Sailing out of New Zealand and Landing in Houston

After witnessing the bluest of blue water we have ever set eyes on and twenty-five hitches from where we started in Nelson, we finally made it to Picton. Considering the distance covered, the sweeping variety of great people we met, and the fact that we only hit only minor bumps in the road (such as discovering that our last campsite did not have any water available meaning we were water-less and eating PB&J sandwiches yet again), we were stoked we made the call to tackle our ambitious hitchhiking journey.

Goin' my way?

Once we were settled into our hostel and were eating lunch (consisting of the previous night’s intended dinner) we were confronted by the hostel owner, Shira. She is crazy! Shira is this overwhelming ball of energy with a blonde white-girl afro to match who moved to New Zealand with her family from California. The gist of the conversation was that it was Tuesday which meant there was a cheap sailing opportunity that evening and we HAD TO DO IT DARLING! (Her words, not ours.) We figured…why not? What a perfect way to draw a close to New Zealand.

Sail boats in the sound

While we were out running our errands and finishing up last chores before setting sail, we picked up a bottle of wine for the boat ride. I mean, a sunset ride on a sail boat through Queen Charlotte’s Sound almost mandates a bottle of wine, doesn’t it? Well, turns out that bottle of vino had to wait until afterwards because…drumroll please…very much to our surprise, we were going to be crewing a sail boat!

Hard at work crewing the boat

That is right, folks! It wasn’t the first time and I’m sure it will not be the last, but we failed to ask any questions before signing up for this little sailing excursion. It was not until we arrived at the marina, me in my skirt with bottle of wine in hand and ready to uncork, that this reality started to dawn on us. Basically, there is a weekly race for the sail club members and if they are short on crew for the evening, they draw from the backpackers crew on hand to help out. Soon after coming to grips with this snafu in the evening’s plans, we were drafted by the friendly captain of the boat “The Entertainer”.

Setting sail

The more we sat with the idea, the more fitting it seemed. This was going to be awesome! (Ron was onboard with the plan right away, but I took a little more convincing having mentally prepared for an easy, carefree evening coasting along.) New Zealand wanted to make sure we went out with one last grand Kiwi adventure!

And off we rode into the sunset! Sails at the ready and ropes taught, we waited for our official start all the while learning the in’s and out’s of the sailing world. It is fascinating! The different types of boats, the different race categories, the physics of sailing…the list goes on and on! Once the race began, Ron did most of the crewing while I did my best to stay out of the way and help when called upon. (I think our captain saw the skirt and realized how utterly unprepared I was for this.)

Oh, don't mind me...

The race lasted the better part of an hour and while we did not come in first, we were neck and neck with The Entertainer’s arch nemisis which made for some fun competition. (Side note: It is really bizarre to participate in a race that switches from what feels like a breakneck pace with one side of the boat almost completely in the water it is so off-kilter to a snails pace with the change of direction in the wind.) Following our gentleman’s race, we docked back at the port and shared hot dogs and beers with our charming captain and crew as the sun set behind the mountains. There is absolutely no way we could have planned a better way to close the New Zealand chapter of our trip!

One...Two...Three...JUMP!

A bright and early start and we were off to Houston. It only took a ferry ride from Picton to Wellington, a bus part way to the airport, a walk the rest of the way to the airport, a flight from Wellington to Auckland, a flight from Auckland to San Fran, and a flight from San Fran to Houston for us to get there too. The most mindboggling thing of all however, was that thanks to the time difference, we landed in Houston an hour before we left New Zealand in Auckland! Weird! Talk about jetlag…

Ron’s parents met us at the Houston airport and in no time whisked us away for much anticipated Mexican food…and of course the manditory margarita. (This is Texas afterall.) After a late night catching up, we all finally crashed out with hopes of catching some shuteye in preparation for our week in Texas. (Yay! A whole week!!!!)

Ready for the Houston highlights reel? (In no particular order.)

1. Buying a car – Yes, we had been in the country for less than 24 hours and successfully purchased a Subaru Forester for our return to reality after South America. Laugh if you must, but that has been my dream car forever.

Hip! Hip! Hooray for a new set of wheels!

