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The Best. Day. Ever. (For serious.)

TANZANIA | Monday, 21 December 2009 | Views [735]

I just had the best travel day of my backpacking career, and it was seriously amazing.  And thing is, it totally was supposed to be a crap day, slogging from one town to the next, dealing with overland border crossings, sweating my winter weight off… But no, it was fantastic!

It started at 5am this morning when my alarm went off, followed by the wake-up call I ordered for 5:15.  What is sad is that I couldn’t fall asleep until 3am the night before because I was absolutely convinced I wouldn’t wake up on time, so it started with a bit of a whimper.  Nonetheless, I was packed and at the bus station with plenty of time to spare.  We left on time, and not two minutes into the bus drive we pull onto a ferry!  It was an industrial ferry, meant to cross a little strait that separated Mombasa from the main road, but it was still a ferry!  I rode a bus on top of a boat and all before 7am!

We make it to the Tanzanian border by 9 and my visa is processed pretty quickly (though the border agent did finish her sandwich quite leisurely first) and we hopped back on the bus.  That’s when it got a bit sketchy.  The roads in Kenya were narrow, sure, and a bit windy, but they were all paved.  Not so in Tanzania, land of the dirt road featuring pot holes larger than most bikes.  It really was like crossing the border from Ohio into Michigan: all of a sudden you fear for your life at every turn.  The driver was insane and we continued our pace at 80km/hr, and more than once I clutched the seat in front of me for dear life, but two hours later we arrived at Tanga and I was alive. 

I grabbed my bag, which was now covered in a thick blanket of orange dust (dust that I fear will never quite go away) and was instantly surrounded by 7 or 8 taxi drivers all wanting to be the chosen one (the belle of the ball, if you will).  They were so aggressive and so willing to get all up in my face that I kinda freaked out a bit and said quite loudly, “can’t a girl get some space here?”.  The circle broke a bit and I made a run for it.  Luckily I was a good head taller than them (which actually translates into a 6” inseam advantage) and despite two bags weighing a total of 60 pounds I got away pretty quickly. 

At this point a guy on a bicycle comes up beside me and asks, quite nicely, if I’m looking for something in particular.  He was so calm – so unlike the pushy taxi drivers – that for some reason I decided to give him a chance.  I said yes, I was looking for an internet café and then lunch before heading to the airstrip in a few hours.  He introduced himself as Hassan and offered to show me the way.  Hassan dropped me at an internet café where I caught up on emails for an hour, then he returned to escort me to his favorite lunch place where he insisted I try the coconut rice and fried chicken.  Afterward he called me a taxi and told the driver I was paying only 5000 shillings, not the 10,000 he was going to try to charge me at the end of the trip.  I tried to tip Hassan for his help, but he refused saying that his job was to change money but his advice was free.  So I decided to exchange a hundred bucks with him (knowing I was getting a not quite so amazing rate) since he had been so nice all day.  In the end the difference was about what I was going to tip him, so it all worked out.

At this point I make it to the “airport”, which turns out to be the equivalent to a one-room schoolhouse.  The ticketing agent also stood in for security screener (she was quite alarmed by the pink color of my bottle of Pepto Bismol and asked me to take a sip to prove it was ingestible), and the departure/arrival/waiting area/bag check/luggage pick-up was about the same space as my Boston apartment.  The upside was that I met these awesome British sisters, Erin and Lindsey, who were also on the way to Zanzibar (though spending a night in Pemba due to some transport logistics).  Erin works in the Congo with an aid organization working on water sanitation.  Lindsey decided to come spend Christmas with her sister and they set out for Zanzi together.  We had a lovely chat and when it was time to board our 12-seat propeller plane it was nice to know I had some friends to hold my hand should we fall into the ocean. =)

Obviously we survived the flights (one to Pemba, then on to Zanzibar, each about 20 minutes), and after I got used to the tiny plane it was an amazing aerial tour of the spice islands and Indian Ocean.  I’ve never seen such blue water or been so close to sandbars and little oasises (oasii?).  It was spectacular, and I was a bit sad when it ended.

Now I’m in Zanzibar, staying in Stone Town at this little bed and breakfast called the Zenji Hotel for tonight.  They only had one night free so tomorrow I have to switch to the Hotel Flamenco, but I’m not too worried since it seems to have good reviews online.  I wandered the coast tonight and happened upon an adorable restaurant just at sunset so I grabbed a table with an ocean view and sipped on passion fruit juice as the sky lit up.  After glancing through the menu I opted for dinner there as well, choosing this shrimp and noodle concoction that I can’t quite describe but was so amazingly delicious.  And as I walked home under the moonlight I realized I could finally name the smell that lingered all throughout the island: incense with a bit of clove.

Tags: bus, highlight, mombasa, pemba, planes, tanga, travel friends, zanzibar

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