Friday, June 24, 2011

Welcome to Africa

After a lifetime of dreaming and almost a year of planning, I finally arrived in Africa for an extended holiday. I have been to Tunisia and Egypt, but those aren’t “Africa” as I had imagined. I grew up with thoughts of wild animals, exotic foods and villages and experiencing different cultures. And those are some of the things I hope to experience before my holiday is finished.

I left Istanbul last Thursday evening on the Egypt Air flight to Cairo, where I would change planes for Dar es Salaam. The airport in Cairo was quite chaotic. Normally, when changing planes, you just go to the gate of the next flight. Not in Cairo. In Cairo, you go to a transfer “desk”, which is basically a tiny table covered in boarding passes and a stamp pad, manned by three people each referring you to the next when you have a question. So I waited and finally got to the front of the line, had my boarding pass stamped with the word “transit” and then went through another passport check and then through security. Again. Once through security, I had just enough time to go through the next security before it was time to board the flight to Dar.

The flight itself was uneventful but their choice in entertainment is questionable. There weren’t any personal entertainment systems on the planes, so we all had to watch the monitors if you wanted to see anything. It wasn’t so bad that nothing was in English, but it got really bad when I looked up and saw a computer animated cow with bleached-blonde hair, wearing a brightly flowered sundress witting and having tea with another cow wearing too much make-up and an equally offensive brightly colored sundress. That was just before the scantily clad yet well coiffed cat in the mid-drift baring shirt started to dance. I decided it was time for my own entertainment so I buried my face in my laptop to catch up on “Game of Thrones.” I tried to sleep, but I was just too excited.

Jambiani Beach
I arrived in Dar at half past five in the morning. Unlike most airports these days, when we got off the plane, we weren’t met by a bus. We walked across the tarmac to the arrivals hall. I miss those days when we could walk across the tarmac to and from the plane. The visa process was quick and within about 15 minutes of landing, I was in the car, heading for Ulco’s house where I had a bit of breakfast, unpacked, repacked and then headed to the airport for a short flight to Zanzibar.

We flew Coast Air, a single prop plane with 12 passenger seats. I have been in (and might I add piloted) a twin seat plane, but this was my first time on a plane like this. We boarded the plane and there was an extra passenger, so somebody had to sit in the front next to the pilot. It should have been me, but some bratty little child scooped up the seat. I shot visual daggers toward the back of her head for sometime and decided then and there that I did not like her. The view was gorgeous and we flew low – about 1300 feet – over the water, which was dotted with little islands and coral reefs. Twenty minutes later, we arrived in Zanzibar, got in a taxi and headed across the island to Jambiani Beach.

The drive from the airport to Jambiani Beach lasts little over an hour and goes through some gorgeous areas, including the Jozani Forest, where we managed to see a tree full of red colobus monkeys. By the time I realized I wanted a picture, it was too late and we were too far. The road seemed to go on forever and finally we arrived at our destination, the Blue Oyster Hotel. It is a charming, quiet and completely relaxing place set on the edge of the Indian Ocean, protected from big waves by the coral reef about a kilometer or so off shore. The water is warm and in every shade of blue imaginable. Palm trees rustle in the breeze and there is nothing more to do than sit in the sun with a book, walk down the beach or nap in the hammock. I did what anyone would do, I ordered myself a Stoney Tangawizi (a ginger cola) and lounged in the sun as the cool breeze blew off the Indian Ocean saying “welcome to Africa!”