Sunset, starfish and swimming in Tanzania

Sunset at Zanzibar

Blue ocean, beautiful coral, exotic fish – what else I could have asked for my holiday! Yes, I found all of this in Zanzibar. During school break, our family and our neighbour Raza Uncle’s family -- eight of us in all -- took a trip to Tanzania. There was my elder brother Aaryan, my ma, my grandparents and of course me, and then Reza uncle, his wife and their son, Albab.

On a Sunday afternoon, we set off by Air Tanzania for Dar-es-Salam, the capital of Tanzania. At Dar-es-Salem, the immigration formalities took over two hours, and when we left the airport, it was dark outside. Another two hours went in waiting for a driver! He finally arrived with a vehicle too small to fit eight persons. We were kind of frustrated. But the waiting was kind of worth it.  We saw an explosion just outside the airport. It was cool to see the giant fire mushroom.

Someone had booked a hotel for us and that was a disaster. He booked three rooms in two different hotels. Then ma decided to book a different hotel. After all the hassle, the hotel seemed the most beautiful one I have ever seen. We three children loved the hotel for its clean bathrooms and comfy beds. We were only staying for one night in Dar-es-Salam. My mom and uncle were negotiating the price and I decided to help. The manager wanted $150 for the triple rooms but my mom and uncle wanted to give $100. I suggested $120 for the rooms and the manager took it immediately!

Perfect day for swimming

We were super hungry. I ordered steak and rice, my mom ordered a spicy beef filet, Aaryan and Albab ordered grilled octopus and fries, and my uncle, aunt, grandparents ordered chicken and goat with rice. The beef steak was as tough as a rug so I took some octopus from Aaryan. You know, sharing is caring!

The hotel served sumptuous breakfast. I had brown bread, white bread and butter, a grilled sausage and a cheese-filled tomato with a fried egg.

Our friendly driver Ahmed then took us on a tour to the city. We saw some government buildings and waterfront parks. At the beach, we enjoyed fresh coconut water, potato and cassava chips dipped in chili powder and a sauce called pili-pili which was very spicy. The ocean looked beautiful. We then went back to the hotel to get our luggage and took a ferry to Zanzibar. I slept for the entire one-hour journey.

The sun was setting when we reached at the port. While in Dar-es-Salam, Aaryan searched for places for sushi, and he found one near the ferry terminal called Cape Town Fish Market. We ordered our favourite salmon rolls and calamari rings for takeout. We went to the most popular place for open sky night food, Forodhani Gardens and we stuffed ourselves with freshly grilled octopus and calamari slices with pili-pili. After dinner, we started for our destination, Ngui beach, which was one hour drive away. When we finally got to the hotel, I was happy to see that it was next to the beach.

The next day we woke up early. The water was so nice and green! We were set for Embemba Island for snorkeling. It was a 1-hour boat ride, and during the boat ride, Reza uncle gave us some advice in case we got stranded or fell in water. Step 1: don't try to swim, only try to float. Step 2: try not to swallow the water or you will get dehydrated fast. The journey was bumpy due to huge waves and my ma was scared.

On our way to the Embemba Island, we were taken to a place to see dolphins but there were none. When we reached Embemba, there were several dozens of boats with many swimmers already in the water. The water was crystal clear. My grandmother offered some fried rice and nuts that she brought with her to the fishes, and they enjoyed the treat. It was 7 to 8 feet deep, so I felt safe to swim knowing that I won't get stung by sea urchins. My ma was scared, so she did not stay long in the water, so I followed her. Aaryan, Albab, uncle, and nana spent some time swimming in the water.

Fish in crystal clear water

Embemba Island is a private island so we could only to one side of the beach which had tidal pools. I found conch queens and different types of sea urchins. Aaryan told us that conch queens were endangered so we released the ones we picked. I noticed is that no coral means no beautiful fishes, and no sea urchins. A lot of things can die without coral. There were still some corals at that part of the beach, so we avoided the corals to avoid sea urchins. We saw some big pink urchins with no so sharp strings and Aaryan told us that those are edible.

We went back to the dolphin site and luckily, they were there. We took videos and pictures. I never thought I would actually see dolphins jumping! We saw some swimmers, including boys and girls of our age, diving in to see the dolphins under the water. On the way back, the boat stopped in a place full of giant red starfish.

When we are back to the hotel, we ordered lunch in a nearby restaurant. I ordered grilled red snapper and rice. The snapper was nicely cooked, and it did not have much of a fishy taste. A few crows were flying over our heads and we feared their droppings. Luckily we finished eating by that time the crows did their job.

A bit of rest at Dar es Salaam

I noticed that the tide was getting high. My mom told me that in Bangladesh, low tide kills people if they are not careful. The pulling pressure the low tide creates its basically impossible to escape. After lunch, I wanted play in the waves of high tide, but it didn’t end well as the water was so forceful and entered in my nose, ears, and mouth. Worst of all, it was the salty, much saltier than normal salt.

In the evening, we walked to another restaurant a little far from the hotel. It was crowded due and had live music by local musicians. I ordered calamari rings, and my brother ordered a margarita pizza. After eating, my grandma and I went to a souvenir shop to kill time.

Refreshing sip of coconut water

The next day, our ma woke us up to see low tide, but we woke up too early so the tide was still high. We went to the nearest island for snorkeling. When we got back, we found so many women and children collecting shells from the tidal pools. The tidal pools were full of small creatures. I caught a fish by hand! I also found a starfish, two brittle stars and one hermit crab. I could only wish to find an octopus. We had lots of fun..

