Trip to Tanzania and Zanzibar, May 2010

What follows are posts I wrote and photos my wife China or I took during a week spent in Tanzania in May of 2010. All of my pictures are compiled in a Flickr collection, China's are in this Flickr set. You can also follow me on Twitter, if you wish.

Day 1: Dar es Salaam

May 7, 2010

Very much not adjusted to the time. 4:22 am; I'm wide awake.

A/C is on, so the windows are opaque with condensation. Learned a valuable lesson - never pack your toiletries on the outside of your suitcase. My deodorants, two of them, arrived in crumbles.

Good thing I won't need deodorant or anti-perspirant here by the equator.

Day 2: Ngorongoro Crater

May 8, 2010

Today, we saw an elephant. But first things first. 

For those just joining, I woke up this morning in Tanzania, a nation on the east coast of Africa, just south of the Equator. And by "this morning", I mean at about 1 am Eastern. 

We were staying in the former capital, Dar es Salaam, at a hotel called Sea Cliff. The day's itinerary, though, called for a trip to the airport, a quick hop to a smaller town called Arusha, and a three-hour drive to the Ngorongoro Serena Lodge

At the Sea Cliff, Africa was a an abstraction - we may as well have been staying in Georgia, but for the ancient-seeming schooners with triangular sails and oyster fisherman packed 20 to a boat that left corrugated shadows on the breakers. When we got in the car to go to the airport (same driver as brought me in last night, but with a different car than the one that played its alarm for a horn), any sense of familiarity evaporated. Packed busesa flip-flops factory, a casual police station - we passed by all of the dusty tumult you'd imagine comprised an African metropolis. As we drove, the maimed and crippled jostled for money at our windows with entrepreneurs selling nuts, shammys, newspapers, CDs, sodas, ice cream, clocks and watches, some sort of insect and one game entrepreneur holding glass mugs. The best buildings I was too slow to photograph: a large, broad single-story building with huge block letters reading, "Government Press"; a cable manufacturer with detailed, hand-painted cross-sections of CAT-5 and co-ax cable on its walls. Laugh if you will, but Nokia started as a boot manufacturer.

To the airport. After an unexplained delay, we trotted onto the tarmac to climb into the back of a large, 40-seat prop plane. The air inside was chokingly hot and motionless, save for a large moth that ended up traveling farther than its wings could carry it. The ride was turbulent, uncomfortable, and spectacular. Landed in Arusha, to find a small cadre of military men and officials, waiting for the arrival of the Prime Minister of Zanzibar. (Quick lesson in geopolitics: Zanzibar is a pair of islands that is a semi-autonomous subset of Tanzania.) Our driver later told us that every government office in the area was shut down as government officials came to show fealty - his own MP (on the left) showed up for that reason.  

Which brings us to our driver. The truck is that sort of Land Rover you see people in movies take on safari. The driver, Nicholas, is a friendly, knowledgable Arushian who stocked us with bottled water, vegetarian boxed lunches that included hot dogs wrapped in tin foil, and hustled us to Ngorongoro to beat the 6pm deadline when the park closed. As we drove, spectacular views in the distance, and Tanzanian life up close. Many Masai tribesmen, their young men herding livestock, peppered the sides of the road for the entire journey. Touches of America were everywhere, though - a bus we passed had a mural of George W. Bush (for some reason), a woman wore a Cubs t-shirt, a tribesman matched his handsome, dark-red cloak with some jet-black Converse high-tops. The soil everywhere was red, some by-product, Nicholas claimed, of the Ngorongoro volcano's explosive eruption way back when. 

Passed a few rather similar-looking towns. (Incidentally, three companies make up about 98% of the national advertising expenditures: Pepsi, Coke and mobile operator Tigo. Each small town had at least one shop whose sign was an attractive women drinking a coke next to a red field on which the names were written.) One, apparently called Mosquito Town, was wonderfully complex for being only one real street. I videotaped as we drove through.

YouTube Video

The entire course of our journey today was bordered by people walking. People crowded the sides of the streets in Dar, they are sprinkled along rural roads the way American highways are dusted with fast food litter. At one point, we passed a young child walking by himself on a desolate road. As I was wondering how lonely he must be and was curious about his destination, he pulled out his cell phone to talk to someone. Tanzania seems to have skipped the Industrial Revolution almost in its entirety - not a terrible thing.  

Just out of Mosquito Town, we passed trees filled with massive storks and our first encounters with some baboons. 

Let me pause here to say that China, for some reason, has a mental block on the word "baboons". She repeatedly called them 'bamboos' and once, at dinner, lamented, "I don't know why I can't remember it's a 'bamboon'." 

Our most intimate meet-and-greet with the bamboons was as we came to the entry of the crater's national park. There, two basked in the sun on the road as the driver paid our admission and China and I explored. One cool thing about living in one of the earliest inhabited places on Earth, you have no qualms about rationally discussing evolution. Kentucky, Tanzania's got you beat.

Into the park, then, and a slow climb to the upper rim of the massive crater. At the top, we got out near two guards with Kalishnikovs, and I tried to capture the scope of the area.

YouTube Video

It's far more beautiful than can be captured. Our hotel room overlooks this from a different vantage; now, as I type this, the sky is soaked in stars. On the floor of that valley are zoo animals, feral and wary. 

We rode around the rim of the crater to our hotel. We meandered through a Masai's herd, and bisected a group of water buffalo, who dissatisfaction at our prandial interruption was reinforced by how the cold air turned their stern exhalations to steam.

We dipped down to the entrance of the hotel and the guard stopped us. To Nicholas he said something in Swahili and pointed; Nicholas backed up. "What's wrong?" we asked.

"An elephant is crossing the street." 

YouTube Video

He walked around behind the Land Rover; I caught up with him on the other side. 

YouTube Video

This is why we took this trip. This moment. The next week is gravy; seeing this heart-breakingly beautiful animal step gingerly over a drainage ditch and into the road some 15 feet behind our truck, and into the vegetation opposite was unreal. Where yesterday I commented that the world was small, today I felt the grandeur of its details. This elephant, perhaps older than me, is in orbit in a region of the world that today moved from conceptual to real.

Tomorrow, we dip into the valley for more. I'm giddy. 

Day 3: Into the Crater

May 9, 2010

Literally in the middle of the Serengeti, and wi-fi is iffy. So photos and videos will have to wait - which isn't a big deal, since it's not like we saw every goddamn animal in the zoo today. We didn't see Asian elephants, for example.

It's about 8pm Eastern on a Sunday night. People, sighing, are wrapping up dinner and becoming resigned to the end of a weekend. Here, it's 3, and my sleep patterns are still jacked. The day recently ended was my third in Africa, the second real day of the safari for China and me. It began with a visit to the bottom of Ngorongoro Crater, the shell of a now-dormant volcano. Then, a long schlep into the Serengeti and to our hotel for the night.

