Zanzibar/Dubai: From Sand To Sand

Feb 16th, 2008: Why I Vote Democrat

The baboon that stared into my soul
The baboon that stared into my soul


Our five-day safari comes to an end on a spectacular high point and we smile giddily on the way out, an incredible safari - one I've been dreaming about for years - completed, and having more than lived up to my very high expectations.

And then.

After such an amazing experience, clearly the gods of even-stevenhood want to make their might known. Before heading out on safari, we had given money to Jamal, who works for the safari company, in order to buy us a plane ticket to Zanzibar.

"3:30pm flight on the 16th, no problem," he confirms. We forget about it until he calls us on safari on the 15th to say the flight is now at 6pm on the 16th, so we don't need to rush back. Unfortunate to leave later than we wanted, but it allowed us to see more elephants, so we have no complaints.

Then, at 12:30pm on the 16th, he calls us again to say that he never actually bought the tickets he said he did, and that our flight is now at 4pm. He tells us that we absolutely have to be at Kilimanjaro airport in 2-½ hours, despite the fact that it is a 3-hour drive away and we haven't yet even packed up our camping gear. If we don't make it, we forfeit the ticket. He also adds that we owe him $60 for the ride to the airport.

Choice words were spoken and the airport fee was eventually dropped and, despite all sane advice to the contrary, we try to make our flight. Our cook, Charles, is a saint and grabs anyone he can find to help us pack up as quickly as we can. Tadei, whose semi-coherent racist babblings have come back in full force, doesn't seem too bothered by our plight.

When he finds out that we are trying to pack and leave in 5 minutes, he goes for lunch. On the ride back to town, I ask to use his cell phone to call the airline and confirm that we're on our way; he refuses. When he finally does let me use it, he refuses to tell me the prefix needed to call the airline, thereby rendering the phone useless.

"No worry, white peoples," he tells us. "If you don't make flight, you catch one tomorrow. It's ok."

"Actually, it's not ok," I bark at him. "If we miss our flight, who will pay for our flight tomorrow, and our hotel and for our cab ride back to town?!"

Tadei just smiles happily and returns to driving 10 km/h under the speed limit.

And in the end? We made it, with a whole 4 minutes to spare. And the reason for all this anger and madness is, of course, George W. Bush. The flight Jamal had pretended to book us on had been cancelled due to the fact that George was actually landing here, in Arusha, for a cultural visit. After 7+ years of screwing me over indirectly, he now upped the ante and did so directly. Georgey boy, this means war!

Feb 20th, 2008: Out of Africa

Beaches of Zanzibar
Beaches of Zanzibar

After two very active weeks of safaris and tours and getting ourselves shuffled from one to place to another, the last four days have been spent doing not a damn thing, and it's been blissful.

After the plane ticket debacle and a flight with another dubious airline, we land in Zanzibar, the first airport I've ever been to where:

  1. there is no bathroom;
  2. someone has put bananas as checked luggage

We spend the first day in Zanzibar getting lost amidst the cool labyrinth that is Stone Town, and eating sumptuously spiced Zanzibari food.

The next morning it is off to Paje, a beach village on the east side of the island. Paje has a reputation as having a bit of a party atmosphere, but we certainly can't see it. In fact, we can't see anyone or anything. Most hotels here claim to be sold out, but our days pass seeing only a couple of dozen people and more often than not eating alone in a restaurant. When we stay up until 10:30 for a beer, everyone else has gone to bed. The village has but one shop that is about the size of a large closet and sells only batteries and 14-year old Kit Kat bars.

And so with that, the only things to do here are to lie on a massive white sand beach and to swim in the brilliant turquoise water, the warmest I've ever swum in. The ocean is an incredible 28°C or, to put it another way, so warm that you don't even bother to jump over the waves to delay by valuable seconds that first, inevitable instant that you have to get your junk wet. Our four days in Paje are totally, dreamily empty.

We spend one night back in Stone Town, and a quick afternoon in Dar es Salaam. Sadly, that is the end of our time in Africa... for now. However, tomorrow begins a whirlwind 24-hour trip to Dubai. "Real life", I will fight you off as long as I can, I swear it! You shall be defeated!

Zanzibar Photos

Feb 22nd, 2008: Vegas of the Middle East

Ski Dubai
Ski Dubai

We arrive in Dubai around 1:00 in the morning and enter into an absolutely heaving airport; I've never been in an airport so busy at night before, not even Heathrow. It's a disorienting change from the toilet-free airports we'd just been experiencing in Africa.

Our cab from the airport drives for a few minutes and then suddenly we are amongst dozens of crazy skyscrapers, each weirder and more unusual than the next. The airport's proximity to town and each building's wild and uniquely themed design instantly reminds me of Las Vegas, a feeling that is not diminished when we pass a giant pyramid-shaped building with light shooting out the top of it.

We spend the next day sightseeing, including getting the best view we can of the Burj al-Arab (aka "the sailboat hotel") - our view is weakened as we are caught in a minor sandstorm. At least it's no longer raining on us, so I suppose it's a step up. Or laterally.

We look at skyscrapers, visit some markets, eat terrific shish taouk and likely break about 20 different cultural protocols when taking the bus; only after ½ hour do I realize that I am standing in the women's section.

The highlight of the day is going skiing - Dubai has an indoor ski hill; skiing in the middle of the desert. (Trying to outdo only itself, the city actually has a second ski hill planned and on the way) I ski for two hours inside a mall on a hill groomed with real snow. It is the first time I've skied in over a decade, and it's just like riding a bicycle; I'm exactly as terrible as I was the last time I skied. Four year old Arab children scream past me on their skis and snowboards, spraying snow on me and laughing as they pass. Stephanie claims they are laughing because they are having fun but I, my friends, have suspicions.

Now back at the airport after 24 hours in the city, it is 3:00am and, if anything, the airport is even busier than last night. All the stores are open and it is possible to buy bars of gold here at the airport, though I'll probably pass. We are 30 hours of travel away from home and the second we get there, I am throwing everything from my backpack in the wash - shirts, socks, pants, hats, belts, aftershave, everything. And two minutes after that I will be sound, sound asleep. Probably while standing in the shower...

Dubai Photos