ZANZIBAR, TANZANIA

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It takes an exceptional experience to make me go back to a destination. Zanzibar is one of those destinations I always want to go back to. The first time I went to Zanzibar in 2014 was quite impromptu.  Kenya Airways was resuming their flight service to  Zanzibar after a hiatus so when I saw the incredible offer for a return flight ticket to Zanzibar of $99 for a ticket that normally costs an upwards of $ 300, I snatched it up

Since the offer was limited I bought the ticket quickly and then started looking around for accomodation. I was on a tight budget and Zanzibar is not exactly cheap. I eventually settled for Mbuyuni Beach Village which is in the East Coast of Zanzibar, between Paje and Jambiani. The accomodation rate was $35 per night inclusive of breakfast. 

Mbuyuni Beach Village is about 45 minutes drive from Zanzibar airport and I also needed to get around the island so for convenience I opted to rent a car and got this Suzuki Escudo 3 door for $35 per day. 

 

I requested a friend to arrange for someone to meet me at the airport and guide me to the hotel since it I was going to be arriving at around midnight, I was going to be alone and I didn’t know how to get to the hotel. 

When I travel to a new place I always want to get there during the day so that I can figure my way around but in this case I had no control over the timing since, well, terms and conditions of the ticket applied.  

On the day of travel, I arrived at Abeid Amani Karume International Airport, Zanzibar at around 2345 hours and found the guy from the car hire company waiting for me just once I exited the airport. He kept looking behind as if he was expecting someone else.

 ‘Umekuja na nani? Mume wako? Boyfriend? Ako wapi‘ (who did you come with? Your husband? Boyfriend? Where is he) he asked 

Nimekuja pekee yangu’ (I travelled by myself) I responded

‘Daaah! Umesafiri pekee yako? Kwa nini?’ (what? you are travelling alone? why?) he was so surprised.Maybe even shocked. 

He led me to the car and handed me the keys. The guide came to meet me and said hello then proceeded to his car. I got into the hired car and we headed out of the airport, with me driving behind the guide. 

About 15 minutes into the drive I realized I had not collected my check-in luggage!! I flashed my headlight continously to get the attention of the guide and we turned around and headed back to the airport 

Luckily by the time we got there they had not yet locked up so I was able to get my luggage, put it in the car and we set off once again. We arrived at the bungalows, I checked in and promptly went to sleep. 

For the two days I was in Zanzibar I visited Jozani Forest to see the red colobus monkeys and mangrove forest. Zanzibar is also famous for spices so a visit there would be incomplete without a tour of a spice farm where you get to learn a bit about the history of spices, the types of spices grown there – you get to smell the spices and guess what they are- and you can also buy various spices. I particularly loved the locally made perfume with lavender scent, the smell is so heavenly.  

Zanzibar’s stonetown is enchanting, full of vibrant people and rich in history. The architecture is amazing and it was great to see all the buildings made out of coral rocks and the beautiful artistic doors.   

I went for the very touristy but very amazing dhow ride. I also enjoyed the nightlife in Paje, there was a beach party going on every night! I loved the street food and ate that for most of my stay. I only ate at a restaurant once. 

Forodhani Gardens in stone town is also a great place to visit. In the evenings there is plenty of street food and you can watch young men diving off the pier into the sea, each dive more fancy than the previous one.

I went back to Zanzibar 4 years later, with my Mum and sister. This time I did not need a guide as we arrived during the day so I just hired a Suzuki Grand Vitara (5 door) from Zanzibar Best Car Rental who are really amazing and I would totally recommend, for $30 per day and used Google maps to get to my destination. We stayed at Uroa Bay Beach Resort in Uroa. 

Aside from the jozani forest tour, stone town tour, spice tour and hanging out at Forodhani, we also visited the Zanzibar butterfly center , Darajani market  and took a boat ride to Prison Island, learnt about the history of slave trade and also saw the giant tortoises on the island. We also had lunch at the very popular Lukmaan restuarant. Another restuarant which we went to and really enjoyed the food was Zenj Food Lovers Joint. So aptly named because we are food lovers. 🙂 

There is not much going on in the Uroa area in terms of nightlife. Luckily the hotel put on very nice shows each night with different themes. On the last day of our trip we decided to just stay at the hotel and by the beach, soaking in the sun, eating sumptuous food, drinking cocktails and swimming. 

