Good afternoon, readers. It’s just short of noon, and I’m at a cafe in Kabale, Uganda. I just had a full English breakfast ($5), yet I don’t feel so well. Might be getting sick, or something. Bad news. However, getting sick in third-world countries seems to be a backpacker badge of honor, so I suppose I win either way.
So. We restart after I return from Kilimanjaro. Which you can read about here if you like.
I was tired. To fully understand how tired I was, go run up 50 flights up steps, then back down, and then repeat until you collapse in nausea and drunken fatigue. That, or climb a mountain for seven days, eh? The word exhaustion had a new meaning.
When I arrived back in Moshi, I found a laundry service to clean all of my clothes ($9), which were in desperate need of professional attention, shaved my face clean (yes, clean!), took 3 showers, and slept for the afternoon. That evening, I ordered a big steak, and a few Kilimanjaro beers–
–and smiled widely as I drank. Fitting, and perhaps even well-deserved.
The next morning, I hopped a flight from Kilimanjaro Airport to Stone Town, Zanzibar. Overland transport would have required roughly 8 hours on a bus and 2 hours on a ferry which, while usually painless, was just not a journey I wanted to take after climbing the mountain. In addition, I wanted the experience of flying domestic in Africa, which I assumed would be a circus.
The flight was unfortunately straightforward, and after about 45 minutes in the air, we arrived. I had spoken with Yonnas–the kid with the tribe war gun battle story–the day before, as he was also on Zanzibar. I arranged to stay at the same hostel as he–$9 for the night–and after booking, was offered a $10 pickup from the airport. I declined. The lesson I wish to impart here, as any traveler should tell you, is that the person offering the pickup is simply seeking to exploit our arbitrary standard of Western comfort and ease-of-mind, and should not be indulged. While sorting a pickup in advance from some random airport, where you’ve never been, to some random hostel, where you’ve also never been, may seem like the play, the reality is that there will be hundreds of taxis and motorbikes waiting at the gate just the same, all of whom can be bargained with. More importantly, maybe half of the Kili hikers head to Zanzibar right after the climb, so I’m sure to know at least, well, 12 or 13 people on my flight. Sure enough, I see a few Americans I had met on the mountain, and catch a free ride with them into town. Easy.
After arriving at the hostel, I head to an internet cafe to meet up with Yonnas. We walk around Stone Town for the day, which is actually a very cool place. The heart of Stone Town is comprised of dozens of winding alleyways, which have a very Middle-Ages, gothic feel to them. In addition, there’s lot of street food. I tracked down a few pieces of squid, octopus, and other unknown fishes of the sea, each poked with a toothpick, dipped in chili, and wrapped in newspaper. I find myself bargaining pretty hard with these vendors as well, which is always an amusing activity. Even more amusing, however, is that when I’m trying to lower the price of a piece of squid from 200 Tanzanian Shillings to 100, well, I’m fighting over roughly 6 American cents. Yea…
That evening, we hit the open air seafood market, where maybe 30 vendors are selling their daily catch. For roughly $10, I got a skewer of tandoori lobster, a skewer of white shark, a lemon-ginger-sugar juice, a mango-banana-chocolate crepe, a slice of pineapple, a slice of mango and a bottle of water. Tough to beat. Unfortunately, I didn’t grab any pictures of Stone Town. Very cool place nonetheless.
The next morning, Yonnas and I decided to head to Paje, one of the beach towns on the east coast. The “touristy” ones are Nungwe and Kendwa, each up north, and this beach is supposed to be a bit more deserted. There’s a few buses and dalla-dallas (van that seats 12, yet carries 25, a few chickens and maybe a goat, and runs the rider ~30 cents per hour) heading that way, but instead, Yonnas and I decide to rent motor scooters. Ricky Nicolai is now excited: his Facebook picture for all of 2009 was of myself, and my goofy helmet, sitting atop a motor scooter in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. Dalla-dallas would have been fun, but motor scooters for the win.
I can ride a bike, so a motor scooter shouldn’t be that hard. However, the scooters were manual, and since I don’t drive stick, a challenge was presented. After bargaining over the price of the bikes, hassling about the existence and legitimacy of the required “Zanzibar Driving Permit,” and filling the things with gas, we went to a field to practice. I was awful—really awful. Yonnas had driven a stick-shift before, so he picked it up rather quickly, but me, well, yea—utterly miserable.
The road to Paje is pretty open, but the commute through Stone Town to the start of this road is not. So, given my prior display of relative hopelessness, I was required to sit on the back with one of the guys to drive out of Stone Town, while Yonnas drove his own scooter. Yonnas was laughing, but not for long.
The reason Yonnas stopped laughing was that, maybe 4 minutes after departure, a dalla-dalla cuts him off, and Yonnas crashes into a parked car at roughly 60 kilometers per hour. I had turned my head back for a few seconds to see how he was doing, and watched the whole thing go down. He really could have, um, died. Fortunately, he just got away with a small gash on his leg, but the bike took a bit more of a beating. Nevertheless, no real human injuries.
