So my time in Zanzibar did not get off to a good start, but things definitely picked up a little by the time I got to the Northern Beaches. We were staying at a little hotel called the Nungwi Inn (I was sharing a triple with a French couple – Sandrine and Benoit) which is very nicely situated on an incredible stretch of brilliant white sand set against a turquoise, flat sea. Compared to the bath water of Dar, the ocean was a refreshingly cool temperature.
After taking a shower and trying to wash away my tear-stained face in the saltwater, I ate a nice chicken curry and went for a swim in the sea. Relaxing with an almost-cold drink in my hand at the hotel pool – I met a pleasant Swedish/German man called Gunnar who was on his last night of a holiday from his job in Moshi, Tanzania, where he worked for a small elephant conservation NGO. We decided to go together for some food and drinks to the rooftop bar down the beach and hopefully catch a pleasant sunset. It was certainly nice to get away from the group – all of whom had literally ignored me during the entire phone episode, not one offering a word of comfort besides Tabitha, our fearless and compassionate tour leader.
Despite enjoying his company, Gunnar unfortunately didn’t serve to boost my faith in humanity as he began describing his work and telling me about the uphill battle he and his co-workers fight daily in an attempt to save elephants living in this country. He explained how they are trying to create migration pathways for the elephants who are mostly stuck inside parks, their space ever more quickly being encroached upon by human settlements. He explained that at current estimates, elephants will be extinct in Tanzania in about 7-10 years and that much of the poaching that is occurring is secretly sanctioned by the government, with 40,000 elephants being killed in Africa every year. On top of that, and somewhat more disturbing, is the fact that it is locals who are also killing elephants just because they don’t like them, they can’t think in terms of sustainability and the absolute necessity of preserving wildlife in this country in order to secure, in economic terms, the future viability of the greatest source of revenue for Tanzanians – wildlife tourism.
He told me a really harrowing story of when his team were called in to a village that had surrounded a herd of elephants with machetes and other weapons, and forced the elephants off a cliff to their death nearly 30 feet below. One of the baby elephants wasn’t killed by the fall, so they started hacking at it with machetes to kill it, but it still wasn’t dead when they got to the scene. Prevented from putting the creature out of it’s misery, Gunnar described how it felt to be forced to stay back for over 12 hours while it suffered and died slowly. Horrible.
One of the strange anomalies about Zanzibar is that it is inundated with Italians who book direct flights to this island and go to resorts full of only Italians. There are “fake” Masaai warriors, dressed in their full red costumes, wearing flip flops who walk up and down the beach and proposition the middle-aged Italian women who are flattered and choose to spend their week with their local black “beach boy” in an arrangement that’s just a ruse for prostitution. It is so bizarre to observe.
Each evening, the locals play soccer against the setting sun on the beach, boats sail by with tourists on booze cruises, drinking madly, and dancing to drumbeats. Backpackers buy sachets of Konyagi, a local spirit that tries to resemble gin, and pour it into a bottle of tonic water and sit by the beach. It is a pleasant way to pass the evening.
I did go out and get a two tank dive in. I was excited to experience the Indian Ocean again, remembering that the sea life in the Seychelles was pretty exquisite. I wasn’t disappointed, and we had amazing visibility of 20 meters. I saw a school of dolphins swimming under water, a giant octopus that changed colors right in front of me, as well as the comical and rather ugly looking frog fish. It was a great day, despite getting seasick on the return journey and being unable to take off my wetsuit until getting back to the beach.
On our last day, I ventured into the village of Nungwi for a morning jaunt with my two french roommates. The state of the village was quite appalling and the trash and plastic strewn everywhere really highlights the waste management issues that are suffered here in Zanzibar and the rest of Tanzania. It was almost jolting to the system to compare the streets to the manicured lawns and infinity pools of the giant resorts we walked by, built to provide amenities and fresh water to the Italians with large enough pocket books.
I took a sunset cruise by myself yesterday evening as no one in my group wanted to go, and I met with a tour of Australians traveling north to Nairobi on a reverse journey of the same itinerary as ours. It was a pleasant evening spent jumping into the sea from the top deck of the traditional Dhow boat, knocking back cocktails and singing along to the beated drums.
Today marks the two week mark in this odyssey. I am still not sure if I’m enjoying myself – but I am at least adjusting to our schedule and the expectations that come along with this journey. Having said that, my highlights have come when I’ve felt a measure of independence and I’ve been able to go out and engage in conversations and experiences with those outside of my tour group. Having such restriction on the entire experience is rather difficult and makes this trip so different to my most recent solo ventures in South America. I’m just relieved that despite my misfortune with technology and getting my phone stolen – that I’ve been able to borrow laptops and iPads when we have had wifi.
My goal is just to keep up with my writing when I can and do my best to stay present and make the best of what each day brings in this ever-changing and somewhat challenging continent.