 

Zanzibar still remains one of my favourite holiday destinations. The people are amazing, very kind, helpful, warm and welcoming. I think there is something about island people. All the islands I have gone to the people have been really really nice. The beaches are white and beautiful. The history is captivating. It is just magical. 

I will share my tips on travel to Zanzibar: what to do, where to stay, how to get around, etc. on a separate post.

 

KIGALI, RWANDA

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Kigali Convention Centre

I was in my final year of Primary School in 1994 when we had this essay writing competition and were asked to write one of those compositions beginning a particular phrase which I can’t recall. 

What I do recall is that I wrote about the events that were making headlines in my country at the time and were still fresh in my memory. A few days earlier, the airplane carrying Rwandan president Juvenal Habyarimana and Burundian president Cyprien Ntaryamira, among other passengers and crew had been shot down leading up to chaos in Rwanda and later on massacre and bloodshed leaving hundreds of thousands of people dead, others injured and displaced and the world shocked. 

I came first in the competition, taking home a mathematical set, some books and pens as my prizes. To me, at that time, it was just a story. All I knew about it is what I read in the newspapers and what I saw on the news. Much much later on, I came to realize that this was much more than just a story. It was the reality which hundreds of thousands of people had to live through and continue to live with. The aftermath will continue to be felt and affect people for generations and generations. 

It is impossible to speak about Rwanda without speaking about the genocide. It is part of history.  But for me the most intriguing thing about Rwanda is how it has been able to rise up, against all odds, and become a force to reckon with in Africa, and in the world at large.

I made my way to Kigali, Rwanda in 2014. I travelled by bus via Kampala and it took about 18 hours to get from Nairobi to Kigali. The first thing that struck me about Kigali when I arrived is how clean and neat it was. I had heard about it and I got to see it for myself.  The city was green . The streets were clean and at night they were well lit. People were walking leisurely after dark, others were jogging. Rwandese people are beautiful! Everywhere I looked I saw handsome men and beautiful women.  

The next day I toured the Rwanda genocide memorial centre which left me with a lump in my throat. The centre has information on Rwanda’s history and the genocide, including events leading up to it. It is important for people to understand this so that they affirm their resolve to never allow something like this to happen again. Ever. 

Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre

We then drove around Kigali city then had lunch at Carwash Grill where I also sampled some Rwandan beer. I don’t even know why I sample beer when I travel. I don’t even like beer. It’s just one of those things on my list to try in every country that I can’t even explain. lol!  Goat meat skewers, referred to as brochettes served with french fries are a popular dish in Rwanda. 

And of course you can’t forget to add some Rwandan chilli, akabanga, which, for anyone who is not used to spicy food,  should be taken in small doses otherwise it can make you feel like your intestines are being deep fried in hot oil in Satan’s kitchen, there is an inferno in your mouth and steam is coming out of your ears. I like it a lot though. I love my food quite spicy. Later on we sampled Kigali nightlife at Papyrus Night Club and danced the night away to some good music.

Sampling Rwandan beer
...and some brochettes and french fries
...and the night life

I must say I hold Rwanda in alot of awe. What I gathered from the few days I spent there is that the women in Rwanda are treated with so much respect. Any violation against a woman lands the perpetrators straight in jail. The citizens won’t even wait for the police to come they will arrest the perpetrator themselves. Women have really been empowered. 

At the busy bus stop the touts approach you trying to convince you to board their vehicle. but none touches you, unlike in Kenya where they pull you in different directions sometimes dragging you, your children and your luggage to three different vehicles. Bribing police officers is unheard of. Nobody can even dare approach a police officer with such intent. Rwanda is infact one of the least corrupt countries in Africa. 

Rwanda is the country with the highest representation of women in parliament in the world. More than 60% of Rwanda’s members of parliament are women. Rwanda also enacted and enforced a ban on plastic bags. You cannot be allowed to enter the country with plastic bags so you best check your luggage and ensure you are not carrying any. I am happy that my country Kenya followed suit with a similar ban and I hope it will continue to be enforced stringently. We do need take active measures to reduce carbon emissions. 

Rwandans also have a national community service every month where everyone participates in cleaning their cities, towns and villages. It is no wonder that Kigali is one of the cleanest cities in Africa, and I believe in the world. 

I left Rwanda the next day, breaking my journey by making a stopover in Kampala to visit a friend before proceeding on to Nairobi. The trip to Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills, though short was quite an eye opener for me. I would have loved to see more of the country, except that I was constrained both budget-wise and time-wise. 