2. Time with the kiddos – Not only do Ron’s parents live in Houston, but his sister and her family do too! Lucky for us! We got to spend loads of time playing with our niece and nephew, Ava and Kaleb. It was the best! Holy cow are they big…and hilarious!

Kaleb - the monster man

3. Talking on a real phone – Being in the states again, we were finally able to make phone calls on a real phone. (Sorry Mama Rod, your phone was held ransom for the better part of the week.) No offense Skype, but phone calls win out in my book. Talking with friends and family was absolutely priceless!

4. Real clothes! – That is right people! Real clothes, as in pants with buttons and shirts that fit and are not instantly smelly. Ron had the foresight and kind heart to have my sister send a package of a couple shirts and shorts to Texas for our arrival. Never has there been a better Valentine’s day gift if you ask me. But is doesn’t stop there…for my birthday, Ron’s mom took us shopping for jeans! It might sound silly, but we have been unbelievably envious of anyone and everyone we have seen in jeans for the last eight months.

5. Food – During on of our layovers, Ron and I tortured ourselves and made a loooong list of food we were craving. Our first morning in Houston, we have the list to his mom hoping to check at least a few delicacies off. Boy, oh boy! Not only did we manage to check every single item off that list, we checked things off that we were not even aware were on our list. Serious yum!!

6. Cookies – I know cookies might seem like they should be included in the food list, but trust me when I say that Mama Rod’s cookies are a whole different ballgame. We ate our weight in cookies and loved every minute of it! Thank goodness for the invention of the double batch is all I can say.

7. NASA – Having lived in Houston for years, one would assume you would have been to the NASA Space Center. Lucky for us though, Ron’s parents had not been there to date which meant we all got to go together. It was so unbelievably neat! Sitting in Mission Control and knowing that only a few decades ago people were sitting in our exact spots watching and orchestrating the historical landing on the moon was indescribable. (Did you know that the computer memory at the time of the moon landing had less memory than it takes to hold two digital picture files?!) After mission control we were able to walk past the Apollo 18 rocket…WOW! That about sums it up. It was huge! Once we felt sufficiently educated in space museum information and had touched a moon rock, it was time to go. I think it is safe to say that we all left in awe of everything space related. So cool!

NASA Mission Control Center

8. Family – Hands down the best part of our time in Houston centered on the time we were able to spend with our family. It was a perfect balance of time spent with everyone. We had an amazingly fun night with Nicki and Dan (sister and brother-in-law). I won’t go into the details, but it was a blast! As I mentioned before, we were able to spend priceless time with Ava and Kaleb since they are growing up so fast. Joking around, swapping stories, and just hanging out with Ron’s parents (or I should say our parents I suppose ūüôā ) was fabulous! The opportunity to all be together and just enjoy each other’s company was the best thing we could have asked for. It was so special to have this time together. A gift.

Nicki, Dan, Ava, and Kaleb

Poof! Our week in Houston was over so quickly. Before we knew what hit us, we were packing up (quite the project I am sure Ron’s parents would assure you judging from the messy state our room was in all week) and getting ready to hit the road again. It was a little strange to leave the States again having been so comfortable back at home. (What with real jeans and all…) But it was time. We boarded our plane and set off for the big South American finale! Some might argue that the best is yet to come!

Gallery:

Earning our keep in Karamea

Off to work! Weird…it’s been quite some time since we have said that, huh?

Waking up to yet another rainy morning and having already returned our rental car, we had a soggy walk to the edge of Greymouth to begin our day’s hitching. In the world of hitchhikers, rain is just about the worst thing you can imagine. Not because we will melt in it, but because it makes actually landing a ride really difficult. For some reason, no one ever seems to want to go out of their way to get their vehicle’s interior sopping wet. Imagine that. Thankfully, luck was on our side and after about an hour of wishful roadside shivering a local woman took pity on us and pulled over. She was only driving a few miles up the road, but it was a few miles further than we were so we gladly accepted her offer. Even better, she dropped us at a corner shop (which Kiwi’s call a “diary”) where there was a little shelter that we could stand under to continue our hitching and stay dry.