Praise to the African weekend. 

There were two big themes today: vision, and death. Neither is a metaphor.

Our guide, Nicholas, claims that he ate a lot of carrots as a kid. That's like Michael Jordan saying that his skill derived from Flintstones vitamins, as if you gain superhuman ability through diet alone. My point is this - Nicholas can spot shit on safari like Jordan, at his peak, could play basketball. It's unbelievable. 

From the road, he identified a rhino in distance, in tall grass by picking out its horn in the shadows. He spotted a cub among lions in a pride that were about invisible to us. While driving, he exclaimed, "There's a jackal," then drove another 50 yards and pulled up next to a gray, fox-sized critter standing in a patch of gray earth. While hustling us to our hotel near dusk, Nicko spotted a beetle on the side of the road, stopped, then backed up to point it out to us. 

His coup: while approaching a rainstorm in the flatland, he picked out a lion profiled against the sky a few hundred yards away and drove us to a vantage within 15 feet of a whole pride that casually endured our giddy photograph-taking. 

By that time, I think China and I were nearly saturated with sightings already. The day dawned with the sun breaking through the clouds to spotlight a portion of the lake and crater floor below us. A quick breakfast, and we were off, heading around the rim of the crater to drop down into it. While heading around, we stopped to see some zebra ("zibra", per Nicholas) and two Masai approached me making an unintelligible query. I mumbled something about my not understanding and got in the truck; Nicko shooed them away. The Masai wanted to trade a photo with them for some money - against the terms of Nicholas' license. Masai had been emerging from the side of the road to make similar offers and been hit by trucks. 

When we got to the road into the crater (guarded by a bored-looking guy wielding a Kalashnikov and a winter hat with a homemade Yankees logo) another Masai had a more successful strategy (and a willing mark) offering jewelry for sale. China was enamored with and bought a bracelet made of the exotic sounding "cow bone".

Into the crater. Its size became apparent once we reached the bottom. I'm normally  pretty good with directions, but at no point in Ngorongoro was I able to figure out where we were or to accurately determine how far away things anything was. Had Nicholas simply driven away from us at any point today, we wouldn't have made it out.

The first animal we spotted in the crater, a Thompson's gazelle. Then, wildebeest (Nicko: "wild-a-best"), some more zebra, some buffalo. In the distance, elephants. Taking a corner, more antelope, a hyena rolling in the dust, various birds including scores of flamingo, our first hippos. More turns, more wildebeest and zebra which are to this region like pigeons are in New York.

Highlights: coming up a road onto a herd of Cape buffalo crossing the street. Nothing to do but wait as they passed in front of us, heading across the plain, only turning to look at us when they caught our scent downwind fifty yards or so. Nicko popped the top of the Land Cruiser, allowing us a nearly unobstructed view on standing.

A bit later, we came to the tail end of the herd where about a dozen adults were crowded around two baby buffalo. One had been born minutes before, its mother trailing a placenta as she tended to it. The other was also young, but couldn't walk right, it stumbled forward pathetically on its front knees, lowing anxiously for its mother.

Which brings us to theme two: death. A small pack of hyenas, perhaps attracted by the smell of the birth and its accoutrements, began circling the two infants, occasionally being fended off by adults. But as the pack moved away so did almost all of the adults, leaving the newborn with one or two full-grown buffalo, and the one that couldn't walk trailing far behind its parent. The hyenas quickly caught on to the advantage this posed.

No secret that I love animals. So this was one of the hardest things I've ever had to watch: hyenas circling and drawing ever-closer to an obviously crippled and adorable animal, whining loudly for its mother to slow down, to let it catch up. If Hobbes thought our lives were nasty, brutish and short, he should consider this animal, carried to term by its mother and facing death perhaps within the same day, born into a consciousness that was in the scale of time less than a flicker. My vegetarianism is rooted in the sense that we shouldn't kill animals to provide an unnecessary food supply, but that moment forced me to consider the corollary - the necessary. You can't have cute newborns without some of them dying. That's how it works.

What ended up happening? I don't know.  We caved, asked Nicholas to move on before it resolved. As we drove away, we saw the parent continue to come back and ward off threats. But we also saw, just before we left, a triumph - the young buffalo crawling across the street and then standing on all four legs as he finally figured out how to make his appendages work. There's a universe in which he grew stronger and stronger in his walking and right now is resting, surrounded by hundreds of buffalo, waiting to see a new day. There's another universe in which he's dead, torn apart and being digested by a pack of hyenas who, taking no time to mourn, of course, are resting for another day of similar hunting. Which of those universes I am typing in, I'm not sure, and never will be.

We stayed in the crater for hours, seeing the aforementioned nearly invisible lion pride on a hilltop, the smear of a rhino in the far distance. Two solitary bull elephants taking dust baths, two wildebeest who looked like they were about to spar instead scratch themselves and start wandering around, grunting. I stood as we trundled along bumpy roads, repeatedly getting smacked in the chest by insects large and small.  We endured other tourists, including a loud group of obnoxious middle schoolers and a more demure pack of adults from Bakersfield. A brown and foggy landscape became bright, green and yellow as the cloud cover broke and the wildflowers opened to the sun

We stopped to eat a boxed lunch shortly before exiting the crater. Nicholas was fascinated by the iPhone and lamented the crappy Chinese knock-offs they got. More talk of the differences in our governments: we talked of farm subsidies and how Obama seemed "nice". 

Another frequent topic today: poachers. The guards in the conservation area have a shoot-on-sight policy and the government's blessing to do so. Nicko told us he'd seen dead poachers in the crater, which fit neatly into his tales of other existential threats he'd conquered in the wild. The guards also use Masai, who live and herd in the park, as informers and spies. Killing animals, even for ritual purposes, has been banned for years.

We began to climb out of the crater but stopped for an incredible moment - to watch a group of 20 elephants make their way into the small forest where we'd eaten lunch. The elephants were mostly adults with five or six adolescents mixed in. The most wonderful part: two babies, maybe three feet high but in every other sense elephant-like, mixed in among the adults. I can honestly say that in a lifetime of appreciating cute animals, those two were at the apex.

But with miles to go before we slept, we continued out. Back around the rim, and into the plains of the Serengeti. China had said that her two goals were to see baby elephants and giraffes. Both were fulfilled within an hour. Climbing a high and passing its crest, we saw four giraffes among a group of thorn bushes mixed in with a group of zebra.

Then a long drive through flat land. Rainstorms in the far distance looked like clouds dragging on the ground. Shortly after entering the Serengeti park proper we passed through a herd of literally thousands and thousands of zebras, crisscross-crossing the road, mobbed like hippies at Woodstock. They rested by standing side-by-side in pairs, one resting its head on the other's back. That we managed to get to our destination without running one over was amazing.

