Quick Zanzibar Update

We’re short on internet and ability to upload here, so please forgive any spelling/grammar/whatever errors here and the awful photo quality, I’ve cut and pasted my diary notes from the last few days. 

Zanzibar, Day 1

We left our tennis court-sized apartment in Dar Es Salaam at 11am and were given a complimentary shuttle ride to the ferry port, which wasn’t far away. The Tanzanite Executive Apartments were a great find – friendly, helpful and rather luxurious for the price. Plus they were in the middle of town, which was handy.

So we arrived at the ferry terminal and everyone waited in the minibus while I took our passports and money in to buy the tickets. I hired a porter to carry my bag (I need 3 huge camera lenses for the safaris, ok?) and everyone else manfully dealt with their own. It was kind of a good thing we had him because the porter led us all straight to where we needed to go, albeit at a jogging pace. He also helped everyone else stow their bags onboard.

We were directed to ‘first class’ which was upstairs on the ferry. Imagine a room haphazardly crammed with a bunch of furniture that would be right at home in a really cheap casino and then add a few flickering tvs and a truly awful speaker blaring mostly indecipherable speeches and that was the luxury that present itself.

There’s really nothing noteworthy to say about the boat except that almost everyone seemed to be asleep an hour into the trip. I don’t just mean our group, I mean the whole (passenger section) of the boat. It was like the crew had piped some kind of sleeping gas into the air. The journey was only two hours so I just read my kindle. As Luke pointed out, not many people have that option and lying down means feeling less seasick. Not having ever suffered sea sickness, I like to spend my time on boats feeling superior to everyone who suffers from it. I spent a most enjoyable two hours this way.

We docked in Stone Town and had to go through immigration again, which was a little strange, considering Zanzibar is part of Tanzania, which we’d just come from. This was also the first time we’d had our Yellow Fever documents checked, unfortunately by a guy who Kat and I suspected was a tout initially because he sidled up to us asking where we were going and where we’d been and his ID looked just like a taxi driver’s.

Outside Kat tried to contact the hotel to see if they’d sent the promised driver but had trouble getting through so we availed ourselves of one of the official taxis. There was a set of high white gates at the outside of the port compound and a group of rather vulture-like men outside looking for business. The guys inside the gates warned us not to go out there, which we hadn’t planned on doing, but I wondered what, precisely would happen if we did, I mean, apart from the official taxis losing our business.

We packed into a minibus taxi and were taken to our hotel on the other side of the island for a slightly lower price than the hotel had offered their own transport. On the way we saw many banana trees, people lounging around, brahman cows and roadside stalls. There doesn’t seem to be a great variety of fresh produce available here. Apart from coconuts and oranges, there were cucumbers, tomatoes and pumpkin sitting in piles. Also lots of half finished buildings everywhere.

The rocky road down to the hotel almost defeated the van but we made it and arrived at a stunning white sand beach and a large palm-roofed terrace. Two of the staff came out to meet us and show us to our room. Unfortunately there was not much English to be had (how it’s the official language of this country I have no idea) so our questions either went unanswered or were answered confusingly. ‘Are there any other people staying here?’ “yes, yes!’. We haven’t seen another soul around the place.

We’re staying in little adjoining huts that are just off the beach. The rooms are quite nice – my first stay somewhere with mosquito nets, which feels very romantic and exotic.

After having a look around and meeting a guy who was scouting for business for his tour company (and was then told to push off by one of the hotel guys) we reconvened on the terrace. We were given the option of beer or water (great, I hate beer) and then given a menu. Since we had eaten nought but a few crackers since breakfast we were all starving. According to the law of restaurants this meant we waited approximately five years for our food to be prepared and served. By the time it arrived we were so grateful to have anything at all that we yanked the plates out of the lady’s hands and tipped the food back without chewing. I exaggerate only slightly.

I virtuously chose to forgo dessert, which was made easier by being told that they were out of bananas and chocolate but we could have the pancakes with sugar. I suggested that this warranted a price reduction since the banana and chocolate element of the dish was the most appealing. Lucas and Leigh had the pancakes and said they were great but by that time I’d gone back to my room to read a bit out of the wind.