As the rain began to let off, our hitches got easier. We made it all the way to Westport without too much hassle. We always have fun talking to the different people, locals and other travellers alike, we meet while hitching so time tends to fly by. On the pavement again, we waited for a bit before catching our final ride of the day with a decidedly surly Irishman named Patty. Wrinkled, tattooed, clad in filthy flannel, and sporting a wispy ponytail, it was clear that he did not make a habit of socializing. We told Patty we were headed to Karamea to work for a few weeks and as it turned out, he was well aquainted with our hosts. I think that is when it began to sink in just how small and utterly remote Karamea really was. This place is literally the end of the road. Whoa.

Beautiful New Zealand

We walked the last few miles into Little Wanganui, the township-esque settlement located just outside of Karamea where we would actually be working, and navigated our way to the Anderson’s house. Dianne and Russell Anderson that is. To set the scene, we walked in to their little farm house and were immediately greeted with cookies and tea. We could already tell that we had scored a phenomenal workstay.

Dianne, Russell, and us

So a little about our amazing hosts. Dianne was a warm, friendly, and cheerful person…all the time! She was also a terrific cook. In fact, my mouth is watering just thinking about her kitchen concoctions. (In the words of New Zealander’s, “Yum-as”) Russell was soft spoken and very much a listener. When he did talk though, he was the perfect combination of knowledge and underhanded humor. They have¬†traveled¬†a shocking amount and were full of good stories. It seemed like every time you think you have them figured out, they have some other surprise up their sleeves. Their grandson, Frano, was also living with them for the season. Frano was fresh out of high school and just an overall nice guy. In a nutshell, everything about Frano was perfectly 17 which meant we had a lot of laughs with him, usually over the cookies we baked or the bad (but guilty pleasure) TV he was watching. At their core, they were just good, hearty, salt of the Earth people who we were really lucky to get to know.

The finished product!

Dianne and Russell run a dairy farm as well as a bed and breakfast. Well, Russell runs a dairy farm and Dianne runs a B&B. Growing up in the Midwest, it was totally bizarre to wrap our brains around a dairy farm being located right on the coast. The beach was literally across the road and it was beautiful. One evening we walked out there after dinner to catch low tide. It was incredible to say the least! The beach was so flat that with the tide out, it seemed impossibly wide. A sheer layer of water on the damp sand reflected the setting sun and left the whole beach shimmering, sparkling, glittering. It was so magical to just stroll along the sand and know that you won’t forget that little nothing moment for the rest of your life. I can’t imagine having that right out your front door. I think that answers the question of why they choose to live this far out, just barely on the grid. (I mean, they didn’t even have electricity in Karamea until the 70’s!)

The way Help Exchange, the website we found this workstay through, works is really simple. Basically, the deal is that we work for four hours per day in exchange for food and accommodation. While in Karamea, we primarily worked with Dianne on the B&B side of things since they had paid, trained employees for their dairy operations already. For the most part, the work was really easy and quite fun. We tackled everything from washing and detailing their car to cleaning out the fridge for an upcoming B&B inspection, from weeding the garden to helping in the kitchen. Although we think that Dianne thought I was rather dainty and needed “lady work” which implies that I was hardly to leave the kitchen. Kind of funny, but I really can’t complain. With Dianne being such a great cook, I came away with heaps of her “secret family recipes”. Yum-as! (The only problem I might encounter trying to whip up some of her specialty sauces at home is that unlike Dianne, I might have a tough time getting my hands on 30 kilos of tomatoes at one time ūüôā )

Cooking up a storm

It wasn’t all work and no play though. That is for certain! (I know you were all really worried about us working too hard.) Karamea is the gateway to the Heaphy Track, one of New Zealand’s famed Great Walks, which takes hikers through the heart of Kahurangi¬†National Park and hence this little dot on the map bumps right up against a collection of awesome outdoor excursions. When it finally looked like a solid day of sun with no threat of rain, we borrowed one of the farm vehicles (which I might add required you to drive with the steering wheel at a 90 degree angle in order to go in a straight line) and drove up the coast a little further to see a few sights.