After swimming until late in the afternoon, we went for lunch in a restaurant called Africana. The restaurant took one and half an hours to bring our food. Both Aaryan and I slept while waiting for the meal. We spent some time at the beach watching the sun set. The sea was quiet, calm, and very greenish blue.

In the evening, we decided not to go out for dinner. We had spicy cup noodles with us. We used the electric kettle to boil water and then poured it into our noodles and enjoyed. 

On the way to watch dolphins

The next morning, we packed our bags, and left the hotel for spice farm, Nakupenda Island and Prison Island. The spice farm was on our way from Ngui beach to Zanzibar. At the farm, we saw all types of spice plants and leaves from cacao pods to habanero spices which are used to make pili-pili. We were given wrist bands and ties made from coconut leaves. We bought some perfume and lotions freshly made at the spice farm. 

After we reached Stone Town, we hired snorkeling gear and start for Nakupenda. While climbing onto the boat, we saw so many crabs that were beached overnight. By the time we reached Nakupenda, high tide started to set in, water was so clear, we wanted to jump in right away. But the ocean bed looked full of sea urchins, so we looked for a good place for snorkeling. We swam peacefully.

We were offered grilled mantis shrimp, fish, chips, and prawns for lunch that were carried from Stone Town and cooked on the beach. . The guide took us to Prison Island. The waves were strong, so it took some time to get there.

At the spice gardens with wrist banks and ties made of leaves!

The Prison Island was a tortoise and peacock sanctuary. There were more than 100 giant tortoises and some of them were over 100 years old. We petted the tortoises and learned why it was called Prison Island. We learned that yellow fever patients were imprisoned on the island. Before that, people that were captured and taken away from Tanzania as slaves, were kept in this island before they were taken to the ship. I felt sad.

We returned to Stone Town. We found an luxurious inn for the night. It was very old and made of stone. The town is called Stone Town because all the buildings we saw were made of stone. After putting our luggage in the rooms, we went out to local market to buy cashew nuts and spices for which Zanzibar is famous. The grown-ups bought chicken kabab for their dinner and we young ones went for sushi in a Japanese restaurant.

The next day was a Friday, and we all went for Jumma prayers. After prayers, we enjoyed fresh Zanzibar coconuts and kababs at a street food stand. Then at a nearby restaurant Albab and I ordered beef burgers, Aaryan ordered a margarita pizza, and the rest of the family ordered chicken biriani and salad. Ma’s new favorite was avocado mango salad and ours, calamary and octopus fry. We quickly ate our lunch and left for the airport. Our driver was dressed as a Masai with ornaments all over. Masai is a famous ethnic group in Kenya and Tanzania with distinct culture and lifestyle from others.

Zanzibar port

We reached the airport in 20 minutes. The flight time to the mainland, Dar-es-Salam, took only 15 minutes! When we reached there, it was late afternoon. We waited 2 hours for our next flight. When it was our time to board the plane, it was already evening. From the window of the plane, the Dar-es-Salam City looked beautiful.

When we reached Kilimajaro airport, it was night. It was an hour drive from the airport to the hotel. Once we settled in our rooms, we ordered food. The chef prepared amazing food and we were very hungry too.

Moshi, the city we stayed in, had lot of options except climbing up the Kilimanjaro as we stayed there only one day. We decided to go to a hot spring. I woke up excited because it was not salt water, and I wouldn’t have to worry about my eyes stinging. We saw the top of Kilimajaro from our hotel balcony and planned to go to the Kilimanjaro viewpoint in the afternoon. I pulled out my one of teeth that was shaking, and we had to stop for ice cream to cool my mouth down because I didn’t want to bleed in the pool!

By the time we got to the hot springs it was past noon and the day was very hot, so I was glad that we were taking a dip. The water warm and there were swarms of small black fish that kept on nibbling on our feet – it was so tickling.  I saw other people swinging of a rope and diving in, and I gave it a try. It felt so fun the way you just swing and dive into the water and I did it 5 more times.

After swimming for two hours or so we decided to get out of the water. There were several B-B-Q places at the hot springs. As we were hungry, we did not want to drive for one hour on empty stomachs to return to Moshi. My ma decided to treat us with my early birthday lunch in Tanzania. Therefore, ma ordered BBQ goat meat and chicken for us. The food also included salad, potato fries, and some extremely hot chilies. The grilled chicken tasted pretty good with pili-pili.

Our next destination was the viewpoint to watch Mount Kilimanjaro. By the time, we reached Moshi, the guide told us that we should not be going to the viewpoint because of the over clouded sky, and we should try next morning. Therefore, we decided to go to the local market to buy Tanzanian pili-pili. On the way, we stopped for sugarcane juice. The juice was mixed with ginger and lemon and the mixture gave me a burning feeling in my throat, but we all enjoyed the juice. Some of us even went for the second and third glass. In the market, we looked for pili-pili, but the ones we saw in Dar-es-Salam, we could not find those in Moshi. I felt upset because I wanted to buy the pili-pili in Dar-es-Salam and was told that we should buy it later – now it is not found. Then ma asked the driver to stop in supermarkets and in one of them she found two types of pili-pili. Ah, spicy pili-pili I am looking forward to enjoying.  

Nani with a starfish

The last morning in Tanzania was exciting too. The sky was even more clouded, so there was no chance of seeing the mountain.

The hotel gave us a big vehicle in which we all fitted in with our luggage. When we were close to the airport, smoke started to emerge from the car engine. We jumped out and the driver called airport taxies. As soon as the taxies arrived, we rushed to the airport, not wanting to miss our flight back to Uganda. The check-in went without any trouble. I was sad that we were leaving this beautiful country. The experience of Tanzania isn’t something I would ever forget.

* Aariz Noor Rashid is a Grade 4 student of the International School of Uganda