Trip Start Apr 27, 2010
Trip End Apr 13, 2011

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Flag of Tanzania  , Zanzibar Urban/West,
Monday, July 19, 2010

The Masai cultural centre is where you can see crudely rendered plastic dummies acting out traditional customs, such as mud hut building, farming, unanaesthetised circumcision and female genital mutilation. Our guide explained the intricacies of such procedures – if a boy cries when his manhood is being ritually hacked away at (which can take up to an hour), he is forever ostracised from his community. For girls, the practice is legally forbidden, but is still carried out in some of the more remote communities. Modern frivolities such as anaesthetic and sterile medical instruments are eschewed in favour of more traditional medicinal techniques. I gave the gift shop a miss, then we boarded the truck to Arusha and to the Amani  Childrens Home.

The tour company I am using (Intrepid) is closely involved with several local charities of which Amani is one. It provides shelter, education and food for street kids and tries to provide them with a platform to restart their lives. I was expecting to be given a guilt trip and then milked for cash, but this stop turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip so far. The place has a very positive atmosphere, the kids are all well nourished, seem very happy despite their harsh start to life, and were joking around with us and taking the piss. At the end of the tour, our group played the kids in a keenly contested football match. I was easily the worst player on the pitch due to my tendency to run away from the ball, but despite my presence we won 1-0.

It was then onto Mshiri village in the foothills of Kilimanjaro for another village tour and Intrepid charitable project, the Village Education Project. During an interminably dull tour, we were shown  empty classrooms where local people are trained in woodwork and embroidery.  After the marvels of the Serengeti  the week before, I found it hard to get excited by an empty room full of sewing machines.   At one point, the clouds parted and we saw a glimpse of the  snow covered summit of Kilimanjaro which  provided some respite from the tedium of the tour.

Driving onwards through rugged, red soiled landscape littered with huge baobab trees, the next stop was the lush Usumbara mountains region. After 8 days of camping related sleep deprivation, I 'upgraded' to a hotel room for two nights at our campsite to experience the luxury of an actual bed and pillow, my own bathroom and some personal space. We watched the world cup final on the first night, drinking some of the nice local Tusker and Kilimanjaro beer. The following day was yet another village tour, this one more scenic as we trekked through forested valleys and up hills to a panoramic vantage point. The kids at this village were the friendliest yet, shouts of ‘jambo!’ coming from all directions and swarms of them asking for their photos, full of smiles and laughter. It is a very uplifting experience for me to see such happy and exuberent people everywhere, and I often found I was walking around with a big grin on my face.

A big chance of scenery was next up with the coastal city and former capital, Dar Es Salaam, where we camped on the beach before a smooth ferry crossing to ‘historic Stone Town’ in Zanzibar. Stone Town makes Havana look like Las Vegas. It redefines dilapidation, with every building in a state of utter disrepair. Sometimes, a building will just spontaneously collapse, as one of our group was lucky enough to witness.  Most of the building facades have eroded away, showing the various layers of construction materials underneath. Further character is provided by watchful, unfriendly locals, overflowing skips, stray animals and pools of piss at regular intervals. After a few hours exploring endless shops selling identical tat, and a walk up the beach which seemed to double as a urinal, I met the group at Mercury’s restaurant, dedicated to Freddie Mercury who was born in Zanzibar, but sensibly left after only a few months.

Zanzibar is known as the ‘spice island’ due to all the spices that are grown there, and we had a tour of a spice plantation the following day. The guide for this tour, an ‘Ali T’, was hilarious, giving the whole tour in a Borat/cockney accent. We saw cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg etc all growing, and were then presented with silly hats made from banana leaves.  I’m always a bit nervous when we have ‘local lunches’ as I am a fussy eater, but so far these have been fairly nice, usually beef stew. The first  ‘Temple of Doom banquet’  experience of the trip came the day of the spice tour.  Imagine my horror as the lid of the pot was lifted to reveal tentacles creeping out towards my face.  Octopus – in some sort of blood sauce.  Seriously, who thought that was a good idea? Once again my stash of mars bars came to the rescue.

We then moved to a beach hotel at the north side of Zanzibar for 2 days, driving through the island past  graffiti stained dereliction, chickens pecking around piles of rubbish and lots of people in full Islamic robes. The hotel was situated on nice stretch of beach, with a good bar, restaurant and hammocks. The following day, myself and a few of the group took a trip in a dhow to a picture postcard desert island, where we snorkelled for an hour, seeing moray eels and squid. The boat crew barbecued a freshly caught fish for lunch on the idyllic beach.  On the way back, whilst relaxing with a beer, we were joined by a school of dolphins who swam alongside the boat. 

After Zanzibar, half of the group left so now we are down to 10 people until we get to Vic Falls. There will be more room on the bus, more mattresses and more locker space. The few people I wasn’t keen on have gone too - people that can be on such a trip for over two weeks and not once initiate a conversation.  Why these people come on group trips when they are not interested in talking to anyone is a mystery to me. It looks like a nice few weeks ahead, albeit with some long days (10 hours driving time or so) on the bus as we head south towards Malawi.
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