What is so special about Zanzibar?
Original plan was 2 nights but I stayed 3 so something kept me…that is a rare occurrence for me.
It is very different from the rest of Africa that I saw. First it is a fairly large island that is 80% Muslim. It has an Arabic past which left some traces in the city of Stonetown, including the small maze like streets and traditional wood carved doors. There are spices, fish, fruits, and chapati with views everywhere. Some great snorkeling (though I failed to take part). Some amazing sailing on traditional Dhows (though this goes for all of East Africa). It has some very beautiful beaches with places to stay ranging from $20 to $5000 (no joke). Tourism is quite high here and I now see why.
I arrived by plane though I am not entirely sure why I did that since I was 1.5 hours from the border with Tanzania. I was in Diani Beach in Kenya near Mombasa. I flew out from Mombasa (which was at least 1 hour just to the airport…)
On arrival, it was fairly simple. A walk on the tarmac to immigration where they actually check for my vaccination card (1st time anyone has ever checked…well it was flashed from within the plastic bag if that even counts), then you pay..US $100 everyone else $50 and they prefer CR cards…yes it is that touristy! Then you pass immigration and they give you a cool visa for Tanzania (a new friend I later met was jealous, his was not as cool from the land border). I reserved a hotel (Pyramid Hotel) and asked for a pick-up (Arrived about 5pm right before sunset).
We made a stop at the ATM, mistake, and waited more or less patiently for over 1 hour until we were informed that all banks were out of cash and systems were down….guess I should have exchanged money at the airport…oops. In the meantime I met a guy who had been to 10 ATMs with no avail…we gave him a ride to the Bank HQ but were shoo´d away there too…so we headed to our respective hotels. Mine was simple with some nice Arabic decor inside…mosquito net like usual and breakfast included on the rooftop. I set down the bags, organized my next day’s activities and figured out where I could eat at 9pm (obviously after exchanging some dollars for shillings with someone in the hotel…a slight $2 loss in exchange..eh). All signs pointed to Forodani Square…yeah street food…um is it safe to eat? How the heck do I get there in this maze? Is it safe to walk alone? So many questions. I managed my way out of the maze no problem…ate the delicious seafood and other foods in the Square with a bit of caution, again no problem. So many vendors in this square, it all looked sooo good….how do you even choose?….so many tourists…so many local boys trying to get you to their food station and then trying to sit with you…way to forward for me…it was hard enough choosing let alone have to deal with someone who wouldn´t let you be…again very informative men…beach boys…but can I eat in peace PLEASE!
Next day I decided against tours as there were too many to choose from and I was more interested in exploring the maze. The doors were fascinating and some very different and with the maze even more exciting as bikes and motorcycles also fit down them….vendors and artists everywhere! Well a few hours in the rain came…I happened to be at the beach but not on the beach…instead I was on a ledge with an overhang that attracted me to sneak onto, so I was good but the rain didn´t stop, I got bored and headed to a hotel for a drink. It was 10 am…yeah…well the rain kept me there for around 2 or more hours…cool or not! It had wifi :P. I even asked the waitress when it would stop, she said 10 minutes, after 10 minutes I asked again, what happened to 10 minutes…right then it stopped…ha ha only to start up again 5 minutes later. I obviously had another drink as I was in no rush and not interested in being soaked like the group that just showed up from the storm drenched. The beers in E. Africa come in larger bottles and are higher % alcohol then the lagers I´m used to….I had the second and I was golden…mind you I had just ran my second marathon almost 2 weeks earlier and alcohol was strong still for me…cheap date :(….all good if bar is expensive ;).
Once the rain stopped out I went in search of the markets. I made it but not before being stopped by rain again. The markets were ok. The best part was the seafood auction. Here and apparently in China large fish is sold by auction, very interesting to watch eels, octopus, and plenty of large seafood be bid on. Exploring didn´t stop there, I some how managed into an abandoned building with some nice views and random cats, to a great seafood restaurant with views and from there a Dhow boat ride with a couple to an island with turtles…so random and yet so perfect. We sailed on over, so worth every cent and it was not much (maybe 30$ but I think I negotiated well, less than tour costs). Best experience, very unique and beautiful. Just wood, ropes, and sail…even the pulley was wood. Turtles were cool, island…prison island…also cool, water amazing and warm….my last minute decision left me unprepared for swimming, aka clothed…nope didn´t stop me from getting in the water (first time in all normal clothes), and we planned it well so that it turned into a sunset cruise with a drop off at the floating bar…hell yes! Day ended swimming from the bar to land instead of 2$ taxi boat, grabbing food in Forodani Square again, and very satisfied with the day. The day was literally so amazing I didn´t want to leave but the next day was Christmas eve and I decided to head North to see another side of the Island.
In the morning I went for a run to another part of Stonetown (much later than anticipated because I was locked in…) and then got a little bit lost in the maze on the return…perfect for photo taking with the cool doors and I finally stumbled upon the corner I was looking for :D. Then off I went to the North via taxi (there is also a shuttle for $20 less but whatever and oops).