In the park, Nicholas stopped to pay our permit fees and we climbed a small rise to take in the view. Dozens of lizards got out from underfoot; a purple and red one nodded at us. Back down at the car, I for the first time saw the the creature I've come to fear the most: a small, black mosquito landed briefly on my right arm, then my left. I brushed it away quickly and lost sight of it, worrying for quite a while after where it had gone and what it had done. If only Nicholas' super vision extended as far as that.

Back into the plains, where we came upon two curious giraffes on either side of the road like a welcoming point. Their soft brown eyes with long lashes kept watch as they awkwardly picked leaves from the side of the road. Earlier, we'd stopped by a giraffe and its baby, both running away as we pulled up. Giraffes are the cute nerds of animal high school. 

The rainstorms caught up with us just as we encountered the pride of lions I mentioned earlier. A heavily-maned male watched China and I as we excitedly discussed and documented him; a juvenile male next to him stood and shook off the rainwater. No animal better carries an impression of power, it's safe to say. But we had a destination, and fishtailed our way over wet dirt roads until we reached the heart of the Serengeti, where we're staying now. Wildlife made one last ditch effort to have us kill it as massive herds of wildebeest kept warning across the road just past blind curves, but they always changed their mind at the moment of death and would hop and kick off to one side of the road or another.

The hotel itself is a collection of domed buildings separated by paths. There's no central facility, just domes of rooms, a dome for reception, one for the bar. After dark, they send a guard with a flashlight to your room to protect your from the wildlife; we experienced close brushes with both dik dik (dog-sized, herbivorous deer) and some hares. And two lizards in our room, which the porter's calling "mosquito guards" didn't convince China that they were welcome. 

At dinner, a group of obnoxious Coloradoans (inexplicably wearing Hawaiian shirts) was the bane of the other diners. China picked up some derogatory Swahili from college students she'd worked with during the meeting in Dar and she entertained the staff by referring to the loud-mouths in those unexpected terms. The waiter said, with a sigh, that they were Americans, which he felt explained the situation. Dis on us. 

And that was today. Or, rather, yesterday, as it's now 4 and I need to go back to sleep. Sorry about the lack of pictures - trust me, they exist. I'll come back and add them as soon as possible. But first, shortly after the thunderstorm I can see in the distance turns into daybreak - the Serengeti.

I never new surreality could be so prolonged.      

Day 4: In the Serengeti

May 10, 2010

It's 4:45 am. (On Tuesday. This is posted a bit belatedly.) We're at the Serengeti Sopa Lodge, and we just completed a sweep of the room after I was awakened by what sounded like the door handle. Before China went to bed last night, she tested to make sure the door was locked. It wasn't a second ago. But nothing is missing, no one is here, so it's just another fairly esoteric brush with danger in a day full of them.

(The Serengeti Sopa, incidentally, doesn't have wireless internet, so this will be posted when I can. Does it go without saying that this hasn't been my favorite accommodation?)

Serengeti means "endless plain", which is apt. We spent about 10 hours today doing little but driving that expanse, moving between small copses of trees and piles of boulders in a game of big cat connect-the-dots. Here, again, the photos can save me a few thousand words, but, in lieu of pictures, a few words can hopefully give some sense.

Up at 6:45 or so. Given how remote these facilities are, the staff work in three-month shifts so we had the same waiter as last night for a quick breakfast. (He greeted China with, "They're not here yet," in reference to her complaints about the boorish Americans from the night before.) Settled our bill, then to Nicholas and the Land Cruiser.

Our first sighting was a group of three giraffes, stripping the leaves from trees by the side of the road. In fairness, actually, our first sighting was some wildebeest or, perhaps, some antelope, but at this point, I expect to see them every time we go anywhere. The giraffes ambled into the street - three sizes: adult, adolescent, young - and walked in front of us for a few hundred yards.

Further on, near the airstrip bringing in tourists, we let a hyena cross the street in front of us; its shoulders forward, anxious-looking, walking like its front legs moved faster than its back. The trees were sparser now, the endless plains beginning.  At a relatively isolated tree, we watched a baby vervet monkey try to climb up to its family, but he couldn't get a grip. The clan came down and walked away through the grass, one carrying a tiny newborn that clung to its chest. A herd of wildebeest (nature's Law and Order) trotted single-file along the road, crossing over to join another group.

Mistake.  Across the road was also a small pride of lions, several females and few cubs. We spotted the cats moving through the grass toward the wildebeests; a second later, our driver Nicholas yelped - a lioness took a wildebeest down.

About six safari vehicles were in the area by now along with a scientist who tracks the collars some lions wore. Several of the tourists had a line of sight up the ditch where the wildebeest fell; we saw nothing but two lionesses going to fetch the cubs for breakfast. We moved on. 

The flatness of the plains and grasslands is interrupted occasionally by kopjes, large rocky outcroppings formed by bubbling magma. These were favored resting places for lions and, given that lions don't do much but rest, seemed like good hunting grounds for us.

And so they were. At the second or third we visited, we came upon a pride of five lions: two adult males, two juveniles and a lioness.  (Fun fact: the Swahili for lion is actually simba. What a pleasant coincidence for the Disney Corporation!) Oh, and when I say "came upon", I mean "became unnaturally familiar with." No more than ten feet away, on a rock at eye level, a lion whose paws were the size of China's head. When he exhaled, you could hear the rumble. He'd stir occasionally, look at us, uninterested, then try to go back to sleep. (One reason he stirred: China's squeals when a fly passed too close to her ear. The irony of being scared by a fly while photographing lions at close range was lost on her.) Beside the male was the lioness; the juveniles playfully jostled for space in the shade beneath a rock. One gave up and sought a higher perch, in the process waking the other male who growled in irritation. We paid this second lion a closer visit - as the truck approached him, he sat up and gave a look that the anthropomorphist in me could only call a glare. We backed up.

Point being: we now have a lot of goddamn pictures of lions in glorious detail. We were with this pride so long that Nicholas looked as though he was about to just open the door and walk into the lions' jaws from sheer boredom. (Though this is the same person who later told a story that involved his acting as a sort of lion cub taxi service, so his excitement threshhold may be above average.)

Back out into the open nothingness.  Stopped for lunch in another kopje, this one free of lions. Or so it seemed until we turned a corner and saw a male lying on top of the rock in whose shadow we ate. The conversation was tourism in reverse: Nicko asked all about our lives in New York, jobs, family. Cultural questions, too, including this stumper: holding the dessert from our box lunches, he asked if it was a muffin or a cake. It was, basically, an unfrosted cupcake. But what is the difference between that and a muffin? This will haunt me. 