Hopefully tomorrow will be a bit less gale-force (although there was no fear of mosquitos in such a strong wind, so that was something) and we’ll have a wander down the beach and see what else is on offer. Something other than beer, I hope. Good thing we used the heck out of our duty free allowances.

This pier has a restaurant at the end. Rather windy!

Zanzibar, day 2.

The shells on the beach here are different to home. There are plenty of decent sized ones lying around to pick up and examine. I guess in Australia there’s more people on the beaches picking them up and taking them home – something I don’t quite understand because shells never look anywhere as nice when they’re dried out and sitting in someone’s bathroom (or worse, used as an ashtray) no matter how lovely they look on the beach. It’s slightly better when they’re varnished, I suppose.

I got up at 6 and went for a walk south along the beach. There is a pier a bit further down, which made for a nice silhouette against the sunrise. So did the herd of cows that were making their way, unaccompanied, up the beach.

An early morning stroll.

Further down, at the next village, I got into a conversation with a man named Jamu who tried to teach me a bit of Swahili and we talked about the village he was from and life in Zanzibar. All along the beach there are people trying to sell you tours of the major attractions but Jamu offered a tour of the local village as well so I said I would talk to everyone and see who’d like to do it the next day.

We walked back to Jaribu Hotel and by that time Kat, Luke and Lucas were up and on the deck waiting for breakfast.

Despite being told that breakfast was at 8 it was more like 9am when the food came out. Lucky it was delicious (or was it? All food tastes good when you’re starving). A plate of crepes, a fried egg, toast and fruit.

Leigh and Nikki only surfaced as we were finishing so the four of us decided to walk north along the beach and see what was around. Lots of people wanting to take us on tours, seemed to be the answer. A few kilometres up we could see a handful of people kitesurfing. By the time we walked all the way up to the surfers we felt we’d earned a drink and so we stopped in at ‘Teddy’s Bar’, which was off the sand, down a short track and over a rather fort-like wall. A nice little bar, comfy seats and music meant we stayed for a few hours before returning up the beach in the strong wind and meeting Nikki and Leigh in time to head to the bar where Jamu hung out.

The bar is quite interesting. All over the sand there are hermit crab tracks, which could easily be mistaken for bike tyre prints. The fence and bar are decorated with empty shells and the bar has a big sign saying ‘Zombie Bar’ over it. Jamu asked ‘Do you know zombies?’. Yes, yes we do. Everyone else had beers and then we had lunch on the pier. While it was a nice location the wind was even stronger out in the open and people were starting to look sunburnt. Also it was 4pm, so once again we were at a mealtime late and all of us were starving. Fortunately the food was kitamu (delicious) and generous.

When everyone else decided to head back to the Zombie Bar I went back to our room to read and relax for a bit then sat on the deck and darned one of my shirts. One of the guys who works here (When I say ‘works’ I mean ‘hangs around’, which seems to comprise of at least 80% of the ‘work’ men engage in here) named Moses had a chat to me about his life and Tanzanian culture. I keep wishing I’d brought photos of home and my family and Melbourne to show people I’ve met while traveling, especially in places like this where they don’t have much access to the internet. Also a world map to show where Australia is. Fortunately there is lots of sand to draw maps in.

Everyone else arrived back eventually after playing with a bunch of local kids at the bar for ages. Kat and I both went to our rooms for an early night, while the others continued drinking when they got back.

Zanzibar, Day 3.

Unsurprisingly, Luke, Leigh, Nikki and Lucas were not feeling like sunshine and rainbows in the morning. Particularly Leigh and Luke, who went back to bed straight after breakfast. Nikki was a bit more animated and Lucas felt up to coming on the village tour with Kat and I, which turned out to be a great move for us *and* all the locals who were understandably entranced by his giant ginger beard. One said he looked like Osama Bin Laden.

We met Jamu at the bar and then walked a short way to an alleyway between some stone houses where a lady and a gaggle of google-eyed children met us. She demonstrated how they make rope from coconut husks (soak them in the ocean for 6 months, then bash the stuffing out of them, separate the fibres and roll). We had a rather unsuccessful go. Then I had a more successful try at weaving palm leaves. Kat and I had some henna applied and Lucas and I had our hair braided a bit. When I took out my long hair all the kids wanted a close look. When the lady braided a bit of Lucas’ beard they all laughed.

