I was really looking forward to showing the girls Zanzibar. An epiphany there twenty years ago was the impetus for this ridiculous escapade we’re currently on and I wanted to show all three of them what I saw and experienced. It was such a unique combination of African and Arab cultures and I thoroughly enjoyed my time getting lost in Stone Town as my first real ‘exotic’ travel escape.
Since the Middle-East was not going to be part of this adventure, Zanzibar was a great opportunity to introduce them to a place where the world-view is predominantly a Muslim one. Arriving during the middle of Ramadan, we got that perspective and more!
Travelling from Victoria Falls, we took a bit of a circuitous route to Zanzibar. Direct flights from Zanzibar were exorbitant and after some dithering we decided to fly from Livingstone, to Lusaka (within Zambia) and make our way to Dar Es Salaam before taking the ferry across to the main island. I had originally thought we might take the TAZARA train from outside Lusaka on a three-day journey to the coast. However, there were a couple of things working against us. Time was starting to be a commodity as we wanted to be in Europe by the beginning of June and I wanted to make sure we got a quality experience in Zanzibar - so the quicker we got there, the better.
Also, some of our experiences in Africa had reminded me of an unsavoury interaction I had previously had with an unscrupulous border official. I didn’t want to put my family through that kind of thing but it is interesting how things can sometime go full circle… more on that in the next blog post.
Up until this point, we had a fairly mild exposure to Africa in Jo’burg, Cape Town and throughout Namibia. The girls had seen poverty and how people live throughout South America and Asia which might be shocking to an unadulterated Western perspective. But thankfully, we had worked into our exposure to these things slowly and Meghan and Avery were fairly used to different qualities of life by the time we arrived in Africa. But even then, the big cities and the Namibian tourist trail were fairly benign. It wasn’t until our big road trip from Etosha to Vic Falls that we started to experience what I like to call the ‘real Africa’. Jody’s blog about our Namibian and border crossing experiences give an excellent description in that regard.
I do want to make it clear — we think Africa is a safe place to travel. As long as you are smart about what you do and how you do it. You don’t step into traffic without looking both ways for cars, so in the same way, you don’t travel purposefully without making plans and contingencies (especially with a family in tow). That said, we could have taken the train to Dar Es Salaam and the girls would have seen a lot more of the ‘real Africa’ and gone completely stir-crazy stuck in a train carriage for a solid 60 hours. Knowing our single day road-trip boundary of about 6 hours, Jody and I thought it best to take the mid-budget choice of flying from Livingstone to Lusaka and taking the international flight to Dar Es Salaam (via Nairobi). With a significant delay in the flight out of Nairobi, we finally arrived in Dar at about 3am.
The drive through the streets of Dar was unique. As the roads were empty, the taxi driver blew through several red lights on the way from the airport to the hotel. He made the comment that at this time of night it would be better not to stop as ‘there are young men who might want to do something to the car’ if he stopped. The car? Maybe. The passengers? More likely. As this was the mid-point of Ramadan we did see several groups of young men on street corners enjoying themselves under the cover of darkness. Noting that - speed on driver. Speed on.
We pulled up to the hotel on a deserted side street and the groggy-eyed security guard told us that we had to go up to the second floor to wake-up reception. The gents at the front desk were helpful enough and we were able to get our keys and room within 15 minutes (hey, this is Africa, things take time). The hotel room was clean and pretty good quality, so we didn’t have any problems getting settled in before our wake-up call scheduled for 5 hours later.
The next morning we were able to organize a ride to the ferry terminal and with a detour to find a working ATM in order to pay for our tickets, the journey from the hotel was reasonably uneventful. As long as you don’t worry about the dozens of porters literally fighting one another to ‘help’ passengers get onto the ferry with their luggage, once you have your tickets the process is straight-forward: pay driver; exit vehicle; remove bags; fend-off porters; calm children; determine correct entrance to terminal; fend-off porters; chose line at terminal entrance; calm spouse; show passports to terminal official; fend-off porters; walk the serpentine labyrinth to the ferry gang-plank visible 20 metres away; and fend-off porters…
However, before we could do that, I needed to pick up the tickets. As I did, the girls waited in the van as porters continually hit the side of the vehicle in hopes that someone would come out and they could spring into their ever-so-helpful action. I suddenly realized how cat calls work - the harder the porters smacked the side of the van, the more likely we would eagerly jump out of the vehicle to throw our money at the striking piece of manhood.
The driver wasn’t too fussed about his panels and I was able to fend off the porters with a few pointed comments as I walked to and from the van while getting the tickets. Like everyone in the developing world, our driver had ‘a friend’ amongst the ranks of the porters and we would ‘take good care of us’ and ensure we got onto the ferry with no problems.
Using the services of his friend, our bags did get onto the ferry twice, were removed twice and then finally got on a third time. I told the girls to get their seats and I would make sure our gear got on. After about 40 minutes, and 20 extra dollars for ‘carrying costs’, our bags did get onto the ferry along with some other interesting pieces of cargo. I suppose Zanzibar is an island and things need to get there somehow. It is amazing what some people will do to get a free ride though…
While I supervised our luggage, being separated from the girls didn’t sit too well with them as the port and ferry terminal was a half-step away from complete bedlam. Again, being westerners, we are all seen as having a certain level of means (justifiably so) and that we are a resource to be exploited/manipulated/coerced in order to separate you from your money. I suppose if you’re calloused this doesn’t bother you too much and a polite, but firm, ‘no thank you’ usually does the trick. Jody has this down pat, so I decided not to tell them what to expect as I was concerned it would cause some unnecessary anxiety before we got on board. This may have been an error on my part. By the time I caught up with them, there may have been a few tears and a few ‘I hate this place!’ statements from the girls…
To be fair, it was pretty chaotic and some advance warning would have helped. Mental note: don’t do that again!
Moving on, the ferry was a high-speed catamaran and much faster than what I had used to visit the main island years ago. We pulled into the Zanzibar harbour about two hours after our departure from Dar. It was a beautiful day and great trip. The Indian Ocean is stunning and the scenery between the mainland and the islands is simply stunning as we passed old forts, fishermen and dhows through the archipelago. There were only a handful of westerners on the ferry so we were a bit of a novelty for other passengers - dozens of women in headscarves and traditional African dress, and a few striking Masai warriors in their crimson cloaks who we found out later are hired for security guarding property in Zanzibar. There were also lots of young children. On a couple of occasions as we walked around to stretch our legs and little African boy or girl would point and shout ‘Mzungu!’. It was a pretty cool experience.
It did wonders to calm my family and set us up for the next few days exploring Zanzibar.
We're the Danchuks - follow our explorations and family adventures in a wide world (2018).