Saturday, June 14, 2008

African Adventure: From Zanzibar back to Kilimanjaro and then on to the Ngorongoro Crater. (April 8-11)

Current Location: Moshi (foothills of Kilimanjaro), Tanzania
Highlights: Zanzibar, Chumbe Island, and back to Moshi!
Upcoming: Ngorongoro Crater, Gena leaves (I'm sad) and then back to Zanzibar for me.

We spent just a few nights on Zanzibar, then had to leave to come back to Northern Tanzania as Gena wanted to visit the Ngorongoro Crater before she ended her holiday. Aaron is still on Zanzibar and I will return for a week or so after Gena leaves so I can relax and unwind from the exhaustion of all the driving I have done in the past few weeks (about 3000 km in 2.5 weeks on African roads and over a week of that was up Kili!).

By far the most outstanding highlight of our time on Zanzibar, and by far Genas favorite bit so far, was an overnight visit to the ecological preserve of Chumbe Island, a complete Robinson Cruseo type of paradise except with gourmet food harmoniously blended with nature! This is a tiny Island just 12 km off the west coast of Zanzibar and thanks to a decade long struggle and incredible efforts of one lady, Sibylle Riedmiller, this incredible marine haven has been preserved and is a flagship example of eco-tourism where tourists can visit while having almost zero environmental impact. I was so impressed and taken aback by Chumbe that I want to make a separate part of the web site to illustrate how tourism can benefit (and destroy) ecologically sensitive areas and how its possible to enjoy these areas while having almost zero impact.

Chumbe Island was off limits to everyone for a long time because it was in a Military area and as a result, its shallow water coral reefs are the among worlds finest and most pristine, it has a thriving population of coconut crabs (endangered elsewhere and the worlds largest landcrab which I got to hold and then watch climb a Coconut Palm), and is a unique, unspoiled and beautiful ecosystem. As soon as Chumbe was off the Military "no go zone", it was at risk of being developed by hotel and resort owners, and its pristine coral reefs were open to destruction by fisherman. Sibylle Riedmiller decided she wanted to protect the Island and its treasures and to open it up to tourism in a way that would preserve and protect this delicate ecosystem.

To give you an idea of how you can open a fragile ecosystem to tourists but make their presence almost unfelt, let me give you a virtual tour around the eco-bungalow where you would stay if you were to visit Chumbe:

There is no fresh water on Chumbe. However, rainwater is collected from the large roof area (made from palm leaves) of the bungalows and funneled down to a catchment area where it passes through several biofilters and is stored under the floor in huge holding tanks. Water is hand pumped daily into two tanks, one cold water and the other hot water heated by sunlight in a solar water heater (this is not drinking water). Waste water from showering and washing also passes through biofilters then into large plant beds with impermeable bases so pollutants can be taken up by plants and the water dissipates via evapotranspiration back into the atmosphere. No water goes into the sea where it could pollute the delicate reefs around the Island. The toilet uses no water. After using the toilet, you throw in two scoops of compost (provided in a neat basket) and all waste is naturally decomposed in an sealed closed system where is can't pollute the environment. I must also say that these toilets DO NOT smell either! At night you can switch on the lights powered by a solar charged system and enjoy the sound of the ocean in these romantic and incredibly charming beachfront bungalows. The bungalows are a completely open designed so air-conditioning is not needed, you are cooled by the breeze from the ocean and they are constructed from local natural materials such as mangrove poles and palm leaves. If you think that this form of eco-architecture must have been designed by a large team of architects, think again as the eco-bungalows were designed by a German university student as part of a project!

I won't say too much more right now as again, I am out of time and we have to push on, but if you want to find out more, wait to see the section we will post to the site with LOTS of pictures, or check out the Chumbe Island web site:

I will just add that I have been on lots of tours and stayed at lots of places that tout themselves as "eco-adventures" or as "eco-tourism" or as "ecologically friendly", and most of them are just jumping on the "eco" bandwagon and some border on "eco-terrorism". Chumbe Island is however, the most shinning and exception example of how tourism can be integrated with conservation and environmental preservation that I have ever seen. It's also an incredible place to vacation if you want a unique blend of being close to nature with gourmet meals and all the conveniences of a fancy hotel.

No comments: