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JULY 14, 2007

African Sweat



There is no need to be a dirty traveler. A line I think I have heard Donna say a hundred times since we set sail from the shores of the UAE. Yet no matter how hard you try, you slowly slip. It starts with wearing your shirts a couple of days longer than maybe you should. Next thing you know you can get two days out of a pair of socks, then three and if your careful, four. Boxershorts easily can be worn four days in a row if you shake properly. Yet when it comes down to it, we still like to be clean, a hot shower, the fresh smell of clean clothes, shampoo' d hair, deodorant that smells like baby powder. After five months on the road, one thing that still manages to shock me, is the amazing array of smells that greet the nose in Africa - most are not that good.

Before I digress too much, we shifted hotels from the YMCA to Jambo Inn where the manager Nathoo, proved to be a great help in getting things done, he wrangled a room for us in Zanzibar and organised our ferry tickets from Dar Es Salaam to Zanzibar as well as onwards tickets to Pemba and accommodation at the Jondenhi Guest House in Mkoani.

Leaving Jambo Inn at the very respectable travel time of 11am, we were driven by the company car to the docks with a few minutes to spare before the H.V Sepidah pulled away. By now we have managed to work out how to evade most scam artists. Boarding the ferry however Donna was assisted by a company porter who, after being paid a token amount tried to extort 10,000 shillings out of Donna. Obviously we did not pay. It was a rough ride for the three hours across to Zanzibar Island however we managed to get through without loosing our lunch.

Prepped for a stressful disembarking and ready to do battle with the "Zanzibar Lice" we were a little disappointed with the ensuing outcome. Picked up by Ahmed at the gangplank we were whisked through immigration (yes, Zanzibar is technically part of Tanzania, I just don't think anyone bothered to tell the Zanzibar Immigration officials who still insist on stamping your passport), then taken through the winding alleyways to our booked accommodation at the Narrow Street Hotel.

Zanzibar
The Zanzibar Archipelago consists of a cluster of Islands off the coast of Tanzania. In 1964 Zanzibar and Tanganyika united to form what is now known as Tanzania.

Zanzibar is often used to refer to the complete archipelago as well as the main island Unguja. The other main island of the archipelago is called Pemba.

The main town of Zanzibar/Unguja is often referred to as Stone Town however technically this only refers to the older central part of town.

The Island of Zanzibar and Stone Town conjure up romantic images of the Omani yesteryear, Spices and Dhows, an exotic mix of Africa and the Middle East. I don't think we were disappointed with our first few days on the island. We spent them well, wandering through the back alleyways, sampling the local cuisine and eating at the street markets. The only downside were the hoards of cashed up tourists pushing the prices up to levels beyond our budget.

With a week to kill until Andrew (my adopted Brother) arrives in Zanzibar, and with the wallet feeling the pinch of a few days on Unguja, we pushed further north to the non touristy island of Pemba.

After not falling prey to the dreaded sea sickness on our previous ferry journey, we took the upper deck on the Fast Ferry across to Pemba Island. Unfortunately the other passengers that joined us were not so lucky. The thing with sea sickness is that it is like dominoes, it only takes one to fall before everyone starts... and so it was on the H.V Serengeti. A lady to our left started throwing up and before we knew it pretty much everyone on deck was heaving. The plastic bags handed out on boarding were used and then tossed overboard. Thankfully we made it to Pemba in tact and clean, unlike most of the other passengers. One child was spotted squatting on the bench seat throwing up with her dress neatly bunched so as not to get dirty - pity the poor person sleeping underneath...

The mayhem we missed on disembarking at Zanzibar Island was more than made up for at Pemba. A skinny little pier sticking out into the bay was jam packed with locals welcoming the incoming vessel. A lone policeman, baton in hand marched up and down cracking anyone who dared get to close to the boat. Ali, the manager of Jondenhi was there with a huge sign so we hung back and when the gang plank off the boat had cleared we made a swift exit. The big backpacks and bulky day bags add a little extra oommphh when pushing through a crowd. And it's times like this I think carrying the steel capped Blundstones is worth the added weight.

