Author's Preface / Disclaimer / Introduction
What follows is the day-by-day diary I kept during our 5-week trip to East Africa in June/July of 2000. It's always been my habit to keep a travel journal...there's just so much that happens on trips that, try as hard as you might like, you don't remember everything, especially not some of the thoughts and feelings.
Every day I handwrote my scribbles, off in my own little world of observations, introspections and wonderings about the differences and similarities of people, places, things. To me, that's what travel is all about...differences and similarities. As my friends know I'm very fond of saying... that people, all of us, have the same challenges to face in life...how we meet those challenges is largely a product of the culture that produced us. I find that aspect of travel endlessly fascinating.
This trip was a "trip to design trips" which meant that anything and everything was "fair game" from an interest standpoint, and you'll find comments and stories here a little off the beaten tour track, but on point given our need to understand exactly what our clients could expect from this part of the world and why. I've tidied up grammar and spelling but largely left the structure and format the way it was written...my husband, co-traveler and New Adventures' President, Phil (referred to in the journal as "P"), says that's to retain its "flavor."
Joyce & Phil with Moroni, the tame rhino
at Sweetwaters Game Reserve
Some of that "flavor" has more than a bit of bite to it...I've been brutally honest at times, unforgivably cynical at others. Our clients have certain expectations that include honest evaluations of destinations and accommodations. This we take very, very seriously. There are a few places that, quite frankly, I've trashed thoroughly (and you'll notice these are NOT places we sell) and to anyone from a Tourist Board who may take exception to this, I have to say: these are my honest opinions...we have no ax to grind except the one that cuts the best deal for our clients (oooh, a miserably mixed metaphor...believe me, there are more of those below...). Conversely, what I've loved I've given raves.
So, settle back...this "read" will take a while (the handwritten journal was 106 good-sized pages). I hope it will entertain and enlighten. What I really hope is that my love and enthusiasm for this exotic corner of the globe will come through loud and clear.
Joyce Carta August 2000
Friday, 9 June - On the Road Again
As if to whet my appetite even sharper, there were many hours between departures on "our side of the Pond." The route to Africa for us was a 4-legged trip - 4 travel segments to start an extended trip I've wanted to take for 32 years - and here it is and here we are.
"Where" is killing time at an unexceptional breakfast buffet in Atlanta, with 3 hours to go before the flight to JFK is called. As usual, this AM we were #1 for take-off in Gainesville, FL (where everybody's always #1 for take off, rarely are there 2 airplanes on the ground at the same time in Gainesville), catching an earlier flight to Atlanta than planned, depositing us for an extra hour at this unexceptional breakfast buffet. Good time to start this journal.
In 1968 I read Robert Ruark's "Something of Value" and got hooked. There wasn't anything about Africa that didn't fascinate and absorb me. P (Phil, my husband and Major Domo of New Adventures) & I had individually and together visited destinations on the northern and way eastern edge of the Continent (Seychelles are considered part of Africa), but now to do almost 5 weeks together - experiencing the plains, the peoples, the herds, the history, the potential for exploration and amazement. We were ready, we were eager - and now we were destined to spend 7 dead airport hours until the "real" flights: JFK to Brussels, Brussels to Nairobi. In 36 hours, allowing for time changes, we'd begin this long, wonderful adventure. Tantalizing.
This trip definitely required more planning than any other we'd undertaken. For one thing, the business was in a boom time - for us to leave for 5 weeks meant ensuring all clients were handled pre and during our absence. The "during" we left in Annie's capable hands. And when we return Loretta will be on board in earnest and I predict it won't be long before we're "Yes, Ma'aming" her as she works her accounting system magic. (New Adventures is big enough now to have full-time systems staff.) Finally got to bed last night at midnight, handling client issues to the last - alarm sounded at 4:00 AM and our limo was punctual to the second. Anyway, back on track, logistics alone were challenging - we were combining a huge site inspection with territory explorations on the Kenya Coast, using Zanzibar and Mombasa as our bases. [ZZZanzzzibar, MomBASsa - great to say, they curl in your mouth]. Ground and air travel had to be orchestrated carefully. Dallago Tours, our in-country representatives, put together a schedule which, if it travels as well as it reads, should be just about perfect. Then there's the "prep" involved. Yup, there's shots to get, meds to get, first aid and sanitation supplies - least significant (and taking the least amount of room) was wardrobe. We're both master packers and everything for this 5-week jaunt fit nicely into 2 roll-arounds and 2 carry-on's, including good-sized gifts for Nick and Martin of Dallago.
