Yes, I’m finally making time for my Zanzibar post! So when we left off on this African adventure, we were in the Serengeti, having the best time of our lives. Sadly we couldn’t stay there forever and the time too soon came for us to continue our journey. We boarded a tiny plane and flew three hours through a terrible storm that made a few passengers rather nervous (I thought it was kind of fun, although after nearly banging my head on the roof I did eventually concede it might be smart to put my seat belt on). Finally we landed on the drenched island of Zanzibar.

Our tiny, wet plane:

After waiting a long time for the rain to let up enough they could unload the plane of our luggage, it finally arrived (most of it sopping wet anyway) in the waiting area of the airport and we were met by our driver, who rowed drove us to our B&B in Stone Town. After unpacking and drying off a bit, the boys and I took a walk down to a bar on the water and had a drink while watching the sunset.

The next morning we did a walking tour of Stone Town, which I highly recommend if you visit as you’ll learn about the history and start to learn to navigate around. Our guide showed us Jaws Corner, where the town’s men drink coffee and sit around talking. It was named Jaws Corner after the film Jaws was shown on a TV in the square once.

We also toured the slave dungeon – Stone Town was the main slave port for all of the Eastern slave trade – which was extremely depressing.

There is a memorial outside as well.

We also walked through the colorful fish market (where not just fish but vegetables and spices and some crafts are sold).

One of the most charming things about Stone Town to me was the number of cats running around. Because it is a predominately Muslim area and many Muslims do not have dogs, many people have cats. Smucky had to admonish me for trying to touch them all because he said they could have diseases, and some of them did seem as if they could use a good bath, but I do love following cats around on vacation and playing cat paparazzi.

Another beautiful African sunset.

After a couple of days in Stone Town we embarked on the last leg of our trip, to a beach resort. On the way, we stopped for a spice tour – Zanzibar being renowned for its spices. The spice tour was interesting and I also recommend it as well. Here are our guides, cutting up something for us to taste or smell:

They made us wear silly hats they had made for us.

Finally we arrived at Unguja Lodge, where our room was amazing but missing a few walls! These were taken from the loft:

Even the toilet was missing a wall! (The shower, in another room, was also open and overlooked the ocean.)

You may be wondering, “Renae, if there were walls missing from your lodge, how did you keep the monkeys from coming in and stealing your stuff?” Good question. The bedroom (and bedroom only) was lockable and monkey-proof (provided you actually shut and lock the door), so basically you keep everything in there. Mark and I didn’t have any monkey visitors that I know of, but Smucky and Olivia did! Coming back from an ocean swim one day I passed Smucky and Olivia who informed me there was a swarm of monkeys ravishing their loft after making off with Olivia’s soap. “YOU’RE SO LUCKY!” I screeched, “Give me your keys!” And off I went to confront the monkeys, who absolutely did not care one iota about my presence. They continued to swing from the rafters and tumble around the bed and generally be deviously adorable like I wasn’t even there.

Here is our lodge from the outside. As you can see, as open as it is, you can’t really see inside, and no one can really get to them anyway: the perimeter of the property is guarded and the area in front of the beachfront lodges is really only accessible to the resident of that lodge.

Mark and I liked to sit on that bench above every night before going to bed and just listen to the waves, and every morning just after waking to watch the local women and children collecting shellfish while the sun rose.

Obviously we didn’t eat any of the sea creatures but Mark did befriend a sea urchin.

The lodge offered scuba diving tours. Smucky got certified before the trip but I didn’t, so I took a quick lesson in the pool and was approved to do a sort of tethered dive (a guide held my wrist the whole time). Scuba diving was actually a little scarier than I thought it was going to be. I had absolutely no qualms about jumping out of plane when I went skydiving – I jumped with no hesitation or fear at all; I simply found it not even remotely scary – but I unexpectedly freaked out a bit when we were in the pool practicing diving with the oxygen tank. I didn’t let on that I was freaking out because I like to play it cool, but when I went under the first few times I confess that I very suddenly realized HOW MUCH I LOVE AIR. SWEET, GLORIOUS AIR. But I passed the test and we were soon on a boat. After a 5-minute boat ride we arrived near a coral reef and pretty soon I was told to put my tank and mask on, place my hands around my head, and fall backwards off the boat into the water. One thing I’ll say for myself is that although unlike skydiving I was a bit nervous, but I also didn’t hesitate. My mother likes to say that I am a risk-taker. (I don’t think this is actually one of my mother’s favorite qualities about me, however…) The cool thing about being nervous about scuba diving is you are supposed to take nice, slow, long breaths, which coincidentally is very calming. So I just concentrated on breathing, which totally made me look like I was an ace scuba diver but also kept me from panicking about the fact that I was 11 meters below the AIR, WONDERFUL AIR.

