My Odyssey - Zanzibar

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Travel journalist - Afropolitan Magazine

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  • 1. Main Feature TravelMy OdysseyWritten and photographed by Jacques NellMy long-awaited,much-anticipated and I saw this journey to a faraway land as a ‘personal odyssey’. I was deter- mined to find out who I really was and I realised our plane had not yet left OR Tambo International Airport! In my mind we should have been in Zanzibar by now. Reality kicked in when an unemotionalwell-deserved journey what life was all about before it was too late. voice asked us to disembark. The reason?to Zanzibar began with Luggage difficulties! On re-entering the departures termi-immense pain and As I entered the international departures terminal on my trek to the lost land of Nir- nal – a whole lot sooner and less relaxed than planned, the majority of my fellowdisappointment. This vana (oasis of enlightenment) a feeling of freedom and unusual calmness came over passengers and I headed to the closestjourney to mysterious me. pub in the hope that some form alcoholic nectar may drown our disappointment In my many years of travelling, this wasZanzibar, was more the first time I had experienced such a and anger. I observed from a distance and noticed my travel comrades starting tothan just a simple feeling of unadulterated happiness… After what seemed like endless antici- bond. I must add that the alcohol did playvacation to ease an pation and patience, we finally boarded a part in this process. People were shar- ing. Sharing their anger, sadness and dis- the plane – some with audible cheers ofoverworked mind. It joy. appointment. It suddenly dawned on me that had it not been for this unexpectedwas to be a journey I buckled myself in and drifted into a deep sleep, hoping to re-awaken in a far- delay, so many relationships would neverof rediscovering my away land with a renewed verve. I was rudely roused from an exquisite have been formed. Two hours of intense debate later, during which the founda-being. dream, filled with astonishing sunsets tions for new friendships were laid, it reflected in crystal clear water by an was announced that we could finally once unnerving announcement. With a jolt again board our Starship. th e a fro p o li ta n Is s u e 5 - Ju n e 2 008 1 51
  • 2. With great delight I gathered my hand My parents were travelling Greece at luggage. Something was missing...then I the time; so I texted my Mom an abbrevi- realised my travel pouch containing all ated version of my almost unbelievable, my travel documents, passport, plane demoralizing experience. Curiosity and ticket and cash, was nowhere to be found. confusion compelled her to call me imme- After a frantic search I came to the sick- diately on receipt of my SOS. After much ening conclusion that it had been stolen. Motherly comfort and advice – nothing The repercussions of this invasion of soothes the soul quite like a mother’s my person hit me like a well-placed punch voice – calmness washed over me… to the chest. I would have to say farewell I suddenly received an unexpected to my spiritual trek. command from within, instantly awaken- I left the terminal and went directly to ing me, telling me that my spiritual voy- the airport police. One totally unproduc- age to search for the spark I had lost, was tive hour later it was painfully apparent just beginning and I should not question how uncontrolled and impossible security the reasons or perceive this experience is in an airport. The only explanation the as bad karma, but I should see it as the police could offer me was that these pro- first step in my search for Nirvana. fessional, unscrupulous thieves embark My perception of this disappointing on a stealing frenzy ten minutes prior to situation began to alter. I went to Home their own boarding time, jump on a plane Affairs, applied for a temporary passport, just after their foul deed has been com- phoned my travel agent and booked mitted, and your belongings are never another ticket to Zanzibar for the follow- to be seen again! “What was that about ing Monday! no crime syndicates operating out of OR After much angst waiting for the arrival Tambo oh Mr Chief of Police?” of my temporary passport, I was ready to After lengthy, useless, crime report leave for Zanzibar once again seven days delivery, frustration and isolation later! This was a magical time in my life overwhelmed me and I broke down. It and I realized that anything truly is pos- seemed quite impossible that this could sible if only you believe that it is! And so be happening to me, my rightful place in I took my first step to enlightenment and paradise had been substituted with this confirmed that your mind will attract all entirely unacceptable option. As I headed that you desire in life, if you choose to home I felt the need to share my despair allow it to. with anyone who would listen.152 t he afropol itan I ssue 5 - June 2008
