Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Zanzibar: Oh, the People You'll Meet

It's amazing how beach fronts can look similar no matter where you are in the world. When you look at the long sand coast with palm trees and blue water, it could be Hawaii, the Philippines, or in my case, Zanzibar, Africa. However,there are some interesting experiences that came out of the various characters we me during our 3.5 day Zanzibar island excursion:

1) The Passengers: We stayed at a remote resort on a beach cove on the East coast. It was an hours drive from town, $100 return taxi drive. To save $$ and to add to the adventure, we took the local transport, 'dala dala,' for $2. It's an open-air truck bed with 20 passengers sitting on top of each other - an intimate setting and a great way to meet the locals. People got on and off carrying their belongings that either joined us in the truck bed or got strapped to the top of the truck. Along the way, we were accompanied by sacks of coconuts, a bike, brief cases, a car rear-view mirror, bags of mangoes, and stacks of banana/straw leaf sheets (enough to make a thatched roof of a home). My favorite passengers were the mothers, who passed their babies, like a sack of potatoes, from stranger to stranger as they got in our out of the dala dala.

2) The Muslims - Zanzibar is unique from the rest of Tanzania in that it was influenced by Omani Arabs and it has retained the Arabic-style architecture, cobbled, mazed-alleyway streets and a Muslim society. When roaming through the streets, it sometimes felt like we were in the Middle East, not Africa.

3) The Shopkeepers- "free to look, Free to touch" or "i make you a good deal" was the chorus we heard from the persistent shop owners.

4) The Greeks - There were two 40 year old Greek guys that we kept running into on the island. They were disappointed with Zanzibar's island offerings, constantly comparing it to the Greek isles. I found it humourous that they were expecting a better nightlife in a Muslim town.

5) The Saints - The 2 most directionally challenged travellers falsely had confidence that we could guide ourselves through the labyrinthed streets back to the Dala Dala station in the evening. We smartly realized the flaws in our plan and stopped into a hotel for directions. Artheman, a hotel employee, was getting off work and offered to walk with us to the station. Kenyan-born and an Obama fan, he weaved us in and out of the alleys.We arrived to the station to find that our Dala Dala was no longer running. It became his mission to get us home safely. He did not trust us to go with the taxi drivers at the station. He wanted to call his friend to pick us up, but his phone was dying. So, he went to the local market and asked a stranger if he could use his phone. This man happened to be an off-duty taxi driver. It too became his mission to get the Americans home. A round of Fantas later, the off-duty taxi driver's friend arrived and safely drove us home. No money was expected for their assistance, only big smiles and waves were exchanged, along with 'Hakuna Matada' (no worries).

6) The Runners - Sharon and I watched the sunset on the beach in stowntown because the people watching was enthralling. Kids were jumping off boats and restaurant owners and fisherman set-up stalls, selling cane juice and every seafood imaginable. My favorite was the group of men, who ran laps back and forth on the beach and then would line up to do aerobics..meanwhile guys were doing flips behind them.

7) Rain Man - We had a 45 minute taxi ride to town driven by Rain Man. He literally read each English sign to us on the drive and shared the ethnic origin of the hotel owners for each hotel we passed. He then became 'The Pusher" letting us know, he can get us marijuana or whatever drug we wanted. His Rain Man antics began to make sense and I'm convinced he smoked a big blunt before driving us.

8) The Gapers - As we left Zanzibar on a ferry, I sported my sling and Sharon carried her pack on her back and my pack in front of her. Tourists and locals gaped at us, and no one offered help. But, Sharon was a champ, patiently waiting to board the ferry,with 80 extra pounds hanging from her.

NEXT STOP: Drive from Uganda to Rwanda to chill with the Mountain Gorillas.

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