Some Random Thoughts & Observations
- Very pleased with my new TravelSmith Travel Vest. In fact it has more pockets than any human needs and have already misplaced sunglasses in it - could feel them but couldn't get to them. Have also received compliments and questions as to where I got the vest...TravelSmith, you get all the credit. The Travel Skirt and Kenya Cargo pants that zip to shorts are holding well after very rough and DAILY wear...except the pants are a bit short for my long legs...minor issue.
- JFK, an airport I hadn't seen in 7 years, has become the poor stepchild of the international airport set. Shabby, rusting and convoluted, people channel in, around and through like an ant farm. The renovations now in progress are long overdue.
- And as rigorous as long distance travel is now, trying to imagine this same journey say 80 years ago, during the heyday of the shoot-to-take-trophies safaris - this is just about unthinkable.
- As a matter of fact, it should go on record that when tour operators travel, we really do tend to go on the cheap and this particular routing with its long, long layovers is one we'd NEVER send a client on. But, thanks to some 10 year old Frequent Flyer miles from when Phil had a real job we were able to sit in the front of the busses.
The flight to NYC was uneventful, Delta's usual good job. Flying First Class certainly makes a difference (BLESS Frequent Flyer redemptions). We're both tired as we arrive at Sabena check-in for the NY-Brussels leg, but are confident we'll at least be able to sit together on the 2 long flights...this was unsure when we booked. Sabena and Swiss Air share a First Class/Business Class Lounge, comfy in a haute style 60's way, drinks and wonderful tiny Swiss chocolate bars. This helps.
Sabena Business Class was a pleasure over the ocean. There must have been 4-1/2 feet allotted per person (62” pitch actually) and the seats reclined almost all the way. Service was attentive, food good, wines particularly so. We got into Brussels 1/2 hour early: Too bad, we were getting spoiled.
HOWEVER, this was not such a great thing. It took 45 minutes to run out of things to see and do in Brussels Airport, the Lounge was cramped so we headed to wait at the gate, then stood for 90 minutes as seats were reassigned. Mechanical problems forced not only a plane switch but an airline switch. We were bussed out to a "City Bird" Jet (I know, I never heard of them, either) and proceeded to board only to sit another 3 hours before given clearance to actually move. As P says, "time to spare, go by air."
So somewhat later than desired we're now off to Kigali, capital of Rwanda, our last stop before NAIROBI. It's a good measure of my enthusiasm that the name still holds magic after the trip so far. Actually, getting little slap-happy now, so much so that the steward cut off our wine supply (I refuse to believe we drank them dry). Am pleased that nice salads and fresh fruits came with all the meals - they'll be off limits following CDC rules for safe African travel until the plane rides back.
After the short Kigali stop we landed an hour later in Nairobi, around 1:30 AM Sunday morning, figured out that a multiple entry visa was needed for all our comings and goings back and forth between Kenya and Tanzania. O.K., fine. But the luggage didn't show. Oh boy, the camera, everything. After another 30 minutes of form-filling we're met by the "David Team" from Dallago (David the Safari Manager and Driver David ... makes for a confusing story) and by 2:30 AM we're at the Hilton, asleep at 3.
Sunday, 11 June - Welcome to Kenya.
The Nairobi Hilton is one of a sprinkling of 5 star, tourist/business dominated hotels that dot Nairobi's skyline. It's a very comfortable merging of cleaned up "colonial" luxury with the international Big Hotel Chain perquisites. We slept like the dead, the wake-up call came promptly, buffet breakfast offered a very nice selection of Westernized fare - and we met D & D and Martin, Managing Director of Dallago Tours, in the lobby where he kindly changed $100 for us as the Hilton cashier was running short of cash. It is Sunday, after all. And then we're off on the city tour of the government section: British colonial offices taken over by the new country (Kenya got its independence in 1963), the huge Kenyatta Conference Center, the Jomo Kenyatta (much revered and rightly so first president of the new country) tomb and statue, etc. we were not terribly impressed with the tourist-interest potential of the tour.