After lunch, sightings became more and more rare. When the guide starts pointing out birds, you're deep into a dry spell. When the dirt road runs out and he starts careering through the grass, it's time to turn back. We passed a swamp empty but for a wildebeest skull; we used the world's largest bathroom. The Serengeti may not be infinite, but when you turn around empty-handed and head back along the same path for an hour, it seems eternal.

From drought to drowning: we saw a herd of wildebeest on the horizon that soon reached to the horizon in every direction. As we plowed ahead, scattering animals that were resting in the road, their presence was relentless. Occasionally leavened with a sprinkling of zebras, once with a pair of hyenas looking for a watering hole, I've never seen as much of anything as I did yesterday of wildebeests.

The three highlights of this encounter have nothing to do with wildebeests. The first was watching four zebras marching abreast through the watering hole, alternating drinking water with fighting whenever one of the others got too close. Though there was basically no other animal in the vicinity so they could have solved the problem simply by spreading out. But on they marched.

Second highlight, a mating dance by two of the national bird of Uganda, the name of which escapes me. I have it on video; it really is quite sexy.

Third. As the wildebeest herd began to thin, we saw another vehicle parked just past a small ridge. The truck was off the road, its passengers excitedly pointing and taking pictures. We joined them. There, under a tuft of grass, was a cheetah. I'll say this: cheetahs may be fast, but this one averaged 0 kmph. It looked, then, like a spotty cat, noticeably smaller than the lions we'd gotten acquainted with earlier in the day. If you have a chance to see a cheetah, see it while it's moving.      

It was then the late afternoon, and our hotel still several hours away, so we started back. We returned along the road where the wildebeest was killed earlier and spotted two of its murderers lounging in an acacia tree. (Tanzania claims to be the only country where lions sleep in trees. Claims to fame.) Near the ditch where the attack took place, several lions were sleeping; a large storm, which had been saturating the horizon for hours unleashed a well-timed growl of thunder.

In this part of the Serengeti, hills and trees live in symbiosis. As we drove, the terrain started to roll and more trees appeared. The roads were muddy and slippery. Nicko was anxious to make up time.

But then we came across a group of a dozen female elephants, including three or four young ones and one baby. They were walking in the direction from which we'd come, but at an angle bringing them closer to the street. We backed up, they drew closer. With elephants, there's no such thing as too close - though they're huge, they're not frightening in the least. In a short time, we were close enough to hear them rip grass from the ground and chew it. A bit later, they crossed the street directly behind us, walking up a rise on the other side into the empty, warm dusk and gray sky.

This hotel is in the hills, so we soon entered a forest. A large number of stopped trucks engaged us in the search for a leopard only two had seen, but everyone quickly gave up. The leopard's greatest asset was our fatigue. 

Past vervet monkeys, preening baboons, over a rickety bridge, rousing a wildebeest with a broken leg from its much-needed rest at the side of the road, and we were at the hotel. As with every other accommodation, we were offered a hot towel and glass of juice on arriving. Unlike the others, a swimming pool was also suggested; as it was unheated and bug-filled, we declined. 

I fell asleep early and soundly. Riding in cars and looking at things is surprisingly tiring. Tomorrow, back to Arusha in preparation for a flight to Zanzibar.

Postscript: The door to the hotel room has an unusual double-lock. Turn the key around twice and it locks twice. When I woke up and checked the door, I locked it a second time. 

As for the door handle, I think that mystery has also been solved. When we got up this morning, some vervet monkeys were on the porch. With the screen door open, they started into the room. When I closed it a bit, the monkeys tried to force it open. The odds that they created the sound I heard: high. And I made fun of China for being unnecessarily scared of flies. Riding in cars and looking is tiring and paranoia-inducing, it seems.

Day 5: From the Serengeti to Arusha

May 11, 2010

We are out of the Serengeti. Had close encounters with a giraffe (stretching its neck and long black tongue to reach leaves well above ones that, to this uneducated observer, seemed perfectly acceptable), a lion (the difference in the awe factor between a moving and stationary lion is remarkable), a family of warthogs (I lament to say that they trot very much like our beloved Lucy, which may lead to a new nickname for her), and some ostriches (they are what they are). We have great photos and video of all three - but the stories aren't terribly fascinating. Off we go.

We departed the hotel. Around a bend, the giraffe, soft brown eyes giving us occasional peeks as we watched him eat. Eventually, he squeezed by the truck and walked away. A bit further up the road, a sad encounter with a baby wildebeest all by itself. Seeing us pull up, the desperate thing thought we might be its mother, and grunted hopefully. (Wildebeest, our guide told us, have bad eyesight. This certainly seemed to be evidence to that effect.) If it doesn't find its actual mother or another herd, it is doomed - it's not safe to eat alone, or sleep alone. This is the stretch where yesterday we saw the leopard. Nothing we could do but drive away; it ran after us for a little while, then turning off into the forest.

By the rickety bridge we crossed yesterday, Nicholas pointed out some bones. Several years ago, trucks coming in to the lodge saw lions on the bridge and a slain giraffe to the side. The bones, large and narrow, were picked clean shortly thereafter, the giraffe's flesh taking a quick trip back down the food chain.    

On our first day in the Serengeti, Nicholas asked us to guess what the blue and black banners hanging at regular intervals were. Unsurprisingly, we failed to guess that the tse tse fly is attracted to those colors and that the banners are coated with pesticide. But this, happily, introduced China to the concept of sleeping sickness and to the idea that flies can kill you. Shortly after we crossed the bridge, Nicko pointed out tse tse on the seat beside him, telling us both that the area was a common location for them and that he was bitten regularly to no ill effect. Neither of us was assuaged - I particularly not when I felt one on my neck. Quickly brushed it off, but had visions of an ignoble, writhing death on the African plains. Happily, that was not to be.

Passed a distant hippo standing by a river in front of a giraffe and then, an amazing sight: zebras. (This is amazing in the same sense that it's amazing to breathe.) A decent-sized herd, brown-striped youngsters lying in the dust or running out of our way. 

In the herd on one side was a pair of warthogs; a juvenile third across the street came trotting over to join them. He was not welcomed warmly, chased away three or four times by one of the pair. Eventually he bopped off out of sight, tail held high, a little gray Lucy looking to be adopted.

(These warthogs are from yesterday, but they're cute.)

We got to the main road, and began to head out of the park. Ran into one of China's coworkers a bit unexpectedly, he and his wife were on their way to Lake Manyiufara. Together we watched a lioness glide from one rock outcropping drizzled with lions to another where two sat in the shade. She walked in the grass beside the road a while, then cut across right behind our truck. She was tall enough to have licked the windows clean had she been 15 feet closer.

