Cheating my way to Zanzibar

I felt the gut-wrenching gnaw of guilt as I boarded my Coastal Airlinesflight to Zanzibar. “You filthy cheater!” I said to myself. “You are weak! What are you doing flying? You are robbing yourself of the African experience! What happened to embracing discomfort? Hunger? Anger? Penny pinching? Embracing the 12 hours of nausea and filth?”

Had I deprived myself of the essence of African travel by opting for a sterile airplane ride?

Had I cheated myself out of lifelong memories?

Yes. Yes I had. But after 3 months braving the East African roads, I had plenty of memories I was dying to forget.

As I boarded the plane and assessed the situation of my 12-passenger aircraft, my guilty conscience calmed itself. I realized that I was not robbing myself of anything at all, and that flying was an African
experience of a different kind. In the front row of my flying mini-bus sat our pilot, who doubled as a flight attendant to give an abbreviated and worryingly insufficient safely briefing - something along the lines of “your life jacket is under your seat for when we have an accident over the Indian Ocean.” The co-pilot on his right was, in fact, not a pilot at all, but a passenger who wanted a front row seat. I quickly came to terms with the fact that my life was no less at risk just because I paid 10 times the price of a bus ride. Rather than rolling into a ditch, we could plummet through the air by the force of gravity. Oncoming traffic was still an issue, only in the air there was still the added bonus of a surprise collision, as half of our time was spent blindly navigating through the cloud. And let’s not forget the worst scenario of all - the unavoidable bathroom emergency. Buses often stop for a quick pee in the trees, but up in the air, with no bush to speak of, I was in trouble 15 minutes into the flight. What was supposed to be a quick hop from Arusha to Stone Town proved to be the longest hour of my life. A near death experience, if you will.

And what about the beauty of flying! It gave me an alternative to admiring the scenery on land - and this one didn’t involve mamas shoving nyama choma through my window. From the comfort of my air-conditioned seat, I had a 180 degree view of Arusha as we took off, saw Mount Kilimanjaro breaking through the clouds and admired Zanzibar’s clear, blue water, so clear I could see the smooth sand all the way from the sky.

My flight to Zanzibar was a mix of beauty, risk and adventure. And isn't that the essence of African travel?

C Rew

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