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Fantastically Exotic Zanzibar!

Written on: Monday March 23rd, 2009

It took two hours for the ferry to cross from Dar es Salaam to StoneTown, during which time the conditioned air and rocking sea lulled us into a restful nap.  We fought through customs (yes, Zanzibar now has its own customs, despite the fact that it is part of Tanzania) and were immediately swallowed up by the dozens of touts fighting for our business.  The screaming and arguing was excrutiating, but I managed to find a way to quiet the crowd.  :)  We chose an unlikely victor to take us to Paje, a small beach town on the south west coast of the island.

We drove ninety minutes in the dark before reaching our destination.  The Italian owner showed us to our fabulous, two story room which overlooked both the resort grounds as well as the beach.  Although the place was quiet now, we were informed that tonight's weekly Friday night party would bring in the crowds and last until early the next morning.  After all, that's how the resort, Paje by Night, got its name!  We had time to relax and enjoy a tasty meal before taking a moonlit stroll on the beach.  It was there that I was first introduced to Irena's surprising fear of crabs!  And they were everywhere...white ones, brown ones and black ones...scurrying from their holes in the sand to the nightly buffet of washed-ashore seaweed.  And her screams were cute.  So of course I caught one to show Irena that there was nothing to be afraid of, and she eventually touched it and conquered the emotion.

After changing into our party attire, we joined the sixty plus people dancing, drinking and laughing at our resort.  Most were kids from Scandanavia who were spending a semester abroad at a nearby university.  But there were others, like us, just enjoying their holiday on this lovely island.  We ordered a mojito and drifted toward the pool table as the DJ kept a constant mix of dance, salsa, reggae and rock blasting from the oversized speakers just thirty meters from our room.  Irena was patient enough to watch me play a few games of pool, providing ample congratulations after each game.  But soon the kids were getting a bit out of control and we opted to leave the party and rejoin the crabs.  Another walk on the beach served more as a stall tactic, as it was approaching 2:00am, and the party showed no signs of slowing down.  Alas, we headed up to the room and were eventually treated to silence around 4:00am.

After a quick breakfast the next morning, we walked toward the ocean for the first time in daylight.  Oh my God!  NOW I remember why I loved this place so much.  It's gorgeous!  The sparkling white sand served as a magnificent buffer zone between the tall, swaying coconut palms and the clear, blue sea.  Masks and snorkels in hand, we entered the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.  We saw so many creatures: eels, hermit crabs, spectacularly colored starfish, scorpionfish, grouper, moorish idols and lionfish.  The sea held so many surprises, and as we made our way farther from shore, the experience became even more spectacular!  Eventually the sun was getting the better of us and we adjourned to land. 

Exploring the village was our next activity.  We wandered past the handful of resorts scattered along the beach before working our way into the local community.  Houses were either made of sticks and mud or, for the luckier folks, coral and rock.  There were a few local 'shops' where we bought sodas to help offset the effects of the midday sun.  The one store in town was something of a central hangout.  The SupaDuka was cool!  It housed a grocery store, a restaurant, a supply store and a craft store, in addition to being the point of contact for auto rentals...truly the ultimate tropical convenience store.  It was here that Irena started her collection: she bought some bananas and a shark's tooth, then found a baby coconut.  At the same time I located a bird's next that the wind had brought to the ground.  To complete this unusual collection, we spotted a dead snake on the way back to the room, which she seized immediately.  She said that she wanted to strip off the skin, but I was actually starting to think that perhaps she was some sort of modern witch who was collecting ingredients to cast a spell over me! :)   A mellow night ensued as the sun-drenched day had taken its toll on both of us.

