Zanzibar part 3: Prisons, tortoises, dhows and curries

In the morning Matt headed off. Morton, Naomi, Sam and I had organised an early boat trip out to Prison Island, five kilometres off shore, and, for the afternoon, a sunset dhow cruise. I thought to myself I shouldn’t push Sam too hard in the middle of the day, it would be a lot for him to cope with.

The Arabs had isolated recalcitrant slaves on Prison Island. Later, the British had erected a prison there but the buildings were never used for their intended purpose. Instead the island was used as a quarantine station, in reserve for British colonies around east Africa. With the intention of protecting Stone Town, then the busiest port in east Africa, from epidemics, individuals on ships who were suspected of having yellow fever or cholera were isolated here for a week or two. More recently, its isolation has provided protection for another species, the Aldabra giant sea tortoises of the Indian Ocean.

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Zanzibar Part 2: Forodhani Gardens

Matt had organised our hotel and we settled in before heading out for dinner in Forodhani Gardens. The gardens were a short stroll from our hotel, down through the narrow winding alleyways lined with stone buildings. Large, dark wood doors were capped with elaborate carved motifs in squared or semicircular friezes, reflecting Arabic and Indian influences respectively. Many of the doors dated back hundreds of years, and some had large wooden or copper spikes protruding from the panels, designed to stop elephants knocking them down. Not something you usually have to worry about in Australia.

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Zanzibar Part 1: Getting in

The modern ferry, carting hundreds of passengers, a mixture of wazungu tourists and local business folk and families, skipped across the Zanzibar Strait in ninety minutes. We trundled up the gangway to the chaotic customs area. Sam and I approached the counter.

‘Passports,’ the official said.

I handed them over. Morton had advised me Zanzibar was actually still a separate country within the ‘union’ of Tanzania and we would need our passports, but not our yellow fever certificates.

‘Yellow fever certificates.’


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Mafia, Part 2

Our second day of Mafia mellowness started with Matt granting me some much appreciated free time from Sam. While the two of them played chess at the hostel, I headed down to the pier arrowing off from Kilindoni and strolled the 2 kilometre stretch of nothingness along its grey boards, out to an open and unfenced twenty metre platform at the end.

Buffetted by strong winds, I sat in the centre of the platform and looked out to the endless Indian Ocean. An eeriness swept over me, as I reminded myself it would be very foolish to fall off the platform. I don’t know why I would have ever fallen off, but I reminded myself just the same.

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Mafia, Part 1

The ten-seater was the smallest plane Sam had ever been in. We flew over the tropical waters of the strait and landed on the tiny airstrip. Mafia, home to 45,000 people of mixed African, Arab and Indian descent, had been fought over for centuries due to its strategic position. The Arabs, the Portuguese and various African tribes and kingdoms had held sway at different times, with vicious battles for supremacy and atrocities committed on a disturbing scale.

Exiting the airport, we found the only budget accommodation on the island and settled in.  We were the only guests, and the first guests to stay in over a week. This was despite the hostel’s spectacular position on a beach-side precipice, with sweeping views across the Indian Ocean back towards the African mainland. George, who ran the hostel, said tourists were staying away because of the upcoming general election in Tanzania; people were spooked about potential political violence. It was hard to imagine significant activity here, let alone any violence.

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Dar-light robbery

A city of three million people, the largest in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam has a reputation for being, well, boring.  Our Danish friend, Morton, who we met in Nairobi, organised  a cab and we ducked and dodged our way across town in the ridiculous traffic, past embassies and shopping malls, through shanty suburbs and road works, finally reaching our hotel on the north shore of the city.

A familiar ritual followed: unload packs, organise laundry, sort out WiFi, decide on dinner, check emails, lie down for a bit. I usually tried to get Sam to help me in such situations, but sometimes, like this day, I was just too knackered to bother.

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My sister-in-law by marriage, Rolla, spent two years in Tanzania as a teacher.  It was through Rolla, Sam and I were fortunate to be introduced to her friends, Onesmo Gabriel, a Maasai man and Director of East African Voyage,  and his wife, Julie.

At six o’clock in the morning we headed off from Arusha on what was planned to be our final nature trip involving animals in Africa, an East African Voyage day tour to the World Heritage listed Ngorongoro Crater. Our car headed west through Maasai country, the roadside villages with their circular stick fences surrounding mud huts and cattle yards. Locals waited at bus stops in their traditional coloured robes; purples and blues as well as  reds. After such an intense nature experience in Maasai Mara, I wondered whether we really needed to go on another safari, but apparently the crater itself was something to behold.

It was.

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Erick and Mama Grace Part 2

Kerri, Grace, Harriet (an English admin support officer for the NGO), Sam and I went out to the school that Erick had attended.  Winding up a dirt road in the verdant foot hills of Mount Meru, we entered the school gates as curious children in the playground peered at our car. The teachers welcomed us and showed us around the large central room of the school that also served as a dining area for the children’s lunch.

As the rice stew lunch was served, Sam watched them eat, laugh, play and squabble. I explained to him that it was an African version of MUSEC, Sam’s special ed primary school that he had attended back in Sydney.

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Erick and Mama Grace Part 1

Benison had organised a contact for us with Kerri, an American special needs teacher now living in Moshi, who was Director of Programs for Connects Autism Tanzania, the peak autism NGO in the country. Part of what we wanted Sam and I to get out of the trip was a better understanding of how autism and disability exists and works in Africa, and this contact was an extension of experiences earlier in the trip, such as meeting Petra and Michael in Windhoek, and Godfrey and Manga on the Zambezi.

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Nairobi. Nai-robbery. Nai-Hermione Granger. I’m not sure why the last one was getting a run from Sam’s mash-ups, as he calls them. It was the largest city we had been to, and everyone we had met who had visited to a person had said it was the sort of place you stay in for as little time as possible. Get in, get out.

I actually didn’t think it was that bad, and Sam loved it. Mind you, the crime rate apparently rivals Johannesburg so maybe we were just lucky. The hostel we were staying at was basic but functional. There weren’t mosquito nets but the WiFi was the best we had experienced. However, there was the issue of McDonald’s. I had assumed that Nairobi would have several, but it turned out they had none, only three KFCs set away from the city centre.

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