A bit further on, eagle-eyed Nicholas spotted a cheetah sitting on a termite mound. Without the aid of binoculars, it was a darkish lump. The guide from China's co-worker's vehicle said something in Swahili to Nicko, who exclaimed to us, "Oh! See the babies?" Nope. With the aid of binoculars, they were tiny darkish lumps.  

Visitors to the Serengeti enter through a gateway on an otherwise empty road. Fees and permits are acquired a bit further on in a hilly area. Here we stopped again on our way out. As Nicko dealt with paperwork, we went to get a soda and I learned about one of China's hidden passions: haggling. The gift shop (a counter with an attached room filled with odds and ends like Chinese soaps and American chips) had Africa magnets for sale, one for 5,000 Tanzanian shillings - a bit less than five bucks. China wanted two for 8,000. The man said he'd do 9. China declined. Little did I know she was just getting warmed up. 

This also began the next phase of our trip: the people phase. On the long drive from the Serengeti back through Ngorongoro past Lake Manyara and to Arusha we saw herds of people, isolated individuals, small groups, Masai villages, African towns. People may be people, but culture can be a real humdinger.

(This drive, by the way, was indeed long - it took about 6 hours. At one point I decided to figure out how many syllables there are when counting from "one" to "one hundred" - 301, which makes sense given the prevalence of "blankety-blank" iterations. There's only one five syllable number. This is left as an exercise to the reader should he be on a long drive somewhere.)

The Masai are the tribe you picture when you think of remote parts of Africa. Tall, dark, thin, large plugs stretching their ears. They're most commonly seen near goatherds or their villages, a circular collection of thatch-roofed houses surrounded by large sharpened wooden stakes. The herdsmen are usually young boys, who are shy neither about nudity or asking for food or money. The youngest we saw were probably 4; unaccompanied, 6. I think I was potty-trained by 4.

Lunch near Ngorongoro. The Swahili for "you're welcome" is karibo; Nicko asked if there wasn't an animal with a name like that. We said there was, and i asked if he'd heard of Sarah Palin, intending to make a joke about her hunting inclinations. He had, which pretty much means her work is done. He also told us about Tanzania's upcoming Presidential election (they serve five year terms), and told a story about how the sitting President discovered that a corrupt official had spirited away a trillion-plus shillings in a Swiss account. The money was returned to Tanzania, where the President decided to loan it back out to the people - at a robust 25% interest. We told him about credit card companies. 

We came back through Mosquito Town (see my post of a few days ago). From outskirt to outskirt, I counted five orphanages. People by the side of the road bundled huge sacks of bananas for export. A shop offered red bananas at a stand set back among the trees. China took a photo of it from the truck; when we reviewed it, they had a large sign declaring their poverty and asking that those taking pictures also buy something. Sorry.

The town also had graffiti in the drainage ditch that adjoins the road - on one side of a bridge was Swahili for "tired dogs;" and on the other "OBAMA." I asked Nicholas what the tired dogs slang meant, he demurred, explaining only that it's like when a dog is panting and its tongue hangs out. This wasn't helpful.

Outside of town, we got to a place China has been quite excited about - the Shirt Shack, a little hut selling tourist t-shirts at a hefty $15 US a pop. We selected several and China went to make a deal. No dice. The proprietor, leaning on a table in a capacious batik dress, held firm. Stymied, China again declined to buy anything - as much mad at not being able to haggle, I suspect, as not getting the shirts.

Nicholas knew another place. Started by a several brothers, it was opened with one of the government's usurious loans, a portion of proceeds given also to some of the local orphans in the form of food and clothes. The brothers were staffing it when we arrived and could easily have been transplanted to an American college campus, complete with Bob Marley poster. It was seedy in a way that we would have avoided in America, but widespread poverty tends to shift the bar on acceptability. For just outside of Mosquito Town, it wasn't too shabby.

The shop, which was two buildings jammed with African wood carvings, paintings and handiwork, was adjacent to the soccer field of a primary school. While China browsed, I watched kids play. One saw me and started to gesture. I asked one of the brothers what the gesture meant - the kid wanted a pen. 

Done shopping, we went to the brothers to begin negotiations. Nothing had a price; it was all subject to discussion. China was in heaven. The first quote we got: $210 - at least three times what we thought the things were worth. The price dropped quickly. My contribution: we were buying a swatch of fabric that we were assured was of extremely high quality. They thought we wanted three meters when we only wanted one. So they adjusted their offer, dropping five dollars. The next time they mentioned the quality of the fabric, I noted that it couldn't be that good if it was only $2.50 a meter. We settled, paying half in dollars (the preferred currency, though people won't take torn or old bills) and half in shillings.

Through Karatu, with its mural juxtaposing Kobe with Thierry Henry. Down what Nicholas called the nation's "superhighway", a two-lane paved road from Ngorongoro to the Arusha turn-off. Whipping past us at about 60 miles an hour were a series of public buses (vans, really) painted with random names (Juventus, CupCake) and occasionally carrying passengers standing on the driver's side running board.  Hopefully, those people rode free. 

We again passed a crowded market, this time for Masai. (China got a great photo as we passed of the crowd in focus behind a somber-looking man crossing the street in the foreground.) And again we passed any number of partially-built brick houses. Nicko indicated that given the expense of building them people built what they could as they could; some appeared to have been in progress for a very long time.  

Finally, to Arusha. We passed the airport, taking a road through a coffee plantation lined with African tulip trees, their orange petals a contrast to the dark green. It was beautiful - and itself a strong contrast to what followed. We emerged suddenly into a dusty, chaotic, ugly street, crowded with vehicles, people and noise. Nicholas warned China to keep her camera well inside the car - in the stop-and-go traffic, snatching it would have been easy. We were staying at a hotel in the city, and grew a bit anxious as we continued down similar roads of dubious quality, passing cinder block hotels identified by the ubiquitous red Coke signs we'd seen everywhere. In one street / alley, gang graffiti, including one called the Zombiez. Dar is big city chaotic; Arusha is just chaotic. 

(Or so says the guy who has seen four streets of it for just under an hour. But the fortress-like construction of the hotel and sheet of safety instructions in our room tend to indicate that my impressions are accurate.)

We went to sleep watching a concert film from the 1970s, featuring black American performers (James Brown, B. B. King) and celebrities (Ali) in Africa. It was an odd string tying us back to the States, watching cats talk Black power while we sit in a white people's fortress a few hundred kilometers from a hub of the old slave trade. Arusha is poor in part because the West is rich. The best reminder of that isn't hearing Muhammed Ali verbally bob and weave - it's just being here.

Oh, one last story. I woke up at about 6 because the TV was on. We had a message - Internet was out because their satellite was down, and the news couldn't wait until morning. I turned the set off and went to the bathroom. 

Just above my right knee was a tick.