Pemba is as unlike Zanzibar as chalk is to cheese, hence the reason we liked it so much more. As soon as you step off the boat you notice the difference - a lack of tourists, maybe four to five people instead of hundreds. We were ushered into a waiting 4x4 by Ali the manager and driven the short way to the Jondeni Guest House. On arrival we were given drinks and told to relax while we were checked in. Things work a little slower. The balcony overlooked the clear azure waters, we were served lunch consisting of fresh kingfish with chips and salad, probably caught that morning. Finally we were shown to our rooms.

The sunset from the Jondenhi Guest House Verandah - Spectacular The sunset view from the Jondenhi Guest House Verandah - Spectacular

The Jondenhi Guest House is situated high on a hill overlooking the Indian Ocean, the only downside being no close beach. We decided to take a four kilometre walk through the island to an unnamed beach further up the coast. We awoke to clear blue skies and gloriously sunny weather, after yesterdays sun drenching we covered up with plenty of sunscreen then joined the others on the terrace for yet another Tanzanian breakfast, toast, eggs and juice, this time joined with a fresh piece of fruit.

After getting the morning chores done we joined Jondenhi's only other guests Nadine and Lou and set off. After getting to the waters edge and finding plenty of mangroves and not much sand we presumed we had come the wrong way. Turning back we walked 1km back along the coast before finding a small fishing village. The only resident, a frail old man pointed us back to the same place we had just come from.

On our return we managed to locate a small section where there was a gap between the mangroves and some white sand. Somehow it was a little disappointing after traipsing 6km through the bush. The girls went for a swim as the sky opened and it started to pour down with rain. Donna and I sheltered under the nearest tree until it passed. We were then joined by a creepy local guy who after the customary greeting and a few words of pigeon English just sat and watched us from a few metres away.

After an hour or so, with the weather looking rather bleak and the girls a little freaked by our new friend, we packed up, took a few snaps and left for Mkoani. As the girls took off ahead I was accosted by the local who basically said “I don’t have any work, can you give me money”. All I could say was sorry, I did not bring any and walk off. He followed us for about five to ten minutes before politely saying goodbye and walking away. Odd.

Our walk back to the lodge was pleasant to say the least, we were trailed by kids shouting Jumbo, Jumbo Jumbo repeatedly, the braver ones running up to touch a Mzungu. Pemba Island really is a tropical paradise, the dirt road meanders through small rural villages, the vegetation is all straight out of a Robinson Crusoe novel, palm trees, banana plantations, and the odd rice paddy. Very few people have cars, instead the humble oxen and donkey, or for the wealthier a shiny new bicycle. The people are incredibly friendly, rather than begging for money they are more likely wanting to sit and chat. Poverty is a problem, especially with the fishing industry over taxed from years of abuse - yet without the influx of tourists, Pemba has managed to retain a little of the innocence that Zanzibar Island has so clearly lost.

The only downside to staying in Mkoani was the total lack of alcohol, a number of trips around town revealed no source, not helped by the fact that the local hotel had shut down. Sadly this leaves only one option, a road trip across the island in search of beer (and some sightseeing).

And back to the smells. So we decided (or at least I did), that a road trip to Chucka Chuka was in order to try and track down a beer or two. We walked into town and jumped on the next Dalla Dalla to arrive. In this case we were treated to a bit of luxury, a small two tonne Hi-ace ute, converted with bench seats in the tray and a canvas coverall. Now your rural African farmer has a smell all to himself, years of bucket showers and hard toil leave a layer of stench that lasts. If this was not bad enough, we were joined in the Dalla Dalla by a local fisherman, along with two big (and leaking) baskets of freshly caught anchovies he was taking into town. This was fine (if you do not mind the smell of fresh fish) until he started retailing his wares to the other passengers, before we knew it small parcels of fresh fish were being dished out left, right and centre.

