We failed to see the snows of Kilimanjaro after staying a third night for a sundowner on Hotel Kindoroko’s rooftop terrace. I did learn to use the panorama function on my new camera, though. The scab on my knee has not yet hardened, but poses no problem when cycling. It’s only four days to Tanga and then I’ll give it a rest. The road passes through sisal plantations. Sisal is a type of agave whose fibers are used for making twine, rope, and dartboards.
The southeast winds that have aided us going north through Tanzania are now against us as we head for the coast. Late in the afternoon we stopped at the Pangani River campsite where a mongoose troop was rummaging through the open kitchen. We would have stayed the night, but they do not serve food here. We took a shortcut trail back to the highway where our tires must have picked up thorns, as both Julie and I got flats less than a kilometer from the Mkomazi High Way Motel.
A warm rain cleared as we began the day, then drenched us our last hour of cycling. In Africa, so far, it has rained on us only two days each month. We are reading The Shadow of the Sun by Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński, who’s been covering Africa since 1957. His short essays and reminiscences give glimpses into the soul of Africa during those turbulent cold war years.
After waiting for the rain to let up we headed for the coast, our first view of the Indian Ocean since Inhassoro, Mozambique on June 27th. Short bouts of rain stinging our eyes would abruptly end as we hit dry pavement. Upon arrival at the port we confirmed that the next boat to Pemba leaves on Tuesday.
The alarm from the bank next door woke us up around midnight and kept us up for the rest of the night. What’s the point of having a burglar alarm if nobody responds to it? We’d planned to move to a nicer place, anyway, until catching the boat to Pemba, and found the Inn by the Sea with a cliff-top view of the Indian Ocean for only a couple dollars more ($15 incl. breakfast). Susan, from Montana, has been living in the room next to ours since April and is heading home tomorrow.
Even though this world tour might have ended when I got hit; I felt luckier than most of the people we passed along the road as I hobbled back to Arusha battered and bleeding. We still have enough money to keep us well-fed and in pleasant accommodations. Our plans already included taking a vacation from our world tour in Zanzibar; healing my wounds just gave us an excuse for taking it easy.
I write blog entries for days of travel on bicycle; so there’s no entry for taking the ferry to Pemba, then on to Zanzibar (They’re marked as map points for days of rest). I also did not include the 200 km in day trips around the island in the cumulative total, but I will include the 137 km to Jambiani and back, since we carried all our gear and spent the night there. I hit a sharp pothole and blew out my front tire. After I patched the double hole where the inner tube was pinched, I found another double hole. I ended up putting four patches on rips in the tube (not pinhole punctures) uncertain that the patches would hold air; but they did. Jambiani is a village on the beach with guest houses recommended by Kate and Maarten, a Belgian couple we met in Wete. We considered staying more than one night, but relaxing on the beach held less appeal than cycling back to Zanzibar. Returning to familiar places is an odd sensation. We first returned to Arusha, now Zanzibar, then we’ll go back to Pemba and Tanga. For the past 17 months most days took us to a new place that we may never return to.
We could have taken the night boat from Zanzibar back to Pemba, like we did on the way here. It is a slower boat, and cheaper, but we did not sleep well on the benches. One man even sat on my outstretched legs as he tried invading my territory. I did not budge. We decided to pay more for the day ferry; but were told it would not leave on Tuesday, there would be two fast boats on Thursday. When we checked on Tuesday, though, we learned that one would depart on Wednesday. We don’t mind spending an extra day in Stone Town.
No alcohol is allowed in the Pemba Crown Hotel (they also require a marriage certificate for couples checking in), and no beer is served at the Times Restaurant in Wete. We had to walk to the Police Mess on the edge of town for a beer. While we sat outside drinking an Eagle beer at sundown, the sky filled with thousands of Flying Foxes (Fruit Bats) the size of ravens as they left their roost.
“The Patty Duke Show’s” theme song from the 1960′s was pretty much the extent of my knowledge of Zanzibar before our visit. Made up of several islands with Pemba and Unguja being the largest, we spent 12 days here taking a vacation from our bike vacation. It was much, much more than the exotic tourist spot of my pre-conceived notions.
