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Published: October 21st 2014
Jump for Joy
Yes, we are that excited to finally be in Zanzibar!
Apparently, someone put a hit of ecstasy in the coffee of the Zanzibar immigration officer this morning.
He loves EVERYBODY!
We aren’t even scolded for filling out our forms wrong. My passport is officially stamped and slid back across the desk at me.
With a wide toothy grin and a big thumbs up he chortles, Welcome to Zanzibar!
Out of a shadowy terminal and into the brilliant midday sunshine, Zanzibar blasts us with a cornucopia of sights and sounds, and smells.
For the past twenty years, I have enthusiastically gathered Intel on this Island with the objective of creating a proper image in my mind’s eye as to what it would be like here. In hindsight, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to experience.
Historic Stone Town leans starkly against a stormy backdrop of swaying palms on an ocean of turquoise. The very name Zanzibar rolls off the tongue like an exotic lover doesn’t it.
The sweltering midday heat has me lost in my wave of claustrophobia mixed with exhilaration as we push through the bustling, colourful crowds carrying our heavy loads. I am happily taking it all in,
I couldn't take enough pictures of this beautiful spot
despite being drenched in sweat. The Australians lag and bicker, the Mzupaki whines about her backpack dripping red wine, the Portugoose and Canadian stop short to barter, and Captain Orange is way up ahead chatting to long lost relatives who are now gracefully hauling his stuff for him. He never sweats and now I know why.
We find our lodgings, the Safari Inn is only a few blocks up from the docks, to drop off our luggage. The hostel is simple but clean, and there is a 600 lb man sitting in the lobby on a saggy chaise wearing a tent sized kanzu, watching grainy TV and paying us no mind. The rooms are ancient but our windows have shutters that open out onto the narrow streets below, where children play and scooters wiz by. I am so thankful there are ceiling fans.
With a quick change of clothing, I want to explore old Stone Town but the others opt for a nap to get over their earlier bouts of seasickness, so I set off on my own and promptly get lost amongst the maze of narrow breezeways and alleys. All my romantic notions I had of Zanzibar
Pirates of Zanzibar
That was us, ripping up the high seas
are swallowed up by what I witness. Although there is a certain mystique to this fair city, I’m afraid the crumbling poverty is too far gone. This is what happens when a million people cram onto a postage stamp island.
Zanzibar is dying.
I turn a blind eye to the gutsy, capybara-sized rodents that dart across my path, the waist high piles of rotting garbage, the haphazard electrical wiring, and tiny kittens curled up on doorways, dead. I take pictures and people watch at a cafe. Due to a slight inner ear infection there is a possibility I may have leaned a little to the left while wandering around therefore coming full circle, finding myself back where I started…just in time to join the group for dinner and drinks at the nightclub named after Freddy Mercury, before calling it an early night.
The following day, a local fixer amusingly named Alibaba appeared in a poof and takes us for a proper city tour through the labyrinth. I like him and fixate on his drawly accent as he points out historical tidbits and executes endlessly repartee with the Australians. He compliments us girls for respecting Islam by wearing
Little boy waits
In the cool streets of Stonetown he waits patiently for his parents
our flowing cotton tops and obnoxiously patterned balloon pants. Personally, I think we look like a mob of albino Rastafarians who ran away from cirque de soleil.
Alibaba walks with an air of importance, shaking hands like a politician and kissing babies as we round each bend. Locals leer from darkened corners but the kids are curious, and abandon their games of marbles to run up on us. We visit several historical sites and mosques, as well as descend into a dank Portuguese church basement to see their devastating slave holding cells before boating out to Prison Island to look at gigantic tortoises from Seychelles for some reason. Most notable, is no street peddler dare approach us while under Alibaba’s charge. He finally cuts us loose at a local bazaar where we are swarmed ludicrously. The bartering Canadian scrums fearlessly into the torrent of faces, I warily stick close. We get out alive with wallets intact.
As the evening descends on old Stone Town, the sunset make the crumbly buildings glow as the salty sea gusts along the ocean boulevard. We wander out to find a local eatery. Although we haven’t quite conceded, one could say we are
Spices of Zanzibar
Such a wonderful fragrant exotic place
lost, again. No problem, a fixer slides up and introduces himself. In the pitch dark, he’s going to find us a restaurant, follow him. Normally this scenario screams danger but I go along. After being led on a three hour odyssey which reveals an underworld of dishevelled ex pats who apparently only surface at night to gather in hipster eateries, we finally settle upon a nightspot that offers fusion fare.
An excellent night was had by all mingling with a congregation of UN smoking shishas. As we try to find our way back to the hostel via landmarks of fortress walls and gates, we stumble upon a night market along the seaside where families and locals are hanging out, we peruse the wares and various food stalls while they eye us up. They don’t really hassle us, they’ve seen the clown pant posse before.
Alibaba returns the following morning to collect us in his blissful air-conditioned matatu to whisk us out to a spice plantation for a tour. Exciting for me, boring for the Australians, I’m lost in dreamy horticultural ecstasy as we stroll through gigantic groves of cloves, nutmeg, coloured peppers, cinnamon bark, and sample the endless
Me, Captain Orange and an Australian take in our last days together.
fresh fruits, including my favourite, custard apple. Alibaba takes us home to his village for lunch where his wife prepares lovely seafood dishes of chewy octopus, coconut fish stew, and spicy rice. The kids want to play soccer with us under a canopy of spice trees, so we endulge before we hitch a ride out to the other side of the island.
For the next week we are staying in cottages on Sunset beach. The plan is to do absolutely nothing. I can’t wait. As we drive north, I catch glimpses of turquoise as we whiz past rural villagers going about their daily lives with clackity horse carts and carrying gigantic bundles of stuff on their heads.
