This post is part of a series:
Things are definitely turning more Islamic as we head south. The vans emblazoned with Christian messages are gone and we are now treated to Islamic prayers five times a day, thundered across the city from loud speakers high upon the mosques. Both on the island of Zanzibar and the port city of Dar es Salaam the majority of the locals are dressed in Islamic garb and much to our distress, the area is practically dry, it took my cousin Michael and I three hours of walking in the blistering heat to find somewhere to buy a single bottle of whiskey!
Zanzibar is truly paradise. White sand beaches, warm clear water, beach bars with thatched roofs, great diving and scorching sunshine; the affluence and luxury quite a contrast to the Africa we have experienced so far. We spent a week on the island; five nights on the picturesque Kendwa beach in the north of the island, then an additional two in Stone Town, the biggest town on the island. Kendwa was all about the beach. I alternated between the hammock, beach chair and a towel on the sand, and after a stressful day of this to and fro, I’d get a massage right on the beach, listening to the waves roll in while a dark skinned woman kneaded away at my muscles.
After a very enjoyable, but largely uneventful five nights in Kendwa we went south to Stone Town, which perhaps would be more aptly named ‘Stoner Town’. During our few nights there we were constantly approached by muscular black men trying to flog football shirts, crappy CDs of naff African music and then in hushed tones “marijuana, mary-jane, hashish?”
While strolling around Stone Town, Michael and I met three guys, one of which had a monkey perched nonchalantly on his shoulder. We sat down on a concrete wall overlooking the sparkling blue ocean and talked with the men about their lives on the idyllic paradise that is Zanzibar. It turned out the three were brothers and amongst other things, highly skilled martial artists. They went on to give us a demonstration of the Brazilian martial art Capoeira, while their monkey named Cobra, climbed all over me grooming my body hair with his delicate fingers seemingly in the hopes of finding some tasty lice to eat (unfortunately for him I am totally bug free!).
I asked the three Tanzanians how they came to know Capoeira and they told us they’d seen two Americans who were visiting Zanzibar practicing on the beach and asked them to show them some moves. After the Americans left there was no one on the small island who could teach them, so they obtained some instructional books and self-taught themselves to the high grade we were seeing now. Having spent so long mastering the art, they have since taken it upon themselves to share the knowledge and enthusiastically give free lessons to the enthralled local children.
As the afternoon drew on, increasingly more and more people showed up until there was a circle of about twenty smiling young men taking turns to do back flips, handstands and to jostle with one another. It was impressive to watch, these guys knew what they were doing and I think it’s remarkable they’ve gone to such effort to learn what they have. Their joy for life was palpable and I can’t help but admire their dedication and persistence to learn, despite being subject to such hardship and poverty.
As much as I was enjoying the martial arts show, I have to confess I only stayed as long as I did because I was totally in love with the monkey. He was awesome. Totally awesome. Incredibly awesome. We asked how long they’d had Cobra; three weeks they told us, they’d gone in to the forest one night and stolen him while he was sleeping. While I’m not sure I approve of this practice, after messing around with him all afternoon I can at least understand why they’d go to such lengths. We were so taken in fact, that later that evening while we were puffing away on a shisha pipe at a rooftop bar, Mike and I weighed up the pros and cons of one day escaping to a tropical island ourselves, setting up a beach side bar / dive shop and acquiring some pint-sized primates of our own.
Our mate Tony celebrated his 30th birthday while we were in Stone Town (although ‘celebrated’ is probably the wrong word, ‘lamented’ is probably more accurate). We dined at an outdoor restaurant, feasted on jumbo sized prawns and smoked foreign cigars with imported whiskey. Afterwards, Tony, feeling his advancing years, decided to take his wife and retire for the evening, while Mike and I decided to combine forces with some random Norwegian medical students we met on the street.
