Tanzania diary, day 10

Sunday, 8 July, 2018. 06:49

Monkey spent the whole night in the lounge next to the bar! Probably drinking Amarula.

We woke with the alarm at 06:00, dressed and party, packed our bags before breakfast. Most people from dinner last night had gone already, departing at 06:00 for various things. A few stragglers were there but left by the time we’d had a few bites. The morning was cold, but not as cold as yesterday, and the sky was more overcast. We had the muesli again and I had bacon and eggs while M. just had some toast.

We were packed and ready to go before 07:30, so hit the road a bit early. The drive was back along roads we’d travelled before, circling clockwise around the Ngorongoro crater rim until we hit the entrance road, then turning onto that and heading down towards Karatu. When we left the camp the sky was overcast, and as we circled the crater the cloud descended until we were driving in fog. This vanished soon after we turned onto the descending road.

Departing Ngorongoro
Driving through the fog on the crater rim

There was a brief stop at the Ngorongoro entrance gate for Timba to file exit papers, and then we were back on paved road for the first time in five days. From here it was a long drive back through Karatu and to Arusha. At Karatu we stopped so I could use an ATM to get some cash out, which we needed to make up our tip for Timba, having spent some of the money we’d set aside for that.

During the drive, as we passed Lake Manyara, I asked Timba if the animals in Lake Manyara National Park were isolated or if they could move to other areas. He said that they used to migrate to Tarangire National Park, but they can’t any more because the area in between is now populated with people. Further on down the road I asked Timba what wood the Maasai used to make the sticks that the men used to herd cattle. He said ebony was preferred, as it was heavy and hard, but they also used some types of acacia wood that was also hard. Ebony trees grew on the area we were driving through, but it was hard to see one as they are quickly cut down for wood as it’s so useful.

Tanzania countryside
Countryside just out of Karatu

An interesting feature of the road through the open farming and cattle herding terrain was that there were marked pedestrian crossings in the middle of nowhere, with nothing visible on either side except a dirt walking track leading off into the trees.

20:14. Zanzibar Serena Inn, Zanzibar

We stopped at a large souvenir shop in a small town about half an hour from Arusha for a toilet break. They had a lot of ebony carvings of animals and also bowls and utensils. We bought a small ebony bowl for ourselves and a bangle for M.

Then we hit the road again for the last leg before lunch, which turned out to be at the cultural centre we’d visited on our first day. But we got there at midday and they served lunch from 12:30, so we had half an hour to look around. Having looked at the souvenir shops previously, we decided to check out the art gallery. As we walked over, we wondered if it was a display gallery, or a gallery where you could purchase art. It turned out to be the latter. It was very big, with multiple levels built around a central open area, with stairways and a ramp leading up in spirals. The art was mostly very good, with a lot of works that we liked. They were mostly African themed, with many paintings of animals, in realistic, impressionistic, and semi-abstract styles. As we browsed around, not intending to buy anything, a man followed us, occasionally telling us how cheap certain paintings were that we stopped to look at. If we had more room at home and more money, we likely would have bought something, but we weren’t really interested in acquiring more art.

We emerged at 12:20, intending to look briefly at some of the shops before lunch, when Timba found us and said we needed to order what we wanted for lunch, so they could have it ready for 12:30. There was a bit of a hurry because the plan was to leave at 13:00 to drive to Arusha airport in time for our flight to Zanzibar. But when we went over to the restaurant, a guy there said it was a buffet and we could just choose what we wanted! What’s more, it was ready now, so we could start eating right away.

I chose a beef samosa, rice with butter chicken and a mutton curry, okra, and mchicha spinach, plus a bowl of chicken and corn soup. M. had the rice with beans, plus mchicha, onion pakoras, and green banana soup. The curries were both good, with the butter chicken being substantially spicier than the very mild version most common in Australia. M. also ordered a coffee with milk, which seemed to confuse the waitress, who had to confirm, “black coffee, with milk?” It came in a stainless steel coffee pot, with the milk already added inside the pot. But M. said it was good.