I would definitely love to go back. 

KAMPALA, UGANDA

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When I heard that my all time favorite band, Boys II Men was going to be in the neighbouring country, Uganda, I just had to go and see them! I know most of their songs by heart. I had replicated their lyrics when writing letters to my romantic interests. I had dreams of one day marrying a guy with a deep goosebump-inducing  barritone who sang ‘Thank you in advance’ to me and made my heart skip a beat or ten. I know…I know….I was a hopeless romantic and believed in love then. All because of Boyz II Men. The show was scheduled for 6th December, 2008, so I planned my trip for 5th December. I packed and left everything ready for pick up in the evening. The plan was to go home after work, grab my bag and head to the bus station. As fate would have it, this is one of those days that my inbox was overflowing with work assignments and a report was required ‘by c.o.b.’ so I had to work late. While leaving work hurriedly, I realized that if I went home to pick my luggage I would get late so I boarded a matatu and headed to town. I met up with a friend for dinner and he was kind enough to give me his jacket. He thought I was crazy for travelling on a whim like this, but if spontaneity equals craziness, then I am certified crazy. The good type of crazy I would hope

Boyz II Men

I boarded the Kampala bound night bus at around 8 p.m. I took my seat and promptly fell asleep as bus snaked its way out of Nairobi city. It took us about 8 hours to get to the Busia border town. We got off the bus to go through immigration and since I had left my passport at home I had to get a temporary pass so that I could cross the border to Uganda. I paid about 500 Kenya shillings to have passport photos taken, filled in the forms , paid the fee and was granted the pass. Currently it is much easier to go to Uganda (and Rwanda) for  Kenyan nationals as they can use only a national identity card as the travel document. We crossed the border on foot and had our travel documents stamped on the Ugandan side. Once everyone had gotten through, we set off towards Kampala. As the morning wore on, the sun begun peeking through the clouds. Every time the bus would slow down near a busy area, dozens of vendors would throng our windows holding out meat skewers, water, soda, biscuits, groundnuts, and more meat skewers.  6 hours later we arrived in the busy Kampala town

Uganda skewers
Vendors selling meat skewers along the Busia-Kampala road

My first stop was a shopping mall because, well, a girl did not have any clothes lol! After walking through a couple of stalls I picked out two pairs of jeans and three tops. I then boarded a mini-bus and headed to a guest house recommended by a Ugandan friend, checked in and freshened up. I had not bought the ticket to the Boyz II Men event so I called the concert organizers to find out how to get a ticket only to be told that the concert had been cancelled. What!! Cancelled? How? Why? When?? Why didn’t anyone tell me this like 16 hours ago? Joe Thomas who was supposed to be the curtain raiser was now going to be the main act instead but my heart was already broken.  Nathan, Wanya and Shawn….after years of memorizing all your songs word by word only for you to stand me up on our first date….you really did me wrong!! I don’t even like you any more. Ok, I still do. Lol! But you really hurt my feelings. Anyway, I went to a nearby restaurant and had some breakfast then decided to take a nap and figure things out later.

Later that evening I decided to check out Ange Noir which was a popular club in Uganda and it did not disappoint. I remember being so amused that there was a carpet in a club. Haha! And so I am dancing the night away to mostly Ugandan artists’ songs and then Kenyan artist Nameless’ song comes on. ‘Commit a crime and I’ll be your defender….Nasinzia nikikuwaza’ ….Now every time I am outside Kenya and a Kenyan song comes on in a club I jump, scream and yell at the top of my voice ‘that’s my sooooong! that’s my sooooooong!!’ and then start dancing like crazy. So I did exactly that and noticed there was this guy who also went into a similar frenzy. I figured he must be Kenyan so I made sure I angled myself perpendicularly and kept dancing while moving towards him until we intersected and were dancing together. I had a great time and in the wee morning hours I made my way back to the guest house. I woke up later on that day and went out to have some lunch. I found it interesting how you can order a dish of rice and meat in Uganda and get a full plate of rice, cassava, sweet potatoes, matooke, vegetables, meat and groundnut sauce.  Later that evening I got on a bus and headed back to Nairobi as I needed to be back at work on Monday. That, my friends, is the story of how I found myselefu in Uganda the first time.