  • 3. Travel Once you see life’s failures as fuel I saw and began to mentally plan my I hopped into my jeep and headed forto ignite the growth of wisdom, lead- explorations for the next morning… Stone Town!ing to compassion and understanding, After a restful night, I awakened to I was welcomed with traffic jams,you allow yourself to learn how to oper- almost unbearable heat, forcing me to hoardes of people walking the streetsate your mind effectively. Once this is head straight to the beach. Zanzibar’s – every second one trying to sell meaccomplished you will find yourself in a beaches are the kind seen in cheesy something. I was approached by a localnew great and wonderful world! You will fantasies you thought only existed in fisherman, who offered to show me all thediscover yourself to be a greater person Bounty adverts. The sea is an impossible fine and unique spots his home town had(force) than you ever dreamed yourself to turquoise, with white, powdery soft sand to offer.be… that stretches for miles; a Zen place in We set on the trail of sultans, slaves and Seven days later than planned, I land- which to unwind... explorers in the winding, narrow streetsed at Zanzibar’s airport in Stone Town. So much happens on Zanzibar’s beach- of Stone Town, my guide captivated meAs I left the plane, I was welcomed with es that it’s hard to know where to look retelling events that shaped Zanzibarextreme heat and an enormous rusty sign first: at the small wooden sailing boats whilst leading me through the buildingsexclaiming Karibu Zanzibar (Welcome to that glide gently through the waves, at where it all happened. While tracing theZanzibar). the rows of ladies with bent backs har- steps of the past, my walking tour lead The airport was – amazingly – extreme- vesting seaweed during low tide or at the me to the window of modern life in Stonely rundown (for one of the largest tourist young blooded warrior Masai walking the Town.attractions in Africa??) but was beautiful shoreline projecting their powerful tribal We explored the markets; seafood andin its own African way. After 30 minutes appearance. Almost boastfully. fish piled high in the fish market, freshlyspent waiting for my luggage, I was once Walking along the beach is a life- chopped meat hung in the meat market,again disappointed. My luggage was affirming experience at any time of the newly baked loaves of bread languishednowhere to be found. This time it hadn’t day, but even more so at sunrise when in wicker baskets and neat stacks of fruitbeen stolen but ‘probably left behind the sand turns pale orange with an other- and vegetables abounded as traders soldin Jozi’. Oddly enough, not having any worldly glow. After an inspiring walk and their wares from basic stalls.luggage didn’t bother me at all, – just the most invigoratingly euphoric swim, Children played in the streets in theanother day in Africa. Last year I travelledto Angola, were the same shit went downand if you can survive without luggage inANGOLA you can cope anywhere! The sea is an impossible turquoise, with I rented a 4x4 and drove to my hotel, white, powdery soft sand that stretches foranticipating a cold local beer. On myarrival I ordered an ice cold Kilimanjaro miles; a Zen place in which to unwind...and got comfortable in the first hammock th e a fro p o li ta n Is s u e 5 - Ju n e 2 008 1 53
  • 4. residential areas; mamas sat out and gossiped, while the men played boardAs our dhow connected with the beach I games. My new friend and I made a quickwas still trying to convince the universe escape from the heat of the hustle andthat it would be to its benefit if I were to bustle for a refreshing lemongrass tea, the tea houses are the best places tobe reincarnated as an angel of the ocean. spend a lazy, hot afternoon reclining on splendid Arabic cushions. Our walking tour resumed, and I discovered a mind- blowing antique shop, with the most spectacular jewellery, mahogany chests and time pieces, I even discovered a compass dated 1910 and a silver pocket sundial engraved ‘British Navy; Robert Cook; 1914’! No description of Stone Town could be complete without mentioning the legend- ary Zanzibar doors. These massive teak or mahogany structures grace the front of almost every building of any importance and their style has been copied all over the world. The original doors owe their distinctive brass studs to India – the studs originated as a defence against war elephants, used to batter down for- tified doors in the tribal wars. Each door has been tailored to the social position, religious practices and occupation of its future owner. After thanking my new friend, for the unforgettable day, we parted ways and I headed back to my hotel, recalling the day’s moments and appreciating the154 t he afropol itan I ssue 5 - June 2008
