The older I get, the more nervous I get when I travel. No. It’s not nervousness, it’s anxiety. When I’m ready to come home, I don’t want anything to prevent that happening. I’m the three-hours-before-boarding airport type. I don’t want to be rushed or hassled. I just want to get home.
It started raining at about 7 pm on our last night in Zanzibar. And it kept raining. And raining. At 11 pm it was really raining and I was getting worried. The potholed dirt road through Kama village would be a swimming pool. We were to leave for the airport (40-minute drive) at 12.30 am for a 3.40 am flight. The more it rained, the more anxious I got. So we decided on a midnight departure.
Kama was navigable. But Bububu was nightmarish. It was so named because it once had a train station with a train linking it to Stone Town. The noise the train made sounded like Bu bubu, Bu bubu. And the local buses? The dala-dala buses? They got their name from the days when the US dollar was worth 500 schillings (not like the 2370 today) and the drivers would call for the fare pronouncing dollar, dollar as dala, dala. [We got these stories and more from a taxi driver, Samir*.] Driving through Bububu was like fording a river. The closer we got the airport, the higher the water levels got, and the more anxious I became. But we made it. And we got our flight to Nairobi and then on to Paris and then to Budapest. I was 30 minutes late landing but that I could live with. I was home.
Zanzibar is an exotic place with plenty to see and do. Since coming home, people have asked what was the most memorable bit, the best part of the holiday. Jozani National Park with its monkeys and its mangrove forest was cool and the afternoon at Upendo was very relaxing. The trip to Prison Island was both fascinating and upsetting. Grave island was a highlight – even if the long wade ashore was a little harrowing. I’d have liked to have had more time in Stone Town. I don’t think we did it justice. The Slave Market was definitely worth the money and Safari Blue worthy of the experience. But for me, the highlight of the trip was the hotel, the resort, Zanzi Resort.
Advertised as the ultimate recharging experience, this haven of peace and tranquillity on the edge of the Indian Ocean is a place where time stops still and twenty-first-century madness takes a back seat. Villas with their own pools and beach access and garden bungalows with their own gardens and main pool all offer privacy and unparalleled service, once you get the hang of pole, pole (slowly, slowly). Check your western expectations at the gate and resolve to go with the flow.
We had cocktails on the jetty one evening and watched the sunset. There’s a phone you can call the bar/restaurant from and it’s possible to arrange to have your dinner served there, too. We breakfasted at the restaurant or in the villa, whichever suited the mood, whenever we felt like it. Breakfast is served all day. When the tide was right, we walked to the end of the garden, down some steps, and into the ocean. And we had it to ourselves. The library, the outdoor gym, the hammocks, the pools, the jogging track, the luscious tropical gardens, the bush-babies (who I heard but never saw) all added to the place. Had himself been with us, we’d have taken out one of the boats. Had it not been so hot, we’d have borrowed one of the bikes and cycled over to the nearby fishing village. Had we had more time, we’d have taken the dhow and sailed over to a sandbank and had lunch.
The staff were happy, smiling, and very attentive. It took a while to get the hang of ‘being done for’. I’m not used to such service. They taught us some Swahili phrases, shared their recipes (did I mention the food!!!) and their stories. We had a laugh.
Before going, I’d read some of the reviews and noted complaints about food portions (I put on a few pounds – are they mad?) and the beach. Certainly, if you’re looking for a wide expanse of golden sand populated with sun lounges, umbrellas, and tides of tourists, don’t stay at Zanzi Resort. The beach is manmade and the sand sometimes washes away with the tide. But it comes back, too. It is stoney in parts, but nothing you’d notice if you pack some water shoes. Having the Indian Ocean to yourself and not having to share space with other people is more than worth the minor inconvenience of a few stones.
Money: US dollars are accepted everywhere but if you want to change into schillings, you’ll get a better price. And the larger your US dollar note, the better exchange rate you’ll get. Bring $100 bills (printed after 2006) to exchange for local currency and smaller notes to use. US coins are not accepted.
Getting around: Taxis are expensive but they’re the easiest way to travel. Negotiate your price upfront as I don’t think I ever saw a meter. Get yourself a good taxi driver and you’ll get a mini-tour as well.* If you’re staying at Zanzi Resort, the $50 transfer to and from Stone Town might seem exorbitant, but it isn’t. It’s actually very reasonable. Check this link for alternatives.
Stuff to bring with you: Anything imported into Zanzibar attracts a 50% import duty and 18% VAT plus the mark-up. $12 for a box of 12 Tampax makes for an expensive period. Think seriously about what you might need.
Stuff to bring home with you: I usually look for art but there was so much sameness, I was put off. Instead, I bought kilos of Mbeya rice. [Googling the spelling, I came across this site for Alaska Tanzania Industries Ltd… how curious….] If cooked properly, it’s lovely and sticky. I’m still experimenting. I also bought some coffee grown in the East African Rift Valley.
What to wear: Stone Town is predominately Muslim. It annoyed me no end to see women walking around in skimpy shorts and tops. A bit of respect, lads, really. That said, I get equally annoyed in Budapest when I see visitors (men) walking around the streets shirtless. What you shouldn’t travel without is a hat.
Notes to self for next time
- Check out a spice farm.
- Visit the Sultan’s Palace.
- See if the House of Wonders or Tippu Tip’s house is open.
- Visit the floating mosque.
- Take a walk down the docks and maybe a ferry to Dar es Salaam
- Check out more of the old hotels in Stone Town.
- Spend more time in Stone Town
It was quite the trip. Now, back in the snow and minus degrees of a central-European winter, I’m relishing the change. Asante sana (thank you), Zanzibar.
* If you’re looking for a private driver/guide/taxi for your time in Zanzibar, check out the informative Mr Samir Ayub at Mimi Tours – firstname.lastname@example.org – +253 787 786 238