Editor’s note: Polly Crawford was a reporter and associate editor of The Peninsula Clarion from 1985-1988, when she wrote “Perils of Polly.” She also has written a series of “Peril” columns about Australia, Asia, Central and South America. Her perils continue in Africa.
Heading to Zanzibar from Uganda was merely a matter of taking two different airplanes and stopping three different places. Once again, the stop in Kilimanjaro Airport was extraordinarily long, so we were late getting to Dar es Salaam. We were rushed through the airport so quickly we never got our passports stamped, even though they were supposed to check to make sure we had our yellow fever shots. Even the U.S. never checked. The “required” shots were kind of pointless.
The rush was unnecessary, as the flight to Zanzibar was delayed, too. Every Precision Air flight we took was late. But Mary Green and I finally made it to the exotic spice island. By now we were pretty fried, looking forward to the cold of Alaska.
Zanzibar was every bit as hot as Uganda, but there was one difference: we were picked up with an air conditioned car, and our hotel, Stonetown Café, had A/C. In fact, every hotel we stayed at in Zanzibar had air conditioning. It became the prerequisite. I was done with sweltering in bed!
We weren’t really sure what we were going to go or how we would travel. We toyed with renting a car, but it was really quite expensive. We had reservations in the northern part of the island, so we negotiated with Jamil, the driver who picked us up at the airport, to take us to the south part of the island to swim with the dolphins, go snorkeling, and see the endangered red colobus monkeys of Jozani Forest.
We arrived at the southern beach just as the tide was going out, so there was still water for the boats. Mary and I had our own boat with two locals running it. We skimmed over the shallow coral reefs and headed toward where our pilot thought the dolphins would be. They were there, but on the hunt and therefore on the move. Swimming with them was not going to happen.
The dolphins were kind of like the leopards of the Serengeti: one boat would spot one, and everyone would zoom to it, people jumping out of the boats even before stopping. But the dolphins were gone before anyone could swim with them. Both Mary and I had swum with dolphins before, so we weren’t too upset.
Instead, we left the area and headed to a reef. I happily jumped into the cool water and within five seconds realized it was full of stinging coral polyps. The stinging was bearable, and I knew from diving on the Great Barrier Reef they were harmless, so I tried to ignore them. The snorkeling was OK, but not great. Both Mary and I had been to clearer areas. There was a lot of colorful coral, but not many fish. The water had left the beach by the time we returned, so we had a long walk over the sand. The low tides leave the eastern and southern beaches of Zanzibar high and dry.
So, on to see the monkeys. We went on a short hike with a guide, saw both the red colobus and blue monkeys and an elephant shrew. The younger monkeys were pretty aggressive, almost jumping on me as I closed in with my camera. The older monkeys won’t look a person in the eye.
We spent the next three days at Sunset Kendwa, a great choice since its beach has water low and high tides. We relaxed, walked the beach, stayed out of the sun as much as possible, and swam in the beautiful ocean after 4 p.m. It was good relaxation and I felt totally satisfied with our entire African adventure, but sitting still was difficult. So we cancelled one night and ventured back to Stonetown for our last night.
Sunset Kendwa was very accommodating and even phoned ahead for a reservation at a hotel. Hotels were nearly booked full because of a music festival being held in Stonetown. We hopped into one of the minivan taxis we’d seen throughout Africa and headed back. We were their only “white” guests, but they picked up many locals on the way toward Stonetown, and I never saw any money transfer hands. The ride was not cheap, so I think their white visitors pay for everyone. The minivan pulled into a parking lot full of garbage and pointed down a dirty walkway. “It’s back there, about a five minute walk.”
We both scowled, unwilling to leave the safety of the van for what looked to us like a very unacceptable alternative. Mary became adamant. “No. I’m not going down there!” she declared. I agreed.
They nodded their heads in understanding, drove off, and pulled up to another hotel. It was hot, dirty, with many stairs, and I was grateful there were no rooms. The third hotel, the Maru Maru, looked questionable from the outside, but the inside lobby was quite nice. The receptionist was even a bit professional and said they had a room that night. My first words: “Do the rooms have air conditioning?”
“For a twin, $214.”
She saw my pained expression and began talking to an associate. I went back to the minivan and got Mary. When I came back in, she said she could give it to us for $190. “We’ll take it.”
It was a great room, with flat screen TV and completely working air conditioning. The Kendwa A/C had been turned off for a couple sweltering hours each night. Their restaurant on the roof overlooked all of Stonetown and was the best food we’d had yet, including a scrumptious carrot dessert called carrot halwa.
But the rest of Zanzibar left a foul taste of cheating, scamming, and general dishonesty. Although we paid our hotel $30 each for a spice tour located about 10 minutes away, the people who gave the informative but rather short tour tried to tell us their only compensation was our tips. Plus they sold their spices at about four times what they cost in Stonetown even though we were told by our driver the spice plantations offer the best prices.
I’m used to hawkers being obnoxious about selling their wares — nothing was as aggressive as Tibet. But I’ve never had anyone get angry at me before. Mary was looking at a belt. I had whispered to her quietly to set a price and don’t go beyond. When she opted to not buy it, the shop keeper got angry and yelled at me to mind my own business. I shot back, “She’s my friend and she IS my business.” He lost any hope of selling anything to us.
We finally were able to pick out the gifts we needed to satisfy the people back home and quit shopping. We both hate it, anyway, and I was tired of dripping sweat on the merchandise.
The frigid weather of home was 40 hours away. Even though a blizzard greeted us in Anchorage at 10:30 p.m., we hit the road and sank gratefully into our own beds.