I can’t imagine how long it would take to do my whole head.

Next it was onto another house (after passing the town graveyard where the cows slept) and we tried fresh young coconuts. I am always astonished by the amount of liquid a coconut holds. So much it’s quite difficult to finish. We all enjoyed the liquid (although it could’ve been improved with some Malibu and ice) and then we were handed spoon to eat the super-soft, jelly-like flesh.

After that it was a walked around town to see how the buildings are constructed and see how people live. We rounded one corner to see a young boy who burst into tears on sight and ran into his yard. Later he appeared with his mother and started wailing again when he spotted us.

Lucas, Jamu and Kat.

One of the funniest things we saw was a bunch of men push-starting a ancient truck that looked like it was barely holding together, almost to the point of being comedic, there was so much shuddering and clanking. It rumbled into life and tore past. Jamu said that it was only for using in the forest, not in town because it had no brakes. That’s right, no brakes.

Lastly was lunch at the Seahorse Cafe. The food took about as long as we’ve come to expect for small African establishments. Kat wasn’t joking when she talked about ‘Africa time’. We made a time to meet Jamu in the morning so he could get our shoe sizes for flippers, then a pick up time so he could drive us to the restaurant we’d booked for lunch and then go snorkelling afterwards, then watch the sun go down on a west-facing beach.

In the afternoon a few of the group had massages, I got a henna tattoo on my ankle and we went to a nearby resort to use their pool and have dinner. It’s certainly a bonus for us, being able to stay in cheap accommodation and use their facilities just up the beach.

Edward and James sat down to have a chat and show us their wares while we were on the beach.

After the excitement of last night we all collapsed into bed before it was even dark. Snorkling tomorrow!

Zanzibar Day 4.

Today we had our long-awaited booking at The Rock restaurant, which sits on a small rocky island just off the coast of Zanzibar. By ‘just off the coast’ I mean that at low tide you can walk to it but it was a very high tide when we arrived so there was a small boat to take us out.

When we climbed the steps to the top it was much bigger than it looked from the outside, with an indoor area that could seat about 30 people and then a deck out the back that seated maybe 20. The view from the balcony was nothing but sky and the vibrant greens and blues of the sea – everything from pale aqua green to dark emerald.

Definitely the most expensive place we’d eaten since we arrived, we all splashed out and had an entree and shared the seafood platters between two. Unfortunately Luke is mildly allergic to shellfish and that made up most of the platters because there was no calamari that day and he didn’t order an entree so he was left somewhat hungry by the end, having only eaten the plate of chips (or chipsi as they call them here). Since I ate most of the platter plus a crab salad I had plenty but we are all learning that African meals are nowhere near as big as Australian servings. Plus a plate of lobster and prawns really isn’t much meat even though it looks big. Lucas certainly did his best to get every morsel out though, much to our amusement.

We had hired Jamu for the day to be our driver and after lunch we went snorkelling at the ‘Blue Lagoon’, which wasn’t really a lagoon but an area off the coast which we took a boat out to. I’ve never just jumped into the ocean without a pontoon or beach within easy reach so I was a bit scared. My fear of high places and falling down stairs also manifests itself in deep water, which I realise is ridiculous, since I’m a very good swimmer and one clearly cannot actually fall down but I do not like the sensation of being in water so deep I can’t see the bottom. The slight hyperventilation passed quickly though and I enjoyed the snorkelling.

The visibility wasn’t fantastic but we saw banner fish (the black and yellow ones with a long streamer coming from the top fin), anemone fish (memo) and other quite bright fish. The coral was mostly brown and there was a lot of seaweed floating in the water but I found it interesting. I’m not really sure how long we spent in the water – maybe an hour? By the end I was getting bit cold. Luke was quite frustrated by the end as he was having his usual issues with his goggles and breathing. Lucas showed off his diving skills by going right down to the coral (it was several metres down because the tide was so high) and Leigh and Nikki found lots of interesting fish. Kat and I fed the fish with some biscuits Jamu had brought – something I remember being a complete no-no in the Cook Islands when we were there.

When we got back to the beach we chatted to a Masai fellow who introduced himself as ‘Mr Discount’ and had a little stall of jewellery next to the beach. It seems young Masai men from inland (so far they all seem to be from Arusha) come to the island during the high season to sell stuff to tourists. They walk along the beach all day in their robes and sunglasses looking slightly out of place.

