We spent almost a week recovering from Kilimanjaro in Zanzibar. I’d heard nothing but great things about the island from both locals and tourists.
We started on the very northern tip at a beach resort called Ras Nungwi. It’s clearly low season now as the resort was barely occupied and the poor staff seemed so bored. We caught the guy at the deserted beach bar reading a can of Pringles for entertainment.
The difference between high and low tide is dramatic. At low tide, boats are parked on the beach and the locals fish in ankle-deep water far from shore. We saw many star fish, hermit crabs and sea urchin in the small tide pools. At high tide, the beach is completely gone and it’s nothing but gorgeous turquoise water.
We spent our first couple days mostly laying around while the leg soreness from Kilimanjaro slowly disappeared. Wifi was painfully slow, and even our cell connections were sporadic and unreliable so we did plenty of (offline) reading.
We took a long walk down the beach, but the closer to town we got, the more relentless the salesmen became. They offered everything from Masai jewelry to setting up tours to ebony carvings. I know that selling souvenirs is a good source of income for the village, but it gets really tiresome fending them off. I don’t want to be rude to anyone, but I also don’t want to buy any of these things since we are carrying everything we own.
And the kids asked for everything from pens to dollars. It’s much better to give the supplies to a school than an individual. I was furious when someone at a resort told me she was handing out pencils to every child who asked… Teaching children to beg is the worst thing you can do to help. (And this was after she already went to a school with a large donation of supplies – puzzling.)
The German isn’t overly excited about fish so I joined a group of strangers for a snorkeling trip. I thought about diving, but it’s been quite a while since I’ve gone so I wasn’t comfortable starting back up with a bunch of people I didn’t know and a company I was unfamiliar with. And the water is quite shallow, anyways.
It was quite an interesting group – an Italian couple (the guy was gung-ho but the girl was afraid of the ocean, anxious about using fins, and “worried about breakfast” – which I think meant she was scared of getting sea sick), a Guatemalan army general, a former pro snowboarder, and a Swiss hip hop promoter (who was in his 50s and looked absolutely nothing like someone who knows anything about hip hop). The snowboarder and hip hop guy smoked constantly and I was worried they might blow up our small boat filled with petrol and diving tanks. They were otherwise interesting and fun, though. And the Guatemalan general was super-friendly and had a lot of interesting stories.
The water is such a gorgeous turquoise colour and there is a lot of coral, which means tons of fish. Just snorkeling we saw huge schools of zebra fish and butterfly fish, a variety of trumpet fish, all colors of parrot fish (including my favorite ones that look like they are wearing snakeskin), and even a stonefish – they really do look just like rocks. It was nice to be in the calm water, with beautiful tropical fish everywhere. I find it so peaceful and relaxing. It was a nice way to spend the morning.
On the last night at the beach resort, a group of monkeys came to eat what looked like crab apples from the trees. The birds were furious, but there was nothing they could do to scare off these sizable fellows. Even if I lived here, I don’t think I would ever get tired of seeing monkeys in the trees in my yard.
Before leaving Zanzibar, we spent one night in historic Stone Town. It’s a maze of narrow, car-free alleys of very old buildings. (Like the gothic quarter in Barcelona, but even more narrow and, quite frankly, not as charming.) I chose a hotel to the Ferry Terminal that is known for its coffee (since The German is having serious withdrawal at this point). To my pleasant surprise, it seems to be a woman-run guest house with a great little cafe and coffee roastery.
Our first task in town was to pay for our ferry tickets. You can reserve seats online, but you must go to the office and pay in cash a day ahead of time. Just finding our way there proved challenging – there are no street signs in the maze of narrow alleys, and the phone GPS wasn’t accurate. We knew we were close when the onslaught of taxi drivers, tour guides, and salesmen began.
After finding the official office (as opposed to the other stalls which may/may not sell legit tickets), you must produce $70 in crispy bills dated later than 2003. (So annoying – you can’t use local currency, or a card, or half the bills in our wallet as they looked too dirty or something).
Tickets in hand, we fled the main street and the million offers to sell us something. Our attempts to “zen our way back” failed completely. What should have taken 5 minutes turned into an unanticipated one hour meandering tour through town. Thankfully, we finally located the hotel again. (This place is seriously a maze – I don’t know how we got so turned around!)
While this used to be a big location for slave trading, now the Arabic influence is what’s most apparent – there are mosques every couple blocks (the calls to prayer make a strange cacophony as they overlap each other), elaborate doors, the smell of spices… It’s very different than anywhere else we’ve been.
What would’ve been a lovely dinner was destroyed when thousands upon thousands of flying insects erupted from a wooden post in the center of the dining room. (Easily the closest thing to a horror movie I’ve ever experienced.) As soon as people realized what was going on, diners lept from their chairs, screaming and swatting. The staff quickly turned on fans, turned off all the lights, and sprayed the hell out of the post with bug spray. By that time, our food was covered in insects as we huddled in the corner with the others. Ah – Africa!
Of course it was pouring rain the next day when it was time to walk to the ferry. And then I wound up with a seat next to a guy with the worst BO in the world. (And he liked to sit with his arms above his head, just to maximize the scent.)
So in the last 48 hours, we’ve had a plague of insects, torrential rains, and unbearably bad smells. Throw in a nauseating ferry ride followed by a hectic negotiation of a taxi, and then a 120+ minute ride to the hotel (which was only 4 miles away – no joke), and I’m more than ready to go. Our flight is at 6am – let’s hope the traffic dies down before then.
It’s been fantastic to be able to spend a month here, but I think we are both done with Tanzania for a while. I’m looking forward to some time in a more modern city… Cape Town, here we come!