I recently returned from a new and exciting adventure – a fortnight’s travel to beautiful Tanzania. Two weeks isn’t very long, but my time was nonetheless chock-full of exciting new experiences; I arrived home grateful for a fascinating glimpse into the culture and history of a country and a people wholly different to my own.
The trip was more or less in two halves – the first being a fairly traditional safari in the southern part of the country and the second being a whirlwind of sightseeing on the islands of Zanzibar. Our safari took us to Mikumi and Udzungwa Mountains National Parks. In Mikumi, we were fortunate to see all manner of wildlife – elephants, hippos, cape buffalo, giraffes, impalas, wildebeest, and yes, even a few lions. The experience of seeing families of elephants meandering around the plains, or of watching a herd of giraffes cross the road was rather surreal, and served as a stark lesson in the beauty and grandeur of the natural world. So, too, did the landscape itself – the sea of long grasses punctuated by lonely trees (including the enormous baobabs) and ringed by blue mountains was positively hypnotic. The Udzungwa mountains made for beautiful hiking; we climbed to the top of Sanje Falls (Tanzania’s tallest waterfall) and cooled off with a swim in the (rather frigid) waters at their base. Along the way we were lucky to spot an Iringa Red Colobus monkey – a species which has not been found anywhere outside of the Udzungwa Mountains. In between these incredible sights were many hours spent on some of Tanzania’s many unpaved dirt roads. This wasn’t something I’d given much thought to before the trip, but I was glad to get a glimpse of life in a rural and more remote part of the country (even if just from the road). The best part about travelling is the opportunity to see a completely foreign culture, and nothing drove that point home to me more strongly than walking through rural villages, attracting stares and bemusement as a very incongruous-looking white man.
As much as I enjoyed my brief journey into Tanzania’s interior, the place that really captured my heart was Zanzibar. I admit, I’m biased towards any place that gives me a gratuitous passport stamp (thanks, semi-autonomy!), but the archipelago itself is truly an incredible place. With its narrow, winding streets and labyrinthine layout, Stone Town feels like a lost pirates’ haven. It is perhaps one of the least Americanized places I’ve yet visited; with its sprawl of back-alley shops and merchants at every corner, it feels a world away from the franchises and corporations that permeate life in much of the developed world. I was also fascinated by Zanzibar’s unique cultural blend – with peoples from East Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent immigrating to the islands over the centuries, it seems to have a slightly nebulous but altogether delightfully singular identity. Beyond Stone Town lie verdant forests, surrounded by an expanse of impossibly azure waters dotted with traditional sailing boats (known as dhows, and recognizable by their signature lateen rigging), and beautiful undersea corals. Sailing on one of these boats and snorkeling in the Zanzibar Channel is an experience I’ll never forget. Nor can I forget the impossibly fresh fruits which we seemed to find everywhere we went!
Overall, the trip was a magnificent experience. I enjoyed the chance to learn a little bit about a new country and a different culture and made some incredible memories. More importantly, I returned home a humbled man – humbled by the vastness of our planet, the diversity of the human experience, and of course, by two weeks of being almost incapable of communicating with anyone who didn’t speak English.