Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mal de Disembarquement

Have you ever gotten off a boat and felt that the land was moving? Your head is rocking, as though you are on the high seas, even though your feet are safe ashore?

If so, you'll be happy to know that the French have a wonderful phrase for it: Mal de Disembarquement.

After more than two weeks afloat, we wondered how long we might have MDD. Each of us had had brief feelings of rocking on our shore excursions. But this time we were lucky. Esther hopped off the ship and felt fine. Donald had a few unpleasant moments in a small, dimly-lit souvenir shop at the Tinga Tinga market. But some sunlight and a visible horizon in the distance cleared that right up. Much better than suffering for days, as some people do. And vastly better than a few, unlucky souls who get it for years.

Dar Es Salaam

We've been back in the State for two weeks now. Remarkable how the demands of "normal" life have delayed blog postings about the last leg of our journey. We won't quite do Dar Es Salaam justice here, but then again we were very tired travelers when we docked there on the final day of our voyage on the National Geographic Explorer.

Perhaps the highlight of our visit was arriving in port as dawn was breaking. Dar has a very active port -- cargo ships, ferries, and many fishermen converging on the local fish market (photo) to sell their catch.

After saying farewell to our ship and its wonderful crew and staff, we had a quick city tour. We felt sorry for our local guide. She was brimming with enthusiasm to show us her city and relate its history, but her audience was (a) exhausted from weeks of touring and (b) had already learned much about Tanzania in Zanzibar the day before. Sorry. Still, we did learn a bit about the city, which appeared nicer than we anticipated. And we did enjoy the Tinga Tinga market and its unique, colorful art.

After lunch at the Kempinski Hotel, we headed off to the airport for our flight to Dubai (photos and blog coming soon!).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Exotic Zanzibar: Monkeys

Zanzibar is famous for its spices, its old city, and its monkeys.


OK, maybe they aren't as famous as the other attractions, but they still make for a great outing.

About half an hour from Stone Town is Jozani-Chwaka Bay National Park, a reserve that encompasses beautiful hardwood forests, brackish mangroves, ferns galore, and two species of monkey: the endangered Zanzibar Red Colobus monkey (top and bottom photos) and the smaller Blue (or Sykes) Monkey (middle photo).

The monkeys didn't come quite as close as the Mayotte Lemurs did, but they put on a good show.

Highlights included several very young monkeys (of both species) and a colobus that reminded us of Einstein.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Exotic Zanzibar: Humans

After a busy day at sea (and, happily, no sign of pirates), the breaking dawn found us in the second-to-last stop on our voyage: Zanzibar.

Just say the name out loud: Zanzibar. Doesn't that conjure exotic images?

Zanzibar is part of Tanzania -- indeed, it put the "Zan" in "Tanzania" -- but maintains an autonomous feel. Our visit began with a landing in Stone Town, where the mix of cultures -- African, Arab, Indian -- provides fascinating architecture spread through a maze of alleyways.

We particularly enjoyed the intricate carved doorways (sorry, no photos). Some doors had chain carvings, reflecting the history of slavery. Other had conical spikes which are allegedly traditional elephant protectors from India. Happily, there were no elephants running through the alleyways of Stone Town when we visited. The motor scooters and human-pulled carts were dangerous enough in the narrow passages.

Situated strategically in the midst of the trade routes, Zanzibar built its early success on spices, ivory, and slaves, the key commodities of the age. Tourism is the big draw today, but the spice trade is still going strong. Farms produce a wide range of spices -- on our visit we saw Cacao, Cardamon, Cinnamon, and Cloves -- and that was just the "C"s. There were also Kapok, Nutmeg, Black Pepper, and Ylang Ylang. (Not to mention the Banana leaves that could be twisted into spice carriers.)

Perhaps the most beautiful was the "Lipstick Tree" whose bright red fruit generates a tasty orange / red paste. You probably know it better as Achiote (if you dine Mexican) or Tandoori (if you dine Indian) or, perhaps, as Annatto Seed.

Piracy in the Seychelles

Security was a significant consideration when we planned our grand adventure. Traveling in the Middle East carries risks, both real and imagined. But it was the Somali pirates that captured our attention. After they hijacked an oil tanker last November, we carefully compared their sphere of operations with the intended route of our Indian Ocean adventure.

That comparison made it clear that piracy was a risk once our ship was up near the waters between Tanzania and the Seychelles. Certainly not a big enough risk to forego the trip, but something to be aware of.

We therefore weren't surprised when some large, tattooed, crew-cut gents showed up on the ship for a few days to provide security consulting before we entered those waters. Nor were we surprised to hear that the Somali pirates did strike again, very close to the Seychelles.

But it did hit closer to home when we learned that the pirates struck in one of the exact places we had been -- just off Aldabra -- and that one of the victims was a ship we had shared moorings with.

When we visited Assumption on the National Geographic Explorer, there was one other ship at anchor, coincidentally named the Indian Ocean Explorer. Sadly, the IO Explorer and its crew were taken hostage a few days ago, one of several hijacking in a recent "spree". We hope everything turns out well for their crews.

Not surprisingly, the ship we had been traveling on has now changed its sphere of operations. The National Geographic Explorer is now located much further away, exploring the far eastern edges of the Seychelles. We wish we were with them.