Our first taste of Tanzania was in the coastal city of Dar Es Salaam (City of Peace). We tried to head directly to the docks where we would catch a 3 hour ferry out to the island of Zanzibar. However, the Tanzanian cops pulled over our taxi and held onto the drivers keys for a while until he was finally offered a satisfactory bribe. Afterwards, we managed to get a ferry ticket and board the ship within minutes of its scheduled departure for the Island. Before we knew it, we could see the strange skyline of Stone Town, the main city of Zanzibar. One of the most unique places on earth, stone town, is a melting pot of the different cultures and influences that have come and gone over the centuries. We were in a totally new environment from the jungles of the central continent, and were now surrounded by exotic looking forts and castles, as well as a strong Islamic vibe amongst the people. The island was an old sultanate run by the Omani arabs, and was itself an independent country of Arab traders dealing in all the rich resources of Africa including Ivory and slaves. However, in the 1960’s the black population revolted, killing most of the many thousands of arabs who had been living there, and all that is left is their culture, architecture and the occasional descendant of the once numerous arabs. The food was delicious at the nightly seafood market where whole lobsters cost no more than 3 or 4 dollars, and all manner of squids, octopus and other rare animals are barbecued on command. Perhaps the most unique architectural remanent are the large and masterfully crafted wooden doors adorning many of the buildings. Looking at the entrances, one can imagine what life may have been like when stone town was a bustling arab port city.
After connecting with Sybille, we walked along the beach front watching the local kids running off the pier and doing all manner of gymnastic maneuvers into the ocean, for the benefit of on-looking tourists. It was good to see Sybille, as it was a little bit of home for us, and she had many stories to tell as she had just finished projects working in war-torn Congo, and before that helping out in Haiti after the earthquake there. Two days later, we took a taxi to the north of Zanzibar where the famous white sand beaches are located. For 5$ a night, we secured a room directly on the beach. The air was hot and humid, but being surrounded by crystal turquoise blue waters and perfect sandy beaches; life was good! After befriending the local rastas, we spent many nights listening to reggae music and having a fire on the beach. When Saturday night rolled around, the rastas took us to the popluar tourist disco. The place was filled with many gap year European students and local men (since Zanzibar is muslim, the local women are nowhere to be found at many tourist destinations, especially ones that have alcohol and foreign men). We danced the night away, and watched many of the European women become severely intoxicated and leave the bar with the local beach boys; a surprising revelation as the HIV rate in Zanzibar hovers near 40%. One week in blessed Zanzibar and it was time to part ways with Sybille.
We headed back for the mainland on our ferry across the channel and slept one night in Dar Es Salaam. Early the next morning we left for the train station to take our 2 day Trans-Tanzanian train south to the Malawi Boarder. It was a nice reminder of our Trans Mongolian-Siberian train trip of the previous summer. The Tanzanian rail line had been built by the Chinese in the ‘60’s as part of Mao Tse Tungs efforts to push communism on Africans. However, the train hasn’t seen a lot of maintenance in the last 40 years. Tanzanian Railways has somewhat of a tradition of killing their passengers and the sight of many overturned and de-railed rail cars along the route was a little too common for our liking. The ride was very enjoyable, and looking out the window was similar to watching a national geographic program. We passed directly through one of Tanzania’s most famous National Parks, and from the comfort of our cabin we rolled past groups of Giraffe and Buffalo, as well as countless Zebra and Wilderbeest. It was like a free game drive while being catered to by the train staff, and an endless supply of tea and coffee was brought to us as we lounged about gazing out the window. We were excited for our next leg of the tour as we transited across the border into the lovely little lush sliver of land known as Malawi