Zanzibar comes alive for Vail traveler |

Zanzibar comes alive for Vail traveler

Luc Pols
Vail Daily travel correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Vail Daily/Luc PolsVail traveler: Border crossing between Mozambique and Tanzania.

The guide books say that crossing the Rovuma River, the border between Mozambique and Tanzania, is one of the last adventurous border crossings in the world, so obviously I have to try. The books aren’t exaggerating, not one bloody bit.

I get up in Palma at sun-up (I’ve seen more sunrises over these last couple of weeks than in the last 30 years combined) to stand outside the “hotel” for a four a.m. pick up, which of course doesn’t arrive till five and that’s how the adventure begins.

The “road” to the river is a 25-mile loose sand trail of one-car width and I am in the back of a pickup truck with 24 other people. Talk about shaking and a sore behind, as well as the fear of being thrown out.

We get to the border, go through passport control (why do border guards all over the world have the same lousy attitude?) and then get into a rickety boat to ferry across. I feel a bit like Humphrey Bogart in “The African Queen,” but unfortunately I don’t see any hippos or crocs, which is something I hope for.

Next is a closed pickup truck, which should seat 12 but when we leave has 21 passengers. We arrive at the Tanzanian border, where I secure my visa for $50. Note, they demand U.S. currency, no local money accepted, but at least no Euros yet, thank Buddha.

We get back into that overstuffed vehicle for a 30-mile equally drive over an equally lousy road to Mtwara, where I secure a room in a guesthouse for $8, the first normally or priced place since arrival. Mind you, the toilet is the proverbial hole in the ground and, I find out later, there are cockroaches running around, but there is a fan and a functioning shower. As I said before, you can’t have it all.

I book my supposedly eight-hour bus to Dar es Salaam and tomorrow at five a.m., another sunrise, I’m off to that famous city.

The bus takes only nine hours, so not too bad and I arrive in that city, the name I remember from my early school days with visions of sultans and pirates.

This city of 3 million is a bit of an enigma. Virtually no high-rises, so a sprawled out city, but still giving the impression of almost being somewhat of a large village. However, for the first time I feel secure and have absolutely no fear walking about even after dark.

Gawking here seems to be at a premium, but then being the only white person one encounters in hours, maybe not so strange. On the other hand, if we in Vail would look at a black person walking through town like they do at me here, we would probably be labeled racist.

I have some great conversations with locals about the state of affairs here, about the future of this country and Africa as a whole, and I’m having a good time. I like Dar, but it is time to go visit a “real” pirates’ nest, Zanzibar.

Once again there is the double standard for fares on the ferry. We foreigners pay three times as much as the locals do and it is still annoying. It also is a bit strange coming onto the island, I must tell you. Even though Zanzibar reputedly is part of Tanzania (I think they merged in 1964), you need your passport to come in, you go through immigration control and you even get a Zanzibar stamp in your passport. Now they don’t have a seat on the UN, so therefore I don’t think they are an actual country, but maybe semi-autonomous. Sorry, but it is the best I can do.

The first impression of Stone Town is outstanding. What a difference between this UNESCO site and the last one I was at, the Ilha Mozambique: absolutely no comparison. This place is alive. This place is beautiful. This place is living history.

I am spending four glorious days here sightseeing, getting around the island, walking, snorkeling, sunbathing, you name it. I even take a couple of “tours,” one to Prison Island and one to tour the whole island of Zanzibar. Definitely a place to hang your hat for a while and definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far.

Off again and this time by small plane to Tanga with an intermediate stop on Pemba Island. I stay the night and take the bus to Arusha and will try to find a way to go to the famous Serengeti National Park and the supposedly magnificent Ngorongoro Conservation area, a huge caldera, which is the collapsed upper cone of an ancient volcano.

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