Day 6: From Arusha to Zanzibar

May 12, 2010

(Running a day behind on updates which, combined with the time difference between Zanzibar and my web server, is probably confusing. This post deals with Wednesday, May 12th - my sixth day in Africa and third to last.)

China's day started as unpleasantly as mine - suddenly awake, tweezers in hand, removing my unexpected passenger. There's a metaphor in there somewhere about our transition from the wilds of safari to the leisure of Zanzibar, but its not a good one. Either way, the tick is dead, and those still living began preparations to leave. 

The impressions I took away from Arusha are like a series of photos - flash vignettes glimpsed from the car or snatches of sound from the hotel room. A marching band, for example, horns and drums warming up, playing briefly and stopping within the space of 15 seconds. We saw nothing, just the trees planted in front of the hotel windows specifically to keep us from having to see what was happening around us.

For the trip to the airport, we were met by a man named Issa who, with a good deal of prodding from China, we learned has a girlfriend in Dar es Salaam studying computer science that he met through his sister. While he gave up his life story, snapshots of Arusha scrolled past - the high walls around the Anglican church, a deranged man being watched at a distance by a decent-sized crowd, a license plate with a likeness of Obama, buses painted 'Passion' and 'K-Diesel', people on bikes with grass for domestic animals tied on the back. Passed a billboard showing a group of happy people under which it read "It's Tanzania's Time!" - and then "Kilimanjaro Beer". Below the billboard sat eight or so guys, idly watching traffic; beside them a litter-strewn stream from which a chicken drank.

Arusha airport is an airport in the technical sense - airplanes come and go, there's an x-ray machine. Beyond that, it reflects all of the modernity of Ted Kaczynski's shack. An ad hoc cluster of six or seven wooden buildings, intake is handled by a free standing computer desk of the Target variety. Bags are collected and piled in the terminal for transport to the tarmac. The regular waiting area and secure area feature the same white free-standing plastic chairs, the two separated by a chain link fence. Each chair is also marked for identification as government property; written on the back is, for example, "TAA/HTAR/BO2/DL/003/CHR/03," the last number of which changes from chair to chair. For a facility that is open-air and pretty laissez-faire about the general accoutrements of air travel, they are sticklers about their seating. I imagine a guy whose job it is to check off every chair each night - if even one goes missing, so help him... 

China made her way to the gift shop, as is her wont ("$20? That's way too much!") while I watched Chinese businessmen, German tourists and locals all watch each other. In the grassy areas between the runways, men cut down tall grass with machetes.

The flight was a short one, landing in Zanzibar and dropping several of us off before continuing to Dar. The best joke from the in-flight magazine: why do seagulls live near the sea? Because if they lived near the bay, they'd be bagels. Most of the articles were written by a white couple exploring parks in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania - below us the rusted roofs of patchwork slums grew smaller and smaller as we climbed above the clouds, and larger and larger as we landed. If we expected Zanzibar to be an oasis free of poverty, we were quickly shown otherwise.

Walked into customs where an officer casually walked over, asked where we were from and then dismissed us with a wave while retreating. To baggage, a counter where suitcases rested briefly between being removed from the truck and being claimed by passengers. A woman in a money exchange waved a handful of bills at me enticingly and encouraged me to come over.

We were met by representatives of Island Express tour service who loaded us into a Japanese van (complete with Japanese instructions for the windows), killed the wasp that was flying around inside, and turned the air conditioning on full blast (though then rolling their windows down for the ride which rendered the A/C quite useless). Another ride of quick impressions began.

The islands of Zanzibar and the mainland united to form Tanzania in the early 1960s. One nation comprised of distinct parts, the two are culturally different. Zanzibar, with a longer history of occupation and strategic importance, more strongly reflects Arab influence, including in its religion. It's immediately apparent - women are almost universally in long robes, mosques are prevalent.

But it's still poor. Near a large plot of land filled with garbage, a small rubbish fire burned. Mud houses transitioned to shoreline mansions which became cinder block hovels. A bus (created by covering the back of a pick-up) carried as many people on the back bumper as inside. A horse was tied to a sign near the entrance to the airport; cows grazed on the end of makeshift ropes. A man on a motorcycle towed a man on a Vespa who wore a helmet for safety. A school displayed the alphabet, using samosas to illustrate S and Vicks for V. The muggy air smelled old, like an attic.

Perhaps to distract us, the guide told us all about the island. The spices, the agriculture, what percentage of the economy was based on tourism. On Zanzibar there are 18 varieties of mango - the tropical climate version of Eskimo snow. Past a police checkpoint we reached the hotel. An isolated enclave.

Let me backtrack for a moment. As we waited for our ride in Arusha, I sat in the nicely appointed lounge of our hotel while, a table over, a group of people discussed their missionary work. Driving through Zanzibar, an astonishingly beautiful and incredibly poor island, the sheer ridiculousness of that struck me. Yeah, that's the cure for a couple of centuries of colonization and Christian outreach - more of the same. Where you could invest the same time and energy trying to dislodge corruption and support institutional reforms that will alleviate poverty, instead you choose to build churches. Thanks for all of your help. 

(I wrote that, of course, while sitting at a very nice hotel well separated from the population of the island. But then, I'm not carrying the mantle of charity here, am I? Let the awkward transition to a description of our leisure activities commence.)

Wow, what a beach

Went swimming, getting in the warm water at high tide with the sun just above the trees onshore. Pretty spectacular. Kept a wary eye on what the hotel calls the "beach boys," hustlers who try and exchange currency, give tours, sell shells, etc. The hotel positions guards awkwardly dressed as Masai to patrol the beach wall, to not a great deal of effect.

At dinner, we tried to surreptitiously feed the stray cats that meowed at our feet, pocketing bread to give to the dog that was trotting around outside our room. A man at the next table, a native of Dar and now-resident of Canada, fed the strays too, explaining that the prophet Muhammed spoke favorably of cats - perhaps explaining why the staff took less issue with them than with the dog. Tell you this much: any religion founded by a cat lover isn't for me. (Only one more Abrahamic religion left to disparage!)

The Canadian, here with his boyfriend / office manager / favorite pop singer, is a lawyer traveling to various countries to advocate for the inclusion of sexual orientation in discrimination statutes.  He has an uphill climb, of course - even in Zanzibar he's in tricky waters. He's avoiding Uganda entirely.

Dinner was otherwise uneventful, save a large grasshopper landing on my arm. When it jumped off, the force of its kick stung. And credit where its due: the singer in the keyboard / guitar combo that regaled us during the meal does a mean Sting.

Went to bed watching BBC welcome David Cameron and learning about controversy over Kenya's new constitution from a Nairobi news report. The United States probably still exists, but I couldn't swear to it. And frankly, as long as family, friends and pets are all doing well, its not important if it does - at least until Saturday. 

