Thursday, August 13, 2009

Zambia-Dar Es Salaam-Zanzibar

July 2009

Kami, Karen and Kaye, the three K’s, hit the road – destination exotic Zanzibar. Kami, PCV Namibia, was the brainchild of this trip as she had heard about the 2 day train ride through Zambia and Tanzania. After flying into Lusaka, Zambia and having a quick wink or two, we hopped a three hour bus ride to pick-up the train in Kapiri, Zambia.

The train didn’t quite match the “Orient Express” picture we had in our mind’s eye. It had bare bones sleeping accommodations and dining, and it seemed to have a driver who didn’t know how to ease the brakes as we were lurching and jerking throughout the entire two days. But we met some interesting travelers over the two days and one man, Cristian, became our escort and companion for several more days. He is an Argentinian attorney/project manager working for Medecins Sans Frontiers for several years with a current assignment in Zambia. The scenery through Zambia and Tanzania included low bushland, Baobob trees, and some large animals as we cruised through a Tanzanian game park.

Forty-eight hours later we arrived in Dar Es Salaam perched on the Indian Ocean. Tanzania has been a fantasy destination of mine since I was in college and studied its politics and socialist President Julius Nyrere. We had two days to roam the sprawling city, finding the indoor/outdoor markets, the Tingatinga painters and delicious international cuisine.

The next stop, Zanzibar, is traveled to by a speedy 2 hour boat. Most passengers get comfy seats, but a few of us late-comers get crammed into the breezy backside of the boat. Again, it is easy to meet people from all over the world who are taking a quick or extended vacation to the famous and exotic island. A description from a travel brochure says it well:
“Explorers, sultans, slave traders and merchants all chose Zanzibar as their strategic base, spurred by monsoon winds along trade routes, driven by imagined wealth and riches led by starry maps and religious conquest towards escape and discovery.
Zanzibar retains the imprint of its historic legacy in the tumbling streets of Stone Town, in the multi-cultural blend of African, Indian, and Arabic, and in the international goods in the bazaars and markets. Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Palaces, markets, aromatic spice bazaars, ornate cathedrals and an historic fort all entwine to charm one into the life of the town.”

After three energetic and shop-filled days in Stone Town, we headed for the east side of the island famous for the idyllic white sand beaches. Matemwe Beach was the perfect spot. It had crystalline blue waters, fine white sand, spaciousness and quiet, palm trees and easy breezes. In spite of Zans reputation, there is still plenty of authentic life all around. The villagers still make their living from the sea, the women still harvest seaweed, the men still gather to watch the boat carver, and the children still frolic amongst the palms. We took a short excursion to a nearby island for some beautiful snorkeling and saw gorgeous fish. On another day we enjoyed a dolphin encounter having a group of 6 of them surround and swim along side of us, clearly curious and wanting to figure out what this squeaking human was all about. (I make dolphin noises while I am swimming to try to catch their attention – hey, it works!)

The tides are an integral part of the life and scenery of the beach. In low-tide the beach is filled with boats high and dry – each beautiful in its own unique posture and shadow. And the exposed sand bar defines the shallow “kiddy pool” (waist deep) the ocean becomes-except beware of the spiny sea urchins that thrive in this balmy water. At high tide, the boats are floating and anchored, now bobbing and tugging on their sturdy ropes. The deep sea fishermen make a run over the shallows in their little sailing dhows, and the thriving seaweed comes washing in for harvesting. The ancient relationship between sea, wind, moon and man is obvious and vibrant

Needless to say, we reluctantly packed ourselves back to Stone Town, back to Dar Es Salaam (on a windy, rock and rolley, sick-sacky kinda ride), and onto the plane to Johannesburg. After 2 weeks of heaven, the gods wanted to remind us that there is still a hell – this time in the form of a taxi from JoB to Lesotho. We first waited in the JoB taxi rank (which is notoriously sketchy) for 3.5 hours for our tattered, tacky and uncomfortable taxi to fill-up. We were on the highway for 2 hours when the bus literally blew-up –smoke filled the cab and we jumped out as fast as possible. We then sat in the dark, on the freeway, in the now winter-again-cold, waiting for a rescue. This took three more hours. Our rescue bus was another tacky, breezy, heatless van which we sat frozen in for another two hours. By then it was 10pm and the border was closed into Lesotho. so Karen and I insisted that we be dropped at the only hotel in the border town of Ficksburg. With electric blankets on full blast, we thawed and slept, arriving in Lesotho 18 hours late. All in all, a marvelously unforgettable trip.