Zanzibar – Arabic Influence on Africa’s East Coast
The island of Zanzibar, with its markets, shops and restaurants, has a lot of offer travelers. Zanzibar was a Persian outpost for many years ruled by Omans who left their imprints on the local architecture. Empty palaces with overgrown gardens pepper the island leaving proof of its sultanic history.
The Muslim influence is more obvious here than other parts of Tanzania and we see more and more women in various degrees of head coverings. There are also more Maasai tribes people – the men easily distinguishable by their tall and proud demeanour and their red checked kikoys (blankets used as shawls) – although their grazing lands are a long distance from here: inland in Tanzania and Kenya.
Traditional Dhow Trip
At the very northern tip of the island is Nungwi where ocean sports are a very popular occupation including snorkeling and scuba diving. Cruises in a traditional boat called a dhow are pleasant as wind pushing through the sails provide a quiet ride broken only by the sound of sea birds.
Island Spice Tour
One of the most popular activities on Zanzibar is the spice tour at local plantations. There is a lot to learn about the spices that made Zanzibar a favorite stopping point of sailors and traders for centuries. Visitors can taste, smell and feel many plants in their natural states while a guide explains the process of making dry spices to be shipped all over the world.
Visitors are also given the opportunity to taste the unusual Jack fruit with its mushy but sweet pulp.
The children at the plantation school welcomed visitors with smiles and calls of ‘Jambo’ (hello in Swahili) and Karibu (welcome) – perhaps they are aware that many of the tour groups contribute to their schools.
Rural Arusha – Poverty in Tanzania
Away from the coast of Tanzania, Maasai villages appear very much as they have for millennia with the construction methods unchanged for generations. Several homes are built within an enclosure which includes space for the animals (cows, goats and a few donkeys) that protect everyone and everything from wild animals during the night.
Donkeys are still used as beasts of burden but transportation is either by foot or by bicycle (for men only). While all children are supposed to go to school, the fees charged are often prohibitive – especially for the Maasai – and enforcement is very lax.
Ngorongoro Crater – Wildlife in A Veil of Mist
Getting to the Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park is difficult with bad roads, lack of services and long, long distances. But it is definitively worth it.
The most amazing animal to see in Serengeti is the cheetah, a little-seen cat that lives and hunts alone. There are also giraffes, zebras (apparently there are over 200,000 of them here) and wildebeests and lions. The antelopes, wildebeests and zebras were nervous but the giraffes, elephants and hippos aren’t in the least bit bothered by the presence of the predators.
At twenty kilometers in width, Ngorongoro Crater is one of the largest calderas in the world. The permanent water supply and grasslands on the crater’s floor attracts a great diversity of wildlife including giraffes, zebras, wildebeests, lions, etc. The Maasai people also use the crater for grazing lands and shepherds are easily spotted as their red kikoys (shawls) are visible over great distances.
Another important feature of the area is the Great Rift Valley which, in the past decade, was declared the cradle of civilization where all of humankind originated. So, in other words, it is like going home!
Campgrounds on the rim of the crater are wet and cold because of the elevation but the unusual experience of waking up enveloped in fog was pretty neat. You might wonder, however, how in the world you will be getting down to the floor of the crater and whether you’ll be able to see any animals. On foggy mornings, the steep drive to the crater floor is slow and a white-knuckle ride for many. Our driver took his time as travelers snap photo after photo of the beautiful landscape enshrouded in a veil of mist.
Herds of wildebeests are so common that after a while visitors don’t pay them much attention. Of greater interest are the lions – we saw five females that revealed themselves one by one as we watched them eyeing their prey from the camouflage of tall golden grasses. Our last big thrill of the day was in the form of a male lion lying on the side of the road. He was so still for so long that we were convinced that we were photographing a dead animal! Finally, his ears twitched and we sighed in relief that we had spotted a live male lion.