The mild late night breeze blows as we walk through the airport tarmac in between Rwandair planes and a noisy Ethiopian Airlines turboprop leaving for Addis Abeba almost at the same time.
It is time for me to fly an Embraer again. I must admit I love these planes. They are all brand new and spacious with big windows and comfortable interiors. We even get to have PTV's for this one-hour trip. Inside it's empty and only a few passengers board along with me, probably not the most popular time to fly to Nairobi but it is the cheapest.
We depart earlier than expected and the lights of Kigali are left behind. All I can see through my window is darkness (probably flying over Lake Victoria). I am also served a light but delicious breakfast with a nice smile from a cabin crew shining in a red uniform. Descent is announced a few minutes later.
The morning winds of the African savannah rattle our little plane and once we go through the clouds, the sight of Nairobi National Park is unveiled under a weak twilight , landing slightly ahead of schedule.
Nairobi International Airport is not the most inspiring place in the world and an assortment of feelings go through my head as I walk around the outdated terminal. I see the rush of the early morning arrivals with Asians arriving from Seoul, Americans and Europeans arriving from the London flight and Africans running through the hallways to catch their last call flights to Nigeria and Angola.
I sit for a bit, numb by the tiredness of a long night and the hectic environment around me as I spot a Colombian soap opera being played on the TV and dubbed into Swahili.
I re-check myself for the Dar Es Salaam flight and I discover we will have a stop in Zanzibar! But I am told the airline will not allow me to "jump ship" in the island and instead I will have to remain on board all the way through. I am gutted and my mind tries to think of ways of dodging this situation.
It is bright again in Nairobi and my flight is finally called. My fellow passengers are mostly families and honeymooners heading to the island. An newly wed Indian couple on honeymoon start chatting with me as they see me glancing my guidebook and ask me if they can borrow it off me to have a reference, it's a backpacker/honeymoon.
We board our cramped ATR-42 turboprop operated by Precision Air, a Tanzanian airline. And the busy morning aircraft movements become obvious when we intend to depart. In the end, the classic noise of turboprops being accelerated brings a strong deja-vu and soon after departure we sharply turn right and head in direction to Tanzania.
I am served another light breakfast as the captain announce the sight of Mount Kilimanjaro and Uhuru Peak on our right hand side. I am lucky enough to spot it as it is normally covered in clouds. Rush with the camera to take dozens of pictures while staring in awe and enjoying a cup of tea.
Underneath us, the plain lands around Arusha draw colourful and deep valleys heading into the Indian Ocean which I can spot only a few minutes later just when we start our descent.
The waves break into the Tanzanian coast and soon the mirage of Spice Island hypnotizes all the passengers while we dodge some coastal winds. Light blue reefs scattered around the navy blue ocean are the main feature on our approach. The cabin crew take their seats and our plane nose dive into the island like a rocket.
We fly over Old Town and its narrow streets, neighbourhoods covered in palm trees and the International Airport is next. Everyone on the flight deplanes except me and two other passengers and I try to work my charm out with the cabin crew to see if I can just finish my trip here. I am unsuccessful again and take my seat with a light grin.
Tanned honeymooners crowd the plane shortly after and the doors are closed. We depart in no time for our short 20-minute flight to Dar Es Salaam in which we fly over the Zanzibar Strait spotting ferries and cargo ships working their way through it and then the dry and rough Tanzanian plain lands around the airport's main runway.
I am officially welcomed to Tanzania as we land on Julius Nyerere International Airport in the largest city in the country, Dar. It is warm and dry on the tarmac as we have to walk into the main terminal. I have to fill out a long form for a visa on arrival, forced to pay 50 US Dollars and wait some 20 minutes to get it cleared. Once done , I go to to the public area in order to find my way to Zanzibar.
Flying is my best bet as I get very seasick on ferries. I am offered a few options by some "fly-catchers" (term used to describe people hassling tourists in order to offer whatever they are selling) and as tired as I feel , I accept it.