Next stop was the other side of the peninsula to watch the sunset from the beach and eat fruit. The pineapple here is wonderful and even Luke, who normally doesn’t eat it said it was delicious. The only fruit they have here that I don’t like are the oranges. They are not very sweet and quite dry compared to the ones we get at home. We chatted to the fellow who told ran the nearby bar about the area. There were rocks all over the beach which apparently come from the retaining walls people build near the water. It seems the things people build here from the local rocks and cement don’t last anywhere near as long as architecture at home. The local cement also seem to go from white to black in only a few years, making everything look like ancient ruins.

After taking a bunch of sunset photos and washing off all the fruit juice we headed back to where we’re staying, stopping at a local shop to get some snacks. The shop was a very odd mix of things but we bought some lemonade, locally made chips (maybe taro?) and I bought a packet of chocolate biscuit things. There’s a company here who make a range of chocolate products that are clearly designed to look almost exactly like Cadbury’s, yet are most definitely not. This was the first chocolate I’d had in over a week and when I got back to the hotel I ate three in the style of the Cookie Monster. It’s sunny, really. When there’s no chocolate to be had I don’t think about it but if it’s in front of me I cannot help eating until it’s gone or I feel sick.

Nikki went to bed as soon as we got back as she was feeling ill but the rest of us sat up and ordered dinner. After the usual interminable wait for starters Gemma, the person with the best (but still dreadful) English came out to tell us that there was only enough chicken for 3 people, not 4 so I decided to give in and go to bed. Probably just as well since Luke came in, quite a while later, and told me the chicken had seemed to consist of carcass and not much else.

We seem to have struck Fawlty Towers again in our accommodation again. We had put in a load of clothing, which Gemma had conveyed to us was 5000 shillings a bag. So when it was returned and we were given a bill for 90,000 shillings (approximately $60) we were somewhat flabbergasted and refused to pay. We met halfway at around $25 but tried to point out that they really need to have a written price list for laundry rather than trying to communicate poorly in a second language.

The water seems to be intermittently supplied to our rooms, change is rarely forthcoming when we need it and they don’t seem to own spare keys for the rooms. Luke had to ask several times for more pillows for our room and eventually got them. It’s all rather shambolic. Fortunately there’s plenty of other places we can go for food and services. It’s not all bad though. Our rooms are quite nice, the view is terrific and Gemma is trying to help… when she knows what we’re saying. There’s just something about Zanzibar that makes it feels like no one is really in charge or knows what is going on.

As Jamu said – ‘most people here are not really thinking of the future, just living day to day. To be successful and make a difference locals need to think like the white man’. Although I think there are many good attributes to the people here and the culture, the locals are certainly losing out because they do not have the knowledge to invest in their future. Many locals sold their beach front properties to Europeans and moved back from the beach. A small number rented their land and now have a steady income. Europeans who come here have a much better understanding of what tourists want and expect and they also know how to advertise and run a successful business. Locals wait to talk to people on the beach to advertise their tours – by which time the hotels have already gotten in first and also told their guests not to trust the people on the beach. It’s all very complicated and, in some respects, unfair. Still, without foreigners to teach them how to work in tourism fewer and fewer people would come here and at least the hotels are providing jobs.

One of the adorable village children.

4 thoughts on “Quick Zanzibar Update

  1. woo! africa! i love the photo of you getting your hair braided 😀 ….. sounds like chats with locals have been nice 🙂

    annoying about food prep time, sounds like you should carry bags of snacks everywhere, or arrive still full from ur last meal? >.<

    • Yes, I brought a packet of muesli bars and some crackers but we also though there’d surely be a shop nearby and some kind of snack food available. How wrong we were. We’re starting to adjust our expectations and plan ahead but it’s starting to feel like we spend half our day waiting for meals!

  2. Great to hear about your time in Zanzibar . Had to laugh at the mention of Africa time. The first time we went I found a fabulous little clock at the markets, instead of numerals it had phrase like, maybe, later on, coming soon,perhaps and so on. If that wasn’t cute enough it had no mechanism or battery source! Still wish I’d bought it, thought I’d see them everywhere ! Have lots of fun and take care of each other

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