Just after the crash, a swarm of maybe 20 people began arguing. I really don’t understand how 20 people could have a material attachment to the situation, but yea, this is Africa, and not everything requires nor is eligible for explanation. A minute later, and the police arrived. They took Yonnas’ information down, on some scrap sheet of paper, and then proceeded to demand money. I turn to the guy who was driving my scooter, and adamantly profess that Yonnas was not at fault and owed nothing. He turns to me and cooly responds: “This is Africa, man.” The money would have gone right into the officer’s pocket, for no other reason than that something bad happened, and the policeman should profit; corruption at its most transparent. Yonnas argued for a bit, and eventually hopped on his bike to flee the scene. Unfortunately, the officer grabbed him, stopped him, and continued to demand money. A few minutes later, the owner of the motor scooter company arrived, yelled at a few people, and dismissed the officers. No bills exchanged, and we’re off to Paje.
Two hours later, and with no incidents on the road, and no crashes (yet) for the kid who can’t ride a manual motor scooter (me), we arrive in Paje. However, as we are heading down the sand path to our hostel, I lose control of the bike, and bam—put a FAT dent in the metal covering the front tire. Woops. I OK though.
The hostel at which we stayed was called Teddy’s Place, and came highly recommended by a German girl I met in Arusha. For $15/night, we were afforded bunks in thatched huts just a few hundred meters from the beach, free internet, free breakfast, and a wicked social atmosphere. We decide pretty quickly that we’re gonna be here for a few days. Couple shots of Teddy’s:
Backyard path leading to the beach:
Lovely place. Might have had a small crush on the girl that ran the reception as well. I haven’t stayed in too many hostels/guest houses in East Africa that have the typical backpacker feel I know and love, but Teddy’s certainly did. Definitely had a nice couple days there, becoming friendly with a few Aussies and South Africans, breaking my right index toe when running in the ocean at sunset, and meeting a Latvian Emirates stewardess who’s going to Antarctica in a few months–$10k USD for 11 days. I said it was worth it, but Yonnas disagreed. As an Emirates employee, she lives in Dubai, where if trees could grow from the sand, money would be growing from the branches. $10k for a truly once-in-a-lifetime (I despise this phrase intensely, but here, it just might apply) opportunity. Your thoughts?
On our third morning at Teddy’s, we’re sitting at the bar for breakfast. I think I had an ommelette with chapati (crepe-like thing). As we’re eating, the manager, Ignazio, gathers everyone at the bar for some sort of announcement. It was a bit strange. In an appropriately somber tone, he announces that following a recent dispute with some locals over land rights, Teddy’s was closing for the forseeable future, and that if we could vacate by noon, it would be much appreciated. He went on to say that if we were planning to leave Paje, we should just leave, but if we were planning to stay, he would honor all reservations we had with Teddy’s, and would find us new places at which to lodge. If you’ve seen the “Branch Closing” episode of The Office, it was EXACTLY like that.
Michael (Ignazio): “Ladies and gentlemen–I have an announcement. WE ARE SCREWED. Dunder Mifflin Scranton (Teddy’s) is being shut down.”
Angela (some girl): “Michael (Ignazio), do we still have jobs (places to stay)?”
Michael: “I don’t know–probably not. Some of you will be leaving, and some of you will be getting severance packages (put up in another beach town down the road).”
Unfortunately, this was not the laugh-out-loud type of moment. I kept it to myself.
A few hours later, as we are paying our bill, Ignazio reminds us that he will honor our reservation. We reply, with perfect honesty, that we don’t have any reservation at all, and are just paying by the night.
Another backpacker lesson: do not pay for anything at all until you really need to. It’s low season, there was plenty of space at Teddy’s, so you keep the money in your wallet until you are asked to relinquish.
Ignazio basically responds by saying “Uh, OK, well, uh, just let us f*cking help you, and put you up somewhere else.” We oblige. So, in a taxi that he paid for, Yonnas, myself, and another Swedish girl we picked up named Mona headed down the road to Jambiani, and were put up in hotel. The hotel was right on the water, had an infinity pool, spectacular views, free internet, a queen-sized bed for myself and, while it normally commands a fee of $49/night, we paid $0. Since we stayed the next night as well, we again paid, yes, $0. I think $27 left my pocket in those two days for two full breakfasts, a fish and chips, a hamburger, a plate of shrimp and tilapia, a beer or two and a water bottle or four. Mona had already paid for her full stay at Teddy’s, so while she paid no more for her time in this hotel, she was still out $15 each day. She still got a sweet deal, but not quite as sweet as ours.
A few shots of Jambiani beach at low tide, where the water line goes out almost a kilometer:
So nice, and soo free. Bit of chilling, bit of Rosetta Stone Spanish, and a bit of photography in Jambiani, and I was re-energized for the mainland. For my last two weeks in East Africa, I’ll be traveling through Rwanda and Uganda, which will be detailed in future posts. Kwaheri sana, Zanzibar.
Lastly, I must say that I didn’t anticipate wanting to stay in East Africa for more than 6 weeks, but alas, I was wrong. I’ve been moving just a bit quicker than I’d like to, and if I could, I’d probably extend my ticket for another 3 weeks, and just do the same itinerary a bit slower and a bit more thoroughly. The reason I “can’t” extend my ticket is that I want to be in Brazil for Carnaval, which starts on February 16th. So yea–it’s not exactly the worst “responsibility” to have. I’ll be back in Africa soon enough.