Impressions of Nairobi: about what I expected. Big, crowded, some sort of new mixed with lots of old and crumbling. Lots of young out-of-work men "on the prowl." Unemployment is as high as 40% - but that's a whole other story. On to the National Museum, chock filled with early man, current stuffed animals (taxidermally, not "Beanie Babies) and birds, beautiful ethnographic and flower drawings by Joy Adamson ("Born Free" authoress). Saw the Snake Museum, home to enough venom to put John Rocker out of business. The day started out cloudy and crisp and the sun came out as we drove to the Bomas of Kenya for their daily display of native dancing. Lunch was a good change to get to know D & D - and what we found out we liked a lot. But first, the lunch. P packed away chicken stew with a wonderful mixed vegetable "ugali", a mixture of corn meal, potatoes and string bean mash all together with a lumpy flavorful texture and a bite after you swallow. I had a truly excellent meat samosa.
We all stood as they played the Kenyan National Anthem and then the show began. A talented troupe performed dances from many of the major Kenyan tribal groups, and as David, the Safari Manager, started to sway and sing with his tribe's (the Kikuyu's) courtship dance song, we realized that these dances are taken from life as it's still lived - this isn't some remote ancestral display - this is the experience of many mature Kenyans today. But David was NOT adverse to a joke...at a particularly suggestive and energetic dance I leaned over and asked him if this was the Viagra Dance, he rolled in pain from holding in the giggles. It concluded with a display of wild, non-stop acrobatics and limbo dancing and a very suggestive circumcision ritual dance that left NOTHING to the imagination. Life as it's lived. The Bomas performance was peopled more by Kenyans than tourists as it was an outing for city parents to demonstrate traditions to their kids.
D & D dropped us back at the Hilton by 6, in the rain, which they were thrilled to get. Like us in Florida La Nina has created a vicious drought. We retired to The Jockey Club Bar, revived and refreshed in a surrounding of pseudo-colonial glory and then set out for our dining choice...the Banda Street Minar Indian Restaurant, which was excellent. Would recommend this place highly to anyone. Nairobi's not particularly safe for walking at night plus it was still raining so we cabbed there and back. By 10:30 PM we were in bed for the first real full night's sleep in 3 days.
Monday, 12 June
7:15 AM wake-up came promptly. After another very good buffet breakfast (and I don't say that lightly, we are NOT fans of buffet meals), David met us and we drove to the Karen Blixen Museum, an almost obligatory stop due to the screen presence of "Out of Africa." The house was Karen Blixen's residence but the contents are left over props from the movie - we did the necessary tour, strolled the grounds which are lovely, saw our first mahogany tree "in the flesh" rather than built out as someone's dining room table. Driver David identified birds and trees, demonstrating his guiding skill which we'll enjoy even more fully in the game preserves. A short drive through more of the city's "Karen" district (home to Kenya's wealthy) took us to the Giraffe Center. The huge beasts are even bigger up close and personal. This center rescued a number of endangered Rothschild's Giraffes from Uganda and they're maintained here for tourists to come and feed (you can buy pelleted food and the giraffes strain over the second floor railing to catch pellets on their sticky tongues...great fun). Plus, they're home to a small herd of warthogs headed up by a giant Pumba-type (thank you "Lion King" for the use of the character's name) who wandered around making friends with visitors. What a place.
Rushing back to the Hilton we passed many Masai herding cattle and goats, grazing them along the swales, cemeteries, wherever there was green grass. Kenya's in drought conditions and if the Masai lose their animals they've lost everything. On the way we found out our luggage was found, rescued and going to meet us at the Hilton. Relief was instantaneous - clean clothes! Different clothes! We had about 10 minutes to freshen up and change before our lunch meeting with Liz Nicholas, Marketing Manager of Lonrho Hotels at their prime property, the historic, colonial era Norfolk Hotel. Liz and lunch were both a delight. I had clear ostrich broth soup, served in a half ostrich egg! Business discussions were fruitful and then our guided tour of the hotel quickly demonstrated why the Norfolk set the standards of excellence, gentility and highest class accommodations in the country. The hotel is elegant, pure and simple and worth every penny for the Nairobi stay experience.
