After two weeks in Tanga, we packed up and headed out for a road trip. We would make our way down the east coast of Tanzania, following the beautiful Indian Ocean, until eventually taking a ferry to the island of Zanzibar. With our good friend and guide David at our side, we took the dola-dola from Tanga to the little seaside town of Pangani. Unlike Masha, our guide back in the Pare Mountains, David told us the truth about what to expect on the trip and that’s all we needed. Well, that and the hostel lodge he found us that was just feet from the ocean! That sure didn’t hurt!
Pangani was hot, full of mosquitos and our shower didn’t work, but we didn’t really care as the sun was shining and the sand was heaven on our toes. It was such a beautiful place with barely a westerner to be found and the rest didn’t matter. For the next week we would be covered in sun screen and bug juice and generally feeling kind of gross, but loving the view.
SUNSHINE ISLAND (aka Maziwe Island)
I think this is what people think of when you say “around the world trip” – there we were, just the two of us – except for David, the dhow captain and first mate, and two government officials, on a deserted island of sand in the Indian Ocean – the softest white sand sand bar surrounded by crystal-clear water that turns green and a million shades of blue in the surf and finally is absorbed by the deep blue sea. It’s like every stunning glossy beach photo you’ve seen in the travel magazines. Yup! We were there! We wish we could show you a photo, but we knew it would be a sketchy trip full of wind, sand, water and few amenities. It seemed like way to much potential for a camera-disaster so we left it at home and you will just have to take our word for it.
We took a dhow from Pangani on the two-hour journey to the island. A dhow is a wooden sailing outrigger boat-like structure that the locals use. I had heard about it from my friend Karen N, and now I understand her cautionary tone. It’s sketchy. It works – but you feel a bit “Kon-Tiki” while you’re in it. Think: part canoe, part catamaran, all homemade. Through the sail you can easily see the sun and the sky because it’s worn thin and has holes and patches on it. It’s lashed to a bamboo pole that is hoisted up with a rope. You sit-stand in the canoe area and if you are in the middle you bail water. Then with a good gust of the wind you are off! Gotta say it was a pretty smooth ride. Here’s video of a similar dhow (though ours was big enough to fit 5 rather than just one) I took from the beach in front of our lodge.
We floated out until land, though still in sight, was small and dim. The “island” is sometimes completely submerged, but we were lucky that this time of year it is a foot or two above the sea. The toasty sun was out, but it was beareable with the steady ocean breeze. We walked most of the circumference of the island (just a couple hundred yards), sloshing in the surf. The water was wa-arm! Sooo nice.
The isle doesn’t have trees, so the two local men who made up the dhow crew dismantled the dhow by pulling down the bamboo mast and sail, hauling it to shore and anchoring it in the sand as a giant sunshade! It was big doin’s. It’s a HUGE and heavy pole and the sail is heavy. Plus the dhow is anchored in the water, so you have to wade it through waist-high surf. These guys were really strong, but still…. They buried the pole and staked out the sail giving a triangle of shade in the otherwise barren island. Just before we anchored a motor boat had arrived with two men. They also made a little shade and sat there. We learned they are government officials that watch over the island. Hard life, eh? They did in fact check to make sure we had paid a fee to be there. We can only imagine that the fee doesn’t actually cover the cost of petrol for them to boat out there, but what do we know? So there we were, with five African men alternating between sun and shade while we splish-splashed in the surf and gasped at the scenery: another sand island in the distance one way, the shore far out another way and a variety of distant boats, but mostly ocean as far as you can possible see.
We were naughty though. We had been on our very best behavior in Tanzania, really trying to be good Ambassadors for America, finally it was all too much. Like running out of Will Power, we eventually ran out of Best Behavior. After the two hour boat ride, hauling our gear to the island, watching the captain and his mate trudging across the island with the sail hoisted on their shoulders to make us shade – everyone basically settling in for a long day at the beach – Aaron and I walked back towards David and with totally straight faces we said, “This is really nice. We’re ready to go home now.” David’s expression said it all; ohh that priceless, stunned look… “Pardon me?” he politely inquired. “We’re ready to go home now. This island is nice and we’re glad we saw it.” Aaron chimes in, “Yeah, we’d like to go back now.” Puzzled, David comfirms, “You want to go home? …Right now?” We nod. With the utmost professionalism (David is just SO polite and professional all the time!), “Okay…um, well… I better talk to the captain…” but he had to be thinking we were total nut jobs! We grabbed his arm before he could get more than a step and by then we are both buckled over laughing — “KIDDING!!! This place is fantastic! Let’s swim!!” David looked oh SO relieved and luckily he laughed too. We were in a full belly-laugh and even later in the evening we all broke up again re-living it one more time. He also promised that revenge would be his! That seems fair. And if it’s not totally clear in this blog, we adore David and we’re pretty sure he is okay with us too – we became true friends, not just guide and clients. The chances of an international diplomatic incident were low.
