Friends and I have been talking lately about the stress living in Tanzania. We don’t always recognize it, but it is there. I think I don’t realize most of it as much because I laugh a lot and take it as part of the adventure. This year has been harder because the “adventure” was gone. It was normal day-to day life. No new restaurants, no new trips to explore the country. By no means had I done and seen it all, but day-to-day life had taken over. Until this weekend. Before I get into the story, I just want to be clear that the events in this story usually do not all happen in one weekend like this. We have all dealt with little annoyances/inconveniences from time to time. It is a rare situation that it all comes together in one weekend! I have intentionally left the names of the hotels out. They were both great just not what we were expecting. I have been to Zanzibar several times and love every trip. This one was the best! Without further delay, here is the tale of two ladies and their Zanzibar Adventure.
One of my closest friends is leaving Tanzania this year. Brittany went to orientation with me for TeachBeyond and has been a very dear friend, co-worker and neighbor. Since it was her last year, she wanted to go to Zanzibar one last time. I was happy to go along expecting a relaxing weekend on the beach. Little did I know the adventure that awaited us!
The end of the school year is crazy for both of us so finding a weekend that we could both get away was our first task. We didn’t really think about it being rainy season when we made the plan, but for almost two weeks before our trip, it had been rainy season in full force! The locals say they haven’t seen it this rainy in several years! Tuesday before we left, I sent her a text saying, “I hope the rain stops!” About an hour later she replies back, “The hotel just emailed. The pool is flooded so they have upgraded us to an ocean side room!” We decided even in the weather we were up for the adventure! Even if it was raining and wasn’t beach weather, at least we would be able to see the beach from our room.
The night before we were to go, Brittany, some friends and I decided to check another “one-more-time” item off their list before they moved away. We ventured to another part of town to a favorite restaurant. We were about half way their when traffic came to a standstill. Quite normal for evening traffic on this particular road. We killed time sharing stories, singing to whatever song came to our head, and asking, “why have we not moved yet?! It has been 30 minutes!” So what kind of songs come to our head in such situations? How about Queen’s song Bohemian Rhapsody. Not JUST singing but, trying in our broken Swahili to translate it! Let’s just say “no,no,no,no,no” is much easier to sing than, “hapana, hapana, hapana, hapana, hapana”. We get to the restaurant enjoy our wonderful meal. Get stuck in traffic again on the way back. Someone uses the word “Gesticulate” which prompts an intense discussion and google search of the proper use and definition of the word. We make a quick stop at the supermarket during which my friends come up behind me singing along with the song in the store, “I will always love you”. We see a couple of our HOPAC students and think it strange they didn’t say hi. As we approach my car, we see a car all wrapped pretty in ribbons and balloons. My friends laugh and say, “good luck to the person that has to get into that car!” I laugh and say, “That is my car!” Another teacher had a night out with her small group. Saw us go into the store and decided it would be fun to decorate my car. In the time that we were in the store, they bought supplies and decorated my car. The kids that didn’t say hi were spying on us. We finally get home and get to bed for it is to be an early morning for the REAL adventure to begin!
4:45am My alarm goes off. 4:45 and 10 seconds the power goes out. 5:14 the power comes back on. 5:15 my taxi arrives. After an uneventful, quick drive (just don’t look out the front window. You don’t want to see how close the taxi driver gets to other cars), we arrive at the ferry port. There were very few people in line and we were quickly through to the waiting area. For those who have been to Zanzibar, you know how unique the trip has already been! The ferry ride was nice and smooth. We were greeted at the gate by our taxi driver… well, the friend of the taxi driver because we had to drop him off first. Isn’t that what always happens when you take a taxi?
As we are on the drive to the hotel, Brittany comments that she has never been on that road before. I had been thinking the same thing. We pull up to a hotel but it isn’t the right name.
“Brittany, is this the right place?”
“Oh yeah, in the email it said something about another name.”
As we are getting checked in, the gentleman apologizes that we won’t be able to stay at our original hotel but hopes we enjoy the modified reservation. I look out and see construction on one part of the building, no one around the pool, and no pool chairs so I assume part of the hotel is where we were going to originally stay and we were moved to a different part. As we talk more with the manager, we realize we are in a completely different hotel. Not just that, we are on a completely different part of the island. We had planned on staying on the east side, but ended up in the northern most part! No wonder we didn’t recognize the roads.
