Thursday, April 26, 2012

Holiday horror stories - Zanzibar

Image source - the-rioblog.blogspot.com
Image source - the-rioblog.blogspot.com

Most holidays turn out well, but every once in a while something goes wrong. And sometimes things go horribly wrong.

My other half and I originally planned to visit Madagascar but we had to change our plans when the country was gripped by political uprising. So we chose to visit the island of Zanzibar instead.

We flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg. The next leg of the flight was to Dar es Salaam. We noticed the Air Tanzania flight changed to Nationwide Air, but we weren’t concerned.

We duly arrived in Dar es Salaam and waited for the final flight to Zanzibar. No one called our flight and we were never issued with a boarding pass. We did ask, but were told not to worry.

Image source - the-rioblog.blogspot.com
When the flight was ready to leave we joined a large group of people on the runway. A pile of luggage was lying next to
 the plane and we were asked to identify ours. A group of guys hauled the bags up on the plane. We picked any old seat and off we went on the very same airplane. If I didn’t know better I would say that flight was a free for all.

We arrived at Zanzibar airport outside Stone Town and waited for our shuttle bus. It hadn’t arrived. There was a fleet of mini buses and their operators hanging about offering to drive us to our hotel at exorbitant prices but we had pre-booked and paid for a shuttle bus so we declined. And waited.

Image source - the-rioblog.blogspot.com
We waited forever. It was dark, the airport was closing for the night and the taxi drivers were going home. One bloke asked if he could take us to our hotel. He said not to worry; he would sort out the bill for our transfer with the hotel. We nervously agreed.

He walked right past all the mini buses and on to the most wrecked car I have ever seen in my life. We had grave doubts about this car but he helped us in and off we went. 

Our driver required a permit to transport us, which he didn’t have. So first he had to get one. We went to a place that issues permits and our driver disappeared leaving us alone in the car for ages.  Once his permit was sorted, we resumed our journey.

The roads in Zanzibar are horrific. This bloke was weaving the car from the far left of the road right across to the extreme right to dodge not potholes, but huge big craters.  We passed through countless check points. The permit was scrutinised and the authorities would waive us on.

Image source - the-rioblog.blogspot.com
We had no idea where we were going. There was not a single sign indicating distance or our destination. Zanzibar doesn’t have street lights.  And, that’s not all; children, villagers and animals were wandering all over the road. It wasn’t just dark, it was pitch dark.

But our night was far from over. We noticed a burning smell and smoke coming from the engine. The driver kept stopping to have a look. It soon became clear, this car wasn’t going anywhere. 

The driver decided he had to find his cousin. He kept assuring us that he would get us to the hotel but first, he had to find this cousin. We took another detour to a village and sat alone in the back of the car - again

Unable to locate his cousin, our driver gave up. He got the car going and we limped on with smoke belching from the engine. Neither of us had cell phones as roaming hadn’t been invented. 

We honestly believed we would never get to our hotel that night. Our fears were also that something more sinister could happen to us in deepest, darkest Africa and no-one would ever know.

The next thing, the cousin drove past, in a great big shiny mini bus. Our driver waved and hooted to stop him. We climbed out of the beleaguered car and into the taxi. Our driver left his cousin on the side of the road with the old car, and took us to our hotel. It’s possible that a cousin could also be a friend in Zanzibar.

True to his word, our driver sorted out the cost of the trip with the hotel. Would you believe the hotel had kept the restaurant open? They served us a really late supper.

I am going to skip the details of our stay in Zanzibar but I will say it is, well it was back then, completely unspoiled. No shopping malls, no entertainment centres and no vendors of plastic tourist tat. We relaxed on home-made loungers, swam in the shallow, warm ocean, ate limited local fare at the restaurant and took moonlit strolls along the beach. Zanzibar is the place to chill and be still.

The day before our return, our hotel confirmed our Air Tanzania flight, gave us a confirmation number, and organised a shuttle bus. All good.

Image source - the-rioblog.blogspot.com
We checked out early that morning and got to the airport with plenty time in hand. I do need to point out that Zanzibar airport has a chalkboard for its flights – if there are any for the day. The parking area outside is gravel and there is no cafeteria inside. It is by far the most rustic airport I have ever been to. As we made our way to the front door a lady told us there was no flight that day. We almost laughed. We had a ticket and a confirmation number, how could she say that? 

A few more people arrived for the flight and she told them the same thing. We protested but she was unmoved. When the time for our flight came, and went, we realised she might be right. Now we wanted to know how we were supposed to get home. Another couple also planning to fly that morning had kept their driver with them. They let us share a lift into Stone Town to find the Air Tanzania offices.

Air Tanzania told us - there was no flight. So much for Air Tanzania flight schedules. The next flight out would be later that evening. The driver agreed to collect us and the other couple later.  

Image source - the-rioblog.blogspot.com
By now we had spent almost all our money. Meanwhile we had an entire day to kill. I recall sitting on a cup of coffee for hours at one of the hotels. We walked around the dusty city of Stone Town until our feet ached. 

The driver collected us at the end of the day and we returned to the airport where a fair size group were all waiting to leave the island. Sitting at the airport I noticed Air Tanzania airplanes on the runway. They did not look good. One plane was lying on its side and the rest were rusting and falling apart. My next fear was actually flying on one of those planes.

Image source - the-rioblog.blogspot.com
Then we saw a Nationwide Air plane come in to land. We were hungry, desperate for a shower and relieved to be going home. Our flight arrived in Johannesburg too late for the last connecting flight to Cape Town. Air Tanzania put us up in a hotel and took care of all transfers and costs. We finally arrived home in Cape Town a day later. 

Would I go back to Zanzibar? In a heartbeat. It’s one of the few unspoiled places left on earth. But now I know that first world travel is not going to happen and I would probably do the trip as part of a group.


For more Holiday Horror Stories you can read - (Not) Welcome to the UKWrong airport in India and Canal boating on the Rochdale Nine.


Or go back to the Travel Archive Page to read about other holidays.