Lunch, Cultural Centre, Arusha
Lunch at the cultural centre

While we ate, Naoma from Sense of Africa – who’d met us at the Four Points Hotel for our tour briefing the day we’d arrived – appeared and gave us a survey form to fill in. Lunch done, we had a few minutes to look in the shop, but didn’t get anything before meeting Timba for the drive to the airport. The lady accompanied us too, as well as another guy we hadn’t met before,

The turnoff for the airport took us along a corrugated dirt road for 1.2 kilometres to the terminal building. The new guy grabbed our bags and give them to a porter to carry into the building. We said goodbye to Timba, getting a photo together with him, and I gave him the tip we had worked out, in a mixture of Tanzanian shillings and US dollars. We left him a very good review on the survey form, as he’d been an exceptional guide.

Us and Timba
Us and Timba

Checking in was a little confusing. First we had to pass our luggage, pocket items, jackets, and shoes through an x-ray machine and walk through a metal detector. The Maasai talking stick we’d bought wouldn’t fit in any of our luggage, so we’d planned to carry it, but a guy told us we weren’t allowed to carry it in the cabin, so we had to put it in a bag and check it in. We had to explain a few times that it wouldn’t fit in any of our bags before he got the message. Then he suggested putting it on the outside of a bag and wrapping the bag and stick up together in plastic using the luggage wrapping machine that was there. With little other choice, we did that.

We got boarding passes and walked through to a waiting area. Two guys tailed us, the first a porter who said we should tip the porter who carried our bags. We were a bit confused by this and wondered who he meant. When I looked around and said “where is he?” the porter said it was him! He’d already been hanging around and suggesting a tip was necessary to M., so I gave him a 10,000 shilling note to send him on his way – probably a bit more generous than was required. The second guy said we needed to pay US$7 for the wrapping service. Fortunately I had exactly seven US dollars on me, and so handed them over.

Now we had a wait for about an hour before the boarding time of 14:40 marked on our boarding passes. There were a lot of people waiting around for flights. About 14:10, an announcement came over the awful PA system, announcing what sounded like boarding for a flight to Dar es Salaam. So we sat and continued waiting while maybe 60 or 70 people queued up and went through another x-ray scan of their luggage, to an airside waiting area facing the tarmac. Partway through checking everyone in the queue, a Precision Air plane came into land. This was the flight to Dar es Salaam, leaving before hours, arriving.

Precision Air ATR 42-500 to Zanzibar
Our plane at Arusha Airport

We continued waiting, until about 14:55, a good 15 minutes after our flight was supposed to board. Another Precision Air plane landed, a smaller one. That was probably ours, we thought. Then we realised than the previous flight had departed, but there were still people sitting in the airside waiting area. Wondering if these were on our flight, we walked over to the security check at the gate to see if we should already have gone through. It was deserted. We waited a few minutes, until a man came out a and we could show him our boarding passes. He quickly waved us to come through, but we had to scan everything again, including taking our shoes off again! We joined our fellow passengers, who seem to all have got the message that they were supposed to go through with the previous flight’s passengers. Heaven knows how.

Boarding 5H-PWE
Boarding our plane

A few minutes later they started boarding. We had to show our boarding passes and then we walked across the tarmac to our waiting plane, an ATR 42-500 twin turboprop. Boarding was by climbing up the steps built into the rear left door of the plane. We had row 8, and I’d earlier remarked to M. that we were right up near the front of the plane, bu there were only 12 rows! So we were nearer the back. But it didn’t matter much as the flight was so short, barely 90 minutes. They handed out drinks and little packets of biscuits, and then we were descending into Zanzibar, flying in over the ocean and then the city, where we got a glimpse of the historic Stone Town area out the window.