“Please wait a few minutes while we get your room ready. We thought it
was for a couple. We will get another bed set up.” We finally go up to our room and quickly realize we are in an ocean view room… not an ocean side room. The ocean is in view, but a ways off. They had added a bed and now we have three beds. As the locals say often, “Hakuna matata”. Internet wasn’t connecting. “Sorry we have someone coming to work on it.” Oh look a TV. What is on this magical TV? A soccer match… and that’s all, haha.
Ok, no problem, we can take a shuttle to the beach. We had a great price on the room so
expectations weren’t too high. We were dropped off behind some buildings and told, “They can call for you when you are ready to be picked up” It wasn’t really clear who “they” were but we figured we could sort it out. Hakuna matata. We walk between some buildings out to a beautiful beach, but no obvious place to sit out by the ocean without being harassed by the beach vendors so we decided to grab a bite to eat and then we would explore.
With lunch finished we decided it was time to see if we could find a place to enjoy the beach. Just as we ventured out from the restaurant, it started to rain. We also realized there really wasn’t a great place to go so decided we would rather go back to the hotel and enjoy the pool. We head to a large business on the beach and ask if they know who we are supposed to have call the hotel. They had no idea what we are talking about so we decide to just try to call ourselves. Thankfully that was successful, but I wondered, what do others do without a Tanzanian phone? In the meantime, we awkwardly stand by a building in the rain, waiting, hoping they understood and were on their way or maybe they didn’t hear us well with the rooster crowing right beside us.
The fun little shuttle truck arrives and safely returns us to our room. The rain has stopped. We ordered a cappuccino and a tea to enjoy by the pool. We find a couple chairs and then realize the pool boy is putting chemicals in the pool at 4:00 instead of 6:00 as it says on the brochure in the room. Just as we are comfortable, the manager on shift walks over, “Sorry, we just need to inform you to please stay out of the water the next hour. If you go in, you will turn black.” Hakuna matata, we will just enjoy being outside by the pool not in the pool. We relax for a few more minutes and are still waiting for our coffee. We decide we had better go check on it since it wasn’t coming to us. We stand by the bar until he finally brings out the tea and cappuccino. “May we have milk with the tea?” Five minutes later he brings the milk. “May we have sugar?” 5 minutes later a packet of sugar. Hakuna matata. We will now just go enjoy in our room.
Since the power was out in the morning, I hadn’t taken a shower before I left and was looking forward to nice shower. Cold, warm, nice. HOT. Warm. COLD. HOT. Warm. HOOOTTTT. Ok, it was a shower. Hakuna matata. At this point, I decided I needed to make a list of everything on this adventure. We were laughing so hard. We were looking forward to the adventure this weekend but we thought that adventure would just be the rain. From that point on, I kept a pen and paper with me the rest of the trip.
The perk to being on the northern tip of the Island is that we were able to watch a beautiful sunset while just having a great conversation.
Even though I have lived in Tanzania for awhile, I still have not been able to adjust to the late dinners. 5:30/6:00 has always been dinner time. 7:00 has always felt late. So when we found out dinner was at 8:00? Time to break open the snacks we brought along.
Dinner was a beautiful buffet at the rooftop restaurant which was actually on ground level next to the pool. We were entertained while eating with a local band of drums, vocals and a fiddle/violin type instrument but I think the musician only knew one note and the drums only knew one beat which made the variety of songs quite interesting.
As it was now nearing bedtime, we headed back towards our rooms only to be stopped just outside of the dining area and directed towards a seat. “We are ready for you to sit here for the African dance show.” We politely excused ourselves to our room and peaked through the curtains to see what it was about and laughed thinking our students have more talent! They were good, but when our students are great and we get to watch them dance all the time, it was a better option to head to bed.
When we checked in, we asked about checking out in the afternoon the next day, “Hakuna matata” we were told. So we had planned on leaving around 2:00… until we went to the front desk Sunday morning to confirm the taxi time. “Sure no problem. You may check out at 10:00 and leave your bags here until 2:00. Hakuna matata.” After a bit of confusion and discussion. They allowed us to stay but we decided to just leave at 11:00. It really was a nice hotel and the staff knew us by name. If I didn’t want to enjoy the beach, I would be happy to stay there again.
