Arrival To Zanzibar: Out Of The Frying Pan And Into The Fire…and The Girls Bathroom

Over our school’s Easter break, I had planned on visiting a few rugged areas of southwest Tanzania—a huge lake, another city, and a colleague’s home village even more basic in luxury than Magulilwa. But by April, and following a stretch of electrical outages and days of rainy slop, I changed my mind.

“That’s it.” I remember thinking eating dinner in the sudden darkness. “I need a change of scenery.”

Perhaps the beaches of Zanzibar would do the trick.

I left Magulilwa with visions of fast Internet, white noise waves, cawing gulls, and an ice-cold drink spurring on some relaxation and writing.

Was it like that?

Not really.

My time in Zanzibar was more noteworthy than that. Over the two week break, I bused, boated, taxied, walked, and snorkeled all the way to, and on, the island.

These next three articles will the most fast-paced, vacation-y of all my posts, taking you along to interesting places doing interesting things with a host of interesting characters.


Let’s go.


The first thing I had to do was get to Dar es Salaam.

First, from my school, I took the usual bus to Iringa, and then I left early the next morning (Saturday, April 12th) on the nine hour ride for the coast.

We headed out at 6:30 a.m. It would have been a fine ride except that my knees were pressed up against the seat in front of me. Otherwise, the seats themselves were cozy, and the service provided a bottle of water and entertained us riders with Tanzanian rap videos on the little television up front.

The videos were remarkably similar to hip hop videos in the U.S. But in Tanzania you got to adjust. So instead of the baller riding with his girl in a Bentley, the gold chain-wearing guy rolled along in his pimped-out Pontiac Grand Prix.

I talked with a few adolescent siblings sitting nearby on their way home to their parents in Dar. The oldest—a fifteen year old girl—self-proclaimed themselves as “cappuccino kids” after learning their parents are a mixed race couple. I found it more interesting when the  golden-skinned, brown curly-haired sister told me they are referred to by Tanzanians by the same term Tanzanians refer to me and all the other white foreigners:  “mzungu”.

Eventually, rap videos turned into Tanzanian films—home video-looking with over-dramatic acting and American film scores playing in the background. But nevermind copyright. I wanted to see the director’s artistic license. A scene of a mother driving her daughter to primary school does not require the battle score from The Last of the Mohicans.

We pulled into the bus station in the outskirts of Dar es Salaam during, but also ahead of the worst of, a rainstorm.

So bad it got, that the following day’s bus to from Iringa to Dar es Salaam had to turn around because the road was flooded.
Cracking the tinted window to see a flooded yard

Looks like in my attempt to escape the wet weather of Iringa, I jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. I crossed my fingers that Zanzibar would be better.

Soon after getting to the outskirts, the bus pulled into the large Ubungo Bus Station, a huge parking lot with buses and taxis coming and going from all sorts of places. I got off the bus and welcomed the rain with a grateful stretch. Then I hopped in a taxi to Dar es Salaam’s downtown YMCA for the night’s lodging.

Dar es Salaam is by far the largest city in the country–Tanzania’s center for business, entertainment, and travel in and out of the country. With that, comes traffic.

The cabbie dropped me off after a stop and go commute, and I wheeled my suitcase into the plain, white-painted concrete building of the YMCA. The receptionist charged me double what my guide book quoted. I always get suspicious when this kind of thing happens.

“Did the price really go up that much since my guidebook was written—2010? I think to myself.  “Or are you just charging me more because I’m white?” But what was I going to do? Walk out into the rain with my luggage? Pay for another taxi to take me to another place that might even be more expensive?

Ah well. At least the Y had this awesome basketball court:

I put my things in my plain jane room. I wondered if they’d be bringing a blanket for the barren bed. Then I went right back outside wrapped in my raincoat headed for the coast and the ferry port. I had to get my ticket for the following day’s boat ride to Zanzibar.

This part of Dar es Salaam would have been lovely if not for the weather. Tall shopping centers, an upscale Holiday Inn, and business towers lined this main street to the coast.

After a few rainy blocks, I reached the ocean:

And one or two blocks further south, I came to the ferry terminal and bought my ride to Zanzibar for the following day. ($35 in case you’re curious.)