I’m not sure of the exact statistics, but I would guess that if you are white, under 30 and in Tanzania there is something like a 93.59% chance that you are a medical student – we found them everywhere. So with our new found Doctor-to-be friends, we set up shop in a dark, smoky bar and discussed our reflections on Africa, life, and our thoughts on which is the superior African beer well in to the early hours of the morning (FYI: it’s the Tanzanian Safari and Ugandan Nile Special). Swallowing the dregs of my now-warm beer I announced I was done for the night and left an inebriated Mike to fend for himself whilst I stumbled merrily back to our hotel.
Upon getting back to the hotel, alcohol consumption and exhaustion overwhelmed me and I collapsed in a heap on my bed and promptly fell asleep. Some hours later, I heard a quiet knock on the door. “Hello?”, I inquired, only to find a bereft Mike standing on the other side. Turns out he’d returned to the room a little after me and banged on the door for me to let him in, but got no response. He then banged a little louder, then louder still, then loud enough to wake up the manager upstairs, all the people in the surrounding rooms, Tony and Wendy down the hall – seemingly everyone except for me.
The manager then banged the door, Michael banged some more, everyone was shouting trying to rouse me from my slumber, but the long day of drinking had taken its toll and I was well and truly comatose. Accepting defeat, Mike lay down on the tiled corridor floor and tried to fall asleep. After several uncomfortable hours on the hard slate he decided to give the door one last try and it was this time I heard him. Despite my apologies, Michael was fairly unimpressed and to make things worse, I may have inadvertently inflamed the situation when I told him to “stop being such a whinging pussy – just harden up and deal with it.” I always seem to know just the right thing to say.
I once heard someone refer to the Tanzanian city Dar Es Salaam as ‘Dar is a Slum‘. I personally am not sure it’s honestly much different from any of the larger African cities we’ve visited, but our hotel definitely was a dump. Mike and I, each armed with a piece of footwear set about assassinating the legion of cockroaches crawling around inside our room. Big ones, little ones, anything that moved got a wallop with our sandals of doom. Our �window� was actually just a series of CD sized holes leading directly outside to the street and located right above our beds, so any new roaches would drop straight down on to us, one of them literally landing on Mike’s head. Too cheap and too lazy to move hotels, we instead had a midnight rearrange of the furniture in our small room enabling us to hook up our mosquito nets and after tucking them in under the mattress we climbed inside and took happy refuge in our impenetrable, insect proof cocoons.
Now, if we may, let us briefly move on to some more serious topics. Namely, coffee. I won’t claim to be a coffee aficionado, but I definitely enjoy a good cup and along with Michael and Tony we were eagerly awaiting some superior blends from the continent that grows some of the finest beans in all the world. Instead we found they all proudly drink Africafe, a rancid instant coffee which they blend with powdered milk to make a vile, lumpy concoction which admittedly, we chugged back anyway for the sake of caffeine.
So where is all the good coffee? They must export it all to the West I guess. We were in a supermarket back in Nairobi when a girl dressed in Nescafe attire tried to flog us some Nescafe Instant. I shook my head and told her “We’re looking for real coffee”, “Oh, but this is real coffee” she replied. No, my dear. It really isn’t.
We’ve had a rather drastic itinerary change in the last few days, we were going to go to Botswana and Zambia, only Botswana is expensive and Zambian visas were proving inconvenient to obtain, so we’ve now decided to simply abandon the West coast all together. We’re now en route to Malawi and Mozambique before dropping down in to South Africa. Unfortunately, this route change will mean we don’t make it to Victoria Falls, and as much as I was looking forward to seeing the biggest waterfall in the world, I had previously consented to all sorts of foolish nonsense like bungy jumping and gorge swinging while we were there, which I was more than happy to wriggle out of. To further sweeten the deal, Mozambique holds the promise of diving with Whale Sharks, Hump Backs and giant Manta Rays – all of which sound like a much more agreeable way to spend my time.
So onwards we go, a little over halfway through the African leg of this trip we now with just under four weeks to go before we depart the continent.