A great thing about travel, for me, is that often enough references I have about how things should be done, get quickly shattered. It teaches me that there are many ways to live life and some things that seem so important to me, others couldn’t care less about. And surprisingly (to me), life goes on anyway. I was about to be fully reminded of that and a few other lessons as my taxi cab dropped me at Terminal One of the International Airport in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Lesson one: Don’t assume, ask. Signs may or may not mean what they say. The sign “ALL AIRLINE CHECK IN” simply means ALL AIRLINES – except the one I am flying with. That is what I was told after I stood in line for 20 minutes. A simple question would have saved me the disappointment and the sweat.
Lesson two: It may be hard to believe it, but people other than me also actually know what they are doing. Instead of worrying myself sick when nobody from my airline showed up until 45 minutes before the flight departure time, I should have just had a cup of coffee. Check-in opened 30 minutes before departure and that was plenty. I even had time to watch a short wild life documentary before boarding.
Lesson three: Stop clinging to luggage as if my life depended on it. I had to give up all attachment to my luggage when it was taken by one of the airline’s staff without providing me any kind of ticket or receipt. And I got it back at the other end of the flight without a scratch, as I walked out of the airplane. When was it that I learned not to trust airlines with my suitcase, anyway?
Lesson four: Some things are required – until they become optional. Following the advice of local staff who were obviously expecting a generous tip I skipped getting in line for arrival registration and simply walked to my taxi cab. Contrary to their expectations I did not tip my “advisors” for helping me break the law and still feel bad about it (breaking the law, I mean). But it did save me a good chunk of time…
I have vague memories of the word Zanzibar from my teenage years in Brazil. The port of Zanzibar had been one of the trading posts from which people from different parts of Africa had been transported to Brazil during colonial times to work as slaves in sugar cane plantations and mining, a very sad part of our shared history. Evidently, the “Z Experience” includes more than references to slavery. On hearing that I was going to be in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, colleagues had recommended: “When you are in Dar, go to Zanzibar”. This “Zanzibar” reverberates with images of exotic island beauty, spice plantations and an atmosphere out of the Arabian Nights. And of “hakuna matata”, the problem-free philosophy expressed by the Swahili phrase made famous by the Lion King. Locals like to use it to calm down antsy tourists like me.
Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar archipelago is also the home of its capital, Stone Town. The Town has been a World Heritage Site since 2000 and is accurately described by UNESCO as “a fine example of the Swahili coastal trading towns of East Africa. It retains its urban fabric and townscape virtually intact and contains many fine buildings that reflect its particular culture, which has brought together and homogenized disparate elements of the cultures of Africa, the Arab region, India, and Europe over more than a millennium”.
On the East side of Unguja, vast white sand beaches honor Zanzibar’s reputation for idyllic beauty.
I thoroughly enjoyed Zanzibar. At the same time I could not avoid reflecting on slavery when in Stone Town. The sign made me think that contrary to appearances, it has not at all been abolished. Recent reports by the Department of State (2011) and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (2012) indicate clearly that human trafficking – the contemporary version of slavery – abounds in Africa and Asia and still occurs in other developing regions of the world in horrifying numbers. The trade of women and girls as young as six years old for sexual exploitation (vast majority of cases), forced labor or even the removal of organs continues to blatantly defy efforts of international organizations and activists to end this shameful practice.
How to get there: I flew with Coastal Airways from Dar es Salaam. Flights are only 20 minutes long and depart several times a day. Call the airline to confirm flight times. Information available on their website is not necessarily up-to-date. It is also possible to take a ferry from Dar. Ferries leave several times a day from the Slipway. Before purchasing your ferry ticket, check the quality and safety of the service. Overcrowded ferries serving the region have capsized in the recent past.
Where to stay: The Zanzibar Serena Inn was my choice. Right on the beach and in the middle of Stone Town, it occupies historical buildings that have been skillfully renovated and decorated. I was utterly charmed. On arrival, the young lady at reception smiled: “I’m sorry you are alone”, she said, playfully. “So am I”, I said. Apparently I was given one of the most romantic rooms in the hotel. Well, maybe next time.