We parted company after lunch, P to what turned out to be a very productive meeting with Nick and Martin at Dallago headquarters, and Driver David dropped me back at the Kenya National Museum. Spent a blissful hour alone communing with the hominid fossils, studied Joy Adamson's beautiful head drawings of men and women in traditional dress (one of whom I later learned was Martin's great grandfather!), bought Richard Leakey's "Origins of Humankind" book and a good country map of Kenya, saw a fascinating exhibit devoted to the "kanga," the colorful, wear anyway you like cloth that the Swahili culture introduced for women to the rest of the country in the 19th Century...AND found one perfect for Loretta: green with orange cashew or paisley shapes (a traditional design) with the Swahili proverb, "A sharp tongue slices more cleanly than a sword" - and UNFORTUNATELY, not for sale! DD picked me up to meet with P at Dallago where they filled me in on marketing plans, cohesive thoughts on tour expansions and the all important Names for Tours. A good, solid, warm relationship is developing here, which P and I discussed in depth over wine at the Jockey Pub.
Returning to our room our elation and high spirits vanished. When going through our bags a little more fully we realized that the camera was gone, and a lens for it and the battery pack and our binoculars from my bag. We were devastated. Ransacked everything hoping we were wrong but no luck. We reported the loss to the Hilton security staff but we couldn't be sure where it had happened, and with retrospection, the probability that this occurred during our bags' delay in transit was a lot more likely. Not to have the camera is a crisis, and we finally got to bed feeling depressed and violated.
Tuesday, 13 June - On to Dar [es Salaam]
We were both awake before the 4:45 AM call, still in black moods which we're actively working to dissipate. D & D took us to the airport in plenty of time for the flight to Dar es Salaam where we hope the diversion of new surroundings, the excitement of a new country and the start of the semi-non-working part of the stay will put us emotionally back on track.
The Kenya Airways flight was only 15 minutes late, with light breakfast, good service and spectacular views of Kilimanjaro's snow-capped crater. The flight to Dar is about an hour and 15 minutes. When we landed we were surprised at how bright, clean, sleek and decidedly Western European the airport is. Customs and Immigration were a breeze, changed money (780 Tanzanian shillings to the USD) and got a wad of giraffe-decorated bills, found our escort, George, and off we set for Bahari Beach Resort. Thus ended the good part of the mainland "Ton-ZAAN-ian" (their pronunciation) experience. Had an up close and personal view of Dar for the 40 km trip to the BBR (that first "B" came to mean "bile," "bilious," "beastly," - you get the drift) - a long, hot miserable, uncomfortable drive where we could see the teeming underbelly of this giant, industrialized third world city, largest in Tanzania.
Our escort, George, an employee of Dallago, had, it turns out, spent 10 hours on a bus from Arusha (in the highlands close to the Kenyan border and I cannot imagine how uncomfortable this must have been) just to see we were taken care of for the 24 hours we'd be on the mainland.
Unfortunately, while pleasant and very eager to please, George had no clue as to how to hire a taxi that knew where our hotel was nor did he seem to know. After forcing conversation for the first half hour, tough as George's English consisted mostly of saying smilingly "You understand?", when it was clear that George was the only one who didn't, we lapsed into muggy silence. We were getting nearer the water, a good sign as "Beach Resort" is probably found close by. Suddenly we pull over, ostensibly to get out and "have a view" - of the scenic cement plant on a distant hill - and when I asked whether that plant would make the material to fix the road we were on, George explained that the plant was too far away for that (!). Little did we know that road conditions would become a prominent topic of future conversation. Seeing our driver head to the side of the road we figured, Ah ha, driver needs a "rest break," when actually he stopped a pedestrian for directions. This pedestrian gentleman then came over to us and explained in very good English exactly where BBR was. A little embarrassing for George and the driver, but we continued on course. George was clearly concerned that he be given a good report and we assured him he would be - and certainly attitude does help, even when balanced by ineptitude.
At 11:00 AM we arrived (1-1/2 hours to go 25 miles). At first glance BBR didn't seem too awful, just a bit "under decorated." When we were escorted to our upstairs room, we got a better idea of its monolith coral rock construction - designed after the best traditions of a Soviet holiday resort. The spacious room had one 60 watt bulb for illumination but it did have a TV. After a spirited discussion with George as to how much was an appropriate tip for the bellman we decided just to veg that afternoon and let George take off. We hunted down the lounge where we "enjoyed" a powdered drink mix of indeterminate fruits as we pondered our plan for the day. The BBR is NOT a place for Westerners and we already knew we'd never send anybody there. The hotel was being used for a Tanzanian Ministry of Health conference and little discussion groups all around us delved into tirades on AIDS, rape, abuse - generally contributing to the merry-making mood. We wandered the grounds and after we encountered a rifle-bearing bellboy, again retreated to the lounge.
