Adventures with Hal: Mombasa and Zanzibar

By Hal Danowitz, Secretary, RLACEI

Hal and Evelyn continue their five-week cruise.  Part 8

From Nov. 2 to Dec. 10, 2017, Hal and his wife, Evelyn, enjoyed a six-week cruise from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to Cape Town, South Africa. They began by flying to Dubai via New York City and London. They spent three nights in Dubai before boarding Oceania’s Nautica for a 30-day cruise to Cape Town, where they spent three nights before flying home.

Mombasa, Kenya

Mombasa, Kenya, is on Mombasa Island, which is separated from the mainland by two creeks. There are three bridges that connect the island to the mainland. The city is populated mainly by Mijikenda and Swahili people. The population is 2 million, and English is the official language; additionally, there are 240 tribes that each had their own language in Kenya. Swahili is the common language for most people. The weather today is hot and muggy.

As we continue the story Nov. 25, we docked around 8 a.m., and we had a tour booked: “Mombasa: A Glimpse of the Past.” The tour started at 8:15 a.m. and was a four-hour tour.

Evelyn at the Wood Carving factory.

The TV in our cabin had lots of channels, but not much on it. We got MSNBC, Fox News, CNBC, BBC and Sky News. There was only one sports channel, and it was from the UK. There were lots of ad channels for the Oceania cruise line. There were three movie channels and one for TV programs, but they followed an odd schedule. We sort of used it for background noise. They carried reruns of The Big Bang Theory, but after 20-some days at sea, those were being rerun.

Our tour started out a little crazily. First there were more than 400 people going on tour, and there was little to no organization in the Nautica Lounge where they passed out the bus assignments. When we got our bus assignment, we thought we had lucked out because it was a small bus holding just 20-passengers, but it was a mistake, and we had to change to a larger bus. All of this must have killed a half hour.

The guns at Fort Jesus.

The first stop was the Akamba Wood Carving Factory, a cooperative where local artists carved items to be sold in the cooperative’s store. The artist got 80 percent of the sales price, with 20 percent for overhead. The cravers came from all over Kenya, and they worked seven days a week with no time off. They sent money home to their families, and part of the overhead was used to send their body home if they died. The conditions were primitive, and when we got off the bus we could smell sewage — there was an open sewage stream running right through the work area. The work was done in open huts using crude tools, however they produced very well-done wood carvings. Evelyn brought several items, as did most people on the bus. It was smart to stop here first, because we did not see anything that was as good afterwards.

We stopped at two Hindu temples and then drove to old town and Fort Jesus. Before we entered the fort, we did a short walk around what used to be the center of Mombasa. Fort Jesus was built by the Portuguese in 1592. At the fort the guide told us how Mombasa got its name. When the first Portuguese explorer landed they asked the natives what the name of this place was, and they replied “Mom Ba Sa,” which means, “What did you say?” in Swahili. And it stuck.

In Stone Town, Zanzibar.

Before returning to the ship we stopped to photograph the Elephant Tusks, large aluminum tusks overhanging Main Street.

We got back to the ship a little after 1 p.m. and decided to do laundry. We were lucky to get two machines when we got to the laundry room. After loading the machines, we had 25 minutes until the wash was done and needed to go into the dryer. Because of the limited machines, you get dirty looks if you let the laundry just sit in the machine. The dryer takes 45 minutes, so there was more time to kill. The cost was $4 per wash/dry, and we were limited to using three machines at a time.

Because we ate lunch late, we ate a light dinner in the buffet. The show featured Phillip Browne, who is British. He worked mostly in London’s West End theater area and had the high energy of a stage performer. He had the audience on our feet and dancing, which with this crowd was a major accomplishment. We looked forward to his next show.


The next day, Nov. 26, we docked at 7 a.m. after an overnight sail from Mombasa. Zanzibar (Coast of Blacks) is a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania, in East Africa. It is an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, 16 to 31 miles off the coast of the mainland, and consists of numerous small islands and two large ones: Unguja (the main island referred to as Zanzibar) and Pemba. The capital is Zanzibar City. Its historic center is known as Stone Town, a World Heritage site with claims to be the only functioning ancient city center in East Africa. Zanzibar ‘s main industries are spice, raffia export and tourism. Raffia is a fiber obtained from the leaves of the raffia palm used for tying plants and other objects together and for making mats, baskets, hats and things like that.

Hal and Evelyn outside the Hindu temple.

That day’s tour was of Stone Town. We had a small 20-passenger bus that day, and our first stop was the vegetable, meat and fish market. Our tour left the dock at 8 a.m., so everything was being brought in and being set up. We then walked to the Great Slave Market. While walking we didn’t see any trash in the street, and while the buildings could use some work, there were no shacks like we saw in Mombasa. The slave market was one of the world’s last operating ones but was now mostly covered over by the nearby Anglican cathedral. We did visit the underground chambers where the slaves were held before being sold and shipped. The market processed up to 60,000 slaves each year. It left me wondering how man could be so cruel. We continued our walk and stopped at a shop where Evelyn could get some retail therapy, and it was air-conditioned.

