Two Days Solo in ZANZIBAR

Although I embarked on this two month journey to Africa as part of a group volunteering program, by the time I left Ghana, I was pretty much doing everything on my own. Including going on weekend excursions like safaris and even got to take a quick weekend getaway to beautiful Zanzibar. 

Before leaving for my Africa trip, I knew I absolutely had to see Zanzibar. Known for its gorgeous white sandy beaches, Zanzibar is a top honeymoon destination. But who says you have to go with your honey? Better yet, who says I couldn't go alone, let my hair down and have the time of my life? That's exactly what I did.

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I woke up early on Thursday morning and left the volunteer house with one of our drivers and headed to Arusha's airport. The airport was tiny - the smallest I've ever been in. The plane to Zanzibar was also the smallest I've ever been in. A one hour flight later, I landed at the Zanzibar Airport. 

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One thing I love about Air Bnb is the opportunity it gives you to connect with local people. If it weren't for my Air Bnb host, I think I would have had a much different experience. Although I didn't interact much with him, he was able to provide me with recommendations for guides to show me around - all of which were close friends of his. 

Once I got settled into my accommodation, I wasted zero time. First, I took a tour of the town with a tour guide. He provided me with information about the history of Zanzibar, and more specifically, Stone Town. I found it interesting and beneficial mostly because I had a local with me while I shopped - and I definitely shopped. You just can't resist in Stone Town. There is literally a shop or stand everywhere you go. Shops filled with souvenirs and clothes and gifts. But aside from that, I didn't really find the tour to be worth the money to be honest. 

Still, my guide was a great young guy and it was cool to walk through the busy market where I saw lots of different spices and bought some beautifully smelling "Zanzibar Jasmin" essential oil. I also saw some interesting architecture. We passed the slave market, but I opted to skip it this time around. 

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The next day, my host linked me up with one of his friends who took me on a tour to Prison Island. Prison Island was once a prison for enslaved people as well as a quarantine station for anyone deemed sick or "diseased" in Zanzibar or on the mainland. Despite the landmark having rich history, there isn't really much to see in regards to this history. The only thing I saw that was a token of it's dark past was a shackle on the floor of one of the restrooms. The shackle was incorporated into the restroom design as a stark reminder of what once was. I touched the shack as I came out of the stall and tried to imagine the wrists and ankles it once held.

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The not so grim side of Prison Island though, is the fact that you get to feed these really cool giant tortoises. And when I say giant, I mean GIANT! These "babies" are old. I'm talking over 100 years old, with the oldest one I saw that day being 158, but apparently they can live to be 200 years old or older! I thought that was pretty amazing. Now I'm not one for zoos or anything that entails wild animals being held in captivity, but it appeared that these creatures were being taken care of and there were strict rules for anyone who entered the sanctuary. My tour guide informed me that these tortoises are not native to Zanzibar. They actually originated from the island of Seychelles. In 1919, four of them were sent as gifts from the British. Several decades later, that number inevitably multiplied into the hundreds. At one point, that number began to diminish due to poachers and such. However, conservationists have worked diligently to protect these majestic animals - so much so that they even have 10 of their own personal guards at night to ward off potential poachers. These gentle giants really loved being massaged on the neck and I loved taking pictures of them.

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After visiting the turtles, my guide and I took a 20 minute boat ride over to Nakupenda Island where he would be teaching me how to snorkel for the first time (*bucket list item*). But first, he offered to be my personal photographer on the way back to the boat.

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I may have went overboard with the pictures, but hey, it's not everyday someone will snap a gazillion photos of you while you prance around paradise.

As I said, the boat ride to the next island was only about 20-25 minutes but I was in awe the entire time. The water was an aquamarine color and it glittered underneath the Tanzanian sun. The views were spectacular. I was honestly in paradise. 

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Water so clear I could see straight down to the coral reefs at the bottom.

Water so clear I could see straight down to the coral reefs at the bottom.

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When we reached the island, I was beyond excited to snorkel. The water was even clearer and prettier than before. I was ready! And it was amazing! I am not a strong swimmer, but once I relaxed, I was able to take the life jacket off eventually and I learned how to tread water that day, something I didn't even know I could do. I even swam back to shore from our boat.

