Zanzibar: Karibu @Upendo

I like to think I can go with the flow, but deep down I want to know what’s happening and when. I struggle with this a lot. I’m getting the hang of pole pole but perhaps this is something I need to get a hold of, too. Days of the week don’t mean very much in Zanzibar. Friday could be Monday. Sunday could be Tuesday. They tell me that 90% of the population is Muslim, 10% Christian, and within that 10% it’s all very fluid. Lutheran one day, Roman Catholic the next. But no matter the religion, the belief, the job, the overwhelming sense of welcome, Karibu, is tangible.

Friday is planned, my mate said. We’re going to spend the day in a restaurant. It has a pool. We can eat and drink and swim and read and do whatever. Is it near anything, I asked, horrified that I might have to spend a whole day lounging, doing nothing. Nope, he said. Other than The Rock restaurant, but that’s not the one we’re going to.

Deep breath. I took a deep breath and said sure. Okay. Grand. I can do this.

On the way, we visited Jozani-Chwaka National Park. We went there to see the monkeys.

The Zanzibar red colobus is a species of red colobus monkey endemic to Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar Archipelago, off the coast of Tanzania. It is also known as Kirk’s red colobus after Sir John Kirk, the British Resident of Zanzibar who first brought it to the attention of zoological science.

Grey monkey
Colobos monkey

The rules were extensive. I particularly like the instruction not to engage. But honestly, these guys have a new take on posing. As the myriad tourists, myself included, gathered, cameras at the ready, I swear they posed. It was both hilarious and pathetic. Have they been so conditioned to tourism that they’re ready to put on a show or have they always been like that? A poor grey cousin decided to get in on the game, clearly unhappy at all the attention his famous friends were receiving. He jumped up and down on a branch to attract attention, for all the world like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum. And despite the guides being fluent in many languages  (I heard Italian, Spanish, French, German, and English, which they supposedly learn from YouTube), those idiot tourists still wanted to invade their personal space. Too many people. They’d be better off limiting the number of visitors per day and asking people to book in advance. But hey – I’m not in the business, so what would I know.

Mangrove forest

We then went to the Mangrove forest. I’d seen one in Thailand but this was more accessible. Our guide was a tad weary (you need one to visit Jozani), a little too heavy on the detail and too light on the anecdotes. He’d pointed out the different trees in monkeyville but it was hard to hear with so many other tours going on around us.

We snuck away before we were subjected to the show – some local dancers dressed for tourists with local musicians out to make a buck. I’ve absolutely no objection to anyone cashing in on the tourist dollar but I hate the sheepish way tourists shrug as if to say ‘ah well, sure it’s expected’. It’s patronising and condescending and yet the locals have to make a living, too. I’d pay to see the real thing but so would many others and then it turns into a show…. it’s a thin line that few can navigate.

The Rock at low tide
The Rock restaurant when the tide comes in

We eventually arrived at Upendo, a hotel, restaurant, bar within spitting distance of The Rock on the Michamvi Peninsula. My mate had reserved a table with beds. And we sat, ordering from the menu as we got hungry, not having to wait on a group decision. It was liberating. I started with piri-piri chips with lime, a combination I’m taking home with me. Then later, I quite fancied some stuffed calamari. As one bottle of bubbly emptied, another appeared. We have a saying in Ireland: when you’re out, you’re out. We’re on a budget (at least I am) but it was one of those days. Hang the cost. Don’t check the prices. Just order what you want when you want and then deal with it later. I can’t remember the last time I did that.

The crowd ebbed and flowed. A couple of times ours was the only table there. Others came and went and all the while the upendo flowed. (Upendo is Swahili for love – I was tickled with the idea of how love can up end you…).

It’s been a long time since I’ve shown such wanton disregard for what I felt I should be doing – eating, drinking, spending. And it was liberating. I’m repeating myself here but it really was. The damage wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected and split four ways it was very doable indeed.

I watched the tourist drove walk out, wade out, and boat out to The Rock, depending on the tide. And I felt a certain degree of pity for those beholden to guide books and top 10 lists. There is so much more on offer, off list. Okay, so we lucked out having a mate with local knowledge, but venturing off the guided track pays dividends.

Moon over Upendo

We watched the moon rise – okay so we were so engrossed in conversation that we didn’t actually see it rise, but the end result was spectacular.

If you have just one day in Zanzibar and want to really, really chill, then fork out for the taxi fare and head to Upendo. You deserve it. Check out the boutique. Try the calamari. And when you’re there, be sure to say Hi! to Mia.

Mia – Upendo resident


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