I forgot to mention, one last thing before heading north I had to give away my shoes (I brought a bunch with me and clothes too; sadly it still felt like it was not enough). This was a continuation from Mombasa where me and a new friend gave it away to a bunch of random people on the streets who really needed it – in the end one guy actually helped us find our way and we only knew to trust him because he had the gift in his hand..awe. Beyond the call of duty and all were overly appreciative of the gifts and the happiest of people to receive something so small..their expressions were like….you choose me?…well that was until the last bit I gave away on my last day….when shortly after giving fabric to a young woman with a baby on her back we saw her cross the street happy but when we looked again she was on the ground, apparently she fainted…so thankful she was not hit by the cars but decided no more giveaways in that area, yikes…oh yeah baby was ok.
The North of Zanzibar was wow, absolutely beautiful! I was paying $20 for a room with no AC just a few meters from the beach (if you know me I avoid ac these days…here I’d say it was a mistake…so hot!). Obviously enjoying as much as possible, dropped off bags and out I went to explore, take photos. Encountering beach boys…one who stuck with me nearly all afternoon….at least I was with company…never alone while traveling alone…really!
It was here I really fell in love with the Dhow boats….so many more here, all fishing boats (I really wanted to go fishing…though they head out at 5 pm and return between 2-6…no thanks, not this trip)….I walked one side of the beach to a nice hotel, went in to seek lunch, not interested and walked back. I found lunch at my hotel and then continued to the other side until you couldn´t go any farther (the light house and some really fancy hotel)….all gorgeous…on the return we (me and beach boy) tried to enter the lighthouse…but failed…well not truly failed but I got distracted by a turtle sanctuary…..not land turtles, a great view and a bar…I was thirsty. I settled in for a natural pineapple juice, beach boy left and then another lime juice as I refreshed and realized I had picked the perfect spot and time to watch the fishermen on their Dhows head out for a night of fishing…..amazing!! From there I went as quickly as possible back before the tide trapped me! Dropped off my stuff and in I went for a dip in the Indian Ocean again…go pro in hand! Inspired but a little late I decided I wanted to snorkel.
I found the nearest snorkel shop…right next to the hotel restaurant 🙂 …ha ha and off I went only to find out that there was no snorkel but a sunset cruise….I was ****** that I wasn’t informed before and Had paid for another sunset cruise, mad enough that someone who brought beer along offered me one. I relaxed a bit but later bugged the captain to let me jump in at least. I was mad because on the boat wasting my precious water time….in the end the sunset was amazing (better than the day before). I had a great seat on top of the boat and it was Christmas eve and beautiful. Sounds like a great end to the day huh…ha it didn´t stop there….the beach boy returned and I dismissed him again and then at dinner I randomly met a girl who appeared alone but really had recently made local friends (one a famous Reggae Roots artist), so we shared a table and closed the day at a reggae beach party somewhere else.
Christmas was spent returning but with no time wasted on the island. I got up early…way to tired to be up, so I crashed on the beach for a bit until my photographer eyes noticed how amazing the water looked. I went in got the camera and went for a stroll on the beach….down to the fish market, Christmas morning auction (remember Muslim…not a holiday). From there I had to return because I couldn´t waste the moment to run…especially after several people ran by while I rested on the beach or took pictures. Off I went on my Christmas day run, gorgeous beach, beautiful boats arriving…fresh catch laying one the sand…so much to encounter….I don´t remember the distance I ran but I went to one of the fancy hotels just to send my parents a Christmas greeting (they of course were no where near internet and didn´t respond for days…now they understand!) and ran back… (also if you got a random Christmas greeting from me…you were really lucky!) Back to the hotel to shower and eat breakfast (included) I had just ordered when I realized some other guests were taking a shuttle back, I asked if their was room and off I went back to Stonetown to take the ferry to mainland…Dar es Salaam!
On this ride, also not alone…I met an Australian guy whom I shared my Christmas in the deserted City of Dar es Salaam. We walked from the port to a hotel in the guide books…Econolodge….arriving it also looked closed and way beat up…yikes…yep but the entrance was on the side about a building over…nothing like the Econolodge I expected but just fine and close to my AM bus. We dropped off the stuff and headed out to explore…once again non stop….we had a great time wandering and saw quite a bit, even walking around at night…not suggested but it was all fairly safe….plus now people were out. Even our neighborhood was hopping and much cooler than it appeared earlier! Seriously if it had not been for him I would not have seen much because the City looked nasty, unsafe, and boring.
We saw a ton, the City impressed me actually…they have many higher buildings and are putting in a metro bus system like Lima/Quito/Bogota and have amazing areas to run or bike…Impressed to say the least! We even went out on the town later…ha ha though the first few bars/clubs were closed (weird since they were the most popular) the third one was the charm…plus some locals took us…new friends ;).
Well that was my first few days in Tanzania and yes highly recommend and I’ll go back. Superb!
– Dar es Salaam though the biggest and a port city, it is not the capital, it´s Dodoma
Zanzibar wishes to be a separate nation, so much that they have their own president whom they vote for although he has no power (Tanzania´s president really has the control)….elections are next year….it´s a big deal!
– The rest of Tanzania is not so Muslim…just the island. Mainland is mainly Catholic or maybe 50/50.
– The country is massive…don’t take a bus all the way across like I did….break up that trip, maybe even fly!
– They have a banana belt, shared with Uganda. They make some unique banana products, for instance wine and beer, although I had some homemade and got pretty sick…I don’t recommend trying the homemade!!! I do recommend trying the red banana it’s made from though, it’s delicious!
I enjoyed Tanzania more than expected and spent almost 2 weeks here.