David really would do anything to help us have a good time in Tanzania. He cares deeply about teaching us about his country, which we love. One night in Pangani he treated us to a “Swahili-Style” dinner. We ditched our hostel lodge and its western-ish style restaurant and went out on the dark village roads of Pangani. You know, the experience that you would never get on your own.
In front of someone’s home, we took off our shoes and sat down on a big mat where a veranda would be in the States. An older woman was sleeping on the other side of the mat. Just curled up with her scarf covering her entire body. Don’t mind us. Just gonna do a bit of eating here. Not to worry.
The mat was on top of concrete and it radiated the heat it had absorbed under the day’s sun. It reminded me of being at the spa. Without a menu or ordering, the food arrived: rice with beans, fish and fish sauce. This is the family business, a little teeny-tiny restaurant in this teeny-tiny town. David being thoughtful like he is, took my fish and cut it up and removed the bones. HUGELY appreciated – because it’s not like fish back home. Then he took the bones for himself because he likes them, “good for the teeth” he tells me. Then he looks at Aaron’s dish and realized he has the fish head. David loves fish heads and, to the best of my knowledge, Aaron doesn’t – so that’s an easy swap. (I’m sure Aaron was relieved. He might eat guinea pig, which he DID back in Cajamarca, Peru!, but fish head?) He also de-bones Aaron’s meal. It really was such a thoughtful gesture as he had figured out that we really hardly knew how to eat the fish in TZ…it wasn’t that we wouldn’t try, it was that we didn’t know how to get to the fish. Then we washed our hands in a bowl on the mat and went ahead and ate with our fingers — not our first time doing that, but I think David appreciated our effort to eat the traditional way. Plus we attempted to speak Swahili with the family that was cooking for us! They giggled at our mangled gibberish, but it’s the attempt that counts. Finished, we paid for our meal: just over a dollar each. David said the family was happy with us and appreciated our efforts. Seems we had redeemed ourselves from our island trickery!
On our way home we stood on the beach with the Indian Ocean again at our feet. I looked up and pointed to the Milky Way. David is smart, educated and very interested in space. Aaron is all of those things, too. For the next hour or two, David would ask questions and Aaron would explain – how many stars are there, what’s the difference between the Apollo missions and the Space Shuttle, what kind of exploration is happening on Mars, what is the southern cross and the big dipper and the Milky Way. We all loved it. David appreciated Aaron’s way of explaining it and would now refer to him as “Professor” for the rest of the trip. He kept encouraging Aaron to come to Tanzania to teach. Actually, with how we saw him throughout our visit and how he could control a room when he walked in, we kept suggesting HE should be the one teaching!
We decided to make a stop in Saadani National Park where the “bush meets the beach”. We couldn’t afford the swanky safari version (which, in retrospect is probably the way to go) but we did our best backpacker version thanks to David’s resourcefulness. We hired a car to take us to Saadani village bordering the park where we rented a mud hut to sleep in. We ate food in a tiny shop and then hired a ranger to take us on a walking (yes walking!!) safari of the park. We walked for 2-3 hours on roads, trails and sometimes just in the tall grass up to our ears. Back on our safari, Brian called this “adrenaline grass” as you’re heard starts racing not knowing what might be hiding!
For better or worse we didn’t see a lot of wildlife, but we did a herd of six giraffes and one solo giraffe. The solo guy kept a keen eye on us! He’d walk away if we walked towards him, but if we walked away he followed. It was pretty fabulous! We made our way out to the Indian Ocean where we were back to white sand and open ocean for as far as we could see! That’s what they mean by “bush to beach” as the bush extends right to the ocean and sometimes animals will go back and forth! We didn’t see them, but there are elephants known for that. Even though it didn’t compare to our ‘real’ safari, it was still pretty neat to see and we could understand why people love it so.
A few pictures of Saadani Village where we spent the night:
All was well until we attemped to leave Saadani the next morning. We had to get out because we had a 24-hour pass to be in the park. If we didn’t get out in time, we would have to pay again. Well, of course the only morning bus was broken down! David took us to an intersection and had us wait as he thought quietly and told us we shouldn’t worry. Being in good hands, we didn’t. We waited surrounded by local women also hoping to get out of Saadani for the day. David disappeared after a bit, returning like a hero in this flat bed truck that was tricked out with a bench seat and a tarp to make shade for we two lone mzungus. Before we could board, all the local women hopped in and were standing in the back behind the bench. Hooray for carpooling! We got to see the park from up high on our bench and the ladies squealed with delight when David pulled out a sheet and I wrapped Aaron in it because it was so cold. He ended up dressed a lot like the ladies and they loved it! Our surprise ‘game drive’ was quite the fun adventure. Here’s a super-quick video of what the drive was like (hint: beautiful!)
