Zanzibar

After two weeks of ‘roughing’ in tents and dusty Landrovers we were ready for a holiday!  Zanzibar is an Island off the coast of Tanzania, set in the Indian Ocean and famed for its beaches.  An ideal place for some R&R before heading back to work.  The day after getting back from Safari, after Phil and Rich had gone home, Tom, Kimberley and I flew out to Zanzibar.  Again it was an early start for a 10:30am flight, Bobby’s had sent one of their 4x4s to take us us to Kilimanjaro airport.  We were a little worried about having too much luggage but they didn’t seem to mind and everything was surprisingly easy and efficient 🙂

Flying into Zanzibar we could see lots of reefs in the turquoise waters around the island, I was looking forward to a bit of snorkelling.  Zanzibar airport is tiny, there wasn’t a baggage conveyer belt just a couple of guys who handed out the bags one at a time!  Tom realised he had left something on the plane so he went back out onto the tarmac and walked straight onto the plane to fetch it – not sure you would be able to do that in Blighty!

On exiting the airport I immediately noticed the heat, a lot hotter than the Arusha but not too humid which made things pleasant.  We’d booked a hotel for the first few days and they had sent a car to collect us, on route to the hotel we noticed that there were lots of women in headscarves and a few even in full burkhas.  The island is 90% Muslim, we arrived during Ramadan, which made things tricky if we wanted to have a drink or have some food.

The hotel, Imani Beach Villa, is run by an English chap called Simon who left his job in the the city for a life in the sun (quite a life change!).  It was a very chilled out place with nice rooms and a relaxed bar/restaurant area, it was also right on a sandy beach on the West coast of the Island, about 15 mins drive away from the Islands capital, Stone Town.

After a little walk down the beach, which was initally sandy but soon turned into sharp lava formed rock, I decided it was time to chill out and headed for the hammocks with my book, now I was on holiday!  In the evening the tide came in and the sun disappeared beyond the horizon making for a nice sunset – Kilimanjaro seemed a world away!

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We ate in the hotel restaurant that evening, having read that Zanzibar is great for seafood I opted for Kingfish (a white meat fish) with a coconut curry sauce – it was delicious and a nice change from the food of the last couple of weeks.

Next day I had a lie in till about 9am, I hadn’t set an alarm but was awoke by a couple of guys chatting outside my room – I was used to getting up early anyway!  After a lazy morning on the hammock I met up with T & K and headed into Stone Town.  We took a local mini bus from near the hotel, which cost us 250TSH each, about 10p!  It was pretty cramped, but good fun – local transport is always a great way to get a feel for a place.  We were dropped off at a market that sold meat, fruit and veg, and various other local produce.  It was a bustling place, I expected Zanzibar to be a bit of a tourist resort but was pleasantly surprised to find it was a lot more than that.

The old part of the town is a mass of narrow alleys that at first seem a little daunting but it was a pleasant place to get lost and we made our way though them towards the harbour.  Along the way were plenty of shops mainly selling standard tourist fodder but one in particular stood out – it had a vast collection of antiques and artefacts from ancient and more recent history, it was packed out with lots of interesting things such as old paintings/photographs, maps, coins, and bits and pieces from old ships – they had a great working telegraph which I was tempted with but it was very big to get home!  You knew there was probably a hidden gem in there but not being an expert in such things it was hard to find it!

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It was easy to get a sense for the colonial past of Stone Town, having been occupied by both the Portuguese and the British there are several grand buildings along the sea front.  For many years the town was a centre for the slave trade, with slaves being brought to the island from East Africa for trade with the middle east – fortunately the British put a stop to this in the 1870’s, there was an interesting museum on this on the harbour.  There were also the remains of some nasty looking holding cells – not nice.

We visited several tour agencies to book a trip for the next day to some nearby small islands for some snorkelling, after a bit of negotiation we managed to get a reasonable price.  We then spent a while trying to find a working ATM!  If you go to Tanzania be prepared for banks ATMs to be a nightmare, fortunately at the third bank we found one that would accept our cards – hooray!!