Oh well, time for lunch. P opted for the seafood curry, I took the pasta marinara. P's came with octopus tentacles the size of pan flutes, mine with worm-like shrimp. In a few minutes hunger abated - unsatisfied. We made our way back to the room where P stretched out, hassled with trying to get an online connection but, not surprisingly, there's not an overabundance of phone lines and we never made the connection. Chased CNN from channel to channel for a while (it switched spontaneously) and then he rolled over and slept until 6:30 PM.
I read guide books and confirmed that Dar was indeed a "miss" and then finished almost all of the Leakey book. Good arguments, clearly presented, sound hypotheses on divergent opinions/evidence of early man's origins. Night falls quickly here and soon it was time to rejoin the "People's Paradise" in the Lounge and eventually try to eat again. True to former Soviet bloc tradition, everything was lit with sparse and dim yellow bulbs, reruns of an American soap played on one TV and it took 3 bar waiters to ascertain it was not possible to order wine by the glass. Getting a bottle we eventually ate and am pleased to say both choices were far superior to lunch - of course we were prepped as it was the same menu.
At dinner we discussed the "western garbage dump" aspects to Third World culture. They take discarded bits and pieces of what the First World has left behind or thrown out and overlay that on their traditional behaviors and cultures. Makes for a weird mixture, sometimes uneasy. It's clearly such a status symbol to have a job where suit and tie are mandatory, and they're always pressed and immaculate - while we, on the other hand, can't wait to escape them. It must not be easy to be African now, the rules keep changing. Nothing to do after dinner but army bunk beds so that's what we did.
Wednesday, 14 June - Illusions of Zanzibar
Amazingly, the wake up call was on time, but breakfast was a miserably poor set service, and we are not surprised to see that we are one of only 3 Western groups here. George came at 9:00 AM sharp and we set off for the liveaboard tour P had arranged on the MV Illusion, a Dar-based dive boat. Since we again had yesterday's driver we expected routing delays, but after his third stop to ask directions - this one directed at a 7 year old - we were beginning to despair. We did eventually find the boat, were motor-boated out to its mooring by Desiree, one of the owners, and took a look.
But boats and I don't mix well - and the ferry to Zanzibar was our next stop. Assuming, of course, our crack driver could find it. George was clearly concerned that he be given a good report and we assured him he would be - and certainly attitude does help, even when balanced by ineptitude. We did arrive at the ferry only to find the fast boat was cancelled for our sailing. So we booked the bigger, slower one - but departing Dar was the primary, important goal at that point. Our bags were taken from us forcibly as 2 large men overwhelmed poor skinny little George as they saw a good opportunity to make some tourist tips. A harbor policeman raised his baton and chased them off, and P complimented George on having arranged the intervention. George accepted the credit and beamed.
One thing we asked him to do was call ahead to Breezes Beach Resort, our Zanzibar accommodation, and ask them to send a car to meet us. George was happy to comply saying "hakuna matata" (yes, that is REAL Swahili). So we said Asante and Kwa heri (thank you and goodbye) to George and found seats at the very back of the top deck. It was only delayed 1/2 hour (not at all bad for East Africa) as everything from chickens to furniture was loaded onto the lower deck. No "Maximum Occupancy" signs here and people were stuffed on like in a Japanese train. We bought 2 little bags of cashews from an adorable little boy vendor and munched them with Fantas (the official orange soda of the Third World) as suddenly, we left shore.
As the harbor receded we were startled by how good Dar looked from a distance and were equally pleased to be appreciating it from afar. Fishing dhows dotted the seas and horizons which I kept my eyes glued to and in 2-1/2 hours docked in Zanzibar. The sun was out, flowers in bloom as we scanned fruitlessly for the driver ostensibly arranged by George. We checked in with Immigration, got our passports stamped (Zanzibar retains some political separateness from mainland Tanzania) and, as it was getting dark, decided on a taxi.
At first the flat US$50 seemed very high, but worth every penny as it turned out. "Roads in Africa" are infamous and we were about to meet one of the worst. Winding through Zanzibar town, stopping first for the driver's required transport permit, we got a good view. Zanzibar and the coastal parts of the mainland are a traditional Moslem society. All native women are veiled and there's even a law preventing them from congregating on the side of the road – they must keep walking or veer off.