Zanzibar is 97% Muslim. We had the good fortune to be in Tanzania during the month of Ramadan, a period very important in the Muslim religion, and we timed our visit to Zanzibar to be at the end of that holy month. In Stone Town, the largest city on the islands, we experienced a few days of their fasting where it was impolite for us to eat publicly on the street during the day and we sat behind curtained doors and windows in restaurants with other non-Muslims. Then, the morning after the sighting of the sliver of the crescent moon, 5 days of celebration began. At sunrise, muezzins from perhaps a half dozen minarets of mosques within earshot of our hostel, sang praises to God, invoking the name of the prophet Mohammad–none in sinc or in harmony, all different but all the same, like a chorus of deep-throated birds–calling for a half hour or more. Later in the day when walking through the streets the holiday was in full swing. All the young girls, before the age of puberty glittered in lovely dresses, adorned with ribbons and bows. Many had henna designs on their hands and feet (indigo floral patterns painted on the skin lasting as long as 2 weeks). Many wore a beautifully colored hijab (long head scarf) fastened with a shiny hairpin framing sweet, sweet faces. Older girls and woman, depending on how strict their Muslim beliefs, displayed more or less of their new dresses. Some had henna on their hands and feet (only married woman and little girls before puberty use henna, I was told). Most wore a hijab, some in beautiful colors, some black. Most wore full length dresses, also in brilliant colors and patterns which flared at the bottom. Some covered their beautiful dresses completely with a long black cloak where the patterns and colors of their dresses were visible only through the bottom slit as they walked. A few hid themselves even more with a mask-like veil tied behind their head allowing only their eyes to show. I grew to appreciate the beauty of the hijab and I began to understand why strict Muslims believe a woman must cover her face in public. If the Koran instructs them to show their beauty only to their husbands, and truly their faces are the greatest part of their beauty, then, if one interprets the Koran strictly, a woman must veil her face too.
Other parts of the festivities included gift giving to children. Young boys toted new toy guns everywhere in the streets, the labyrinth that is Stone Town being a perfect place to play their version of cops and robbers. Then in the evening, judging by the strength of the crowd, every young child on the island together with their cousins from the mainland and led by their mothers, pressed into a small kiddie ride park. Crowd control was #1 here. People were held back at the gates in a massive clot that for 21 cents a head was allowed to slowly trickle in as others left the park. Older youths dressed in scout uniforms lined the paths of the park to insure orderly travel once inside. Gleeful children, laughed and hooted from hand powered merry-go-rounds, swings, go-carts, delighted, I think mostly, to have survived getting into the park.
David and I survived the bedlam for only a few minutes, and headed to the other side of town next to the waterfront. Here in the park was a gastronomical feast. Tables lined the walkways, loaded with freshly caught, slaughtered, harvested and prepared foods, beef, chicken, fish, octopus, lobster, crabs, shrimp, chapati, crepes, pancakes, mangoes, bananas, pineapples, tomatoes, potatoes, cabbages, green peppers spiced and seasoned with the flavors of the island, grilled or fried in oil over charcoal pots as the chefs visited with their customers. Families, groups of adolescent boys and groups of adolescent girls, young and old couples, tourists and locals, crowded the sidewalks, bought their dinner, and then found rare, unoccupied patches of ground where they picnicked and conversed and observed the hub-bub around them. Everything was packed and swept away sometime before 11 and was repeated again the next night. Very fun.
Zanzibar is rich in the history and mix of cultures as it was a port of trade between Africans, Arabs, Indians, and Europeans in the more recent centuries, and the Persians and other Indian Ocean sea-faring peoples in more ancient times. Spices like cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon come from here. Very profitable ivory from the mainland was traded. And one of history’s most evil examples of man’s inhumanity to man, the slave trade, flourished here. In the Anglican hostel we stayed, formerly a hospital that was built over a miserable chamber where slaves had been kept before they were sold, we met a Tanzanian guest, Michael, who’s last name in Swahili meant “lucky to be saved”. He told the story of his grandfather and great aunt who as young children in the late 1800′s, had been captured in Malawi by slave traders. Missionaries in Tanzania seeing them amongst a large group of captives being taken overland to the coast begged the slavers to give them these two children. They pleaded they would never survive the trek, and would suffer the fate of untold numbers of people who ill and weak, were left along the way chained to trees, presumably eaten by animals, to discourage captives faking weakness. The slavers agreed and the children were raised in the mission. His great aunt, Michael went on to say, did not live up to the name they were given. Some time later she was snatched by other slavers and taken, people believed, to Mombasa. His grandfather was never able to find her or hear news of her.
Touring the island of Pemba was some of my favorite cycling. The road lined with banana, coconut and mango trees, to name a few, curved up and down and around through villages with the aroma of harvested cloves drying in the sun. People along the road greeted us warmly and we enjoyed lovely views of the ocean. We stayed at both the south and north end of the island, two nights in a bit of a touristy hotel with a terrace that overlooked the small harbor and two nights in a more regular hotel in town. On our last night while having a beer at sunset, thousands of large fruit bats filled the sky, like a freaky horror movie, flying from the trees they’d hung and slept in during the day to their nightly feeding area somewhere on the island. I’d never seen a sight like it.
We decided not to go to Mombasa, Kenya. A couple of Finnish guys who were just there said “It’s a shithole”. We also read that the highway from Mombasa to Nairobi is very busy, with trucks hauling loads from the main port to the big city. Thirdly, the road is unpaved from Tanga to the border of Kenya, with uncertain accomodations on the way. So we’ll backtrack all the way to Moshi, then on to Nairobi, and have another chance to see Kilimanjaro.