06.07.2012 - 11.07.2012
When people go on a Tanzania vacation they generally do the following in this specific order:
1) Climb Kilimanjaro
2) Go on a Safari
3) Go relax on the beaches in Zanzibar
The idea is that the hard stuff has to come first and be followed by the relaxing part. We're not like most people. Having just spent a month in crowded cities attending exciting Euro Cup matches and after-parties we were ready to go into chill-out mode. We went to Zanzibar first. It was going to be our last taste of tropical beaches for a while.
The Zanzibar island just off the coast of Tanzania by Dar Es Salaam is a tropical paradise with a long and storied history. Being located on the Indian Ocean between Africa, India and the middle east it has been a melting pot of cultures, food and business for hundreds of years. It is famous for its spices, its beaches and amazing turquoise waters, its history of slave trading, and for having produced Freddy Mercury of the band Queen although he pretty much grew up in England.
We had arranged for a taxi driver to pick us up as we got off the ferry and drive us to our hotel. We could have tried figuring out a cheaper local transportation but we generally try to avoid surprises in the early stages of our stay in a country. As the driver hit the road we were happy we decided to pre-arrange. The driving was unbelievably dangerous with daladalas (small vans), packed to the point where people were sitting on the roof or hanging from rear bumpers, weaving and passing on the narrow two lane highway at very high speeds. There were police patrols every couple of kilometers or so, I assume officially to ensure "safety", but in reality clearly not doing anything to curb the crazy driving. Our taxi was a nice SUV so we soon found out what the police were really there for. The police man pulled us over and started talking to the driver with the conversation going somewhat like this (I assume, since it was in Swahili):
Our Driver: Hands papers
Policeman: "I need other papers"
Our Driver: Hands other papers
Policeman: "This paper is out of date"
Our Driver: pointing at signature and date "It's signed and dated, it's valid"
Policeman: "It's not valid, I need other papers"
Our Driver: "Take me to your commander"
Policeman: "No, he is busy, you need other papers"
Our Driver: "He is my friend, take me to your commander"
Policeman: "No, just give me other papers"
Our Driver: "Commander!"
It kept going like this for a good 5 minutes with our driver just saying the word "Commander" and refusing to say anything else. We started getting worried that he was going to get arrested and we'd be stuck in the middle of nowhere with our bags. Finally, the policeman allowed him to go see the Commander, and he was back 2 minutes later with a smile on his face, and we drove away. The policeman was of course looking for a bribe and we were happy that we had a driver that was well connected.
Eventually we turned off the highway and onto an extremely bumpy dirt road which led us to Sazani Beach, our home for the next week. The place is absolutely amazing! Nikki, the Irish manager who cleaned the place up, has done an amazing job turning what was apparently a complete mess into what looks and feels like a proper 5 star resort. The location is impossible to beat, on a cliff overlooking a small private beach with gorgeous turquoise water. Since it's far enough away from Nungwi, the closest town, it doesn't get the same hagglers and "beach boys" harassing you and trying to sell you things, but yet it's close enough so that you can always walk into town if you need something. I think in this case pictures speak louder than words:
We spent most of our days at Sazani alternating between eating very well prepared and delicious lunches and dinners and lounging on the hammocks and on the beach. However, we did decide to head out of Nungwi a couple of times. The town itself is extremely poor (though it apparently is one of the wealthier on the island) with no paved roads, road signs of any kind, or zoning or planning. This means it is very easy to get lost in the haphazard labyrinth of dirt streets and identical clay box-like homes. It's the locals make it a pleasure to walk around since they are always friendly and ready to help you if you do get lost. You will hear "Jambo" (hello in Swahili) on every corner and if you return the greeting you will be rewarded by smiles. The kids are especially excited to see and interact with foreigners as most tourists don't venture into town and stay exclusively on the beaches. We never felt in any way threatened though we did take a taxi back at night since, there being no electricity or street lights, we would have never found our way through the labyrinth.
We also made it to a little town called Kendwa one day which is another 30 minutes walk on the beach from Nungwi. The way to get from one place to the other is to walk on the beach during low tide. Unfortunately, we never made it far enough in time and got cut off by the water. We then had a choice. We either turn-around and go back, or we cut across one of the swanky Italian resorts. Why Italian? No idea, apparently Italians love Zanzibar. We saw a Masai warrior guarding the entrance to the resort and Kristine started getting all flustered. The way to get access to any exclusive place is to act as if you belong there. You must sell it and then they will not ask any questions for fear of offending a client. However, with Kristine being all shifty eyed, I knew this was not going to fly. I decided on another approach, instead of pretending we were guests, I just asked if we could use the washroom while Kristine hid behind me afraid of being turned away. I knew it wouldn't be a problem because we looked like we were tourists from a nearby resort. Sure enough they let us through, and after using the washroom, we just kept on going through the resort grounds to their main gate.
I asked the guards which way to go to get to Kendwa and they told us to follow the dirt road that ran behind the big resorts. It was clear tourists around here do not actually walk around as we were the only people walking on this road. The road turned left and after a while we were in the bush, surrounded by trees and shrubs, with the only man-made thing being something that looked like an under-construction resort. We tried cutting over the construction site but the security lady politely pointed us out and back onto the road. Eventually the road ended at an old metal gate just past the construction site. It looked like it was not locked so I tried to see if I could open it. As I started shaking the gate a guard appeared out of nowhere. He asked us what we wanted and I told him that we just wanted to get to Kendwa. He looked at me, looked at Kristine, looked at the plastic bag I was carrying. Thought for a moment, and then opened the gate and pointed us towards a trail. It was our old buddy Sam that told us to carry around a plastic bag instead of a backpack, because in Africa a backpack is a dead give away that you are carrying something valuable. We were a bit worried but we hurried down the path and soon we saw the beach appear behind a hill. We had made it to Kendwa!
Kendwa is a gorgeous beach but all the restaurants and places there are extremely overpriced. To make matters worse there are tons of hagglers and "beach boys", some of them quite nasty, trying to push all kinds of gear and services on you. It's a great place for rich young South Americans to go party but otherwise I wouldn't really recommend it. There are other places on Zanzibar with a much better vibe.
To summarize we had a great time enjoying the beaches of Zanzibar. The people of the island are very friendly as long as you respect them and their culture. It is a Muslim island so it's very important to cover up when you walk through towns especially if you are female. However, when on the beach, any reasonable beach ware is fine. You will have a great time if you decide to visit, especially if you stay at Sazani!