Run the equator: The Indian Ocean

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Indian Ocean

Sunset in Stone Town
Click on pic to see slideshow
or here to access the set

If you think of overland safaris as trips dedicated exclusively to watching wildlife, then our detour to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar falls outside the norm. For three days we took our leave from the big truck and explored the winding, narrow streets of Zanzibar's Stone Town, had good espresso coffee and pastries in downtown Dar es Salaam, and dived in the Indian ocean close to Nungwi beach village at the northern tip of Zanzibar island. Sure, we spent more money (diving here was $35, almost double the price in Honduras) but we got to sleep in a real bed (the last time had been in Livingstone) and sipped cocktails on a terrace with a view of the ocean...

Palms in our Dar es Salaam campsite

There is not much to say about Dar es Salaam, really... the map said that the part of town where we got dropped off was downtown, but it surely didn't look like it, and if it hadn't been busy with people, shops and cars I would have thought we got lost in some provincial ramshackle town. Since the sights were so disappointing, Angela and I concentrated on the one real attraction the town had to offer: the Epi D'Or french bakery, which provided great espresso coffee (for the last 5 weeks we had had only instant coffee, mixed with chicory on top of that), delicious pastries and air conditioning, much needed in the hot and humid Tanzanian climate. We spent there almost all the hours we got each time we had to pass through town on our way to and from Zanzibar, except for some brief moments needed for hitting the ATMs and the grocery store.

Stone Town - a restored building

Zanzibar's Stone Town, lying more than a stone's throw away from Dar es Salaam - actually almost 2 hours by ferry - is a beautiful but dilapidated old town, formerly a slave and spice trade outpost, dating from the period of Arab colonization of the eastern coast of Africa. The thin streets squeezed between high white walls are reminiscent of Venice, but the omnipresent garbage and the crumbling facades are definitely African. Unfortunately, as it is often the case, there isn't enough money and good will to bring the colors of this town to its former glory. The few beautifully restored buildings testify to the enormous potential hidden behind the drab, tired stone walls of this world heritage site.

Masai man wearing traditional

But Zanzibar is not only Arab architecture and busy food markets; it also has a very touristy side. The Nungwi village at the northernmost end of the island has sold its soul to hotel developers and its beaches now resemble those in any tropical tourist paradise island. To their credit, the hotels blend into the landscape and have not become an eyesore yet. We spent two days in this wonderful place doing not much of anything, except for one dive and some beach swimming. The beaches are 'patrolled' by scores of Masai men in their traditional clothes, some of them working as security guards for the hotels, most others trying to sell their famous hand-made jewelry. My attempts at conversation with them were thwarted quite fast; whether they approached me or I approached them, within the first minute of talking they would try to sell me something and then I would politely decline and leave. This is often the case but fortunately not always - you can still find good, easy conversation at the bar: the people who work there will only sell you what you already want...

Posted from Cairo. Still catching up with past stories...

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