The lost adventure: Reaching Comoros.
Around me the ocean stretches beyond my imagination
I write you with my back up against a wall. I feel the vibration of the ships engine. This ship was built in Greece long ago. Perhaps more then 50 years ago. I wonder who and what it might have carried in the past? Today the name "Aziza" is painted on her side with black paint. The weather is calm, but we are moving against both the current and the wind. I feel how we are moving from side to side. From side to side. From side to side. The rumble of the engine sends vibrations up against my back. Somewhere below me there is the deep, dark, salty ocean. I haven't seen land for 4 straight days. In fact I haven't seen anything, but the ocean and the sky for 4 straight days. No other ships, no dolphins, no whales... The dark blue ocean meets the light blue sky at the horizon. I can hear some of the other passengers speaking in the background. Perhaps in Swahili, perhaps in Arabic, perhaps something else? I'm not really listening. How did I end up on the "Aziza"?
My sister and I were joining the GIVE volunteers (www.givevolunteers.org) on "dolphin day" back on Zanzibar. "Swimming with dolphins" didn't quite turn out the way I pictured it. It was more like: "Hunting for dolphins" and landing on them if possible. I was picturing a nice calm bay with clear water and myself floating within it, while curious dolphins would come and play with me. However what I experienced was 6-7 speedboats racing across the ocean in the search for Flipper. When we eventually did come across Flipper and his friends about 30 of us would dive into the ocean hoping for a glimpse of them. But too often the Dolphins would disappear. Meanwhile the boats would dance around in the waves while the air filled with petrol fumes.
I've done some research and it doesn't have to be like that. In fact it wasn't like that for David and Marguerite who I met on the train weeks before. They went to the same location, but on that day they were nearly alone and had a much different experience. Would I do it again? No! Not like that...but perhaps I would somewhere else under different circumstances...
That day continued quite well as we later on arrived at Jozani Chwaka Bay National Park, where we were introduced to some of the plants and trees, but moreover went just to see the Colobus monkeys. It was astonishing to see them as we might as well have been invisible to them?!? They went on with their monkey business and completely ignored us. I could have touched one if I wanted to. But there was no sign of interaction with us from their part. I've never seen that before? Either monkeys are scared and try to escape or they are curious and try to touch. This was quite interesting and everyone seemed to respect the tranquility of the situation.
That day ended with a look around inside the old part of Stonetown, Zanzibar's main town, which is fairly charming although as a tourist, you are subject to constant harassment from shop owners: "Come have a look! Looking costs nothing!!" And the classic: "For you special price..." I must admit I haven't come across the "Your father is a THIEF!! He must be!!! Because he stole the 2 most beautiful stars in the sky and put them in your eyes..." Perhaps that one isn't in fashion anymore? Or perhaps my beard puts the salesmen off?
Old fort in Stonetown.
I had some help from a friend I have in Germany regarding getting onboard the containership from Zanzibar to Comoros. The Sagas financial sponsor, Ross Offshore, also tried contacting the shipowners. But all our efforts were in vain. I think we took that lead as far as we could. I mean; we spoke with the company using the ship, the company who owns the ship and then after being turned down twice we called them again and asked in German. I guess we could take it one step further but then again...don't push it, hey? ;)
Tourists aren't an endangered species - they are fair game ;)
So I ended up calling Gayo who was my original lead on a ship from Dar es Salaam to Comoros. But it turned out that Gayo "no speaki English very well". So I had someone local call Gayo and speak Swahili. Originally the price for having me onboard was 250,000 schilling, but that went up to 300,000 ($136) when Gayo found out that I was Mzungu. That's a 50,000 schilling ($23) tax on skin color. Thank you very much.
One day my sister and I drove down to Paje on the lower eastern side of Zanzibar. We went to meet a Danish adventurer named Mikkel. But Mikkel was out on the ocean with some local fishermen, when we arrived so we ended up meeting David, his wife and 2 daughters instead. David is another Danish Dane from Denmark who runs the Savannah & Ocean beach hotel at Paje. Right next door you'll find a Danish school which also keeps David busy (http://www.zanzibar-hojskolen.dk/). Unfortunately all the students were out so we didn't get to meet them.
Yes you guessed it: The handles do not move on this clock.
David is a really great guy and not only because he offered us lunch at his restaurant ;) We had a good conversation running him when Mikkel finally showed up. Mikkel is my age. He has shaved his head and he has let his beard grow. He once rode his bicycle from Denmark (Northern Europe) to Antarctica. That adventure took him about 11 months. These days he is keeping busy collecting recipes from all over the world. He calls himself "Mad Mikkel" (www.madmikkel.dk) which is a great name. Mainly because "mad" is the Danish word for food ;)
That's David on the left and Mad Mikkel on the right.
I liked him straight away and it didn't take long before Mikkel, my sister and I were having beer on the beach and talking about the world.
Just to remind you all...I'm still onboard "Aziza". The air is thick of the stench from carrying us (about 20 passengers) across the open sea. "Aziza" used to carry passengers and vehicles somewhere long ago. Perhaps between the Greek islands? Her British engine has been replaced at least once. It's giving us all its got against the strong current. But in spite of the engines efforts we are only going half the speed compared to going westbound. We hardly reach 4 nots. So I can run faster than this (although running on water isn't my speciality). It's dark outside and the cattle and sheep are keeping quiet. Yes! Cattle and sheep as we are not the only passengers onboard. Apart from the livestock I have also observed a few vehicles and perhaps a thousand madrases plus additional cargo. I bought myself 10 bananas and 6 liters of water before boarding thinking that it was a 2-3 day voyage. Think again...4 days going on 5 and counting. I need a shower...