I had earlier in the year purchased an underwater point-and-shoot camera specifically for going diving in Zanzibar, so taking pictures also helped keep me calm.

And yes, by the end of the dive, I was comfortable enough that I was disappointed when the guides told us we had to resurface. My certification is good for a year – it’s unlikely I’ll find myself with the opportunity to do so before then, but if I do, I will dive again.

Smark, on the other hand, wasn’t into the scuba thing, although he had a GREAT time snorkeling. I literally had to drag him out of the ocean while he was snorkeling – once to get him to eat lunch and once to save him from some sea urchins that were not nearly as friendly as the one above.

Anyway, back to the monkeys. Basically monkeys are hilarious, and super smart. While eating breakfast one morning we watched one wait until none of the lodge employees were looking, then scamper into and across the room, jump up on the buffet table, lift the supposedly-monkey-hindering lid off a plate of pastries, snatch a roll, politely replace the lid just as he found it, and nonchalantly walk back out the way he came. Unguja Lodge is totally awesome and I highly recommend it, but if you are afraid of or don’t like monkeys you may want to consider staying elsewhere…although I think monkeys are a fun fact of life on Zanzibar beaches everywhere. This is a red colobus monkey in a tree next to the lodge pool.

And this is a monkey just lounging about the place, not caring that I was a few feet from him taking his picture.

And then too soon, we had to leave Zanzibar and Africa. When we planned the trip, I thought that after traveling for nearly three weeks, we would both be very ready to get back home, however, although I missed the cats, neither Mark (who doesn’t like traveling quite as much as I do) nor I wanted to go home. If someone had offered to let us stay another two weeks, another month, we would have accepted immediately. We both LOVED Africa, much more than we thought we would. Here is the plane we boarded in Zanzibar that took us on a 20-minute flight to Dar es Salaam (a city which I think I’ll sum up by saying IF YOU THINK TRAFFIC IN LA OR DC IS BAD, TRY DAR. Dear LORD is the traffic bad there), from where we caught our flight back to Amsterdam and finally home. A rainbow appeared to try to cheer me up, but I really was very sad to leave.

So that was Africa. It is a goal of both Mark and I to get back there as soon as possible; Mark to teach children and me to help cheetahs and lions. In the meantime, however, it looks like Mark and I have other big things to plan and think about: in the next couple of weeks Mark will be moving to San Francisco to start a new job that he’s very excited about. I will join him later in the year, after most of baby wildlife season. So I will be alone quite frequently until then. Will I therefore have more time to update the blog, or will I find myself cooking less often if it’s just me? Only time can tell, I suppose. I will, though, be back soon with a final post on Africa in which I hope to cover how I survived there as a vegan (spoiler: it wasn’t hard), what I packed, including camera gear, and travel tips. And, uh, if anyone has helpful tips about cross-country moves and/or recommendations for Bay Area neighborhoods, bring them on!

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Teff Love!

I sure keep bombarding you with pictures of myself after swearing I wouldn’t subject you to the products of my Photo365 portrait project in order to not gross you out with my unphotogenic-ness. But I can’t resist sharing today’s portrait!

That’s right, Kittee’s completely awesome vegan Ethiopian cookbook Teff Love arrived in the mail today! Mine’s extra-awesome because it’s autographed, being as I was a tester. I will at some point soon do an actual review of it, but I can give you a mini-review now: IT’S TOTALLY GREAT, BUY IT NOW AND MAKE EVERYTHING IN IT. I’ve been making Kittee’s Ethiopian recipes for about a decade now; believe me, she knows what she’s doing. And Ethiopian food is the best food ever!