By the time I got back to my hotel, I was soaked. My pants started as navy blue and ended jet black with brown-red accents at the bottom. My shoes were even filthier as I tried to walk across a construction site to save a few yards only to have my second step sink ankle deep into brown-red gravel-mud.

I wasn’t too miserable, however, to go out of my way for my first food splurge of this trip:

Subway: Tanzania’s only Western food chain. (Edit: I later found out KFC was now in Dar as well.)

With my sandwich in hand, I walked back to the Y, up the two flights to my room, and got ready to endure what I had just escaped—a cold shower. The one outside dirtied me up; this one was to clean me up. (I also brought my shoes and pants to rinse the dirt off them as well.)

Bathrooms were shared by the whole floor. I was thrown when a young Asian woman entered to shower in the shower stall next to mine. We’re a little cozy in this YMCA I see.

Getting back to my room, I placed my wet pants and shoes out on the little balcony to dry off. I never did find a blanket, and the cool, wet night forced me to find  way to stay warm. So I snuck down to the laundry room on the first floor and grabbed a few extra sheets to drape over me.

Here’s some video of my arrival to Dar and views from my room:


I awoke relieved that the rain had stopped. I walked out on the balcony to retrieve my still damp clothes and took a few shots out my window.

I walked back in to the bathroom only to bump into the same Asian woman and offer a pleasant but awkward hello. Things got more awkward. As I left this time, I looked closer at the always propped-open door to notice a black paint silhouette of a female figure. As I pointed at it with my mouth agape, the Asian girl just giggled at my shock to see that I’d been toileting and showering in the ladies room.

I got downstairs with all my things. The Y did serve a continental breakfast, but were out of milk. Then I dropped a piece of precious egg on the ground to see a crow come swoop it up. Not five minutes later, the same Asian girl came down to eat. I sat next to her. Her name was Yuki and came from Japan. She had been in Tanzania for college a few years prior and enjoyed herself. Now she returned to explore more of the country. Coincidentally, she was going to explore Zanzibar—this morning as well and on the same ferry and me.

So we decided to walk to the port together.

We might as well share the ride. We already shared the bathroom.

Nearing the ferry port and ignoring the calls out from the aggressive salesmen trying to get us to buy a ferry ticket through them, we entered the port lounge to discover it as upscale as any I’d expect to find back in the U.S. with cozy seating, air conditioning, a soccer game on the flatscreen on the wall. In minutes we boarded the ferry, where I’d find a similar level of technological modernity for this route:

From point A to B

My fellow Far Eastern friend and I, though, didn’t care too much about thy boat. Unlike some of the other riders, this wasn’t a normal commute. We wanted to catch as much of the action going on outside as possible, and from the exposed seats in the rear and front of the vessel, we took in the wind, ocean smells, and views such as these:

Cloudy but not rainy over Dar es Salaam, the weather was starting to turn in my favor.

After about an hour, a ferry employee pointed out Zanzibar Island in the distance.

And after 90 minutes, we neared the Zanzibar port.

This is Zanzibar Town. Specifically, its most famous and historic area called Stone Town. I’d be staying here the next few days before being beach bound.

After docking, we grabbed our luggage, got off the boat, and had to go through customs. The whole rigmarole of ferry and passport check reminded me of going to Hong Kong from mainland China. Here though, I’m a little confused by all the formality because Zanzibar is Tanzania—has been since 1964. And unlike Hong Kong, Zanzibar even uses the same money as the mainland. Nonetheless, we had to do with the process which included searching our bags.

Through the lines and shuffle, Yuki and I got separated.  Out the other side of the security check scramble, with exit door and sunny Zanzibar in sight, Yuki and I reconvened–but just to say thanks and goodbye. By now she had arranged her friend to get her, and I had my contact already waiting outside for me.

We had our moments, Yuki. We had the bathroom, breakfast, and the boat ride. But now is where we go our separate ways.

That’s life on the road: bumping into adventurous, spontaneous people; connecting with someone from a place so far from your own as two individuals in a mutually exclusive part of the world; but then having the encounter be as brief as it is enjoyable.

Here’s footage of the ferry ride:

Next week I show you Stone Town—and the Slovenians, Dutch girl, and locals I toured the island and even partied with.


til then,


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