Cruising the Indian Ocean, Part 2: Mombasa and Zanzibar
After four ports in as many days in the Seychelles, our crossing to Mombasa was unhurried and pleasantly uneventful. We slept a little later both mornings, enjoying smooth seas, sunny skies and the warm summer breeze.
Most of all, we reveled in the Silver Wind. It just doesn't get any better than traveling the world on this vessel.
The food and service in each of the ship's three restaurants is truly outstanding. None of those venues assign tablemates or dining times, which makes it easy to get together with new friends. Wine, beer and cocktails are included in the upfront cruise price, as are gratuities.
Only a day or two into the cruise, the dining room staff began to greet individual guests by name, a hallmark of an exceptionally well-run ship.
Every room on the Silver Wind is a suite, and every suite has a butler in addition to the room steward. Our butler, Diah, is cheerful and enthusiastic despite long days and demanding guests and being away from home for months at a time.
I appreciate how tough her job must be and admire her for how well she pulls it off.
A show lounge offers nightly entertainment and when it's time to retire, you'll retreat to a suite complete with European bath amenities, fine bed linens with pillow choice, plush robes, personalized stationery and nightly turndown service.
It's sometimes hard to find time for the gym back in Houston, so an unhurried morning workout in the fitness center of the Silver Wind is one of the luxuries of being on vacation. Throw in water volleyball in the ship's pool, a lecture and a visit to the spa -- does anyone really miss seeing land at this stage?
We saw no pirates en route to Mombasa, and the private security team and crew were always on the lookout. A searchlight probed the water near the ship at night.
In fact, I saw no other ships or boats at all until we neared the mainland, which made me wonder if we were avoiding everything on radar.
According to the NATO anti-piracy website, no vessel moving faster than 18 knots has ever been boarded by pirates, and I've been pleased to see our speed exceeding that level each time I have checked.
After our crossing, we had two full days on the island of Mombasa, Kenya's second largest city, which is separated by creeks from the mainland.
On the first day, we bused north two hours for a game drive through Tsavo East National Park, where we saw elephants, giraffes, zebras, impalas, ostriches, baboons and more.
On the second day, we went south for another game drive through Shimba Hills, a smaller and heavily forested national park. There we saw rare sable antelope, giraffes, Cape buffalo and other animals, and we had lunch at the rustic Shimba Forest Lodge, a four-story tree house built on stilts, with tree trunks and limbs bursting through the floors and ceilings.
The lodge has guest rooms, an open-air restaurant and an elevated wooden walkway that leads out to a watering hole. We watched an African fish eagle swooping low over that water for his lunch.
Our excursion ended with an afternoon visit to the surprisingly upscale Diani Beach Resort, with manicured grounds and white-sand beaches and attentive staff. If you ever need a place to stay in this part of the world, this one is worth considering.
Mombasa's port is not pretty but industrial, and busy, and the summers are hot and humid. Leaving the city on our drive to Tsavo, we passed miles of roadside shacks made of wood or red mud and a bit of tin. Scrawny goats grazed on weeds and garbage while children, unwatched and barefoot, played unfazed in the trash by the road.
This is my fourth trip to Africa and I'd have to say the squalor on that road, in and near the city, matched any I have ever seen, including that in the "informal settlements" of refugees outside Johannesburg, South Africa. It is a disheartening experience, one that puts many questions in your head but few solutions.
Our next stop, the "spice island" of Zanzibar, 22 miles off the coast of mainland Tanzania, had long been on my wish list. Zanzibar is the larger of the two main islands that, along with numerous small islands, form the Zanzibar archipelago.
At times ruled by the Portuguese, the Omani Arabs and later England, Zanzibar became an important trade center in the late 17th century, exporting commodities such as ivory and spices.
Zanzibar also became the primary clearinghouse for slaves captured along the East African coast during the Arab slave trade. Tens of thousands of men, women and children were transported here and confined underground before being sold to the highest bidder at the infamous slave market.
An Anglican cathedral and memorial now stand as stark reminders of the torture and barbaric conditions endured by so many.
The area around the port is densely populated, colorful, noisy and dirty. While Christians outnumber Muslims on the mainland of Tanzania, Zanzibar is 99% Muslim, so women here are covered, some in burqas that reveal only the eyes.
We bused for an hour to the Jozani National Park, for a walk through a tropical forest and close encounters with red colobus monkeys and black monkeys. The former were particularly approachable, generally on the move but pausing and posing just long enough for photos.
By the time we got back to the ship, we had barely an hour to explore the souvenirs assembled by local merchants on the dock before the Silver Wind was again on the move.
It's hard for me to pass up an opportunity to see and photograph rare wildlife that is new to me, but after talking to other passengers, I regret not having made it to the nearby historical area, Stone Town. If there is a valid knock on cruising it is this, that there are some places where a single day does not satisfy the curiosity.
Still, only by ship can one visit so many incredibly different places so effortlessly, a new country and culture pulling alongside your vessel every day or two.
This evening, we are en route to Madagascar, moving away from Somalia but still well within the region prowled by pirates. For the first time on this voyage, long swells raise and lower our ship, reminding us that we are at sea.
A few minutes ago, we watched from our balcony as the sun disappeared into the ocean. In the civil twilight, there is peace and calm upon the water.
But out there, beyond the horizon, there are more adventures waiting to unfold.
Vacations To Go
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Cruising the Indian Ocean, Part 1: The Seychelles
Cruising the Indian Ocean, Part 3: Madagascar, Reunion Island and Mauritius