Back on Zanzibar Mikkel had to leave us as he was having a local dinner with a local family. My sister and I also had to leave as we were having dinner with German David and South African Marguerite which you should know by now? Well, they have somehow found their way into the past 3 blogs? I met them in connection with the train ride to Dar es Salaam. Afterwards we stayed at the same hotel. We also had dinner together on my sisters first night in Tanzania and now we were having dinner with them on Zanzibar. David and Marguerite are soon to be married and plan to move to Hannover in Germany. They are both teachers and I hope to crash on their couch in case I redo most of Europe after Africa (which I'm still thinking about doing).
From om left to right: Marguerite, David, my sister (Tove) and the king of the jungle.
Anyway, David and Marguerite were planing on taking the "spice tour" the following day and we were welcome to join. So we did. And that was an excellent choice. Marguerite had been on the tour once before. But it was a first for David, my sister and I. Suffice to say there is a lot that grows on Zanzibar!! But what I found to be most interesting about the tour was learning that cinnamon is actually the bark from a tree and furthermore that it takes 9 months to grow vanilla!
To the left: Cinnamon. To the right: Vanilla.
The day eventually came when we had to say farewell to the GIVE volunteers and their guides. I find traveling fast to be much easier on the heart. We had unfortunately stayed too long with those people for my heart to go unattached. The question remains as always: Were they simply a random group of great people - or are people generally great? ;)
There are a lot of great people in this photo. Especially the guy in the white t-shirt in the far back :)
My sister and I caught the ferry back to Dar and guess who else was onboard? Yes, but of course, who else could it be than David and Marguerite! And since they had no other immediate plans the 4 of us decided on returning to the same hotel we all knew from 2 weeks earlier. That was however a rough ferry ride back to Dar for the ladies...and for about a third of the passengers who had to throw up. Later at night the 4 of us met with Mikkel who had also returned to Dar. We all sat together on a rooftop and smoked shisha (water pipe) and had tea.
Helene is a Swedish woman whom I have never met. But she has been very helpful and has even offered accommodation in Dar. I'm sure that I will meet her once I return to Dar. But so far she has already helped me out with the boat to Comoros. She has a friend who has been calling Gayo trying to work out the final price for getting onboard "Aziza" and the remaining details: where, when, what...
The hotel where I was staying at with my sister (and David and Marguerite) has also been very helpful. Because getting on that boat didn't at any point seem straight forward. Originally I should have been onboard Monday the 13th. But that moved to Tuesday which was fine as that was also the day my sisters flight left. So I hugged my sister and thanked her for visiting...then I shoved her into a taxi and saw her leave towards the airport. I then bought myself some food, checked out of the hotel and left for the port on the back of a motorcycle. Business as usual.
At the port I was told that "Aziza" wouldn't leave until Wednesday night? Quite odd as Gayo had told me to be at the port around 7pm although it would probably leave at midnight. Now I called Gayo from the port and was told that it was delayed. Thank you Gayo... So back through traffic and back to Hotel Livingstone. It's a nice hotel with decent wifi and breakfast included. The staff is friendly and they gave me a good rate. The following day was spent doing administrative tasks and following up on events with Gayo on the phone. In the afternoon he guaranteed departure Wednesday night and told me to go to the port. So I did. At the port I was told by security to wait outside. I sat down with a group of people who turned out to be passengers. There was even another Mzungu among them: Gerben from the Netherlands. Gerben had been to the embassy of Comoros and already had his visa. He had also handed over his passport to the ships agent and he had paid 300,000 schilling for his ticket. I had nothing. My research told me I could get my visa on arrival and Gayo hadn't sold me any ticket yet...besides my price had fluctuated between 250-300,000 schilling on the phone. A bystander was able to tell me that he had paid 240,000 schilling.
Gate number 1 at Dar es Salaam port.
Someone, not Gayo, came out of the port and started going through the ships manifest checking off names. He discovered that my name wasn't on the ships manifest. To me it seemed like a last minute thing, but I forked over my passport and my name was added. There was no discussion: 300,000 schilling. THAT'S a lot of money!!
We all got onboard and I suppose the ship left around midnight. But I was fast asleep long before then. 2-3 days is what they told me...I never saw Gayo...
This is now my 5th night onboard. So my overall spendings are quickly coming down. It's now 60,000 schilling/day which kind of includes food. 1-2 portions per day which often consists of some overly overcooked rice along with mystery meat. 60,000 schilling/day is $27/day which isn't too bad...
Gerben living life large on top of "Aziza".
Earlier today I was looking at the sunset being swallowed by some cumulus clouds which were rapidly turning pink behind us. The engine of "Aziza" was slowly but steadily pushing us forward towards Comoros as it had been for the past few days. I was gently whistling the theme melody to Indiana Jones...and somewhere, days behind us, lies Dar es Salaam with its exotic name.
Who gets on a 50 year old Greek ship in the Indian Ocean? And who catches a boat from Dar es Salaam to Comoros? And what do any of us know about that tiny island nation apart from how it's spelt? I'm sure there is a great adventure to be found here. However for me it simply feels like another day within the Saga. I wonder if there isn't an important lesson hidden in that? Is it "too much of anything..." or is it "live everyday as if..." or is it...?
Can you spot the sheep?
Oh well, let's just keep on keeping on ;)
Mr. Torbjørn C. Pedersen (Thor) - still going...
"A stranger is a friend you've never met before"
Once Upon A Saga