totally understand people out here often live in difficult situations and need money, but I just don't like seeing people being used like that. Rant over.

Here is me at the computer instead, haha. I'm sitting in bed editing the dive video I linked (and you hopefully watched!) above. Doing all this writing, photography and filming really takes a lot of time. For example, it probably took me more than six hours to make that under six minute scuba video! That said, I do it all because I truly enjoy it. While I hope people read what I write, (I know I write a lot...) look at the photos I take and watch the videos I create, in the end I do all of this for myself. I can look back at this in 40 years and reminisce about the adventures I had, and that is priceless.

After three weeks on Zanzibar, it was time to return to the mainland and because Chris got that job, it meant parting ways. Going back in history, Chrisand I met literally on thefirst day of my six month Asia trip nearly a year and a half ago. We traveled for about a week in the Philippines and said we ought to do it again some day. It was while I was visiting my sister Robin in Montana that Chris messaged me on Facebook asking if I wanted to come to Africa, and a one-way ticket to Cape Town, South Africa later here I am. Anyways, I'm sure we will meet up again. Tanzania gives US citizens a one-year multiple entry visa and I still want to see northeast Africa (Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Egypt, etc) before I go home. Dar es Salaam remains a great place to fly back to in order to see this part of Africa after I'm done in in the south, and from Dar, Zanzibar is only a three hour ferry away assuming Chris works in on Zanzibar that long.

Despite the manager of Jambo Brothers telling me the boat I came on had been 'shut down by the government' I managed to take it back to the mainland for only $13, with the same crew and everything. I'm pretty sure the manager was just trying to send me to another boat he got a cut of or was run by a friend or family member, as that happens frequently out here. I never did trust that guy... With the decent size dhow and only a 15hp outboard the ride took 4 hours, but I manged to sleep for most of it on the floor (I was the only passenger) and the price was right so no complaints.

Once I'd arrived back on the mainland in Pangani I took a dalla dalla the 19km back to Peponi for 2,000 shillings, where the three of us had left the truck three weeks ago. I surprised Weon by showing up when I did (since I didn't even have time to let him know I was coming) and we certainly had a lot to discuss...

One of those things to discuss was that the water pump on the truck had gone out and Weon had to take a local bus 150km or something into Dar es Salaam to find a new one, but the other thing to discuss was what the two of us were going to do now that Chris was gone.

What I decided on was to stick with my detour back to South Africa for AfrikaBurn, but that I was going to stay in the south for a while and eventually continue by myself with just a backpack. That meant the group was officially dissolved. I think we are all a bit disappointed with how things have turned out given our admittedly ambitious goal of a Cape-to-Cairo drive together, but life is unpredictable I guess. Despite the disappointment, I remain thrilled to be here in Africa seeing this vast and beautiful continent and have no regrets.

This current course means I spent the day sorting through all my personal items, figuring out what I can send home and what I can take with me in a single backpack as I spent the next.... months.... year....? here in Africa. It's a difficult thing to do and I have a number of things to send home; in particular the scuba dive gear, the GoPro camera setup and the new laptop I bought just for this trip, seeing as I had a 4x4 to carry it all. Sending these things home is going to be a bit of a mission I think, and in the coming days I need to do research, make phone calls and haul a heavy bag around Tanzania via local bus, wish me luck!

A beautiful deep blue sky behind the coconut trees and a quiet night to reflect on the long road that lays ahead of me.

As I said already, despite this change of plans I really am optimistic and looking forward to the adventures that I will undoubtedly encounter in the coming months. I knew it wasn't going to be easy coming out here, and challenges take many forms but I'm ready to meet and overcome all of them. I want to say thank you to those of you who have supported me both before and throughout this trip. It really is wonderful to have so many friends and family behind me and although I am a long ways away from home and most of you, it does make a difference all the way out here!

Right now it looks like Weon and I will continue to travel together until my flight back to South Africa on April 18th, and we have some of the best of Africa ahead: the mountain region, the Serengeti, Mt Kilimanjaro and more!