Karibu Zanzibar!

As usual, I will start this post with an apology for our lack of blogging. We have had a busy few weeks! We opened the library (very lengthy, picture-filled post to come) and took a short trip over to Zanzibar!

Our trip to Zanzibar was both wonderful and terrible, depending on the time of day.

We stayed in a resort on the North part of the island, near the famous ($1500/night) Mnemba Island. We arrived weary and warm after a series of flight delays and an interesting hour+ long taxi ride. Our driver didn’t speak any English and insisted on driving 100 kilometers per hour on the twisty, unlit roads. At one point, we were stopped at a police barricade. Still not sure why. The majority of life after dark seems to take place right on or near the road. People gather around lit barrels, fire pits and single exposed hanging light bulbs swinging from storefronts.

Our resort was beautiful. Our room was not. Being on a volunteer budget meant a hostel-type room. We were in a thatched roof hut that was just big enough to hold two smaller-than-twin-sized beds. There was no air conditioning–just a slowly oscillating fan that blew 100 degree air on us two out of every 15 seconds (I counted). The mosquito nets hung from a single point on the ceiling, which meant that when we draped them over the frame of our beds, the dirty, smelly nets laid directly on our faces and feet. Well, mine laid on my feet. Joost’s laid on his feet and half of his legs, which stuck a good 6 inches off the end of his bed. We shared a bathroom with an undetermined number of other guests and dead insects.

The best part?

My bed had bedbugs. Yuck! I woke up on the second morning in a pool of my own sweat and feeling a little creepy crawly. I attributed it to the rivulets of sweat still running down my body and lack of sleep. After breakfast, I noticed a couple of red bites popping up. Ten minutes later and I had counted over 50 bites on my left forearm alone. My first fear was that I was having an allergic reaction to something and was breaking out in hives. Luckily (?), a girl on our SCUBA trip happened to be noticing a similar outbreak of bites appearing on her knee. By the end of our trip, I had over 200 bites on my arms, hands, feet and lower legs. If you haven’t gathered, this wasn’t the most romantic trip Joost and I have taken.

All that said, the rest of the trip was amazing.

We got to go SCUBA diving locally and right off Mnemba Island. I hit my 50th (and 51st!) dive and Joost got to try diving for the first time. On the first day, Joost and I were the only ones who had signed up for a SCUBA trip, so we had a private dhow ride, guide and crew! Joost tried the PADI Discover SCUBA course, which basically meant that he learned how to breathe through his regulator and then we were off! We were only able to go down to 12 meters due to his lack of certification, but it turned out that we didn’t need to go any further. By our second dive, we had seen turtles, lion fish, a giant puffer fish, a moray eel, nudibranchs, a sting ray, giant clams, feeding sea cucumbers and A FREE SWIMMING OCTOPUS! We saw it swim down to the sand, burrow partway in and then change color, shape and texture to mimic the surrounding coral. It was so cool, especially since in my previous 50 dives, I had only seen one other octopus and it was wedged into the coral and barely visible. I’m pretty sure that any diving after this is going to have Joost sorely disappointed–the bar has been set extremely high.

On our second day, we got in another two dives near Mnemba. On the way out to the site, we saw a pod of dolphins! Joost dove with his instructor again and I dove with a guide and another resort guest. We went down to 34 meters in search of reef sharks, but no luck. We did see another octopus, an eel, more nudibranchs, another turtle, amazing bommies, a maori wrasse and a big parrotfish devouring a starfish, though. I think Joost has been bit by the diving bug (lucky boy remained untouched by the bed bugs), so hopefully he can get certified soon so we can go on more dive trips!

After our dives each morning, we napped in little huts on the beach, collected seashells, got some souvenirs from vendors on the beach, swam, read (I finished three books!), drank terrible cocktails, fried our skin off, hung out in the hammocks, stargazed and ate. A lot.

The food was amazing. Granted, this is coming from a girl who’s been living off of rice and beans for the past two months, but man it was delicious. We had lots of fresh seafood and we tested our gastrointestinal strength with heaps of fresh veggies (something we’ve only had a handful of times in Moshi, mainly because of risk of contamination). We had kingfish carpaccio, seafood pizza, edamame and avocado sushi, fish burgers, octopus salad, bruschetta, carbonara, calamari, chapati wraps… Okay, I need to stop now. I will say, though, that this is the first time since I left the US (new year’s eve) that I managed to eat three well balanced meals each day. My diet has been almost completely devoid of calcium and protein, so being on the island was the healthiest I’ve felt since the start of January!

On our second to last night, I stood in the middle of the hellhole banda, sobbing. The lack of sleep due to heat and the severe anxiety I had developed about feeding time bedtime melded into me completely losing it when I looked at the clock and realized I still had at least six hours before it was acceptable to wake up and leave the room. Lucky for me, my very own knight in sunburned armor came to my rescue and scored us an upgrade for our last night–A/C, a private bathroom, a bed we could share and NO BEDBUGS! It was worth every single extra shilling.

Overall, it was a great trip, but we’re happy to be back for our last two weeks in Moshi. Teddy and Innocent picked us up at the airport holding a sign that said, ‘Welcome home!’ and it really did feel like we were coming back home.
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