So we said good-bye to the beach hotel and headed to Stonetown for the remainder of our trip. Brittany had a few cafes she wanted to visit one last time and we both had some shopping we wanted to do. Our hotel was quite close to the main shopping area and down the winding roads that were too narrow for a car so the taxi parked and the driver had to walk us to our hotel. We were greeted by a lovely woman eager to assist and answer our questions. Once we were all checked in. She led us up to our room. We were given a grand tour. “Face towel, hand towel, hand soap, shampoo, safe, bath towel, TV, and in here is the shower… I mean bathroom” He is standing by a wardrobe. I am sure the bathroom is not in there. The wood must have swollen a bit because he was struggling to get it open. When he finally got it open, I realized he meant bathROBE. We were given the Mercury Suite. Freddie Mercury from Queen was born in Zanzibar. Our room was filled with information and pictures of him. It was a beautiful room. Freddie Mercury wasn’t the only unique feature of the room. The bathroom didn’t have a door! And even more unique, the shower wasn’t in the
bathroom! It was in the main room! Yes, you read that right. I could lay on the bed and look at the shower and the shower had no curtain or wall! Okay, well this is a situation we would deal with later. For now, it was lunch time!
We headed off to a favorite café. We sat down, looked over the menu, and realized it would be better for breakfast so we left to head to a different café, but, because it was Sunday, it was closed. Hakuna matata! We walked about 10 mins to another café only to find it closed because it was low season; it was closed until June 1! So, we headed back to the
first café. Brittany had told me they had good coffee so I asked if I could have their iced coffee with the spiced coffee instead of regular. A minute or two later, we hear in their kitchen, “Iced Milk, spiced coffee.” Then someone else would say, “Iced milk, spiced coffee?” “Iced milk, spiced coffee.” A little laughter followed then they repeated back and forth four or five times. I didn’t realize I had made such as strange request! The complication was worth it. It was excellent! So good, I asked for another one. It was a different waitress though and she told me it wasn’t possible. I assured her it was possible because I just had one! When I ordered my burger, I asked if it came with fries. Yes, no problem. We received a bowl of fries. Then my burger came… with a side of fries. We had more than enough fries and I wasn’t charged extra.
We needed to make a quick stop up at our room before we headed off for our next adventure. We had been given a key and padlock to lock our door so when we returned, we unlocked the door and slide the bar over, but the door would not push open. Remembering what had happened with the wardrobe we figured the door must be a bit sticky too so we are ramming into it, looking all over trying to figure out if we are supposed to push instead or pull, is there a latch we are missing? Finally, we give in and ask the housekeeper that had been in the room next door spying on us for help. She turned a knob and the door popped open… oh my how did we both miss that?!
Other than shopping and a going to a few cafes, Brittany really wanted to go on a sunset boat cruise on one of the Dhow boats. I was a little leery because of the weather, but didn’t want her to leave with regrets. Thankfully, we didn’t go out as far as we had when I had gone before. We laughed at the tikitimaji ndani ya maji [watermelon in the water]. I don’t know why, but it was much funnier to stay in swahili than in English. The clouds were quite ominous all around us. But you could see a strange vertical line lighter on one side than the other. I commented that maybe we would see a rainbow. Not only did we see a rainbow, we saw two, not a double, but two separate rainbows and in one you could see the violet band three almost four times! It was the widest rainbow I had ever seen! We both felt it was God smiling down on us and showing us His love through His creation. When all the clouds around us threatened rain, we were blessed amazing rainbows!
By the time we arrived back on shore, the Forodhani Night Market had begun. We got our favorite Zanzibar pizzas- mine vegetable and Brittany’s Nutella and banana- and made our way back to the hotel. This hotel actually did have a rooftop restaurant so we decided to have a drink and relax overlooking the city. I had so loved my spiced coffee earlier in the day, I ordered another one that evening, but regretfully, it didn’t taste anything like the one I had earlier. I couldn’t even drink it. Probably a good thing or I would’t have slept very well.
