19 January 2010


The legendary spice island is home to both picture-perfect white sand beaches and Stone Town, where you're transported back a few centuries to narrow alleys and tiny shops, incredible historic wooden doors, old window shutters and beautiful crumbling buildings. It reminded me of Morocco but with a laid-back tropical vibe.

I also thought it was neat that when you arrive on the boat from Dar es Salaam, you get papers from the "Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar." They are technically a part of Tanzania, but culturally, it feels quite different. Oh, and they really do consider themselves to be a separate entity-- when you come from Tanzania, you have to bring your passport, and you get stamped coming and going as if you were entering a new country.

There is a dreamy shade of blue somewhere between sky blue and periwinkle I now call Zanzibar blue because you see it on many of the window shutters, doors and buildings.

It's a photographer's dream, with stunning shots around every corner. Some images from my first glimpse of the island that I'll never forget: a man riding a bicycle with a little monkey holding onto the handlebars in front of him. An old grey building with a row of tiny Zanzibar blue window shutters and a teenage girl in a black veil leaning out, talking on her cell phone. A Maasai warrior browsing through postcards. The bright blue of the Indian Ocean. And the intricately carved wooden doors that are often older than the (really old) buildings they're standing in.

I could go on and on. One of my favorite images was the bright sun causing the dhows to look as if they were sailing on liquid light.

And how, right around sunset, boys would run from the Forodhani Gardens and dive and somersault into the water.

They'd go on, with onlookers clapping and laughing, until the cops came, and then the evening would quiet and slow down, mellowing with the fading light.

As the sky grew darker, kerosene lamps of the night market would light up one by one until each food stall was glowing.

Shopping in Zanzibar was also a treat. It felt like you were digging through ancient treasure, which, often, you actually were.

Zanzibar was just oozing with beauty and life everywhere I looked. As I'm still catching up, though, I'll just let the rest of the photos speak for themselves. Enjoy!

(Those are soccer scores on the blackboards behind the girls.)

17 January 2010


Mozambique is the only country in the region not to be colonized by the English, and its Portuguese roots lend it a more laid back vibe. The food is spicier, people dress more like there's a beach nearby, and the seafood is absolutely amazing (especially the prawns).

We started in Maputo, the capital, which was full of surprises. For one, the streets were all named after Communists/Socialists from around the world: Avenida Karl Marx, Avenida Mao Tse Tung, Avenida Ho Chi Minh, as well as streets for Lenin, Stalin, Engels and Allende.

The train station was designed by Monsieur Gustave Eiffel (yes, the Eiffel Tower one) in 1910:

Eiffel also designed the "iron building" in 1892 for the governor to live in, but metal house + tropical heat = não, obrigado, so it now acts as an office.

We went to a 19th century red brick fort in Maputo because my partner's a big history buff:

We really enjoyed the food in Maputo, too. We splurged on an incredible afternoon tea for two on a grassy cliff overlooking the ocean for $9 each.

We stayed with terrific couchsurfers who took us to eat some of the best chicken I've ever had at Feira Popular, a carnival-like place with a ferris wheel, bumper cars and small restaurants.

In general, Maputo was just vibrant in both color and life.

Even the trees on the street were a little more lush in Maputo:

After the city, we wanted to head to the beach, and after some deliberation, Tofo won out.

To get to Tofo, we took yet another share minivan taxi (called chapas (pronounced sha-pas) in Mozambique).

It's interesting to see what would be considered junk/worthy of being thrown away in many other countries being used with no problems (well, more or less) in most of Africa.

The window on the door was a sheet of plastic that was taped on, and it flapped like thunder in the wind.

And there was more stuff crammed in with us than one would think was possible, including huge barrels of kerosene, giant bags of rice, a full-size truck tire and a couple of chickens running around on the floor.

I took this next photo while we were given a quick bathroom break. Just imagine four people in each row added to the piles of stuff, and you'll have a good sense of what our ride was like.

In spite of the lack of space (which we'd gotten used to by this point), it was still a lovely ride along the Mozambique coastline.

Fresh cashews were everywhere, and I loved the way they were displayed along the side of the road:

White plastic bags billowed in the wind like Chinese paper lanterns as you approached, and then you'd see the bags full of cashews dangling from tree branches next to them.

But nothing could beat our first glimpses of the Mozambican water and beaches:

After about nine hours in the chapa, we arrived in Tofo, a little stretch of beach that seemed like it was just ours:

The sand was so fine, it actually squeaked when we walked across it. It sounded like we were walking across a freshly mopped marble floor, and it took us a while to figure out what was going on. But yes, it was definitely the soft sand.

We stayed in a traditional hut made of reeds and straw, just big enough for our bed, and we were right in front of the ocean, so we were pretty happy.

Behind us were endless forests of palm trees.

Our favorite place to eat in Tofo was the very budget-friendly Bread Shack, where we consumed nearly every meal during our stay.

Their bread, bunny chow (for the many South African visitors) and donuts were fresh and delicious.

And when you got tired of looking out at the ocean, you could look the other way:

We didn't do it, but you can go diving with whale sharks around Tofo, and it sounds pretty awesome. Maybe next time...

Okay, so I'm still trying to barrel through and get caught up. So, after Tofo, we went to the historical port town of Inhambane, which was (hallelujah) just an hour away.

My biggest surprise in Inhambane was all of the art deco architecture.

There was also a defunct but charming little train station with an old train on display.

There were beautiful old, crumbling buildings with trees growing out of the windows:

And random little surprises that I found striking and/or beautiful.

There were a variety of places to worship (surprising for how tiny the town is).

And I loved all of the bright colors, both natural and people-made.

This was helped in large part by all of the advertising.

It seemed all of Mozambique was caught in the war between voda and mcel cell phone companies.

I don't have photos of it, but even tiny little shacks on the side of the road were often painted with either mcel or voda advertising. (In Tanzania, the war was between Pepsi and Coke, but Coca Cola had already triumphed in Mozambique, it seemed.)

I also found it interesting that, even when it was just a sand or dirt floor/street, people were very conscientious about sweeping it and keeping it neat and tidy.

Inhambane was a nice surprise, and it seems to have fallen off the traveler's route for a variety of reasons. For one thing, traveling by pothole-ridden roads takes so long that many are opting to head to the Mozambican highlights by air. Another is that most of the tourists in Mozambique are South African, and they tend to head straight to the beaches rather than the charming coastal towns. Inhambane has a port and a peaceful bay but no beaches, so it felt like we (and some German volunteers) were the only outsiders there.

Verdinho's was our favorite restaurant, and we definitely enjoyed a few meals there. Here's a breakfast of french toast with bananas, cashews and honey and yogurt with honey, fruit and muesli. Yum.

So, to cap off this super long catch-up post (and in case it wasn't already completely obvious): we loved Mozambique and would love to go back and spend more time there.