Amber colored water

Our first stop was at the Oparara arches. There was a short hike through the rainforest taking you past two naturally formed arches, aptly known as the little arch and the big arch by locals. Typically, when we think of arches we imagine the thin, delicate, red rock sandstone arches of Moab, Utah. These were completely different. They were made of limestone and instead of being the thin, defying gravity shape we expected, they were more like open ended caves with rivers flowing through them. It was really neat to be able to walk right through these caverns and see how the amber colored water has shaped the rock over the years. The It was a very unexpected landscape which made it all the better in our minds.

Great day of exploring

After the arches, we drove a little farther to see the caves Dianne and Russell told us about. There were no lights so we just had our one, slightly dull headlamp to guide us. The first cave we ventured into had these crazy formations on the ground. It looked like someone had gone in there and done extensive tile work. It was so cool and also, unfortunately, near impossible to really describe. The other cave was called the Box Cave. Well named too since that is exactly what it was. Unlike most caves with their curved roofs, stalactites  and stalagmites this cave was a perfect box punched into the side of the hill. It looked like a cube of earth had simply been carefully removed and taken elsewhere. The farther we walked the more endless the Box Cave started to feel. Couple that with the many side tunnels available and I think you could spend ages exploring this cave and probably still stumble upon something new. A pretty cool perk for living in the middle of nowhere for a few weeks. Between the arches and the caves, we had ourselves a full day of exploration and heaps of good fun.

Inside the Box Cave

And then disaster struck. Well, that it pretty dramatic I suppose. Basically, I just got sick. Really sick. I don’t remember the last time I was sick enough to not get out of bed, but for several days straight I was more or less completely bedridden. I was pretty sure it was a sinus infection, but I had no idea such a common illness could render you completely useless. I was in so much pain that I actually woke myself up crying. It was like some sort of mideval torture device was strapped on my skull trying to crush it. Not looking like the medication I was taking was making any headway, we decided it was time to see a real doctor. (Not the rural doctor in Karamea who proved to be less helpful than WebMD.com.)

Being sick is the worst

The closest doctor was in Nelson, a good five hour drive away. Lucky for us, a girl working on the dairy farm, Noelia from Argentina, was starting the Heaphy Track that same day. Conveniently the Heaphy ends near Nelson. Rather than her trying to hitch by herself back to the Karamea trailhead to retrieve her car, it worked out that we were able to drop her at the start and drive ourselves to Nelson to the Urgent Care. In a few days time, we would pick her up when she finished her hike and she would drop us back at our Nelson Help Exchange workstay. The stars aligned perfectly! And thank goodness they did because I’m not sure hitchhiking was in the cards for me.

And the saga continues. Stay tuned for the next edition!

Check out the full photo gallery here!

That little piggie ran right in front of my bike!

As the road continued on its twisty way, we climbed up and out of the clouds that were shrouding Sapa. Up, up and away, we soon reached the highest mountain pass in Vietnam and stopped to take some pictures of the incredible scenery. Westbound, we were headed farther and farther off the tourist track, and into the backcountry of Vietnam. The roads got noticably rougher in some patches- think 10% grade with potholes that could swallow the bike whole, and add a couple inches of thick, sticky sludgy mud to the mix. Thankfully not all of the road was this poorly maintained and we were able to cruise some of the sections between the knarly spots. In the mountainous area, we managed to keep our average speed at about 30km/hour- thats right you math wizzes, 18.3 miles per hour.

At one point we came around a corner to some road reconstruction. There were exactly 3 guys there with shovels (and those appeared to be their only tools), digging away where a landslide had covered the road. As we slowed to let a truck pass by, one of the workers did a double- er, triple- take when he saw Barbara and I coming through. With his jaw hitting the floor, he literally dropped his shovel. We think that not many foreigners make it to this part of Vietnam!

Over the mountains, and down the valley, we made ok time to our lunch stop. It looked as though, if anything we would finish our day a bit early. Boy were we wrong!
After checking our map book, and consulting a few non English speaking locals, we headed off on a road towards the city of Son La. At first we had trouble finding the road we were looking for, and even the loals looked a bit confused when we pointed to the road we were trying to find. One of them finally directed us down a side street that led to the stretch of pavement we were looking for. Settling back into cruising speed, we passed rice fields that were being harvested. After about 8km the twisted road really started to roughen up a bit. We came around a bend and couldnt believe our eyes- the road went straight into a lake!