We pulled into a small town just outside the park to catch another ride south. We had a breakfast of tea and chipati that was delicious, but what was so incredibly wonderful was seeing David engaged in a conversation about space (all in Swahili) with all the men in the cafe. The place was silent as they hung on every word! Folks suddenly erupted in questions. Finally there was one David couldn’t answer, and I couldn’t answer, so he called the Professor in to clear things up! That’s one thing about David, everywhere we went he talked to everyone, included everyone and tried to leave something good behind. He also wasn’t at all afraid to ask questions if he didn’t know something or wasn’t sure. That’s a quality Aaron and I could both use more of!
MALARIA IN BAGAMOYO
What’s a trip to Africa without some malaria? We have been on full-malaria-look-out since we left the States. We have a malaria map bookmarked online that we constantly refer to and we do what we can to avoid malaria areas. Sure, there are worse things that could happen, but I’m not interested in malaria OR worse things! Since arriving in Africa we have been taking our anti-malaria pills every morning, which is good because we were eaten alive in Tanzania, especially along the coast. In Pangani we overheard stories about how someone was home sick with malaria and how the guy sitting next to us has not been feeling well for days – “runny tummy”. We were lathered in bug spray, but even deet wasn’t detering the skeeters. Ugh! We both just hoped for the best. Then it happened. One morning I swatted and shouted, “damn mosquitos!” — the first time I had sworn in front of David and I felt bad about that almost instantly. David very cautiously says, “Did you get bit?….I think I have malaria…” like you might say, “wanna get a cup of coffee“. I did my best to not freak out. “Malaria? Really?”
“Yes, I’ve had it many times. I’m sure I have it. I have a headache that comes and goes, I’m warm, and achy…”
Over the past few days I had taken ibuprofen for the first time in months because I had a little headache and felt “off“. Inside my head I said, “SHIT! I have it too!!! I am NOT going to the doctor here…we’re going to Europe to see the doctor….damn, stupid mosquitos…I have malaria! Shit no…not malaria!!!!!”
I interrupt the conversation in my head to suggest that David go to the doctor (the local one, not Europe).
It’s a long story but he’s not going until tomorrow, so with that, we decide to head back to the hotel. I give David a long sleeve shirt to help him warm up, a packet of asprin (to which he said, “You have asprin!?! REALLY??!!! ASPRIN!!!!” as if it’s the most rare of drugs) and hand him some money for the clinic. The asprin does the trick and his fever, headache and aches all subside and he’s back to his old self as Aaron makes us all dinner. Pretty soon we are sitting around with the entire hotel staff (because David makes friends with everyone and welcomes everyone — so naturally the staff was invited to our dinner too) eating and laughting and having a great time. He starts to call me “Doctor Anner“. He nods affirmatively, “I’m traveling with The Professor and Doctor Anner…” David wants to see some pictures from our home in Seattle and of our trip. We scrolled through some highlights on the tablet and he invites the young women who work at the hotel and translates for us. Everyone sits there wide-eyed, enjoying the show.
The next morning David reports back that he went to the real doctor and in a happy turn of events he doesn’t have malaria, but something much more easily treatable! Whoosh, all my malaria symptoms disappeared. It’s relief all the way around, especially for David who is armed with some meds. We were back on our road trip! Rock on!
I have nothing to say about Dar Es Salaam as we really spent no time there! The only thing of note is that this is where we had to say good-bye to our friend, not-just-a-guide-in-low-season, David. We purchased our ferry tickets for Zanzibar and he walked us to the gate saying, “this is where I leave you” – some of the saddest words in the entire eight months of our trip. I think all of us were in denial as we shook hands, hugged and we thanked him for the wonderful, wonderful three weeks together. I passed through the ferry terminal turnstile and let out a big sigh. “I hate this” I said to no one in particular. Aaron looked back and David was at the gate watching our every move, I couldn’t look,…his little birds off to fly on their own now. It was a bittersweet moment. Okay, it was only bitter.
The night before Aaron and I had debated bringing David with us to Zanzibar and, as we joined the crush of people – lost and not sure what line to get in as the temperature soared and the volume, pushing and shoving rose – I instantly regretted our decison that we couldn’t really afford to do it. We knew our trip would not be the same without him.
David sounds like a wonderful man. Glad you able to have such fun with him guiding/helping/laughing/translating along the way. I think being in places away from tourist areas must have been especially wonderful. And you two are just like how you describe David – open, friendly and willing to make friends everywhere. The Professor and the Doctor are terrific Goodwill Ambassadors.
Awww, shucks! Thank you.