Unfortunately, our aging resort doesn’t offer up much roadside appeal. Insert shrug here. We drop off our belongings, don sarongs, and head straight for the beach for a closer inspection. This, I think, is where I wigged out.
All I know is I instantly turned into double rainbow guy. OMG OMG. This is so beautiful! *sobbing* What does it meeeeeean?
Never, and I repeat never have I been happier to see a beach. I even rolled around a bit
A picture tells a thousand stories
Oh how I loved taking pictures in old stone town, too bad my camera sucked.
in the powdery bliss before I finally got down to serious business becoming a beach bum. When I wasn’t lounging in a wooden chaise inches from the tide line…being brought a watermelon gin slushy on the half hour…I was out wandering the miles of pristine shoreline plucking up beautiful shells to inspect before throwing them back. If the mood struck, I’d wade up to my armpits into the bathtub warm salty sea to see off the felucca fishermen as they unfurl their sails before drifting silently out to sea. Entrepreneurs wander by every so often to aggressively offer up trinkets, body massages, pedicures, sarongs, and although my Swahili is rough, I think, sex. In the far distance, a storm is brewing, ever changing the skies into a kaleidoscope of abstract paintings. The Australians would flit in and out of my storybook, pulling up a lounge or performing interpretive beach art against a backdrop of wicked sunsets, much to my amusement.
There was wifi, there was a scruffy restaurant that offered deep fried calamari and passion fruit ice cream. A resident Maasi warrior zero'd in on me, enraptured by my long hair. He speaks in riddles and tries to sell
Sunset on Sunset beach
I think they named this beach appropriately enough. You?
me things. It's amusing, but when I tire of him, I dig down deep into my dirty wet backpack to uncover a tattered novel and leisurely read the entire thing. Yep, I was fully embedded.
As a farewell celebration, the Australians and I rent a catamaran and go for a snorkel and sunset sail. I have been with this lot for such a long time now in a stinky overlander truck that I'm finding it hard to grasp we won't be carrying on together any longer. We laugh, we cry, we sing. The crew are fun loving local guys that are more than willing to take part in our shenanigans. We are thrown out into a choppy sea near the lighthouse where one of the Australians gets sea sick while snorkelling (first time for that!) and the unconfident Mzupaki clings to a life ring hysterical. Since I was a mermaid in a previous life, I dutifully take on lifeguarding responsibilities. Back aboard the boat, sails are hoisted and we are underway, we have an absolute blast having dance hall competitions and reinacting that old 80’s Duran Duran video while drinking copious amounts of sundowners against an awe inspiring sunset.
Lunch at a local village
Chewy octopus and gingerbeer, we sampled some of the beautiful dishes offered up
In the dive shack the following day, I draw circles with my toes on the weathered boards in a half hearted attempt to knock the powdery heaven stuck to my feet, as the dive instructors drone on. I’ve already been in the bathtub warm ocean all day. Barely a wisp of breeze, the sea calmly ebbs the shore. But a dark storm rages to the east, turning the sapphire sky into danger grey, the aquamarine sea is now a colour I have never seen before…a milky blue green. Cyan…it was colour of Cyan.
The dive master saunters over and introduces herself. I must have looked like a lunatic as we shook hands because I couldn’t stop gawking at her with my mouth hanging open. This. Woman. Has. Stolen. My. Life.
She turns to leave with a smile, her face crinkles around her sky blue eyes. I nickname her Sunny. She isn’t in a hurry, yet she has somewhere to be. As she wanders off, throwing a ball for her elderly German Shepard, her bleached locks bounce in the midday sun. Later, on the dive boat, Sunny fills me in all about the
So lovely the Indian ocean with friends, dancing, and warm breezes.
wonderful life I wasn’t having. A strongly independent girl she landed in Zanzibar twenty years ago, met her Afrikaans husband, and started their little dive business. The rest is history. She is bubbly but tries desperately to hide her Texan drawl under a fake Afrikaaners. As she teaches tourists how to scuba dive, Sunny exudes a joyful yet chill aura and I catch myself staring at her, I should be jealous but I’m not. I’m enraptured.
I treat myself to two separate dives at three prime sites. They were unbelievable, even though the weather wasn’t quite cooperating. Off of Tumbatu Island, we descended just over 12m to a site called the Haunted Wall to watch fish come in for cleaning services. The following day we drove to the other side of the island and took two dives off the Mnemba Atoll, saw lots of turtles and my first ever scorpion fish at Kichwani, but visibility was poor and we came in early at Wattabomi, the last one.
On our last night in Zanzibar, we are invited over to a full moon party at the Kendwa beach resort. Normally, I act like a proper forty-five year old...but tonight for
I love seafood and spices so the food offered in Zanzibar was my culinary favourite.
some reason I go bonkers. Nothing says "what have I done"
like awakening in the wrong bungalow with wet, singed clothing and seawater stiff hair. From what I can piece together over fried eggs and rashers of toast, I may have attempted to fire walk on a bed of coals before plunging head first into the ocean, no doubt to put the fire out. Safety first I always say.
And apparently there is go-pro footage. All I remember is us singing "We Are the Champions" at the top of our lungs. I hope it never surfaces.
As I depart Zanzibar, those Queen lyrics swish around in my head. I've paid my dues, time after time, I've done my sentence, but committed no crime, and bad mistakes, I've made a few, I've had my share of sand kicked in my face, but I've come through.
I fly back into the arms of my jealous boyfriend, Nairobi. He doesn’t know it yet, but I’m not sticking around. I plan to slip away in the dead of night to Namibia, hoping he doesn’t go bat shit crazy on me. Wish me luck.
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