Over Stone Town
View of Zanzibar City from the air; Stone Town is the farthest edge of the land

Our plane landed and taxied to a parking spot about 100 metres from the terminal. I assumed we’d simply climb down the steps and walk over to the building. But staff ushered us onto a bus that was parked halfway to the terminal building. At least halfway, it might easily have been more than half way to the terminal. We got on the bus and wondered where they’d be driving to, as surely they wouldn’t use a bus to take us the remaining 40% of the way to the terminal when we’d already walked most of the way. But yes, that’s exactly what happened, the bus taking a roundabout route to get there, but indeed ending up exactly where I thought we were walking to originally. As we piled out of the bus again, we could easily have walked to the same spot in half the time.

We entered the terminal, expecting to go straight to a baggage claim area as this was a domestic flight. But a guy was checking everyone’s passports and handing out forms. There was no orderly queue, everyone was just swarming the guy and waving passports at him. When we finally had our turn, we found that the forms were “domestic arrival cards” and required a bunch of information including passport numbers and the address of our hotel, etc. We filled it all out diligently, as did everyone else at the counters. People peeled off in ones and twos as they finished the forms. As we did so, we handed the guy the forms and he waved us by without even looking at them!

We think the bus and the forms was all a ploy to eat time while the luggage was unloaded from the plane. As we came through to the baggage claim area, the first bags were just being placed there, by hand by some workers. We claimed our bags and exited the terminal, then found the tour contact waving a card with our names. He greeted us and ushered us to a waiting car. Another representative got in the front passenger seat, handed us bottles of cold water, and asked for our tickets so he could confirm the flight details for our departure in two days. This done, he hopped out again as we stopped at an intersection right outside the airport car park.

Our driver talked almost non stop as we drove the fifteen minutes or so to the Zanzibar Serena Inn, telling us about the history of the area, the sights, and so on. He pulled up outside the hotel and said we’d find it very good as it was a five star hotel. We checked in and a guy came out and offered us passionfruit juice in fancy coconut cups with hibiscus and frangipani flowers on them. Then he showed us to our room, taking a “short cut” across the ground floor roof to a second wing of the hotel, where our room was located upstairs.

Zanzibar Serena Inn view
View from our room at the Zanzibar Serena Inn

The room was nice, with wonderful views of the Indian Ocean from two walls, facing west so we would be able to see the sunset over the water. But we soon discovered a lot of quirks: the cold water tap in the bathroom sink appeared not to work at all, until I turned it about five full rotations; the toilet flush didn’t seem to work until we realised we needed to pump the lever a few times; there was a loose marble floor tile in the shower which squelched wetly when you stepped on it; one spare power point that I tried to use to charge a phone didn’t work; another one was half blocked by the bed post and couldn’t be accessed; the window shutters for two windows had broken struts so they couldn’t be secured, and banged in the wind coming off the ocean; there didn’t seem to be any way to turn all of the room lights on or off without doing them all, so it was either dark or too bright. Just small things, but they added up. It’s a lovely building, with good solid wooden stairs and interesting architectural details with marble and patterned tiles, and it looks like this hotel would have been the height of opulence in about 1935, but now it obviously needs a renovation.

The phone call
Streets of Stone Town

The location is perfect though, with rooms and a pool area and restaurant overlooking the ocean sunset, and on the edge of Stone Town, the historic area of Zanzibar City. Our driver had told us it was safe to walk around Stone Town, and after dropping bags in our room we set out for a short orientation walk before sunset. We could see surveillance cameras on every street corner. The government had obviously invested a lot to make tourists safe in this area. Amongst the historic 16th century buildings were dozens if not hundreds of small shops catering to tourists, and although outnumbered by locals, there was a substantial tourist presence.