Another blissful morning greeted us, increasing our level of excitement to explore more of the island.  We hired a car and driver for twenty four hours and wanted to see as much as we could.  The first stop was at Jozani National Park.  Although we could have taken a hike through the grounds, we had an alterior motive: there was a geocache here!  We found it, signed the log and went on our way.  Next was a visit back to StoneTown to explore more of the city.  But how can one explore on an empty stomach?  Surely, a quick bite at Mercury's was in order.  This restaurant, themed after Freddie Mercury (former lead singer of the rock band Queen) is legendary.  We enjoyed our lunch while gazing out across the sea, feet tapping to the continual beat of Freddie's unmistakable voice.  Fully energized, we briefly visited an old fort.  It was a really interesting structure; unfortunately, nobody seemed to want to take care of it, for it now served as more of a craft market/oversized trash bin.  Exiting the fort, we wound our way through the irie streets of the city.  Zanzibar was famous for its doors, and we spied several examples of Arabic and Indian design gracing the local homes.  Eventually we arrived at the former slave quarters.  It was an uneasy experience, walking through the underground housing chambers where literally hundreds of slaves were kept in tiny, congested rooms while waiting to be sold and shipped off to other parts of the world. 

Eventually we left the cramped alleyways of StoneTown for the wide open beauty of Nungwi!  Located at the northern tip of the island, this village is where I stayed on my last visit to Zanzibar, and I wanted to see it again.  Although more resorts had been built in the past six years, the allure of this place still captivated my heart.  We walked about, exploring my old haunts.  I even had a tembo-tembo and toasted my old German friend who was here with me in '03. 

Nungwi was also the place that I first scuba dived.  I was certified here and did my first five dives in these waters.  Walking along the beach, I spotted my old dive shop: East Africa Divers.  It was still here!  Cool!  We apporached the four people relaxing in the 'office' and we all quickly remenisced about the crowd from that time.  They, too, knew Simon and Ross, and stories and news were shared over another beer.  My face showed permasmile...I was a smitten kitten.  And I didn't want to leave.  Fortunately, Irena seemed to be loving the area just as much, so when I asked if she'd like to spend the last four nights here instead of Paje, she was excited at the prospect.  So we found a place on the beach to dine upon freshly caught seafood and planned our move.  Dinner was truly amazing: octopus, squid and baracuda were expertly grilled and brought to our oceadside table.  This was nirvana.

Back at Paje, we enjoyed our final evening in the now quiet resort.  We sat on the balcony, staring at the stars while the cool, ocean breeze floated over the palm trees and into our midst.  It was the perfect ending to a nearly perfect day.

The next morning we arrived back at the Dive Center, dropped our bags and hunted for a room.  The first few we looked at were nothing special...basically backpacker rooms.  But we were in the mood for something nicer.  We checked out a few more, and only one caught our eye.  Sadly, the price didn't agree with our budget.  We negotiated a bit, but the 'manager' would not come down to a reasonable price range.  Uncertain where to go, I tried one more time to negotiate, only this time the 'owner' was there.  We talked and discussed the matter calmly for forty five minutes.  That's when his shoulders slumped and he let out a sigh.  Haha...gotcha!  He agreed to my price and actually congratulated me on my negotiation skills.  And we now had what could arguably be called the best room in Nungwi; certainly the best in the string of fifteen resorts that we walked by.

The next four days were heaven.  We laughed; we swam; we snorkeled; we sailed.  We compiled an amazing collection of seashells, and saw an amazing number of dead sea creatures washed up on shore, including dolphins, a shark and a devil ray!  We dined on seafood, some of which turned out to be less than fresh.  We played in the pool.  We drew pictures in the sand beside a bonfire. We took over 400 photographs!  We dove off the resort deck into the water below.  We caught crabs.  We sat on our balcony and watched the sun gently fade into the sea, painting the sky brilliant shades of orange and pink.  We didn't want to leave.

But the day finally came.  The nine passenger Cessna lifted expertly off the runway and crossed the ocean back to the mainland.  Along the way we took full advantage of the low flying altitude to peer at the small islands and coral reefs below.  At the airport in Dar I booked a flight for that afternoon, roughly at the same time as Irena's, which allowed us to spend the last couple hours together in the airport, already planning our next rendezvous.



From Irena on Apr 6th, 2009

Sweet memories :) But hey, a 'modern witch' huh?! Ye ye ye... and my background in the modern medicine & dentistry helps me Big Time lol!.. Your way of 'qieting the crown' is definitely the best I've EVER experienced! May be you should consider using it more often as it certainly WORKS! :) And this was SO True: we didn't want to leave that 'paradise' island... Thank you for such wonderful memories, Shawn :)