They grab me by the arms and take me into a small office where I am issued a plane ticket and then rushed into the Domestic Terminal in an old Grand Vitara.
I am now told to wait for new instructions in the outdated and dark lounge, my plane should be leaving soon. I take the opportunity to charge my mobile and wear comfortable flip-flops, I am heading to paradise in the end.
We are walked through the tarmac into a small Cessna Grand Caravan and my body starts pumping adrenaline. This because the last time I flew a small aircraft, I was some 10 years old and pretty much threw up all over. I smile to the crew and take the front seat just behind the pilots and board the aircraft along with other four passengers. Our flying time: 15 minutes.
Our little aircraft taxies along the quiet airport like a mosquito on a big dinner table. The runway looks massive and then our engine accelerates with the same power of a car in the motorway. We gain speed and then we seem to float, it's a new take off sensation. I feel like we are just being lifted by the wind and look forward. Nothing but sky.
My hands are sweaty and I am swallowing hard but the view of a messy Dar Es Salaam and a round bay underneath makes up for it.
I get distracted by flying protocols and the experience feels even more real, just like that time in 2007 when I flew on the cabin of a Boeing 737 and still remember as it was yesterday. I take pictures of the beautiful sapphire coloured reefs as we start losing altitude.
We hit heavy winds when on approach and some kind of a bumpy roller coaster feeling takes place. I am loving it nervously.
Finally on ground, we pick up our luggage from the undercarriage and walk into the main terminal and proceed to take a "dalla-dalla"(the Tanzanian version of a matatu) into town.
Suddenly, the name "Spice Island" becomes obvious to my mind. The smell of clove and saffron incense wore by the local women taking the same minibus hits me strongly and I am transported into my times living in the Arabian Peninsula. Zanzibar is a Muslim place and the culture is strongly present in every part of it. It is cramped inside and the sense of comfort in these minibuses is almost null as we drive through a straight-lined avenue into Stone Town.
Stone Town is a place that strikes me at the beginning. It is messy, hot and dirty. Pickpocketing is a big thing here so minding my belongings become priority.
My first stop is a restaurant with free wi-fi where I enjoy a succulent feta cheese sandwich while browsing the net. A local offering his tour guiding services helps me find a mobile store so I can buy a SIM card (tipping is a must) and then I am directed to the main "bus terminal" just besides the busy market to take my "dalla" to my final destination: Jambiani Beach in the Eastern side of the island.
I see the real deal here. Locals try to charge me triple the local price to go on it. I decline and smartly agree on a real price for the service. It is even more cramped and uncomfortable. There are no seats but two long wooden benches where people claim a space in order to be able to sit. Some people seat on the ground too and we depart as soon as it is full.
I am tired and fall asleep on my backpack. The locals stare at me while I do so and while we stop at every single place possible to load the truck with cement bags and goods.
When we finally leave Stone Town , I can't help but feeling relief. The fresh air of the midlands works as a charm to wake me up and have a look around and some hour and a half later my "dalla" makes its way into the quiet village of Jambiani.
I get off it fighting with a numb right leg and walk around. The sand is white and the small houses are made out of a combination of wood and white clay/mud. Kids wearing colourful abayahs are playing around their houses as I make my way into the beach.
The mirage for the day is complete. The light blue ocean waves break into spotless and soft white sand sheltered by tall coconut palm trees. Locals are seeing sailing towards the sea for night fishing and the best part: no tourists on sight and the whole place just for myself.
A small tear of joy slides through my cheek. I look around in awe and the heavy backpack or long journey taken to get here look irrelevant. My bare feet play with the warm water as I walk along the beach looking for a good and cheap lodge.
I find it just minutes before the sun finally sets behind me giving way to a clear and fresh night. I enjoy some fresh fish "sambusas" ( typical Zanzibarian dish) while the waves roar some meters away and underneath a magnificently starry night featuring a clear sight of the Milky Way.
Time to sleep on my massive wooden Zanzibarian bed anxiously waiting for the morning and the chance of bathing in the Indian Ocean for the third time in my life.