Lady in the tunnel
Tunnel near the Old Stone Fort

We walked south towards two restaurants the hotel receptionist had recommended, the Beach House and 6° South, so we could have a quick look, then turned inland and headed north towards the Old Stone Fort, where the she had told us they were holding the Zanzibar International Film Festival, and there would be various events happening. We found ourselves on Kenyatta Road, which was clearly a tourist hub judging from the shops lining each side. Passing them by and having a look at each one, we found ourselves in front of the “Freddie Mercury House”. This was where the singer lived as a child from birth to the age of seventeen. There was a sign above and a glass-fronted display board either side of the front door, displaying photos of Freddie. The building is now part of the Tembo House Hotel across the road, and you can stay in rooms there. It wasn’t really worth spending more than a few minutes looking at the signs and photos, but it made a nice bookend to my 2016 visit to the London flat where Mercury was living when he died.

Soccer on Beach, Zanzibar
Football on the beach at sunset

As we approached the Old Stone Fort, the sun was descending over the ocean and lots of people were around, enjoying the late afternoon. Near the fort we could hear music and people revelling. On the beach side of the Fort, in the Forodhani Gardens, there was also a food market, getting into full swing, with dozens of stalls cooking up kebabs, pizzas, crepes, skewered meats, and other things that were presumably local dishes. The stall holders weren’t shy in touting their wares, calling out to passersby that they offered the best food in the place. Although a lot of it looked tempting, we avoided buying anything as we had plans for dinner a bit later.

Stone Town evening market
Food stalls in the Forodhani Gardens

After wandering around and absorbing the ambience for a while, we returned to the hotel so I could drop my camera off and we could head out for dinner. We chose to try 6° South tonight, and got a table on the terrace looking out to the west, although across the road, where traffic kept moving past. Occasionally some young hoon would drive past slowly with an incredibly loud stereo pumping out bass beats that were loud enough to need blocking of the ears from ten metres away. But it was still a nice atmosphere, in the fresh ocean breeze. We ordered drinks first, M. got a rosé wine, while I tried the vanilla and ginger gin and tonic, which the menu said had a vanilla pod scraped into it. With these we ordered some plantain chips. This was a generous serving of thinly sliced plantains, fried, some thin enough to be crispy while others were thicker and soft in the middle. The waiter also brought out a square wooden caddy which contained condiments: salt, pepper, oil, malt vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, ketchup, mustard, and the ninth slot held toothpicks.

Vegetable curry trio
Trio of vegetable curries

After finishing the drinks and chips, we ordered dinner. M. got a dish that had three different vegetables in three different sauces: roasted banana, eggplant, and pumpkin, all served with coconut rice. I ordered a Zanzibari fish dish, which had fish pieces served in two different sauces, a spicy curry plus a fresh pineapple and mango salsa, plus some fried whitebait, with coriander rice and a chapati. To go with them, we had fried mashed potato balls, which came with a coconut and green chilli sauce. I also ordered a Tusker beer, finally getting to try the last one of the three first mentioned at our Serengeti camp. The food was all very good, and the beer was a little sweet, about halfway between the Safari/Kilimanjaro and the Serengeti. The sauces for M.’s veges were all fairly mild and tasted a bit different, but it was hard to tell if they were actually different or just influenced by the different vegetables in them.

Zanzibari fish curry
Zanzibari fish curry

The dessert menu included the intriguing sounding spiced coffee served with dates and sesame halwa. M. wanted to try this, so I ordered the blackboard special of “passion cheesecake”. The cheesecake was an individual sized round, on a plate drizzled with chocolate sauce which honestly didn’t go with the passionfruit. M. said her coffee was very good, and we shared the dates and the jelly-like halwa. The coffee came in a pot with enough for about six fills of the small cup they gave her. Perhaps it had been intended as a dessert to share between two people.

Spiced coffee, halwa, and dates
Spiced coffee, halwa, and dates

Dinner over, we returned the short distance to our hotel to turn in for the night. The cool air conditioning of the room was a welcome change from the warm humidity of the evening air outside.

Leave a Reply