As we slowed, a few locals emerged from thier makeshift sun shelters on the side of the road. They were a little suprised to see us. One of them spoke a few words of english, and told us that he could put our bike on his boat and take us across the lake. We he could not communicate was where he would be dropping us off. He and I spent the better part of an hour pointing at the map, refering to our not entirely useful phrasebook, and playing sharades. The most curious thing to me, is that no where within a hundred mile radius could I find a lake of this size on my map. He kept telling me that he would take us 10 kilometers away. Hot, and not fully understanding where we might end up, Barbara and I decided that it would be best not to risk endiing up in the middle of nowhere after dark. So we mounted the bike and returned back to the town in which we had eaten lunch. The plan was to just cut our losses, and head back in the direction of Hanoi.
As we headed about 10 miles south of town, we came to a major junction in the road, with a sign that pointed to the right reading SON LA in big white letters. Making a quick on the bike decision, we decided to try again to get to Son La. The road curved around the mountain, and began to quickly deteriorate again. At this point we noticed a huge dam that it looked like was newly onstructed. The road changed to rough gravel and continued below the dam, and then up the hill on the other side. After a 20 minute, white knuckle session of technical driving we found ourselves at the top of the dam, driving once again on beautiful flat asphalt.
Then, all of the sudden it clicked.
The lake we had nearly driven into earlier was in fact a new resivoir. The guy was trying to tell me that we would ride a boat across the resivoir to where it reemerged from the water. It would be another 10 miles or so of driving on this new road until we would meet up with the old road. Then there were still another 100km (60 miles) of driving on roads of unknown condition to get to Son La. At this point, its just past 4 in the hot afternoon. The sun sets at about 6. Rather defeated and worn out, we decided to turn the bike back around and go back to the juntion that was just 10 miles from where we had left some 4 or 5 hours earlier. From there we would drive another 45 tough kilometers towards Hanoi to a little town in the middle of nowhere.
In the moment, this was a tough, tough day. When we pulled in, I felt at least a little defeated. Barbara was still not feeling all that great either. But looking back on it now, as I type, this was one of my favorite days. Having a bit of misfortune just adds some spice to the adventure.

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The next day involved crossing at least three decent mountian passes, including one that was litterally in the cloud. As we rolled down the pass there we came into a small little ‘town’, if you could call it that. We slowed as we typically would, so as to not mow over any children. Good thing we did.
Just as a truck approached from the other direction, a momma pig and about 5 piglets decided to bolt, nose-to-tail, from the left side of the road to the right, directly in front of the bike. With the oncoming traffic, I had no option but to slam on the brakes, honk the horn, yell, and grip tighter.

WHAMOOOOH!

We ran straight into one of the little piggies and the bike tipped over onto the left side, tossing Barbara and I onto our elbows and knees. Luckily my backpack lashed to the side of the bike stopped our legs from really getting crushed. My shoe somehow got completely torn off my foot and thrown into the ditch 15 feet away. Quickly pulling ourselves up, I checked to see that Barbara was ok. Seems we managed to escape without too much damage. I had a good tear in my jacket and shirt and a scraped elbow. Barbara landed a bit on her hip, and got some road rash there. It was a fairly low speed crash, but it was enough to really shake up both Barbara and me! The bike seemed ok except my left foot peg got bent up about an inch. I could shift down into first, but not up into second. Luckily a ‘xe may’ (moto mechanic) was just a block or two up the road and we paid exactly 12 cents to have them bend it back into place.
As for the piglet- she managed to scurry off without any issues.
Getting into an accident was my worst nightmare. Litterally the last thing I wanted to have happen on this trip. Easily it could have been much worse as we were at least a couple hours from quality healthcare. We were lucky.
After breathing a huge sigh of relief, and letting the nerves calm a bit, we set off again, a bit slower, and a bit more anxious to get to Ho Chi Minh.

………..