And yes, I’ve been remiss in making my Zanzibar post, and my Tanzanian food post, and actual recipe posts, but that’s because my life hasn’t slowed down very much for winter as I expected it to. In fact, there are possible life-changing things going on (no, I’m not pregnant; I feel like women my age can’t ever say their life is changing without people thinking they are pregnant). We’ve been traveling a bit.

Do you know where that was taken? Does this help?

Does THIS help?

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Happy new year!

Happy new year! I already did a recap on how 2014 was a great year for me; I’m kind of using the excuse of wishing all of you a happy new year to tell you about a great book I’m reading. You may recall that I mentioned recently that I’m applying for the Virginia Master Naturalist program in the spring and I asked if anyone had any book recommendations (by the way, thank you to Carolyn for suggesting field guides – something I need to get much better about doing). Well, I was nosing around Amazon looking for something “naturalisty” to put on my Kindle and I came across The Forest Unseen by David Haskell and it’s GREAT! Dr. Haskell is a biology professor in Tennessee who visited a small section (about a meter in diameter) of a nearby forest nearly every day for a year and recorded his observations about the life there, providing the reader with a bit of science behind it. I’m only 59% of the way through it but it just resonates with me. It’s one of the few times I’ve read a non-fiction book and thought the author would “get” me. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve read a lot of fantastic non-fiction books, it’s just that the view Dr. Haskell has of the world, and our role in it, although far more scientific than mine for sure as he’s far more educated than me, feels very much like my own. His writing style is a beautiful blend of poetry, science, and just a touch of whimsy. (“Whales move their tails up and down, rather than side to side, revealing their terrestrial ancestry. Mermaids, it seems, do the same.”) One morning I sat down to read while eating breakfast and in my half-awake state didn’t quite remember what I’d been reading, but I knew it was science-related and was for a moment confused to leap into a paragraph about the holy grail, until I read a sentence further and it all made sense:

The knight’s mythical quest led them to the blood from Christ’s wounds, collected in the grail by Joseph of Arimathea. The ticks are less selective about the theological pedigree of the blood they seek, and their quest ends with molting or sex.

Although he can get into minute details about specific organisms, he always explains its relationship to everything around it, as well as its relationship to the past. I particularly understood his passage about the golf balls, when two of them appear in his “mandala” one day and he wants at first to remove them because they are unnatural. But then he remembers that humans are animals and part of nature too, which is something I think a lot about. Is it really unnatural for us to produce golf balls? I mean, something in our nature drove us to do it! Which doesn’t also mean that I (or Dr Haskell) think that we SHOULD scatter golf balls throughout our forests; on the contrary, I think it’s an unconscionable thing to do, but I think it’s important that we stop thinking there is some big divide between the natural world and us. In fact, if we stopped thinking like that and starting feeling more at one with nature I think we’d all be less apt to destroy it.

I’ve just gotten to the day he visits the mandala following a hospital visit brought on by his reaction to finding a nearby stream raped of all its salamanders by fisher “poachers” stealing them to use as bait. Even I’ve never ended up in the hospital in similar situations (although if I really do make it back to Africa and fight poachers there I suspect there’s a good chance I’ll end up in the hospital due to a gunshot wound), but I totally understand the outrage he felt. And then he manages to describe how even in the hospital he could see the flow of nature all around him and goes on to talk about the plant origins of most of our medicines.

Anyway, it’s a great book, I very much recommend it, and if you read it I think you’ll get a feel for how I think about the world (albeit my thinking about the world being much less knowledgeable than Dr. Haskell’s!). I’d say it was exactly the kind of book I was looking for to get me into “Master Naturalist” mode, but honestly I had no idea a book so perfect for that would even exist! I mean, I also bought a biology text book, but though The Forest Unseen may contain fewer pages, fewer facts, and fewer diagrams, it has a message that I really want to receive. :)

In other Master Naturalist news, I was training a new volunteer at the Raptor Conservancy on Sunday and she mentioned that the way that she got involved with RCV was she had gone through the Master Naturalist program with another one of our volunteers a couple of years ago, so that was a funny coincidence. What’s more, I asked her what she had done for the volunteer component for the program and she said she had majored in environmental science and had thus done water monitoring for her volunteer work. I had always assumed I’d just use my wildlife rehab hours as my volunteer hours (and possibly pick up some volunteer work with bats as part of it), but since by day I’m a contractor for the EPA’s Office of Water, I’m kind of thinking maybe I should get into the same monitoring program she did. I did feel like my application for the Naturalist program was EXTREMELY wildlife-oriented, when of course there is so much more to it than wildlife – I could stand to be a lot more well-rounded, which is actually a big part of why I wanted to DO the program in the first place. And when people ask me what I do for a living I’m always, “I’m an EPA contractor for the Office of Water, but I do database stuff, not cool stuff out in the field.” I do really like my job, but I feel like it would be even more meaningful if I were also doing cool stuff out in the field. See, I feel like everything’s connected, just like Dr. Haskell explains over and over again.

