When I was a kid, I LOVED a movie called Hugo the Hippo, which takes place in Zanzibar – an archipelago of islands about 20 miles into the Indian Ocean from Dar es Salaam (house of peace), Tanzania. I think I liked it because of the Biker Gang of Sharks attacking the people (and eating, and burping) to a song that sounds half Bob Seger, half Edwin Star.
We bought the soundtrack LP Album (featuring Burl Ives and Marie Osmond). I used to love playing it at 78rpm on dad’s turntable so all the songs were more than twice the intended speed (33 & 1/3 rpm) – which is kind of trippy for a 5 year old. Now, after re-watching it online, the whole movie is trippy. I’m pretty sure the writers were hot-boxing themselves in a room with a bonfire of weed and a pile of magic mushrooms and LSD. There’s even a part near the end that uses “In A Gadda Da Vida”, and may the best music video of all time – with giant, evil celery stalks attacking a boy and a young hippo.
It’s really trippy now, but somehow it all made total sense to the 5 year old me. That makes me wonder what is actually going thru the minds of 5 year olds.
Mom, what were you thinking letting us watch this?
But I digress…
After 8 days of climbing on Kilimanjaro, and finally holding down solid food, I needed to decompress. The fine, white, sandy beaches of Zanzibar sounded like a plan.
The flight from Arusha was a small Cessna Caravan, and took about 2 hours.
I stayed at the Ndame Beach Lodge in Paje on the East Coast of the main island. The cab ride from the airport was another hour to cross the island. Ndame was right on the beach, at the high tide line. But when the tide went out, you had to walk a few hundred meters to the water…
Between the tides, you have about 300 meters of warm, knee deep water, with a mostly sandy bottom (some seaweed, some shells, and the occasional urchin). This, along with a fairly consistent breeze made for a near perfect place to kite surf.
I was still quite sore from the Kili trek, so I opted for a deep tissue massage on the beach… It was painful, but worked out a lot of knots in my calves and quads.
Ndame has a nice beachfront restaurant (see below). After dinner, I fell asleep in a private bungalow to the smell of saltwater and the sound of light waves crashing at high tide 20 meters away.
The next day I walked the beach, checking out all the different kite-surfing shops. I signed up for lessons at Kite Centre Zanzibar. Here’s one of the instructors using a hydrofoil board (yes, that’s a thing):
After chilling on the beach and in the restaurant, and that exhausting search, I opted for another massage. This time Swedish.
The next day I had a kite lesson at 11 am with “Chum”. The lesson was part of a 3-day or 9-hour package. We started with kite control; which was a review from the lessons I took when I lived in California in 2010. Being reasonably athletic for 90 minutes, I opted for another Deep Tissue massage.
The next day we had a 9 am lesson on “body dragging” where you lay in the water, but use the kite to literally drag you around. This is where the clear, calm, warm, knee deep water is great (as opposed to the LA ocean – cold, cloudy and full of kelp with 2 ft waves). That lesson went so well that Chum suggested I come back at 2pm and try getting up on the board.
For that lesson, it took a while, but I did get up on the board and actually kite-surfed for a few hundred meters – twice. Then a gust of wind pulled really hard on the kite, and I did the 2nd dumbest thing of the day – pulled on the control bar, which tenses up the kite. When it pulled me up into the air, I did the 1st dumbest thing of the day and let the line go slack… so the kite lost power and I fell about 15 ft to the now ankle deep water and bashed my right knee on the sand… then proceeded to pull the bar again and was dragged across the very shallow water with my legs against the abrasive sand for I don’t know how far. Chum taught me that more than 10 and I had to pull the safety line to release the kite. I think my sand dragging was 5 seconds or so…
There seems to be a downside to learning in shallow water. My knees discovered the ultimate exfoliating salt/sand scrub. Luckily, I still had skin when I finally regained control of the kite.
After that, my right knee hurt pretty bad, so I decided that was it for the day. Still, I was soooo happy to actually get up on the board, and took a pic with Chum:
I went back to Ndame just in time to get another Swedish massage (did I mention $30 for an hour?). The next day I still had about 2 hours of lessons remaining, but walking hurt, and I have Uganda Gorilla Treks in 2 days, so I opted to pass on the final lesson. The guys at Kite Centre (they’re Dutch, thus the spelling) were kind enough to let me choose some merchandise from their store in place of the lessons, so I got some Christmas presents for my sister’s awesome kids!
Also worth mentioning… there are a lot of young Maasai men on the beach, selling “real Maasai jewelry”. They are super friendly asking where you’re from and all kids of details about home with handshakes and back pats – before they mention that they are here to support people back home and can they just show you their wares (say yes, and like any good developing country, they will assume that means you want to buy something, so they try to guilt you into a purchase). But they are super friendly, and once you politely, but firmly turn them down, they are still friendly the next 6 times they see you on the beach, but with less pressure. The best strategy I found is “I’m late for lesson/date/My best guess is that only a few of them are really Maasai:
With the change of plans, and a flight to Uganda the next day, I left Ndame to stay closer to the airport in Stone Town – the relics of being under the control of various empires since the 1600’s. Stone town is a world heritage site for it’s mixture of Indian, Arabic, Persian, and European architectural styles, reflecting many changes in power in Zanzibar’s past. However, even with the World Heritage designation and funding for restoration, Stone Town is a study in decay. As you walk the narrow alleys, you see eroding walls with exposed coral skeletons (the primary building material):
The Old Fort (built in the 1600’s by the Omani’s) on the seashore:
The House of Wonders – formerly the Suntan’s residence (next to the fort), now a museum for Zanzibar/Swahili Culture:
An original Colonial house on the seashore:
Zanzibar is semi-autonomous from Tanzania. They use the currency, but have a separate government. For reference, Tanzania was formed in 1964 when TANganyia (under Brit rule) combined with ZANzibar – thus the name, Tanzania.
A stone wall somewhere on the way back to my hotel…
…the Mizingani Seafront Hotel, which had stairs like Hogwarts from Harry Potter, and a great balcony overlooking the harbor:
The next morning I had to catch some flights to go Gorilla trekking. Zanzibar to Nairobi, Kenya to Entebbe, Uganda, then a bush flight (in another Cessna Caravan) to Kihihi Airstrip just North of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda.
So Stay Tuned…