In the evening a seafood market takes place in the Forodhani Gardens (a small park at the harbour) where locals setup tables, charcoal stoves, oil lamps and prepare seafood.  It was a nice atmosphere and there is a large choice such as grilled lobster, fish and prawn kebabs and spiced naan breads, very impressive.

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Also on offer are ‘Zanzibar Pizzas’, chapattis stuffed with a meat or veg and plenty of chilli sauce and then shallow fried in a large pan – lovely!  It was all reasonably priced although not dirt cheap.  As there were lots of stalls the competition was fierce and the traders worked hard with their sales pitches to entice you in.  I took the opportunity to have some lobster for about £5, pretty good although a little over cooked (probably a good thing hygiene wise!).  King fish kebabs were good with Chilli sauce wrapped in a Naan.  Even Tom who doesn’t like Seafood managed to eat a few things – we didn’t go home hungry!

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Next morning we were picked up from our hotel for the boat trip, which started from the harbour in Stone Town.  After selecting our snorkelling gear we boarded our vessel, a wooden narrow and long motor boat named ‘Jambo’ (Hello in Swahili) and headed off for Bawe Island about 3 miles off the west coast of Zanzibar.  The island is pretty small and we weren’t allowed onto it but we had come here to snorkel on the reefs just off its shore.

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The water was warm and turquoise, probably only a few meters deep at the deepest point although in some places over the reef it was only a couple of feet deep.  In and around the coral were tropical fish in an array of colours, it always amazes me how such colour can exist under the sea, and lots of black spiky sea urchins (I gave them a wide berth).  Tom spotted a Lobster hiding in the reef, and I noticed a few jelly fish near the surface – hoping they weren’t poisonous!  We spent an hour or so in the water before climbing out and relaxing on the front of the boat.

At this point I suddenly felt the urge for the toilet, maybe the seafood market wasn’t a good idea after all!  The nearest toilet was on Changuu (Prison) Island about 3 miles or 30 mins cruising away, with the boat rolling in the waves I didn’t enjoy that part of the trip too much.  The island didn’t seem to be getting much closer but finally we reached it and the much needed toilet – feel the relief!

The island is 800m long and 230m wide with some white sandy beaches, an abandoned prison, and a colony of giant tortoises – second in size only to their Galapagos cousins.  There were 30-50 tortoises and we were given a handful of spinach to feed them with, although they seemed pretty docile they soon perked up when they realised food was around!

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The British built the prison in 1893 although it never housed any prisoners, instead it was used as a quarantine for incoming boats with Yellow fever cases.  Ships only arrived between December and March so during the rest of the year the island was a popular holiday destination!  Eventually the quarantine station was closed down and today it functions as a restaurant and hotel.  The pizzas they served looked nice but I abstained as I was still feeling a bit dicey.  After lunch we were going to do another snorkel but the tide had come in and the guide reckoned it would be too deep to see anything so we had a swim off the beach instead.

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With the wind picking up and our guide anxious to get back to Zanzibar in time for his dinner we headed back to Zanzibar, the waves were now bigger so it was a rougher trip back with several waves breaking over the front of the boat.

We made it back to Stone Town in the late afternoon and I left Tom and Kimberley to some shopping and had a look around the Old Fort, Palace Museum, and the Zanzibar National Museum otherwise known as the ‘House of Wonders’.  It was an interesting museum detailing the history of Zanzibar and in particular I learnt a lot about the slavery trade.  I also had a walk up to the ‘Big Tree’ which was planted by a Sultan about 100 years ago, and now used as shade in which boat builders go about their trade.  Walking back to meet the others I noticed the market had started and I couldn’t resist a Zanzibar Pizza (I was feeling better now!).  In the evening we had a few beers before heading for a nice Indian curry (there’s a lot of Indian influence in Zanzibar) in a nearby restaurant.