Some highlights from the couple days that it took to get down to the coast:
One night we walked into a restaurant  that had nothing we recognized on the menu, other than the word for chicken- Ga. We pointed to this and ordered one. 20 minutes and $12.50 later (which is a small fortune here for a meal), we were served and entire fried chicken. Beak, head, eyes, wings, breast the whole gamut. Noticabley missing was the guts, but those were soon served to us in soup. We left that on the table.
The next night we rolled into the village of Vinh Moc to visit some of the tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the Vietnam War (referred to as the American War here). We crouched over and wandered through this incredible, dark complex of tunnels that had been carved up to 50 feet below the surface. The ingenuity of the Vietnamese is something that we will not soon forget.
One day after a long days’ ride, we pulled into town absolutely famished. At this point we were still very much off the beaten track, and all the restraunts served only local food. This was expected, but Barbara and I were both really starting to crave some ‘normal’ food. As we approached one restraunt, a rather intoxicated 20-something yelled out at us for us to join him. As we sat down, we both instantly spotted what appeared to be plates of french fries at the end of the table. We quickly took a seat at the table as the guy chatted us up. He saw us eyeing the plate and asked his buddy to pass them down.
As the plate slid in front of me, I realized that these were not at what we had expected. Yet, I couldnt quite place the shape. The guy told us they were ‘butterfly babies’- yup thats right- catapillars. Once they are deep fried they look quite like a good crinkle cut french fry. Barbara would have none of it, but with enough persuasion from the guy who was kindly sharing his table, I decided to try one.
….kind of chewy…. not quite the crunch¬†or the squish that I was expecting. One was certainly enough.
Last highlight was from a middle of nowhere town south of Hanoi by two days. We rolled into this town around 4 and quickly found a cheap (~$6) ‘hotel’ room. With plenty of daylight we decided to stretch the legs and take a lap around the city. We wondered down the main streets, and it was quickly apparent that not many foreigners make it into these city limits. We recieved waves, smiles, and hellos from nearly every person we saw. We nearly caused some bike accidents with all the rubbernecking that was going on.
At one point a group of 4 boys who we had passed about 10 minutes early rolled up on bikes. At first they just smiled, rolling slowly by us. Then one of them worked up the nerve, “Can we take a photo with you?” while holding up his camera. Of course we obliged. So for the next 5 minutes we were celebrities in some small part of the world in Vietnam as the boys crowded around and took turns getting their photos with the gringos who had seemed to roll in from nowhere. So much fun to make their day. If only they knew how much fun we were having!

Note: Not a huge amount of photos for the this post and the next few… I mistakenly formatted the memory card and lost a couple of incredible days worth of photos. Bummer….

Photo Gallery:

 

The World’s Biggest Kiddie Pool: Zanzibar Part Two

Always on the move, we set off the following morning for the east coast. The sleepy fishing village of Paje was our destination. Knowing that we had a bit of travel ahead of us, we made sure to fill up on a tasty Tanzanian breakfast of different assortments of breads. Flat breads, fried breads, round breads, sugared breads…without sounding too much like a Forest Gump rerun, we will end that sidenote with the fact that all of that only cost a total of about 75 cents. Worth every penny. Literally.

Paje can be easily reached by hiring a private taxi, but that sounded much to simple. Instead, we opted to take the public dala dala system. Braving ourselves for chaos that we knew was waiting for us right around the corner, we crossed the road and made our way to the gravel patch that served as the bus station. As we scouted out the bus route, we ignored the shouting touts reaching towards us and fighting for our attention like pros. There was one guy in particular who was relentless. So much so in fact that in response to him asking us where we were going we flatly replied, ‚ÄúNot with you.‚ÄĚ Well as karma would have it, we did in fact need to go with him if we were to go towards Paje. So bowing our heads in shame we boarded his van/bus. We hit the road only to stop again a few minutes later and pile a few more people in. And then a few more. And a couple more. To help you better understand this, think of it this way: In Tanzania it is not a question of what will happen if something will not fit, but rather the motto seems to be ‚ÄúIt will fit…no matter what.‚ÄĚ

Unwinding from the hot dala dala ride, we spent the afternoon playing in the bathtub warm water and strolling along the beautiful shore. In order to avoid the ritzy resort restaurants (and their ritzy resort pricing) we walked through the village streets and stumbled upon a local joint just opening up for the night. While our dining experience for the evening consisted of a rough wood hewn table and a barefoot man with his shirt unbuttoned and one of his front teeth missing cooking in a shed, we are 100% convinced that it was better than anything we could have found elsewhere. Surrounded by chatty kids and stray cats, we enjoyed every second of it! As the moon rose higher into the sky, we wandered back towards the beach.

