Monday, April 24th:
Early in the morning, Omari offered to take us for one last run before breakfast. We went out for over an hour but unfortunately, there were no big predator sightings this time. I think Omari was hoping to find the lions that we heard at dinner. We eventually gave up and went back to the camp for breakfast, then quickly packed to head to the airport. Side note- Sher left the paintings behind again! Hahaha. Luckily one of the staff at the camp went to check the room and came running to us with the cardboard tube before we left. From now on, we’ve decided that I’m in charge of the paintings and doing a more thorough room check whenever we leave a place.
I had no idea that there was an airport right in the middle of Serengeti Park! How convenient! It didn’t take too long to get to the airport and we saw a quick glimpse of a lioness in the grass on the way to the airport. She was running around close to the road and then she sunk down not far away, disappearing into the grass. We watched for a while but she was well hidden. I was thinking of the few times that we got out of the vehicle in the park… at the camp, the picnic sites, when the SUV got stuck in the mud, etc… and I was relieved that nothing had happened. Of course, I’m sure that we were in safe hands with Omari but you never really know for sure!
It was sad to say goodbye to our new friend Omari. He’s really a genuine guy with a good heart (aside from the “poaching” history) and he taught us SO much in a short time. The education was non-stop, we learned about animal types and behaviours all day and then had interesting philosophical talks with him in the evenings. I’d recommend him to anyone who plans to do a safari… I can’t imagine having a better guide. He even walked us right up to the plane while we were leaving! Now how he walked us up to the plane… that’s another quirk we discovered here. The small airports with charter flights have minimal if any security. This airport did not check our IDs or bags. We told Omari our flight number, he asked around in the tiniest airport I’ve ever seen, and then we waited for the plane to arrive. We said hello and goodbye to our Portuguese friends… unfortunately, they weren’t on our 12-seater flight! Then we walked up to the plane, said goodbye to Omari again and he waved to us while standing beside the runway attendants.
Sher- So it turns out that it’s not like your regular commercial flights. These small planes are more like flying buses! In Arusha, we change onto another plane and this time we just have one pilot. He gives us the instructions “just wear your seatbelts, don’t smoke, and you can do whatever else you want, I don’t give a shit”. He continues, “we are flying to Tanga to pick up three passengers, flight time is one hour and ten minutes. We will then continue on after Tanga for another 30 minutes or so to Zanzibar to drop off couple of passengers, and then will continue on to Dar es Salaam. Enjoy your flight”.
Oh WOW! This really is like a flying bus. I am nervous as I don’t see any co-pilot. Isn’t that a must for commercial flights? What if our 20-something-year-old pilot had too much coffee before bed last night, or maybe his girlfriend broke his heart and he has lost all hope in life, or maybe he didn’t have breakfast this morning and there isn’t enough sugar in his system. My mind goes on thinking of all the things that could go wrong. OK I need to deviate my attention, I don’t want to show how I feel because I can see that Mariam is a little scared herself and there is no point making it worst for both of us by talking about it. We take off pretty smoothly which puts us both at ease. We are up above the clouds, so far so good…. “but there’s still one one pilot” I tell myself. I look around and there are 8 people on this 12-seater jet. The engine is loud and everyone is minding their own business, not much talking except for this one Russian couple (guessing by their accents) right in front of us. They have taken over the whole row of three seats. They are drinking liquor out of the small 50mL bottles. Bottle after bottle, we watch them. They are siting across from each other and shouting the whole flight. They are actually pretty entertaining! Both in their mid-twenties with a very unusual sense of fashion. The guy is just over 6 feet tall and wearing colourful elephant patterned harem pants that end about mid calf lol. He’s wearing the same sunglasses as Walter from The Big Lebowski, they sit very low on the bridge of his nose. He’s carrying a Louis Vuitton man purse in one hand and when he talks, he tilts his head down and looks over his glasses. You gotta see it to believe it!! The girl seems to have plastic surgery done- big lips, prominent cheek bones. Mariam observes that she has hair extensions. She is wearing an asymmetrical one-sleeve shorts jumpsuit with a back slit exposing her bra and SHORT shorts showing way too much for one’s comfort. The couple’s obnoxious ways helps keep our mind off the flight. We also play sudoku on my phone and time flies by.
We land in Tanga 40 mins ahead of schedule. WOW this pilot is good! We get the news that all three passengers are already at the terminal and ready to board. Nice, we can take off right away. We get out of the plane for a quick stretch and washroom break before the flight is full and doors are closed. The pilot then says “I went through the safety instructions already, it’s all the same, no need to repeat myself, we’ll be in Zanzibar in 30 mins or 20, I don’t know”. Haha! I giggle and look over at Mariam, she is also smirking at me, great to see that the pilot is still in good form. Up in the air, we finish our sudoku (with a high score. Go Sheriam!), looking out on to beautiful views of the the surrounding islands and the coastal region of Tanzania. Breath taking stuff!!
We get to Zanzibar in no time, landing not so bad either, we breathe a sigh of relief. The Russians are asleep but they wake up in a panic and look a little disoriented…. it’s funny sight actually. They are the first ones off the plane. We go into the baggage claim area and everyone is waiting around the main door where bags are brought in. There’s a a table right next to that door and the Russian dude is sitting on it looking out to the rest of the crowd and still looking out of place and disoriented. The girls comes out of nowhere, walks over the her boyfriend, stands in between his opened legs, she kisses him and he grabs onto her butt cheek inappropriately. They give a bit of a show, right in front of the local crowd. I look around to scope out the crowd… most of the women are in burqas with the men who are wearing islamic hats and long traditional Kurtas. Everyone watching seems awkward and in disbelief, pretending to be looking away but gazing at them from the corner of their eyes. Even the western crowd are whispering into each other’s ears with an awkward smile on their face. I look over at Mariam and she seems to be out of her comfort zone, mainly beacuase of the grunting uneasy crowd. Bags start to come out and there’s a hustle, the show is over. I exchange money inside in the airport and walk out to the driver waiting for us at arrivals. Our driver, Ali, respectfully but forcefully takes our bags off of us and loads them into his van then off we go to our hotel in Stone Town, which is the main touristy old Arab/Portuguese/English/Indian/Persian part of Zanzibar. On our way, we notice the demographic is more dominantly Muslim compared to the mainland and they seem much more conservative from their appearance.
The Mara Mara hotel is great, very clean and modern. We check in and have lunch on the roof top restaurant right away while our bags are taken to our rooms. After a bit of food in our belly and being sleepy from our early morning start, we get to our room and Mariam passes out right away to have midday nap. I can’t sleep so I go out to explore the historic Stone Town. After a nap, Mariam meets me on the rooftop. We are very lazy and catching up with the world since we FINALLY have wifi again. Four days of not being in touch with the world and now we have everyone worrying about us. Once our loved ones find out that we are still alive and in one piece, we go out for dinner around 10:30pm but to our surprise, everything was closed and the streets seemed pretty quiet and sketchy. No point risking walking around at this time of the night, we tell ourselves, and make our way back to the hotel to eat there. Dammit!! Even the hotel restaurant is now closed. We finaly give in and ask google for late night restaurants then find ourselves on the sencond floor balcony of a dingy place, being eaten alive by mosquitoes but- mission accomplished! We located food in the middle of the night on an island in the Indian Ocean!!