Friday, 10 September 2010

Zanzibar Shower Cap, Swimming with Dolphins & LCA

We checked into the very charismatic and well known boutique hotel 236 Hurumuzi on Aug 21st. This old house belonged to Zanzibar's richest merchant in its past life. After checking in at 2pm, we were told that our room was not yet ready and we needed to wait for a few minutes. We had a drink in the scenic rooftop restaurant and made an inquiry trip to the nearby tour office but the room was still not ready when we returned to the hotel. It turned out the bed in our suite room was actually broken by previous guests.

We thought we could at least use the room cleaning ourselves up quickly, and let the workmen resume their work afterwards. But upon entering the room, I was shocked to see the otherwise charming and spacious chamber looking like a workshop, with 6/7 repairmen/staff standing there and one of them waving a wielding gun, dust all over. We didn't have much choice but to repeat to the hotel that we needed the room by 5pm to be ready for dinner meeting at 6pm.

We went out to explore the ancient Stone City. Only then did I understand why the map we got from the hotel had no street names on it, as the streets indeed have no name plaques. Although every Zanzibari seemed to be offering their service to guide us I was determined to see how far we could get on our own.

Zanzibar is a very picturesque city with many years of history and a fusion culture of Arab, India, English, Africa and etc. It has many beautiful architecture. However as we walked about, it turned out to be quite difficult to find our way around. The streets wind around and we soon lost our orientation. After asking quite a few locals, we eventually returned to our hotel. Despite my request and the promise by the hotel, our room was still not ready.

Drama ensued as we wanted our room now and the hotel kept saying it is getting ready, meaning it was not ready. I had learned my lessons and knew another few minutes could turn into another few hours. In the end, I walked up the steep staircases to my room and told the workers to stop their chain saws and just clean it up, as the bed looked ok enough for us to sleep on.

After the floor was dusted off, the hotel staff were quite apologetic and asked what else we needed. Do they have a shower cap for me? A few minutes later, a knock on the heavy antique door brought me two small bottles of shampoo and shower gel. I guestured that I had actually wanted a shower cap. Ah, plastic?! Came an acknowledging and hopeful nod. Ten minutes later, another knock on the door. Stuart answered and then came to me laughing loud, holding an old plastic supermarket grocery bag. This was the Zanzibar shower cap!

Zanzibar is known for its spice farms so it was natural to visit one of them. The young man who was one of the 14 children of the owner of the 3 hectare spice farm turned me into a jungle queen at the end of the 2 hour visit by dressing me up with the earrings, necklace, tiara and etc he made of the leaves of the spice plants-all during our visit!

The day out in the sea in the traditional Dhow Boat was both interesting and disappointing. Interesting because the marina life such as corals and fish we saw snorkeling were beautiful. Disappointing because there were just too many tourists that made it look and feel like a market. But we did manage to see Bottle-nosed Dolphins frolicking on our sail back, which ended the day on a positive note.

Swimming with dolphins has been at the back of my mind for years so seeing them alone was not enough to quench my thirst. So we ended up going on a special dolphin trip very early the next day. I heard long ago human swimmers can get very close to the bottled nosed dolphins. I was so looking forward to spending time with them.

After an hour of car ride, we arrived in the Southern end of Zanzibar- Kizimkazi where we got on a speed boat. The guide told us that dolphins come here every day and the day before stayed around for a whole day in the bay. 95% of visitors see the dolphins when they come here. I was pretty certain that I would see them, even though the sea was very choppy that day and dolphins are not as playful in such conditions.

We were on the sea for an hour but still no shadow of any dolphins. Our guide, who saw so many dolphins yesterday, started making comments on the slim chance of seeing them today. I was disappointed but not surprised. The leopard and the cheetah made me work hard before. So why not the dolphins?? I was already making plans in my head about coming back tomorrow should the dolphins not show up today, even though I was still hoping for a nice surprise just when I was least expecting it.

Two hours passed and still no dolphins in sight. I finally decided to go and see the red monkeys in the Juzani forest first, while our guide left words with the fishermen to alert him no matter when the dolphins showed up.

Persistence paid off. Just when we finished the Juzani visit, news came that the dolphins had come back. We rushed back to Kizimkazi and got on another speed boat and drove out into the sea again. The cloud had cleared, wind died, sea calmed and water returned to azure.

For the next hour and half, I was in bliss as I swam with the dolphin. The plastic paddles for snorkling were too big for me so I ended up swimming, therefore loosing whatever little competitive advantage I could gain. The Dolphins sometimes swam very slowly, almost just hovering beneath us but then would dash off suddenly as if playing hide-and-seek with us. I once counted about a dozen of them and from time to time felt like they were just within touch before they slipped off again. I must say this incredible experience was so addictive and instead of quenching my thirst of swimming with dolphins I now wanted more. I shall no doubt be seeking any further opportunities of doing so!

* * *

I am not very keen in attending any conferences in general but I do enjoy going to the "Leadership for the Conservation of Africa" Council meeting. This year it was held at the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. I was very impressed with Tanzania's management of its wildlife when I visited 10 years ago so returning there was a delight.

"Leadership for the Conservation of Africa"(LCA) is an organisation set up by Dr. David Mabunda- CEO of South African National Parks (SAN Parks). Its mission is to bring business/corporation into conservation. Traditionally, wildlife conservation is managed by government and NGOs and these organisations often lack the efficiency that private businesses have. LCA aims to not only bring funding but also management expertise from the private sector to government in African wildlife and biodiversity conservation. Interestingly, this is what we have been doing ourselves - funding Save China's Tigers and other wildcat projects through business and manage our charity and projects in a cost-effective way. Therefore we were kindly invited to join the LCA meetings a couple of years ago.

It was great to meet new colleagues and catch up with old friends such as Howard Buffet. I ended my 20 days of traveling by taking a Hot Air Balloon safari over the vast expanse of the Serengeti plains..

Aug 29th 2010 Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

Sabina the passionate one

Minister OJumbo of Congo

Hot Air Balloon Champaign Tradition

In the air

Over the Serengeti

About to take off

Taller than Marcellino

Lion+ and his kill

All that hippo

All that Zebra

Delegates at LCA

Li and Howard Buffet

Serengeti welcome us

Don't they just look like us

On the day and at the beach where we swam with dolphins


Dolphins Huray

Don't offend this door

Spices at Market

Dressing up the Jungle Queen

Zanzibaris preparing meal

Our excellent guide

Spice boy

View from Hotel 236 Hurumzi