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Poor starfish was dying. I hurried and put him back in the water once I realized. 

Poor starfish was dying. I hurried and put him back in the water once I realized. 

After snorkeling, I spent some time wandering the island and taking more photos. I had never been on such a small and secluded island before.  It was incredible.

As it neared evening, we headed back. We walked along the beach and I continued to take in my surroundings. People and families were out playing ball, doing Capoeira, jogging, and just enjoying the moment.

As the day drew to an end, I gazed at the arresting sunset and felt a moment of nostalgia for a moment that I was still presently in. It was a day well spent in paradise, and a day I will not forget.

Hello East Africa

I made it to Tanzania! After flying from Accra to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I stayed overnight in a hotel. I was very pleasantly surprised to enter a really nice hotel (or maybe it just seemed extra nice because I've been staying in pretty basic accommodations for the past month). I was surprised because the airline covered the stay at no cost. Anyhow, this morning I caught my flight to Kilimanjaro International airport which was only a 2.5 hour journey. I was picked up by Thomas, a staff member for the program I'm volunteering with. He was very nice and welcoming and for the duration of the hour long drive to the volunteer house, he told me about all of the many options of things to do here in my free time. So far, I'm stuck between a weekend trip to Zanzibar, Moshi to visit the springs, caves, and more, and a 2-3 day safari. How do I choose?! I had it in my mind to go Zanzibar for sure, way before  even arrived. I only have two weeks to spend here and I don't want to feel as though I'm spending more time being a tourist than I am actually spending at my orphanage placement. But it IS Tanzania. It's not cheap to fly here from Miami, so I do feel since I'm here, I should take advantage and do as much as I can. Who knows when I'll be able to come back. 

Anyway, so far I think I am really really going to enjoy Tanzania. It's much different than Ghana and I haven't even seen much of it yet. It seems more peaceful (although to be fair, it is Sunday). It also seems greener, more lush, more clean. Everyone went on and on about how friendly and welcoming the people in Ghana are. To be honest, I didn't find them to be significantly more friendly than anywhere else. But here, it does seem like a very friendly atmosphere and the people seem nice from the few that I've met. It's also a nature lover's paradise, which I am. As I write this, I am sitting outside in the volunteer houses' garden area. There is a lot of greenery, tropical plants, and a tree called 'Jacaranda' that has these beautiful lavender colored flowers on it that I am absolutely obsessed with. 

As far as the accommodation here goes, I really really lucked out. There is a volunteer house like the one I stayed in in Ghana. The volunteer house here is much smaller and cramped though. Theres about five girls sharing one small room. THANKFULLY, God was looking out for me because I get to stay in one of the onsite cottages. It's sooo cute. There are two sets of bunkbeds in there, but so far, I have it all to myself. I'm really happy about this, because after living in a house full of girls for 5 weeks, I couldn't be happier to have my own space. It has it's own little private bathroom too, with a really nice shower that has HOT WATER. Oh my gosh, hot water seems like such a thing of the past. Although I've gotten used to and honestly didn't mind cold showers in Ghana, it'll be nice to shower in hot water again. And to top it all off, we have an onsite restaurant and bar that's literally only about 20 steps from my cottage door. And the menu has so many options, even for me, a vegan/vegetarian. Such a step up from my options in Ghana. Already today I've had fresh juice and a vegetable curry wrap with sweet potato fries or "chips" as everyone outside the U.S. calls it. I look forward to coming back from long days at the orphanage, grabbing a glass of wine, and relaxing outside in the garden. I'm already wondering if I should have done three weeks here instead of only two. Oh well, all the more reason to come back someday. 

Tomorrow, Thomas, who is the staff member or somewhat of our guide while here, will be going with me to the orphanage where I can start right away. I was meant to begin on Tuesday, but I'm ready to jump right in. I need to make the most of my time with the kids since I'm here for such a short time. Afterwards, he'll show me around town and teach me how to take the public transportation. It should be a fun day.

In the meantime, I think I'll get a glass of wine form the bar and just unwind before this next part of my adventure begins.

But before I go, here's a picture I snagged while on the plane. I had a perfect view of Mount Kilimanjaro- the tallest mountain in all of Africa and second tallest in the world.  This picture doesn't come close to doing it justice though. it really is incredible in person. 

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