The one hour trip would have been manageable if we did not stop 500 metres down the road and load up with five tonnes of steel pipe. It was bordering on farcical. We pulled up next to a small truck, then five guys proceeded to unload somewhere between 100 to 200 five metre lengths of two and four inch steel pipe onto the roof of our taxi. This was then lashed on with straps of cut tyre tube, and if the loading and unloading did not take long enough, the 20 police check points (each of which took a healthy bribe to let us pass) certainly did.

All this was in support of a higher cause however and in Chuka Chuka I was able to track down a like warm bottle of beer. My only regret was not buying some takeaways for the return trip.

One of the tradeoffs in backpacking is the quality of the accommodation you are expected to stay in. Just because things are cheap though, it does not mean they need to be shabby. While Jondenhi may not have been the fanciest of places (at US$5 per night how could it), the pride shown by the staff running it reflected in nearly everything they did. From hot water showers (a luxury), to food sourced daily (actually per meal) from the local markets, we were pampered in a different way.

As a budget traveller, I am not in a financial position to be lashing out on expensive birthday presents. As most of you will be aware, July 13 is Donna's birthday, it comes around every year and in most cases (all to date) I have successfully left the present buying to the last minute. This does not work on Pemba, least of all in a small rural village like Jondenhi where shops display fancy signs for Celtel and Coke, yet nine times out of ten have only bananas and lychees (which by the way are delicious). In lieu of a present (which was clearly unachievable in this case) we signed up for a full day excursion to Masali Island for some sunbathing and snorkeling (I am a changed man I tell you).

On the day in mention we awoke early, Ali had gone out of his way to decorate the outside table with freshly cut flowers and had scrounged around the village to get enough ingredients together to put together a birthday cake. After her birthday breakfast, together with Lou, a Kiwi also staying at Jondenhi we walked the couple of kilometres down to the village pier where we boarded Ali's faithful fishing vessel for the trip out to Misali.

While Scuba was out of our price range (two dives for US$ 280), snorkeling was definitely achievable, and at Masali Island it was fantastic. Simply walking off the pristine white sandy beaches into the crystal clear water and swimming 20 metres off shore you were surrounded by schools of fish and some brightly coloured corrals. We had the whole island to ourselves.

Beautiful Misali Island - PembaBeautiful Misali Island - Pemba

After a delicious lunch we were back in the water before the long boat ride back to town, amazingly Tanzania has achieved an incredible level of cellular coverage and halfway back to Mkoani, while bobbing around in the middle of the Indian Ocean my phone rang, my parents calling to pass on their birthday wishes to Donna.

A massive thank you to Ali and his team who went above and beyond to make the day special for Donna.

The African Sniffer Dog
We were crossing from Lesotho into South Africa across the Sani Pass in a small 4x4 Hi Ace mini van taxi. After making our way down the treacherous slopes we arrived at the South African Border only to be asked to all get out. The customs official then proceeded to "Sniff" each of the bags in turn - when asked what he was doing he replied "checking for marijuana, if you've got some, I'll smell it..."

With Andrew's arrival immanent we reluctantly took the Fast Ferry back to Ugunga Island. This trip was relatively uneventful and with a simple disembarking we were able to breeze through the Zanzibar Lice, dodge customs and immigration and make our way through to our booked accommodation.

Only to find the Narrow Street Hotel had screwed us over and given up our (all ready paid for) room to someone else, thankfully there were plenty of options available in town and all to quickly we were settled into the extremely helpful Pyramid Hotel. The Bastards at Narrow Street refused to return our money to the point of saying "What are you going to do, go to the police".

Hakuna Matata, with a day of relaxing ahead before cyclone Andrew arrives we had plenty of time to meander through the back alleys, catch up on some emails and dine at the fantastic Archipelago Restaurant (which does a pretty mean Steak Sandwich if I might say). Bring on the exotic spices and aromas of Zanzibar...

Click here to see the Pemba Photo Gallery (19 photos)

     
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How nice to be so far away and still have a special birthday!! And gosh Matt you would nearly have had the DTs looking for a drink!

Stella - September 23, 2007

 
     
     
 

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