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DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA

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Image By Alidamji at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0

When the travel bug bit me I didn’t even know I had been bitten.  I was living and working in Mombasa. After looking for a job for one year after graduation, you realize that that dream job may not really be forthcoming so you take the first thing that comes your way and try to make it work. My first job was a sales job for a publishing company in Mombasa. My task was to sell advertising space in a business directory.  Now, being a Coastal town, Mombasa is hot. So I would be out in the glaring heat walking from office to office trying to convince business owners to sign up (and pay) for space to have their businesses featured in the directory. Most business owners had never seen or heard of this directory before and were skeptical about visibility.  Others wanted to sign up  but not pay. Well, that would mean that I did not have any earnings at the end of the day since I earned only a commission, dependent on the number of sales I made in any given particular month. Often times I would just get doors slammed in my face with a firm ‘No, I am not interested’. It was tough! I have great respect for salespeople around the world.  That job is HARD!!! But it toughened me up and taught me important life skills. My second job was quite a reprieve. In a different field from what I had studied, it gave me an opportunity to learn a lot and ultimately led me to my current profession.

Anyway,  I was talking about travel so let me get back to that. The year is 2007. This one day I reconnected with a former friend of mine on graduates.com (does anyone remember this? It was the best thing tha happened before FB haha). He was in Tanzania at the time doing a sales promotion for some organization he was working for. And jokingly he says ‘Why don’t you come over?’ And just like that, that afternoon, straight from work with the clothes on my back and my handbag I go the bus station, pay for a ticket and get on a bus (I think it was called Tahmeed) to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. I was thrilled to be going on my maiden trip outside of Kenya. It was supposed to be an approximately 8 hour overnight trip and we would arrive in Dar es Salaam the next morning. About 3 hours into the trip, however, the engine started overheating. This slowed down our journey considerably. At some point, the driver pulled over and before the engine had cooled down, tried to open the radiator to add some water to cool it down. He immediately yelped as the steam scalded his hand. So now we had two problems. Overheating engine and injured driver. We are in the middle of nowhere, it’s pitch dark.  A couple of passengers went to the front and together with the ‘turnboy’ tried to give the driver some first aid. I heard them speaking in hush tones then someone calling out, asking if anyone had tea leaves.  In my head, I am wondering, tea leaves? Are we cooking tea now? I guess no one had any tea leaves. More hushed tones, then someone called out again, this time for Colgate toothpaste. One passenger came up with a tub of toothpaste and one of the first aiders applied some of it on the driver’s scalded hand.  My first travel-related lesson learnt. Always carry a first aid kit when travelling. And always have one in your car when driving. But also, have handy information about possible first aid treatment for  various injuries.

 

Overheating engine

After the engine cooled down somewhat, some water was added to the radiator and the driver was able to continue driving, this time slower than before, seeing that he was only using one hand. Every so often we would stop, wait for the engine to cool down, add some water to the radiator and resume the journey. Eventually, several hours behind schedule, we arrived at the border town of Lunga Lunga. Normally this would just be a short stopover and then the journey would continue but we had to wait for daylight in order to get the radiator fixed. Those passengers who could afford it went to sleep in some guest houses nearby. Those of us who could not slept in the bus till morning. In the morning one passenger who had gone to spend the night in a guest house did not return to the bus. I think he overslept. After waiting for a while and not knowing exactly where he had gone, the driver decided to leave without him. The bus was driven to the mechanic, we waited as it was fixed and then set off.

My first passport stamp was at Lunga Lunga, Kenya-Tanzania border

It was a long tiresome journey. When we arrived at Dar es Salaam, every part of my body was aching.  I met my friend and immediately went to take a long shower. It helped that the shower had very strong pressure and I would direct it to my neck and back and that felt like a very good massage.

I honestly don’t remember much about Dar es Salaam so this post might be inappropriately titled. I did not have a phone so I have no photos to make reference to. I remember going to a shopping mall, at that time shopping malls were not really existing in Kenya so this was fascinating to me.  I remember going to Shoprite supermarket and basically, that’s about as far as my memory of Dar goes.  I need to go back and have a proper orientation of the city and maybe I can do a proper ‘Tanzania” post.

We drove back to Nairobi via Arusha then Namanga. The trip was less arduous than the trip to Dar.  The next day I got on a bus and went back to Mombasa. My first trip out of Kenya was quite interesting. I can laugh about it now. From then on, I knew I wanted to travel. Far and wide. Go everywhere. See everything. The travel bug had bitten me. And it was not the last time I would travel out of the country with only the clothes on my back. 

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