Our eyes popped wide open and jaws dropped in utter disbelief as we tried to take in the sight before us. Where there had been an ocean just hours before was now a glistening field of sand still rippled from the waves as far as the eye could see. We had known that this area of beach was supposedly very flat and that when the tide went out, it went way out. But this was something new and unexpected altogether. It was utterly unimaginable and absolutely magical. With the puddles of water reflecting the light of the nearly full moon, we walked in awe out towards the crashing waves we could only hear, but not see. The boats anchored close to the shore were completely beached adding to the almost unearthly atmosphere. With no one else around it felt like our own little secret. Typically this kind of thing would have had us yearning for our cameras, however, in this moment we were so happy not to have them with us. No photo could have captured what we were experiencing. Rather we were able to simply be present. After all, that is really what is at the heart of this trip. Just to be.

¬†………..

Although we just missed the actual sunrise, Barbara and I enjoyed a long walk on the beach as the sun began to warm the sand before breakfast.  After our walk at low tide under the full moon, we were anxious to see the low tide in the in daylight.  It was just as incredible!

The beach here has almost no slope. In fact, it almost felt like we were at a massive, perfect blue, incredibly clean and warm lake. On the horizon though, we could make out the white sea foam from waves that were rolling in.  As we waded out into the water, it only came up to our knees.  15 minutes from the waters edge, it was still only up to our thighs.  After 30 minutes, it was barely to our waist.  Still, even this far out from the shoreline, there were no real waves to speak of.  It was as if we had found the worlds largest kiddie pool. We never did quite make it to the waves, finally deciding to turn around when the tide seemed to be rising.  This has to be one of the most unique stretches of beach I have ever visited.

From Paje, we headed back to Stonetown.  After much searching and deliberation, we deciided to check into the Pryamid Hotel, which was just around the corner from where we had stayed with Dulla.  We booked a tour to Prison Island for the following day.

Prison Island is just a few kilometers off the coast of Zanzibar. There was a prison built there to house misbehaving slaves, but it was never actually used for this purpose.  Just after completion of the small prison building, it was decided that the island would serve as a quarantine center for shipments coming into the port at Zanzibar. Now a schwanky resort that uses the old buildings to house guests.  The prison were kind of cool, but the real reason we came on this tour was to see the giant tortoises.

Seeing these giant, very old turtles has been on my bucket list for a long time.  I thought that I would have to go to Galapagos Island to see them.  Here, right on Prison Island, only a $30 boat ride away, were 119 giant tortoises!  Some of them were not so giant- they had baby turtles smaller than my palm.   Some of them were giant, reaching up to my hips when they stood.  We found one that is 155 years old!

After feeding and petting and snapping a couple hundred photos, it was time for us to leave Prison Island.  Before heading back to Zanzibar, we stopped off and did a bit of snorkeling.  The clear, warm water here is ideal for snorkelling, and we quite enjoyed the swim.  I tried to get a few photos of the reef, and the fish, but it turns out that underwater photography is quite hard.  Something about holding your breath, as you are 10 feet underwater, while chasing a fish, and trying to hold the camera still, makes for a lot of blurry photos!

We spent the rest of the afternoon as we had spent many others in Zanzibar- wandering the twisty-turny streets, eating street vendor food from the market and just people watching.¬† We caught the overnight ferry back to Dar, saving ourselves the cost of another nights accommodation in Stonetown.¬† The night ferry turned out to be great- it was cheaper, and we were in the ‚ÄúVIP‚ÄĚ lounge, which meant air conditioning and benches to sleep on.

Back in Dar, we found ourselves back in the kind home of our friend Aika.  We made another trip to Mwenge Wood Carvers Market for some last minute souvenirs and did some research on South Africa.  It is hard to believe that we are already leaving Tanzania!

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