8/30/09 - 9/1/09
"The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
And how easily this can be accomplished once visiting Pemba.
August 30, 2009
Location:............Manta Reef Resort
Somehow we manage not to get any mosquito bites. And, there are no bush babies here.
We have a delicious breakfast on the deck. The cooks will basically make anything you want. We are treated to some fresh donuts that the chef was really making for the staff but since I befriended him, he thought we'd enjoy them. Not being a regular coffee drinker, I have not had any African coffee the entire trip so I thought as this is my last chance, I should at least try it. On the rare occasions that I drink coffee, I've always thought that strong coffee was better but now that I'm trying the African version, I think I like the more "delicate" flavor. There are a lot of people who don't like the coffee here because it is barely potent but I think it's a bit aromatic, or maybe everything just tastes better when you are on vacation.
After eating, we grab our towels, snorkel gear and some water for our trek to Vumawimbi Beach. As we wait for our butler in the reception area, I sit by the bao board which I am intrigued by. It's been in every room/hotel we've stayed. It looks like a mancala board but there are SO many holes so I could never figure it out. One of the staff approaches me and teaches me how to play. It is a complicated version of mancala that is enjoyed in Tanzania. Even with the help of another staff member, I am losing badly and I don't understand all of it but have fallen in love with the game. Alas, our butler is ready so I can't finish out the beating. They invite me back for another match whenever I want.
Our butler is carrying a picnic basket and then insists on carrying my stuff as well. He would not take no for an answer. A little different from our experience elsewhere, the staff on this island do not speak a ton of English so sometimes it is a little difficult to communicate. We are walking with another couple from South Africa. The four of us are a bit puzzled as to exactly how far away this beach really was. We pass through farms, rubber tree plantations and small villages. Most people will stop to wave. And, as we enter a village, all the children will immediately stop what they are doing and gather to the side of the road and watch us. Then they will giggle and shout out "goodbye." When you try to speak to them, they run away and keep repeating "goodbye." It is the only English word they know and I am curious as to why that word. We are told by our butler that many of these villagers grew up with great distrust of the white man and they believed that white men were the devil. When the hotel first set up here, the children were very afraid of the staff but eventually they grew accustomed to them. Our butler has no idea why they say this. I'm thinking they really don't understand what it means and perhaps once a villager told them to say "goodbye" if any foreigner should approach them...just a guess. Either way, we are amused because the children are laughing the entire time. The South African woman took her camera out and as soon as they saw what it was, they fled, screaming in laughter. Our butler says they do this every time. They are very camera shy. But as we walk away, the children follow us for quite a while shouting "goodbye" but keeping a "safe" distance. Eventually, we run into the next village and the process starts all over again.
We finally arrive at the beach. I think it was a couple of miles. Our butler says that many locals come here, particularly on weekends. Some are here to buy fish and some just for leisure. At this hour, the fisherman are all gone. There are a few people near the entrance and our butler tells us to keep walking to the other side.
We put all of our stuff down under the shade of a tree and can't wait to dive into the ocean. I didn't take a photo but picture four foreigners in bathing suits and snorkel gear with a local man dressed in a button down shirt, khakis, black socks and dress shoes carrying a picnic basket, watching over our stuff as we head out to snorkel. I am feeling a little elitist.
There really isn't any coral here so there aren't any fish. But we run into all sorts of unusual jellyfish. I am a little nervous as I couldn't figure out whether they were friendly or deadly. I know we're not in the states but you'd think our butler, or someone at the hotel, would have told us to "beware the jellyfish" if it were a problem. They are actually really pretty.
The beach is quite stunning, earning its James Bond nickname.
We relax and dry off in moments when the sun appears. Our butler breaks out his picnic basket and we have sandwiches and drinks before we pack up and start the long trek home.
Traffic (bicycles) is a little heavier on the way back. I couldn't figure out why I would almost get run over every time I scooted over to the edge of the road. After one of the locals yelled at me, the butler told me that I should move to the center of the road when the bicycles come because the side of the road is where it is more compacted and solid and the middle has the most sand. OH, now I get it.
The drill starts once again with the local kids. But this time, I start a conversation with one of the girls. I only know basic swahili (with the help of the butler) and I ask what her name is. I tell her I am from the United States. She's a bit shy but she finally answers me which is surprising. Maybe they trust Asians a little more than white people? I decided I would take a stab at taking some photos. As I position my camera, there is one brave boy who is willing to pose.
I turn the camera around to show him the results. A few of the kids gather and start laughing. As we continue on the road, I decided to take a video this time. When I turned the camera around to show them, they all started fleeing but as soon as the video started, they all returned in amazement. Whether it was one of the kids saying something or the sound of the video, the adults started gathering as well. I wish we had our other camera because it would have been a great photo. All were staring at the camera except for one boy in front who had his eyes glued to me. It was pretty funny as I gazed back into his wide eyed stare.
Pemba is different from Zanzibar. It's much more quiet and remote. People don't know who Obama is or have ever heard of California. So this is my Africa moment. To be humbled by these people who will probably never leave the outskirts of their village during their lifetime. To see their bewilderment by the everyday technology that we take for granted; to understand that they live by the light of the kerosene and use firewood to cook...day in and day out; to recognize that they have so little yet can enjoy life; to watch them extend kindness to the society who a long time ago took their freedom. I am not blind to the fact that these villagers do want more than what they have and life is not 100% hunky dory but it is certainly a lesson in life to rediscover humanity today.
We return to the hotel just in time for lunch. After returning our snorkel gear, we sit down and enjoy a meal on the deck. It is a beautiful day.