So, yeah, new year’s. I can only hope that 2015 is as good to me as 2014 was. That’s asking quite a lot, considering there is little chance I’ll make it back to Africa so soon. And after all of the material things I accumulated in 2014 (all except the car were “for Africa”), I feel like I need to focus quite a bit on frugality in the upcoming year. But if I get to spend as much time outside next year as I did this year, and if I can devote even more time to learning new things and coming to an even deeper appreciation of the world around me and figure out exactly how I can best contribute to conservation of nature and wildlife, then 2015 will be a good year too. It’s starting off on the right note: we’ll be traveling to both Charleston and San Francisco in January, which I’m looking forward to.

I don’t really do new year’s resolutions because I think you can and should resolve to improve yourself any day of the year, but this year I made a resolution to drink more cocktails. That’s a good resolution, right? Although I’m a big fan of beer and wine, and I drink at least glass of wine a day, I very rarely drink hard liquor. In fact, the only times I ever drink hard liquor are with my father on holidays when he makes the two of us Manhattans, a tradition he picked up from his parents. But he makes it with a mix, which I think is silly, so this year I decided I was going to perfect a REAL Manhattan and to that end spent hours on the internet researching and bought a bunch of ingredients. I’m even planning to make – and can – my own maraschino cherries come cherry season! I also informed my father that we will be conducting ongoing taste tests throughout the year. In the name of science! We had the first taste test on Christmas when we pitted his whiskey and mix versus his whiskey and my bitters and vermouth. And the “real ingredients” won! I was biased, of course, but Dad was not. Mark participated but as expected had no opinion and after swallowing his Manhattans returned to his Bud Lite. The following photo was the one I used for my Photo365 portrait of the day and depicts the three of us just before tasting the “ingredients” Manhattan:

So that was fun and I look forward to more taste test trials with Dad in the future, although speaking of my dad, I would also like to make a small tribute to his and my mom’s dog. Their dog, Shannon, was a few weeks shy of 18 years old and was limping on Christmas. They were hoping he had just landed on it wrong and it did seem to get a little better the next day, but he quickly went downhill after that. Following a visit to the emergency vet, they think he may have developed a brain tumor, and a day later they made the painful decision to let him go before he suffered too much. I think by reading this blog, even just a post or two, you understand how much I love animals. Imagine all of the love you’d heard me express for animals, add it all up, and probably add some more in, and you might begin to understand how much Mom and Dad loved Shannon. So while I’m down here marveling over how great things are, my parents are suffering and that makes me very sad. My parents aren’t vegan or even vegetarian, but I assure you that the love and respect I have for animals comes 100% from them. We always had cats and dogs growing up and my brother and I were pretty much expected to consider them siblings. (Well, I’m not sure my father considered any of our cats to be our siblings, as he’s a dog person, not a cat person, but still…) My parents’ love of their pets shaped who I am today and I know how devastated they are. So here’s to Shannon, who led a full and happy life:

In more light-hearted news, Josiane said she’d like to see more of the self-portraits I’m doing for my Photo365 project. On the days I go for hikes – and so far the weather has been mild, allowing me to do so frequently – it’s easy: I jump in front of the tripod while taking a landscape shot. On days I can’t get out to hike (curse these short winter days), it’s harder to think of ideas. I’ve taken an awful lot of pictures of myself standing in front of my bookshelf. But some days I try to incorporate a theme that explains what I did that day. We had a Dogue Hollow Wildlife Sanctuary board meeting on Sunday afternoon so for that day’s photo I decided to demonstrate what it’s like working with raccoons, so here you go:

And with that it’s time for me to go find a cocktail and ring this new year in….

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