  • 5. Travelwonderful, one-of-a-kind experience! itats of ‘their’ tropical rainforest. Troops I walked through the spice farm with The next morning was soon upon me. of Red Colobus monkeys can also be seen a guide, touching, smelling and tastingToday I intended to drive to the south of scrambling from branch to branch, in different spices and tropical fruits. Thisthe island at 5am for my…now wait for search of food. visit to the spice farm village gave me anthis…my Pomboo (Swahili for dolphin) The mangrove boardwalk takes you insight into local life and the opportu-Dive! After an hour’s drive, I boarded a above the swamp where, depending on nity to try some authentic Swahili dishes,traditional ocean-going dhow and began the tide, tropical fish flit between the taste the fruits in season, sip on spicedto scan the ocean for these mystical crea- mangrove roots, crabs scuttle across the tea. I rounded off the experience withtures I so desperately wanted to swim mud and turtles glide through the murky a deliciously aromatic lunch, preparedalongside. A few minutes later we spotted water. Mangroves also play an important with the best of seasonal fruit and spicesa family of dolphins! role in environmental conservation and introduced to me during the tour. Sleek and grey, they jack-knifed are a valuable resource for villagers and After a mind-blowing meal, I preparedthrough the waters, showing off with community life. to experience Zanzibar’s night life!jumps and twists. I then had the most After two days of pure rest and relax- I was told about a great 24-hour hang-magical swim with these amazing crea- ation on the beach, I embarked on the out/backpacker hotel that is a famoustures. After an hour-long soul fulfilling famous Spice Tour. In bygone days, night spot. After hard partying and cheapexperience, we headed back to dry land. Zanzibar was known as a spice island, talk with Italians, Americans, South Afri-As our dhow connected with the beach I exporting cloves, vanilla, nutmeg and cans and Swedish beauties I headed backwas still trying to convince the universe cardamom across the world. The spices to my hotel.that it would be to its benefit if I were to were brought over from Asia and South The next morning I was invited by abe reincarnated as an angel of the ocean. America and flourished in the tropical cli- local diver for a snorkelling hunt on the Accepting that this was not to be, I mate. Spices were the first luxury goods reef. I was welcomed by his family at theirset off to the Jozani Forest; this wonder to appear in the European economy, rents very primitive, but remarkable ‘Rock res-and delight, with tales of Zanzibar leop- and debts could even be paid in spices taurant’. The idea was that I would haveards, medicinal cures and breath taking rather than gold. to catch my own lunch, which they wouldscenery. The forest is home to a numberof endemic species, including the endan-gered Zanzibar Red Colobus Monkey. Thepark ranger took me on a nature trail, In bygone days, Zanzibar was known aslined with eucalyptus and mahoganytrees and explained the medicinal prop- a spice island, exporting cloves, vanilla,erties of various plants and shared hisknowledge of animals, birds and reptiles nutmeg and cardamom across the world.that make their homes in the various hab- th e a fro p o li ta n Is s u e 5 - Ju n e 2 008 1 55
  • 6. Travel prepare. On our first dive we went spear After my three bonus days, I finally fishing and I shot myself a Red Snapper. arrived at my oasis and I was ready to We swam to the other side of the reef and return to reality. Reaffirming the words caught two crayfish and an octopus. Back of an old dog, “Only those who seek shall at the ‘restaurant’ I awaited my catch of find”. the day. I was presented with an astound- After great difficulty finding a flight ing platter, filling me with an even deeper back home, I finally booked onto a small, respect and appreciation for the ocean. old four-seater propeller plane to Dar es With a twinge of guilt I started to devour Salaam. “Let there be Peace” – what an my Zan seafood feast!! amazing adrenalin-filled flight it was. I The hospitality, pure love and appre- caught a connecting flight back to Egoli ciation shared around this meal was rare, “The City of Gold” and in so-doing ended an experience which would kick any five my trek. star Mediterranean seafood restaurant’s Having allowed myself to see my nega- butt! tive experiences as opportunities to grow My incomparable day ended with sad into the antithesis had allowed me to goodbyes and a rewarding swim back to finally find what I was looking for. shore. I had almost found my Nirvana... When you choose to focus on what you I begrudgingly went back to my base don’t want in your life, you subconscious- and sadly packed for my departure the ly block out what you actually desire to be following day. I awoke the next morning a part of your life. The realisation that the with great heartache. Whilst preparing real source of happiness can be defined in for my trek to the airport, rebellion over- one word: achievement! came me…I decided stuff this and never I had finally realised that the universe went to the airport, missing my flight with really does want you to win and be happy. no remorse. Lasting happiness comes from strategi- I reminded myself that you should cally and steadily working to accomplish never do anything because you have your predetermined goals and growing to, the only reason to do something is confidently in the direction of your life’s because you want to and because you purpose. know it is the right thing for you to do. This is the secret to kindling the inner I spent an amazing extra three days on fire that lurks within us. the beach, revisited Stone Town and the RASTA – Rightness Africans Stand must-experience Rock Restaurant! Though All!!!!! 156 t he afropol itan I ssue 5 - June 2008