We took the bus to the old fort and walked through the winding streets to the Sultan’s Palace where we got a tour by a local “docent.” The sultan’s daughter married a German officer and converted to Christianity. The palace was very well persevered with lots of the original furniture. We then walked to the old fort, built in the 18th century. We walked around the outside of the House of Wonder, which is closed for renovation. It contained information on the Swahili culture. Maybe we’ll get to see it next time. We stopped at the sea wall to take photos.

On our walk we saw where Freddie Mercury, Queen’s lead singer, was born. We also saw the house, which was the English Consul’s, where David Livingston stayed before his last expedition in 1866.

The house where Freddie Mercury was born.

From there it as a short drive to the ship. It was very warm. The humidity was 100 percent, and I was sweating like a pig. I carry NUUN, an electrolyte tablet to add to bottled water, which helped me keep moving. We had started to take it on trips where you know it will be hot.

After lunch we sat in the Horizon Lounge, which provided a great view of the harbor activities. We could see ships being loaded and unloaded and the comings and goings of the ferries.

We left Zanzibar at 4 p.m. After we had sailed, there was an emergency announcement all through the ship for a medical emergency by the pool. About 90 minutes later, the Captain said we were returning to Zanzibar because of a medical emergency. We later heard that a woman was taken off the ship, but we don’t know what had happened. The ship didn’t dock but transferred her by pilot boat. At about 10 p.m. we set sail again heading south. I told Evelyn before the return announcement that we were heading in the wrong direction because I could see the sun starting to set. It should have been on the other side of the ship.

That night’s entertainment was Jory Rossiter, a singer with the cruise staff. At first, I didn’t want to go, but we did, and he was very good. In fact, it was one of the best shows we have seen.

The next four days (Nov. 27-30) were at sea as we headed toward Maputo, Mozambique. We were scheduled to stop in Madagascar, but that stop was canceled because of an outbreak of plague. And no one likes plague. So we had an extra day at sea.

That morning Nov. 27, the sun was shining, and the temperature was in the mid-80s with 100 percent humidity, but no rain. I still didn’t understand that. The seas had a little roll to them, and you could feel the movement of the ship.

Last night before dinner we had a drink in the Grand Bar, and the bartender, Maria, who was from Russia, was saying that she got seasick. This was her first time on a ship — she came on board in October, and she didn’t know if she would sail again if she didn’t get over the sickness. She liked the job, but not the seasickness. She made a great Cosmo and was cute. I have never been seasick, so I didn’t know how it felt, but it must not be pleasant.

Evelyn walked the track and I had breakfast. So far, I hadn’t found anyone who could cook my eggs over easy correctly, and the eggs had a different taste than at home. Evelyn said it was caused by whatever they fed the chickens affected the taste. Who knew where these eggs came from. I did like the Cream of Wheat, which I hadn’t had since I was a kid. The lox was good, and they had many kinds of pickled herring, which was great. The bagels were too doughy, but edible. In the next couple of days, I planned to try the dining room for breakfast and lunch once each.

Evelyn reported that she completed 43 revolutions, which meant she walked a long way in a circle.

The lecture that day was about comedy in Africa, what it was is a presentation by Tira Shubart of a BBC series called Taking the Flax, which she co-wrote. She mixed it in with the John Wayne movie Hatari, which translates as danger in Swahili. Both her series and Hatari were filmed in Tanzania in the same city. I wasn’t sure what was the point, except I may watch the series when we get home. I can find it on Netflix.

Evelyn did needlepoint and then mahjong, and we met for lunch at noon. We skipped dessert and planned to go to the 4 p.m. tea because that day was cupcake day.

That day there were seven tables of duplicate; we played two-boards per table. Because we played quickly, we got to play three boards the next day. We played okay but couldn’t manage to get out of the middle of the pack. There was always tomorrow.

At tea we sat with a couple we met through bridge. The cupcakes were not very good. The cake was dry liked they were baked a couple of days ago and then frosted. The scones were much better. They weren’t worth the calories but were very pretty to look at.

We had drinks in the martini bar and had a nice talk with a guy we met at bridge. He and his wife retired to Hilton Head.

After dinner we watched “Celebrity Liars,” which was the entertainment for the evening. There was a panel of four staff from the ship, and they had to give the meaning of a word. Three of them were lying and one was telling the truth. There were words like mute jack and lira poo. It was very funny, and I remember seeing it on other cruises. I’ll continue in the next Web Alive!