The Journey to Zanzibar- Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook Entry #1?
Warning: Not your typical Zanzibar travel blog
A normal travel blog would simply offer up all of the highlights from this tropical destination, guiding its readers to the ‘must sees’ of this Spice Island, completely enthralling them so that they have no choice but to pay the island a visit using your recommendations.
My blog is a bit different, a bit more personal and perhaps not as enthralling, but that is life and this is my experience. I also cannot write about Zanzibar without first writing about my experience of getting to this…forgive me, island of no return.
And so begins the start of my ‘worst case scenario-series of unfortunate vacation related events’…
For starters, I arrived in Zanzibar and my contact lenses did not. Unbelievable. Maybe it was because I had two beers for dinner the night before (food options were slim) when I was packing my bag… Really, I have no idea how I forgot them, as I carefully counted them out and placed them in their own special bag. Unlike the normal, ‘hurry up and wait’ routine, we were rushed the morning of my departure. They dropped me off at the landing strip and almost instantly I realized what I had done. I bent down with my back facing the runway; rummaging through my bag, hoping that by some miracle I was wrong. As I’m squatting there in the dirt, bag wide open, focused on the task at hand, the plane comes in for a landing. As soon as those wheels make contact with the earth, a torrent of dust fills the sky, so strong is the wind from the propellers that the dust cuts through my skin. Within seconds me and my open bag are completely engulfed. Of course, everyone else had anticipated this plane-induced dust storm and had strategically repositioned themselves away from the action. Of course I was too concerned about my contacts….and so, entered the 10-seater plane completely covered in red earth. Rookie move.
The contacts would not have been such a big issue, but for the fact that my entire vacation revolved around diving and water sports, of which I had already paid for and all of which I could not do without my contacts. Super depressing. My final hope rested in the off chance that they could be brought to the island by another expat also traveling to the island for some R&R. Stay tuned.
Then there was my arrival to Juba which in itself was a harrowing experience. For starters, there was the plane ride. I actually thought that I might die. Our little plane flew right through a huge storm; lightning bolts cutting through the sky---plane jumping all around, stomach leaving my body, rain leaking into the plane….It’s never a good sign when the locals sitting next to you look at the water pouring in and start to panic. Then there’s the city of Juba, which feels unsettling in itself. After everything that went down in July when fighting broke out in the capitol and surrounding areas after the peace treaty was broken, there remains a pervasive feeling that anything can happen at any time. The atmosphere is foreboding and pregnant with the anticipation of what could come.
I wish I could write about the Juba airport, however this is a sensitive subject. Travelers be warned.
My flights from Juba to Nairobi and on to Zanzibar were fairly smooth, but then I landed in Zanzibar.
I decided to carry on my luggage as I didn’t want to risk my bag not arriving but then the plane was so small that my bag wouldn’t fit in the overhead compartment. And, as luck would have it, my seat was right next to another MSF guy who was also working in South Sudan. He was there with his fiancé and together, they helped me stuff the bag under a seat. Once we got to the airport, chaos ensued. It was already quite late at night but the airport was packed. It took over two hours for me to get my visa! Because of this delay and because I had no way of contacting the hotel, the transport that I had arranged had come and gone. My new friends had also encountered some hiccups. The airline had overbooked the plane; probably trying to make some extra cash and this overbooking meant that the weight limit had been reached, thus, all of the luggage was left behind! At that point, I had nothing to rush for, so decided to wait with the couple so we could share a taxi into Stone Town. We found a nearby bar as we waited for the line to go down and I had my first Tanzanian beer. The couple were great. She turned out to be a pediatrician working in West Africa and he was an MD working in an MSF run refugee camp in Yida. We talked about what it’s like to work in Haiti and now in South Sudan; reflecting upon both the struggles and the joys. By the time we loaded into the taxi it was already past midnight. By now we were starving. We asked the driver to stop on the side of the road as soon as we spotted an open food stand. I grabbed a big octopus tentacle, some fried shrimp and a piece of ‘Zanzibar pizza’ (a popular, spicy street food filled with beef, veggies and eggs, no cheese!), stuffed them into a paper bag and we were again on our way. I did not realize, but you cannot drive in the historic center of Stone town. The roads, if you can call them that, are narrow and windy—the area must be explored on foot. As it turns out, the couple is literally staying right next door to me. Life never ceases to amaze me.
Stay posted for my next blog where I'll give recommendations on Stone Town.