Matt returns to the bungalow for a nap and I head out for my massage. It is in another ocean facing bungalow. It is a bit windy but the breeze coming through the open windows feel great! And as I lie face down, I get to breathe in the wonderful scents of the tropical flowers that are floating in a bowl of water beneath me. What a great idea...I wonder why they don't do this back home? I was very content with my massage which was the perfect end to our long trip.
I've been wanting to visit the northern tip of the island where a scenic sandbar supposedly exists. We look outside and still see that the water is at high tide. It is also very windy.
So we head to the beach bar to wait for low tide so we can make our walk. In the meantime, we are entertained by our Christian bartender.
We talk about the alcohol of choice by country. Of course whiskey comes up when you talk of the Irish. The Italians love their sweet, icky liquors and the Scandinavians love their vodkas. Manta Reef is a quiet place and you won't hear any music blasting anywhere on their property. But on New Year's Eve, they have a huge beach party with blaring music and all the alcohol you can drink. Last year, the guests were up til 5am partying. No doubt the Italians were the last to go.
We kept waiting but the water would not recede so we had to give up. As it was getting close to sunset, we headed back to our room to take our showers. As the bathroom is totally open, you get to watch the sunset as you shower.
Being Ramadan, we had to wait for our butler to eat dinner since the sun was already down as we entered the dining area. So we imbibed in cocktails out on the deck, gazing at stars.
Your last evening meal at Manta is always a seafood dinner. Tonight we get two of everything...lobsters, octopus, fish, veggies, etc. And, Matt loved it. I was surprised he ate all that octopus. By the end of the meal, we had nothing but bones and empty shells left on our huge platter. We talk to our butler about his family life. His wife and kids live in Dar es Salaam and he gets to see them every few months. This is just how life is in Tanzania.
Back at the bungalow, we packed up for the trip home. I had forgotten that Crater Lodge had given us a bag of coffee as a goodbye gift and the wonderful aroma filled my bag. I was so excited that I would be able to experience more Africa upon returning to the states.
While Manta Reef was not the nicest place we stayed, where they didn't leave personalized notes or did not do wake up calls, we loved the people and the experience of the locals and the area. So in the end, we are very glad we stayed here.
August 31, 2009
Depart:............Manta Reef Resort
We awaken with sadness, knowing this is our last day. I have to admit, I am not one bit homesick and I am dreading the journey home. After our breakfast, we grab our bags and meet two other people for the ride to the airport. They are pilots and were invited by the hotel to stay a night. Due to the economy, these two young Europeans lost their jobs flying the huge commercial jets so now they are aviating the local planes here. One of the pilots finds it a bit refreshing because the prop planes are much more fun to pilot. He especially loves the rough rides when people get really nervous and then clap at the end upon safe landing. But he says that the Zan Air equipment is really top-notch and most of the crafts are brand new. We all marvel at how things manage to get done correctly and efficiently in Africa because it does appear that things are run rather haphazardly at the airports. We find it interesting that their most favorite airport to land is LAX because they are super buttoned up and organized...good to know. Before you know it, the hour and a half is over and we are at the airport. Our driver checks us in and we move our bags through the x-rays. They are a bit picky here and rifle through the contents of our luggage. But soon we are sitting on the plastic seats by the runway. We see one of those old style planes gleaming in stainless steel. I have never been on one and don't care to get onto a plane that's been in service for over 50 years but Matt reminisces and appreciates the style of these twin-engines. Check out the steep angle of this craft...and you haven't even taken off yet.
So we had the 1 1/2 hour drive to the airport, and now we have a flight to Dar es Salaam where we have a few hours layover. There, we have some lunch in their cafeteria. I visit their gift shops and find a couple of small things but no where can I find a real bao board. Most are the small, compact boards with half the stones. Darn, I should have splurged in Arusha. Finally, we board the Emirates plane to fly to their hub in Dubai. We get there late at night so we look for some of those lounging seats but they are all taken. As I go to brush my teeth and wash my face, I realize that my bag of pills must have fallen out somewhere. Oh oh, we still have to take our malaria pills for another week once we get back. So poor Matt had to scope the airport to look for my missing bag. I had dropped it at the x-ray machine. Phew. This time, we decided to transfer from Gatwick to Heathrow via bus since our layover was only four hours. Good thing it wasn't any shorter because with the morning traffic on the road and the super long lines at Heathrow, we just made it on to the plane! While we should have been tired, for some reason, we could barely sleep. These American Airlines planes aren't the most comfortable and I seem to be drawn into "The Proposal" for the third time. Finally, after 41 hours of transit, we're home. Paul picks us up at the airport and we have dinner with our cousins. Back at home where apparently the crime rate is higher than Tanzania, we forget about our burglary and as bed time looms, we finally fall into a deep slumber...dreaming of Tanzania.
So was Matt smiling by the end of the trip? No. He was sad we were leaving! I only saw a huge grin that started upon landing on the continent and San Diego Wild Animal Park was soon a distant thought. What an incredible experience which I know is what every traveller to Africa says. And most visitors are humbled when they return to the cush lifestyle of the U.S. I'm not saying I wasn't (because I did have my Africa moments) but I'm not gonna lie, as we flew back on our economy coach flight, I kept thinking...it would be just awesome to be rich! The service, the kindness and attention the wonderful Tanzanians showed us in the five-star accommodations is to blame! After all, you can't desire something you don't know exists. In the end, I feel the same way that every person I've talked to who's traveled to Africa ...I can't wait to come back...this is certainly (hopefully) NOT a once in a lifetime journey but one of many. And perhaps the next time I return, I will be able to offer something more to this wonderful continent.