Sunday evening when we were on the rooftop, we asked if that was where breakfast was as well. The waiter told us it was downstairs. So Monday morning, we head down stairs for breakfast. It is raining and there is an open courtyard. I was concerned how that was going to work, but after checking there, asking at the front desk, going through two wrong doors, and asking three more people, we finally found the right door to the dining room. There was a nice menu to order from and there was one option for juice- avocado lime. I love avocados, but as a juice? I decided to get over the greenness and try it. I am so happy I did! It was soooo good! Trying a new food or drink alone would have been a normal adventure for me but this weekend it was a very minor one.
Today was to be shopping day and a day just to explore Stonetown. It is known as a spice island and is rich in history. The town is full of unique wood carved doors and fun little shops. “Small shop, small price! Looking is free.” As we are wandering in the rain, Brittany comments, “You can really feel the humidity today!” I replied, “Yes, they call this 100% humidity.” We dodged the raindrops going through the little shops. We were asked many times where we were from and were surprised by our Swahili (mostly Brittany’s!). One man said she should stay because, “Your swahili is better than the Masaai.” Um, okay? Bartering is expected and is usually a fun little banter back and forth trying to find the appropriate price and not have to pay the “Mzungu [foreigner]” price. As we pass a group of boys, we hear in a seductive voice, “Do you like mishkaki [meat kebob]?” Why? Who knows. We don’t even ask why any more. We just giggle to ourselves and walk on.
We were successful finding all we had hoped to find and still had time so we wandered over to the House of Wonders. It had been a palace and was a highly advanced building of its time in East Africa which is how it got it’s name. It is a museum but it had never been open when I had been by before but lucky for us, it was open that day! You could see the potential but it was in need of a lot of TLC. It made us wonder about a lot of things. Like would we get out alive! Between the floors creaking under our feet and the dark oppressive feeling, we didn’t stay any longer than necessary.
Our final stop in Zanzibar was the airport. We had a great taxi driver to the airport. Like everyone else we talked to, small talk started with Obama and Trump. He claimed he was one of two people on the island that liked Trump. Every time someone commented on our president, I would be reminded how much our he represents the United States to the world. Thankfully that conversation didn’t
last long and we moved on talking about how Zanzibar was the first East African country (before it joined with Tanzania) to have an elevator, color television, and several other technological advances. It had been known for its education and was the first East African country to have a train! Many times I talk to people and feel they are making up stories but this time, I think he was telling truth at least to his knowledge.
When we arrive at the airport to check-in, we don’t see a line for precision so we ask someone where to go. They ask us to just wait in this office. A few minutes later, a man comes in, sits down and says, “I am so sorry. I really wish it didn’t happen this way. It was out of our control. Again I am so sorry. Please don’t be upset.”
“Upset about what?” we ask.
“There will not be a 9:00 flight but we were able to get another flight. So you will be leaving at 10:20 instead.” Seriously?! All that drama to tell us we have an hour delay? I believe he thought we already knew and that we were just waiting to yell at him.
He proceeds to check us in and gives us hand written boarding passes. We now have almost three hours to kill in the airport. So, we watch this year’s Amazing Race episodes from when they were in Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam! Meanwhile, the airport has completely cleared out. I see one other person waiting for a flight. So, as we wait with our handwritten passes and basically no one in the airport, I am getting a little concerned we might not actually have a flight, but it arrived on time and was a quick, uneventful flight back. As we landed, I told Brittany, “The adventure is not over until we walk back into our homes.”
We were making good time in the taxi back home when we were redirected. One side of the split four lane road was blocked and the other side became two way because of an accident. As we passed by the accident, we could see a vehicle had run into the back of trailer used for hauling large equipment, other cars were off the road and an ambulance had just left. The trailer was through the car window into the driver’s seat. The rest of the way home, I thought, “If our flight hadn’t been delayed, would we have been in that accident?” It was another reminder that God had been watching over us and blessing us all weekend. We were blessed with so much laughter, good company, thoughtful conversation, mostly good weather, neither of us were sick, and we did everything we really wanted to other than an afternoon soaking in the sun on the beach. It was not quite the adventure we were expecting, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way!