The following morning we did a ‘spice tour’ where we spent a few hours with a guide walking through the spice plantations.  Zanzibar is apparently famous for it’s spices, in particular cloves, and it was surprising to see how a lot of the stuff we buy in jars back home is grown.  Amongst other things I can’t remember the name of we saw cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, pepper, and ginger – as well as lots of coconuts, oranges, bananas, and some strange exotic fruits – all pretty interesting.  Lunch was included in the tour, cooked with all the spices we had seen and it tasted good 🙂

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Whilst the beach at the hotel was ok due to the proximity to Stone Town it didn’t feel too tropical, we wanted to see some of the famous beaches of the island so on the recommendation of Simon we took a taxi across the island to the small village of Paje on the East Coast.  The journey took about an hour and once we left Stone Town we were travelling though small villages and forests.  Simon had recommended the ‘Paradise Beach Bungalows’ which were right on the beach, the rooms seemed decent and after negotiating a reasonable price ($55 for a double room) we checked in.  The view was amazing, clear blue waters, white sandy beach with palm trees and hammocks, it was easy to see how the hotel got its name – our beach huts overlooked it all (strangely my beach hut was called Bob).

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The rest of the day was spent relaxing in the hammocks 🙂  The hotel is run by a Japanese lady and in the evening she prepared a seafood BBQ, more Kingfish, Squid, a strange white fish, and Prawns.  We washed this all down with a couple of beers and were surprised to see how bright the moon was, almost illuminating the beach like a spotlight.

The sun rises on this side of the Island, so next morning I set an alarm for 6:30am – as this was my last full day in Zanzibar I wanted to see it.  Reluctantly I pulled myself out of bed and sat outside the hut, at first there seemed to be a lot of cloud and I wondered if that might scupper a decent sun rise but I waited 10 mins or so and as the sun started to come up the clouds parted and red rays of sun shown through – it was worth the early start!  I watched for half hour or so and then went back to bed and slept till 10!

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The sea goes out about a kilometre at Paje leaving behind a shallow water in several pools.  During sun rise the tide had been in but now it was out, crazy how fast it comes in and out, Tom and Kimberley set off for the distant sea but it looked a bit far too me plus it was rocky further out with lots of sea urchins around – I left them to it!  Instead I hired a bike from the hotel and set off down the endless beach, I must of gone a few miles and it was still going!  It was nice to watch the local women collecting seaweed and men repairing their dhows (small fishing sail boats).  Around mid afternoon I headed back to the hotel and found Tom and Kimberley coming back from the sea, they had been out there for 5 hours in the midday sun  – they were a pretty red!  The tide was back in so I went in for a swim, I don’t think I have ever swum in such a warm sea – it was like a heated swimming pool.  After some more hammock time we went back to the a nearby hotel for a seafood curry, we asked them to not put Octopus in – lovely!

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Next morning I had a little walk down the beach and around 11 said goodbye to Tom and Kimberley and took a taxi to the airport.  The journey took an hour and a half because for some reason the guy to be driving very slowly, I think he didn’t want to damage his car!  Eventually we arrived and then it was into the chaos of the airport, its the only airport I have ever been to where the check-in desks are on the street!  After checking in I had to pay an exit tax of $30 and then clear customs all whilst being hassled by people wanting to carry my bags.  The airport lounge was a small room with a load of bench seats and a souvenir shop, unfortunately my plane (Kenya Airways) was delayed so I had to wait it out for a couple of hours.  Eventually it arrived and the flight to Nairobi only took an hour, the highlight was flying past Mt. Kilimanjaro – the only time I saw the mountain in its full glory, a fitting way to leave Tanzania.

I had a six hour wait in Nairobi, which went surprisingly quickly, and then I transferred to a KLM flight to Amsterdam and then from there another flight to Birmingham – the adventure was over!  I flew home in shorts and flip flops and expected it to be cold and grey back in blighty but was pleantly surprised it to be a hot day, it was nice to be home!

I would recommend a visit to Tanzania, friendly people coupled with mountains, safari, and beaches all in one, it was a great trip 🙂

I’ve uploaded my Zanzibar photos here.

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