Day 7: Zanzibar

May 13, 2010

So on the seventh day, we rested. With some caveats.

For example, we were up to see the sunrise. I don't know that I've ever watched the sun rise before, but then I am not usually a short walk from an east-facing beach. Or going to bed at 9:30 at night. 

Another caveat: we spent a decent amount of time carrying our stuff from beach chairs to cover and back as the rain came and went. On safari, being in Tanzania at the tail end of the rainy season was advantageous as it corresponded with the migrations of enormous herds. Here, rain hits the pause button. A life of hardship.

Frankly, not a lot happened today. The beach boys hustled; the Masai ("Masai") guards lackadaisically kept them at bay. (Until the general manager appeared - at that point, they became pretty alert.)

Local kids - boys often in white caps, girls in colorful, flowing head coverings - walked along the beach wall on their way from home to school and then the reverse. In the afternoon, they sought "agua" - we didn't really know how or if to proffer it. From the ocean, we watched a group of about eight boys scamper along the wall, testing the guards' boundaries; from the hotel others were silhouetted against the flat sky, wraps whipping behind them.

One of our fellow guests (who I will describe thusly: "fattoo") saw a Muslim woman and her small child approaching and lay back on his beach chair, videotaping them as they walked in front of him. The woman picked up her daughter and pulled her close, picking up her pace. He followed their path until out of sight. Tourism.  

I noticed that where a while ago I lost track of the day, now I'd lost track of the hour. Time revolved around meals: a quarter to dinner, half past breakfast. At lunch, a Dutch or South African family mentioned the following Americans in conversation: Michael Jackson, Obama, George Bush ("Boosh"), Tiger Woods. The daughter put her knife in the ketchup to apply to her french fries; the son wore a hat made of Heineken cans. 

The stereo at lunch played canned karaoke music ("Feelings", "New York, New York"). At dinner a live band played bouncy versions of Simon and Garfunkel and Dave Brubeck. I've found that various songs have been stuck in my head over the week: Toto's "Africa", a Talib Kweli song that references something that sounds like the Swahili for "thank you", and "Mambo Italiano" because the informal version of "hello" is "mambo". 

The formal version, as my sister could tell you, is "jambo", which is delivered by everyone we encounter in hearty greeting - but it feels awkward to return it. This is in part, I'm embarrassed to admit, because there's a safari simulation ride at Disney World which uses "jambo" as a kitschy bit of realism. Whenever someone says it to me, I picture the plump, white "guide" our family had in Orlando, Bruce, reading it off his script. Here, it still feels scripted.

Like the tables the Masai guards set up near the dining room to sell necklaces and jewelry. How much more authentic these things were than the items in the gift shop, it's hard to say. But I do know that the elephant tooth they tried to sell us wasn't from an elephant, unless elephants have fangs now.  

I'm writing this on Friday, and it's probably my last post until we're back in New York. We leave here shortly to head to Zanzibar Town and the historic Stone Town section thereof, then a ferry to Dar, a flight to Nairobi, then Zurich, then JFK. We get back Saturday afternoon.

I'm annoyed at feeling conflicted about our time here, but I'd be embarrassed if I didn't. Driving through Zanzibar and on the mainland, I saw split seconds in the lives of hundreds of people from which I derive assumptions about the lives they lead. If someone saw me for an instant in New York, I'm confident they would come away with misinterpretations. The artificial reality this hotel creates establishes a sense of the dichotomy between worlds that is unavoidable.

On the other hand, I came to Tanzania with a preconceived sense of its poverty and the implications thereof. Who am I to judge what that poverty means? In regions of widespread poverty by American standards, what (beyond health and educational opportunities) is the harm?

This morning, a beach boy trying to sell us something started trying to guess where we were from. Because of my hair color, he covered most of Scandinavia before getting the correct answer - at which point we tried to shoo him away. He reacted poorly to being rebuffed. "If you don't want anything, why come? You bring nothing to Zanzibar. Why didn't you stay in America?" Of course, he's just trying to make us feel guilty so we'll buy something. But it's not a simple question to answer.

Day 8: Stone Town and Home

May 14, 2010

There have been two times in my life when I was convinced I was going to die. Each time, the tension of the moments leading up to my reaching that conclusion washed away, leaving me with a peaceful acceptance about the life I have lived. It's only when I began to once again think I might survive that the great powerless fear returned.

The first time I felt that way was during extremely bad turbulence on a small commuter plane probably a decade ago. The second time was yesterday.

We were picked up at our hotel by the same duo that brought us there, the driver who didn't speak and the guide who didn't shut up. We drove back across the island, this time headed for Zanzibar's historic district of Stone Town. A chicken crossed the road in front of us for reasons unknown. We passed hundreds of schoolchildren in cream-colored shirts and purple pants, the girls in matching headscarves; one carried her backpack on her head. One man we passed wore a shirt with a picture of Che, another had a shirt parodying Corona beer, another - and I swear this is true - wore a numbered jersey that on the front read "Daniel Cohen Bar Mitzvah".

Coming in to Zanzibar Town, we passed the brand new soccer stadium that the Chinese built. Our guide, whose practiced enthusiasm was betrayed by his unenergetic delivery, exclaimed, "Look at slums!" and then turned to see if we were taking pictures.

Stone Town, a UNESCO historic site, is home to 100,000-odd people, mostly Muslim. The area is so named because most of the buildings, centuries old, are built of the coral the island rests on. Controlled at various times by Arabs, Portuguese and the British, it's an eclectic Arabian neighborhood of narrow alleys, small shops and ornate architectural detail.

The mute driver dropped us off at a central market and drove off. To say that China and I felt out of our element was an understatement. The only obvious non-locals in sight, speaking none of the language, we clung to the lifeline that was our guide as we dipped in and out of stalls. First a rice stand, then the butcher, then the fishmongers, then spice-sellers, then fruits ("Look at green bananas!"). The butcher in particular made quite an impression - the distance between grazing animal and dinner table is unimaginably short. Had Jonathon Safran Foer grown up in Zanzibar, I think Eating Animals would have been a very different book. My mind went blank as we drifted past stalls, reacting with touristy interest to really horrible presentations.

We drained into the streets. A soda in a corner market open on both sides where an old woman made fun of China's inability to finish a Fanta. Perused colorful wraps at a vender; the guide's sister, out of school for lunch, appeared to bum some money. We passed a group of men shooting pool who admonished China for take photos: "This isn't a zoo. These are people, not animals." The call to prayer began.

Visited the world's last public slave market, now the site of an Anglican church. Its altar rests on the spot where slaves were whipped to demonstrate their strength for purchasers; in front of it is a marble circle where the whipping post stood. Slave-trading was officially banned by the Sultan of Zanzibar in 1873, but continued underground until British warships forced cessation only 99 years ago. Nearby is a memorial to the slaves bought and sold; a condom wrapper was in the gutter.