We passed thriving fruit and vegetable markets, tiny "dukas" (shops), lush tropical forests and settlements constructed from assembled poles, daubed with mud and stone and expertly thatched roofs. We passed through the national park that's home to the native Colobus monkey and even saw a few as we slowed to cross four enormous speed bumps with signs: SLOW! Colobus Crossing! And then it all changed. The veg died back, clearly the soil was poorer, as we headed east across the island. The paved road ended abruptly, replaced by a chiropractor's dream, or an amusement park's ultimate thrill ride - a game of "splash through the biggest potholes on the planet at the fastest speeds."
I'm convinced I saw black marlin leaping out of one of them. Our driver was eager but didn't know the road - where others zigged, he zagged, spine jarring, brain unbalancing, almost hallucination-inducing peaks and valleys. And it went on and on and on. We later learned the bad stretch was about 10 miles, which took us an hour to complete. Then, at the end of the earth we saw the Breezes' sign: we'd arrived. And what a welcome, different world it was. We speculated that, because of the awful road, probably Breezes' initial guests are still there! But it was truly a pot of gold at the end of a tortuous rainbow, lovely, comfortable, an escapist beach resort with all the amenities Westerners expect.
Sheila, a manager, greeted us warmly, apologized for the road, explaining they'd just hosted a press conference that day for growling journalists who had no idea just how bad the road was. Our room, #1 (or "moja" in Swahili), was at the far end, graciously furnished with the wide bench (Persian style?) settees we'd seen in the lobby. Full mosquito netting around the real king size bed (NOT 2 twins), outside verandah and a full can of bug spray. P dispatched the few mosquitoes in the room, we freshened and headed for the bar.
Breezes is a spread out place with flowered pathways and thatched covers connecting the main areas, nothing obstructs the constant breeze and everything opens to the cloverleaf pool and immaculate beach beyond. Their capacity is about 70 rooms and the size means you'd never be crowded. It seems very well run and is owned by a Swedish/ Croatian couple. Our drinks came with a bowl of toasted coconut, Spanish peanuts and humidity-soggy popcorn, BUT, after the day's journey here, nothing tasted better. Dinners are a choice of two entrees, served with two starters and a dessert. The food is filling and unexceptional, but quite passable. We arranged for a massive day's touring the next day and fell exhausted to bed.
Thursday, 15 June - Zanzibar Excursions and Not
Up and showered (no in-room hairdryer is my only vague complaint, but I will later discover that the "superior deluxe" rooms...ours is only a "superior"...do have them...ALSO no TV or phone so no chance to connect online but we'll be in Mombasa soon enough) and thoroughly enjoyed the buffet breakfast. P grabbed a two-day old Kenya "Nation" newspaper – there had been university riots, raids by bandits and other juicy items since we'd left, indicative of the country's economic restlessness.
After breakfast we set off on a special day-long excursion, to sample some of the local tours and see more of the island. Three of the hotel guests joined us on the first part and we all visibly tensed up as we started down the Road of Agony. In truth, this ride was a lot better, clearly this driver knew the road. Reaching the tourist office we had a quick meeting with the manager, who gave P a beautifully printed business card which he proceeded to scribble corrections all over.
We then started at the market – beautiful fruits and vegetables displayed outside and within the ancient stone walls. These were mostly locally grown and pesticide-free, then on to the fish and meat sections, cleaner than I expected. Bought some fragrant yellow curry powder, probably a lifetime supply. On to Stone Town, the famous old quarter with its marvelous decorated doors in four regional styles and tiny dukas, every one hawking tourist goodies: carvings of questionable quality, the local tingatinga artwork (which you either like or you don't...we don't), but fascinating to walk through. Zanzibar in its heyday grew rich on spices and slaves and the vestiges of the latter were described in great detail by out guide. Dr. Livingstone, of Stanley and Livingstone fame, worked to help abolish the practice and he's venerated throughout.
The rest of the city tour, honestly, we could have skipped. The National Museum and Natural History Museum are just plain sad, and we were shown empty buildings of unknown or dubious importance. Sort of like being shown the grain silo in Frozen Sneaker, Montana. Finally time for lunch and bathroom came and we quickly broke ranks by gender. We decided on BLUES (a local landmark restaurant) for lunch, on the water, touristy but generally quite good. The 3 other guests are all Brits here on two-week package holidays – Breezes attracts middle class Europeans as the place is a bargain for the tropics, and it's safe and very comfortable, also with the Swedish connection, they have an agent's office in Stockholm.
