Back on our own, no more luxury lodges or guides or vehicle, we must cross Africaâ€™s largest lake to get to Uganda (via Bukoba), where we will meet up with Tayâ€™s long-lost Great Aunt Linda, granddaughter of the esteemed Dr. Stewart, development worker with the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, and one of Tayâ€™s inspirations for continued work abroad, even though they have only met once.
The morning drive along Ngorongoro southwest crater rim is nothing less than a trip through Rohan, the wide, rolling grasslands of Middle Earth. Rolling across the zebra and giraffe-studded hills, among Masai huts and herds, trying to take it all in: what we have seen, what we will see, and what is outside the open windows right now.
Day 2 begins with a stunning sunrise game drive, fiery clouds behind silhouetted baobabs and acacias, a short and plump rainbow above Mount Tangire. Back at the lodge, we eat our five-star breakfast alone, refill coffee mugs, then set out on another long drive, twisting and winding our way toward the parkâ€™s entrance, with plenty of animals and the weather constantly shifting between sunny, drizzly, and fantastic shows of light in between; box lunch is eaten at an overlook above the river, lightly raining as we watch some of the parkâ€™s 3,500 elephants graze below.
The safari is Tayâ€™s idea. Her childhood dream of seeing the plains and animals of East Africa was not realized during her two-and-a-half years living and traveling in West Africa and this is her chance. Me, Iâ€™ve never considered it, donâ€™t really know what â€œsafariâ€ even is, except a used and abused Swahili word for â€œjourney.â€ Iâ€™ve mostly associated it with dweeby hats and vests, rich people in luxury camps, and some vague, Hemingway-esque romanticism that probably doesnâ€™t even exist. I also dislike safariâ€™s non-strenuous nature; i.e. you are not allowed to leave your vehicle in most National Parks (because of dangerous cats and other animals), and I envision being trapped in a metal box all week, sealed-off from so much Africa around me.
Our final night in Zanzibar, the sunset is even more stunning than last evening’s record breaker, and Tay and I unanimously agree to vote it “sunset of the trip,” which is a bold statement considering some of the day’s ends we’ve seen. But the colors, the length, the wide-angle span of it makes it a no-contest, and we celebrate with yet another seafood dinner on the beach. In the morning, in a light drizzle, we pack up and bounce through puddled, potted roads to the airport on the other side of the island, where we board a Precision Air flight to Dar, then another to Northern Tanzania.
Our short time on the white-powder Zanzibari beach coincidentally coincides with (1) a lucky rare break in the low-season rains and (2) a free Friday night performance by Los Jovenes Clasicos del Son, a Cuban musical group near the end of a 40-day African tour, who is staying and playing at Kendwa Rocks, our home for the weekend. The result is an incredible cultural collusion of salsa, sun, and sand which, on the first night, tastes of roasted crab and curry, washed down with a nostril-tingling bottle of â€œStoney Tangawiziâ€ ginger beer.
Seat of the ancient Omani Empire, the islands that make up Zanzibar (Ujunga and Pemba) used to rule the entire Swahili Coast; Arab sultans and Indian princes built their fortunes here, dealing in slaves and spices. Todayâ€™s Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous state of mainland Tanzania, whose paradisiacal beaches, rich, historical lure, and post-colonial color (Portuguese and British) are the stuff of any travelerâ€™s dreams.
Actually, the entire first day is spent in the bed (and bathroom) at the Lion Hotel in Sinza, a scruffy, dirt pot-holed neighborhood removed from the city, the airport, and indeed, everything weâ€™ve ever known; we wake up disoriented in the middle of the afternoon: Where are we? What day is it? Where are we?
The second day, rested, we move to downtown Dar es Salaam, and our urban safari begins.