Wandered deeper into the city. An old woman lying on a bed craned her neck to watch us out her door. A kid on a bike almost ran us over. A vender passed ice creams to customers through the barred windows of a bank. Saw a number of cats, one dead. Election posters and instructions on how to vote covered a wall near a public square. We saw Freddie Mercury's house, where a plaque referred to him as "flamboyant."

The guide dropped us off at a restaurant of poor quality near the dock where we were to catch the ferry back to Dar es Salaam, followed by a car to the airport to head home. A bunch of local kids dove off an anchored boat and splashed around. After lunch, the driver reappeared and we drove to the dock.

Outside, at least thirty men, some in orange vests, fought to carry our bags. Our guide, taking his leave, insisted on my paying him in front of the main gate; I could feel every eye in a ten-foot radius on me as I counted bills in my wallet. We squeezed our way inside and went through customs - Zanzibar maintains the formalities of an independent nation, though it isn't one. We waited in an area with benches covered by corrugated metal. A large ferry pulled up and huge numbers of people got off.

I was sunburned and tired. My main goal was to find a seat in air conditioning, my patience for the travails of disorganized modes of travel was exhausted. On a silent signal, departing passengers surged to the narrow dock. China and I fought currents to stay together. Straight ahead to Fast Ferries; to one side, a larger vessel was unloading dozens of Dell boxes. Our ferry had some seats on the roof - but the main room was air conditioned with cushioned chairs. Two aisles ran the length of the boat. This is where we sat.

As we prepared to get underway, a young Muslim directly behind us sold us water. An old man sold newspapers, including one with a large picture of Obama on the cover. The boat became fairly crowded; people left their luggage in the aisles. Whoever was in charge of the entertainment system (powered by a Simsung DVD player) popped in a bootleg disc of American professional wrestling. We pulled away from the dock, cruising on calm water.

For a bit. China had been worried about being motion sick. Her concerns were warranted. About 20 minutes into the trip, the boat started slamming into small waves, kicking up water over the windows. China, queasy, thought she'd go get fresh air - I argued against it, worried she could be knocked overboard.

Then the waves got bigger, and so did the motion of the boat. People started sitting up in their seats, some looking around nervously, others pointing out the portside windows. A group of employees, one in mechanic's overalls, hustled down the aisle and out the door at the front. Others passed out sickness bags. 

"Is something going on?" China asked nervously. "I'm not sure," I responded, even though something obviously was. "But I think if something were wrong, they'd at least slow down." By now we were in the middle of a storm, still moving extremely quickly. Was water coming in? Had we lost control of the speed? The view out the window alternated between showing only sky and showing only water. On the TV a muscular black wrestler pinned a white one, then the DVD started to skip.

I've never experienced motion like this. Now in open water, the boat would slice into the side of a wave and tip to the right, then it would crest and slam down to the left. Or, whipping along, we'd smash into a wave and the boat would shudder. Or we'd God-knows-what and the boat would rear back like a horse or dip down like it was going to slide under the waves. Much of the time we couldn't see out the windows because of the water washing down them. The noise from the waves and the ship bouncing off of them competed with the tinny, too loud sounds of the WWE which could be confused with radio static or inaudible warnings from authority figures. Shortly before the worst of it, I asked the nervous-looking staffer how much time was left. An hour, he responded, meaning we were at least 30 minutes late. 

And there was nothing we could do - we couldn't slow down, we couldn't get off, we couldn't hurry up. We were completely powerless. I've read about ferry disasters, capsizing, sinkings, and been curious how so many died. Now I understand. If the boat had capsized, which seemed imminent, we'd have been fighting 80 other people to get out two doors, upside down, in a state of panic. Even if we got out, we'd be in massive rolling waves at least 45 minutes from another boat; while on the boat I didn't see a single life vest. Increasingly panicked, my mind raced through exit strategies. I tried to talk to China calmly about how we could evacuate - she was too sick to talk.

Then it washed over me. Well, this is it. This boat is going to capsize and we are going to drown. When it was unavoidable, it wasn't scary - it was just how it was. And if you're going to die, there are worse ways than next to the person you love. For a second, I loosened my grip on the armrest. But just as quickly, my rational side kicked in. We've made it so far, I thought, or maybe - no, we won't die like this. People don't die like this. I was back in the moment, terrified once again, and willing minutes or distance to pass by just the smallest bit faster, just this once.

Maybe they did. The ride, looking back, is a blur, a minute of horrible sweaty tension. From the moment I took out my wallet in front of the thirty Zanzibar hustlers until we stepped surprisingly calmly onto the dock in Dar is a surreal postcard my brain is tucking away to deal with later. If time didn't seem to go any faster in the moment, if in fact it didn't, in my memory it's now just a thing - a time-independent mote of Something That Happened. If I recall the details as I did above, it starts to decompress, which I'm not really up for right now.

I'll change direction instead. After we were in the calmer water of Dar Harbor, the DVD changed to Rambo 3. I thought to myself that I needed to start working the phrase, "Remember that scene from Rambo 3..." into my repertoire. Because this is how I deal with shit.

So now we're off the boat and into another crowd of self-identified porters that morphed, off the dock, into a crowd of self-identified cab drivers. Not in that crowd: our actual driver who misunderstood and was waiting for us at the airport. A new dilemma.

I don't mean to cast aspersions on the people of Tanzania - everyone we met (except the beach boy I mentioned in the previous post) was very friendly (unless trying to sell us something). But, with the sun going down by the docks and our standing out readily as tourists, we had a problem. Do we wait the 30 minutes for our guy to arrive, or do we risk a ride with an unknown driver? After a minute or two of dithering, we opted for the latter, picking a guy who looked strangely like Big Boi from Outkast. On his radio, "Bad Romance". Another driver, who I think may have been high, tried to entice us out of the cab by sticking his head in the window and asking where we were going. We pulled into traffic.

Where we stopped. Our goal was to be at the airport by 7:45. At 7 we were dead in traffic an estimated 20 minutes from the airport. The rear windows didn't roll down so we boiled in the muggy heat; the front ones were open, so mosquitos swarmed. In front of us, a man hung onto the side of a bus, feet dangling in mid-air. Our driver stopped to get gas.

But we made it. Now I'm sitting on a Swiss Air flight from Zurich to New York, on a newer Airbus maintained by a Swiss flight crew. China and I took turns in business class, so I just had a great artichoke and lentil ragout for lunch. The seatback magazine (which is different for first and business class) has a profile of resorts in Tanzania; the video they played as we boarded showed safari animals. As we left Dar, attendants walked up and down the aisles with bug spray, extinguishing any entomological trace of Africa before we landed in Europe. 

At the Zurich airport, the chairs aren't numbered.