We proceeded on our own after lunch as we had the long trip to the island's northern tip to make and little did we know we'd find even a worse road on the way to Ras Nungwe Hotel. Annie has a potential huge booking who wants this hotel, 40 or 50 people, so we needed to check it out. This truly is stretching the boundary of civilization to its limit. After traversing mining pits and rock quarries (i.e.. the road) just before you reach the point of despair, you come to Ras Nungwe. RN is undergoing massive renovations before reopening in 10 days' time (even bet whether they'll make it), up scaling a bit, adding A/C to some rooms.
RN will attract a different clientele than Breezes, RN guests will want more of the native experience and they'll get it. They'll also get a phenomenal beach at the northern tip, clean, sandy bottom protected by reefs 1/4 mile out. Supposed to be perfect snorkeling and good diving as well. Met with Chris, the Assistant Manager and got the full tour. We could sell both properties as different kinds of safari add-ons and left with promises of contacts to come.
As the daylight waned we headed south to the Spice Farms where our guide came into his own. Zanzibar, the Spice Island, grows just about everything and he made sure we saw and even tasted everything in its natural state and of course made us guess first what it was. Black pepper, vanilla, turmeric, ginger, cloves of course (Zanzibar used to be the world's leading producer), cardamom, lemon grass, oranges and tangerines, cashew trees and cassava – that amazing plant with edible fruit, a stem you can make flour paste from, use for building and stick back in the ground to regenerate...endless in variety and perfuming the air all around.
As night came we made our way back to the van, feeling tired but very fulfilled. The Spice Tour is one we'll definitely recommend. The trip back took 1-1/2 hours, punctuated by momentary excitement when we were pulled over at a police checkpoint and the office said something in Swahili to us that sounded alarmingly like "transport to police station." Uh oh, you think instantly, what infinitesimal regulation did we violate – picking spice leaves after 7:00 PM?
He got in front (we're remembering our passports were in the hotel safe) and when he bantered with the driver a bit and we started to relax. HE wasn't taking us to the pokey - WE were taking him up to the next police checkpoint! Finally made Breezes at 9:00 PM, rushed to dinner (poor P, the night he's starving the starters are weirdly fried eggplant and squid), enjoyed banter with our waiter, Suriac, with whom we traded language lesson jokes, and hit the sack for a LONG SLEEP. "Bwana and Mama" (Mr. and Mrs.) are happy.
Friday, 16 June
Delicious! A whole day with almost no commitments, a recuperation day – a day to get this journal caught up. Lazed from one bar area to another, admiring the view and the workings of this very well run hotel. Smooth operation, well trained staff, our appreciation of Breezes grows. P has a meeting with the Marketing Manager, got tomorrow's flights reconfirmed and he's had his guide book reading day today. I wrote for about 5 hours in hopes someone may, at some point, actually slog through all of this with interest.
Enjoyed lunch of exceptional samosas garnished with a mango/coconut sauce plus a HUGE kebob and put our order in for the a la carte restaurant tonight. Have to try it all, after all. P's off to check out the Fitness Center here and then we'll do the Craft Shop – he's after a commemorative golf shirt and I may succumb as well, as long as it says ZANZIBAR (love saying that!) on it. P, in his explorations, found the tennis courts and gardens where they grow the vegetables and fruits they serve.
Afternoon tea was set up in the auxiliary lounge – for $3 you could stuff yourself silly on cakes, etc. – just in case eggplant and squid showed up again on the dinner menu. We wandered the Fitness/Massage Center ($15 for a half hour), the Gardens, game room and ended up at their craft shop where I found the perfect orange kanga for Loretta, bright orange (she and I both love the color) with deep blue accents, then retired to the bar to recap a restful day.
Dinner was in the a la carte restaurant, an upstairs pavilion which we shared with another couple and were served by Suriac, our waiter of the previous evening who greeting "Bwana and Mama" asking if we were both happy. In chatting we'd mentioned we were heading to Arusha and would be staying at the Novotel. Suriac's eyes lit up and told us about the friend he had who works there, this friend actually trained him for his first food service job. So I said, write him a letter and we'll see that he gets it and Suriac vowed that he would. The a la carte menu really showed off the chef's skill - crab cakes and rich and succulent lobster bisque were followed by P's Bahari Lobster in spiced cream and my Ginger Crab - a mess but a thoroughly delicious one. Feeling like two belted balloons we made our way back to the room for a final night's sleep in Zanzibar.